July 9, 2012
Today the US Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) in partnership with Colombian and international organizations released the final report of the International Verification Mission on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia. See the English version here and the Spanish version here. The report includes the findings of the 40-person mission conducted November 28-December 2, 2011 which show continued violations of the rights of human rights defenders despite a positive change in discourse at the national level. The mission, comprised of jurists, journalists and human rights activists from 15 different countries, visited eight regions of Colombia and verified firsthand the situation of human rights defenders with respect to five thematic areas identified by the Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights: impunity, baseless prosecutions, misuse of state intelligence information, systematic stigmatizations and structural problems with the protection program for defenders at risk.
The report reveals that human rights defenders continue to face threats, attacks and stigmatizations at alarming levels and that the welcomed change in discourse at the national level has not yet been translated into effective policy, especially at the regional level. It also shows that impunity for such crimes is extremely high.
The Somos Defensores (“We are Defenders”) database shows that there were 239 acts of aggression against human rights defenders in Colombia in 2011, including 49 assassinations.
“The experience of the Mission just reinforced for me that until there are significant advances in terms of impunity levels, human rights defenders in Colombia will continue to be at grave risk due to the very exercise of their rights,” says Dana Brown, Executive Director of USOC.
“Human rights defenders of all descriptions in Colombia still face terrifying threats, and these threats translate to physical attacks, forced disappearance and murder,” said Lisa Haugaard, executive director of LAWGEF. “While threats come from all directions, including guerrillas and members of the armed forces, many are from paramilitary successor groups. Our mission found that regional authorities’ denial of the existence of paramilitary successor groups contributed to their failure to take serious measures to protect human rights defenders.”
The report calls on the Colombian government to take concrete, effective steps to reduce the levels of impunity and effectively dismantle the illegal armed groups that are responsible for the majority of the aggressions against human rights defenders in Colombia.