International Accompaniment NGOs’ Statement Regarding the Situation of Human Rights Defenders during the Colombian Peace Process
As international non-governmental organizations who accompany social organizations and human rights defenders in Colombia, we support various peace proposals collectively constructed by these communities and social organizations. We celebrate the agreement achieved by the Colombian government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) on June 23, and we express our support for a negotiated solution to Colombia‘s armed conflict. We also reiterate that our work is carried out within the norms of Colombian law and stems directly from the petitions we receive from social organizations and human rights defenders. The people we accompany have communicated their desire for continued international accompaniment, due to their concern about a possible reconfiguring of the armed conflict in a post-accords period. The possible continuation of violence presents serious obstacles to a full guarantee of non-repetition for them and their communities.We are concerned about the threats facing human rights defenders, especially those working in remote regions.
According to the United Nations, in the last year there was a registered increase in assassinations that rose above the average number of assassinations over the last twenty years (UN Statement; November 19, 2015). The NGO Somos Defensores reports that acts of aggression against human rights defenders (including threats, assassinations, attempted assassinations, arbitrary detentions, legal harassment, theft of sensitive information, and forced disappearances) increased 9% in 2015 as compared to 2014. There were 357 acts of aggression reported in 2012, the same year when the peace negotiations were initiated. This number almost doubled in 2015 with 682 acts of aggression (Somos Defensores Annual Report 2015). This is happening within the context of an arbitrary use of the penal system to criminalize and falsely accuse human rights defenders (Somos Defensores Annual Report 2015).
In many regions of Colombia, the armed conflict continues to evolve, manifesting itself through new conflicts and new actors who threaten the lives and work of human rights defenders. According to Somos Defensores, paramilitary groups have been responsible for 66% of the aggressions directed at social movement leaders (Somos Defensores Annual Report 2015).Another threat for human rights defenders and communities is a foreign investment model in Colombia that operates within the framework of an extractive economic development model. This model often generates serious social and economic conflicts in local communities, which then leads to an increase in conflict and human rights violations.
Considering what we have expressed above, we respectfully request that the international community:
1. Demand that the Colombian state guarantees no repetition and a just, sustainable peace in Colombian territory; ensures international human rights standards; and tackles structural causes of the conflict, effectively dismantling both new and old paramilitary structures while respecting the rights of the civilian population.
2. Request that the Fiscalia General de la Nación (Attorney General’s Office) speed up investigations regarding acts of aggression and assassinations of human rights defenders, investigations regarding the land and environment, identifying material and intellectual authors. We believe it is important to demand that the Colombian state strengthens its judicial system and ensures equal access for all victims.
3. Reiterate to the Colombian state and all its institutions the need to give political recognition to the work to defend human rights. It is important to demand that the Colombian state implement policies that offer holistic and effective protection of human rights defenders. This protection should consider the causes of acts of aggression and should be designed in consensus with human rights defenders, reflecting collective measures with a differential focus, rural context, etc.
4. Continue supporting peace-oriented policies and financially supporting Colombian civil society in its efforts to build peace. The international community should also demand that the Colombian state guarantees the participation of campesino, indigenous, and Afro-descendent communities in the implementation of the Havana accords in their regions.
5. Decidedly support the establishment of peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN).
6. Demand that their country’s companies that operate in Colombia develop policies that do no harm while respecting the environment and the rights of communities.
Witness for Peace Colombia, FOR Peace Presence, Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (SweFOR), Peace Watch Switzerland, Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia