WHAT ARE THE ROOT CAUSES OF THE ATTACKS ON HRDs?
Unequal ownership of land in Colombia: Within Latin America, Colombia ranks first with regards to inequality in land distribution, followed by Peru, Chile and Paraguay.
- 1% of the population owns 87% of the land
- Access to health and education is also unequal
Entrenched culture of violence by the State and development of an internal enemy policy: The military doctrine of the “internal enemy” has filtered through to other state institutions and made human rights defenders the target of stigmatization and other aggressions.
- HRDs are still subjected to stigmatization by the Colombian authorities without any recognition of the impacts on these defenders.
- For example accusations of “legal warfare” hamper the work of human rights lawyers. There is a tradition of quashing social protest: all independent voices are considered to be subversive.
The internal conflict in Colombia: the context of pervasive violence in Colombia has affected HRDs who have been subjected to all sorts of attacks by state officials, guerrillas and paramilitaries.
- The Peace Process has led to the demobilization of the FARC — the main guerrilla — and there are ongoing peace talks with the ELN – the second-biggest guerrilla.
- Paramilitary structures, criminal groups with links to public officials, constitute nowadays the main source of attacks against HRDs.
- Economic interests in the territories most affected by the conflict (including illicit activities such as drug trafficking, extractive industries…) remain a source of risk for HRDs working in these regions.
Structural impunity in Colombia: the justice system has historically failed to meet its expected role and impunity for attacks against HRDs (as well as impunity for broader human rights violations in Colombia) remains the norm. This reinforces the idea that perpetrators can get away with attacks against HRDs.
What's the solution?
Human rights defenders face numerous risks in Colombia. Short of a magical solution to the problem, a series of measures could be applied — with real political will on the part of Colombian institutions — to improve the situation and guarantee that defenders can keep helping Colombia become a better country for all its citizens without fearing for their safety.
Publicly recognizing that the situation for human rights defenders is a real human rights crisis in Colombia. The first step to resolving a problem is to recognize that it exists! Although some institutions are making efforts to improve the situation, the Defence Minister and Public Prosecutor’s Office have made several deflective public statements.
Fighting impunity: The best way to prevent attacks against defenders is for the justice system to work by ensuring that those who commit these crimes are punished.
“There must be zero impunity for killings and attacks against defenders, both for those who carried out the crimes and for those who planned them. As long as it seems easy to get away with committing attacks against defenders, these attacks will continue."
Recognizing the persistence of paramilitary structures and combating them with resolve: All analyses coincide in saying that paramilitary groups are the main perpetrators of attacks against defenders. Yet the Colombian authorities continue to deny their existence, making it difficult for measures to combat them to be successful.
Ending stigmatization against defenders: In 2017 alone, the Observatory documented instances of HRD stigmatization in all branches of the State. This climate contributes to augmenting the risks defenders face. The Attorney General must punish any public official who denigrates the defence of human rights. No exceptions.
The international community must also engage in the protection of HRDs in Colombia.
How to help?
HRDs in Colombia need to be better protected so that they can dedicate their efforts to making Colombia a better country for all its citizens, without fearing for their safety.
Whether you are Colombian, whether you are an institution supporting Colombia’s development, a Colombian policymaker or just a citizen of the world committed with the defense of human rights, there are a number of things you can do to make the difference.
Find more suggestions in this section.