Updates from WOLA tagged “United Nations”

Blog entries, commentaries, and statements from WOLA’s Colombia team

A UN Special Rapporteur’s Report Caused Tensions with Colombia’s Government. Here’s What It Said.

March 12, 2020

On December 26, 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, released a report on the challenges that rights defenders are facing in Colombia. The report concluded that social leaders are in grave danger, and that the risks they face have increased in the three years since the signing of the Peace Agreement. The report provides analysis and recommendations that the Colombian government should follow to safeguard vulnerable communities throughout the country. The Government of Colombia, however, vehemently disagreed with Forst’s findings. It produced a 20-page response to the report, submitting it to the UN Human Rights Council. In the response, the government blames non-state armed actors for the attacks on defenders, takes issue with numerous phrases in Forst’s report, and claims that the report’s data is incomplete, limited, and biased.

Forst’s report, along with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ February 25 report on the country’s 2019 overall situation, caused tensions between the government of President Iván Duque and the United Nations. Forst was barred from entering the country in 2019 to complete research, which prevented him from presenting a more up-to-date version to the Council. High government officials continue to downplay the gravity of the security situation faced by social leaders—including Interior Minister Alicia Arango, who said on March 3 that more people are killed in the country for cellphone thefts than for being social leaders or human rights defenders.

What is in the report that so angered the Colombian government? Below are five main points from Special Rapporteur Michel Forst’s document.

  1. Assassinations and other attacks on human rights defenders are constant.

Assassinations of human rights defenders and social leaders—who work actively to implement the 2016 Peace Agreement—are constant and continue to escalate at alarming rates. According to the Special Rapporteur’s report, as of June 30, 2019, the Ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) has reported over 486 assassinations since 2016. Other international observers and civil society organizations have reported different statistics on the total number of assassinations using distinct methodologies; however, rather than debating the methods of documentation, the report stressed that efforts should focus on understanding how to bolster the security situation for human rights defenders in Colombia.

2. Impunity provides an incentive to continue carrying out violations.

There is a high level of impunity for killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. In his report, the Special Rapporteur notes that cases that remain “with no establishment of guilt” exceed 89%, indicating a lack of recognition and justice for the victims and their families. The report suggests that this lack of recognition for victims provides a clear incentive for perpetrators to continue attacking social leaders.

3. Stigmatization and criminalization are common.

Political leaders, public officials, and other influential figures stigmatize and criminalize human rights defenders and social leaders, often characterizing them as guerrillas, guerrilla sympathizers, or anti-development terrorists. The report specifically points to a public declaration from the Governor of Antioquia, who stated, “Criminal gangs with close ties to the Gulf Clan illegal armed group and individuals linked to the National Liberation Army (ELN) were behind the miners’ strikes in Segovia and Remedios in 2018.” The report also highlights previous statements by the Minister of Defense that conflate public protests with organized crime activity. Mr. Forst argues, “Such statements undermine human rights defenders and expose them to greater risks and violations.”

4. Rural, ethnic, environmental, and women human rights defenders are among the most targeted.

Leaders in Colombia’s rural territories are among the most frequent targets of violations and assassinations. In its recommendations, the report highlighted the need to fortify security for social leaders who defend land, environmental, indigenous, and women’s rights. The report also notes a disproportionate number of attacks and assassinations of members of community action councils, ethnic leaders, victim’s rights defenders, farmers, land restitution claimants, and human rights lawyers.

5. Public and private companies continue to contribute to the human rights crisis.

National and international corporations operating in rural communities are adversely affecting the human rights situation in Colombia. Business interests and activity have resulted in the intimidation, criminalization, forced displacement, and killing of social leaders in their own communities. According to the report, 30% of recorded attacks occurred in areas with large-scale mining projects, while 28.5% took place in areas where palm oil, banana, and sugar cane agribusinesses operate.

Tags: Attacks on social leaders, Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, United Nations

Peace Coalition Thanks United Nations after Anti-Peace Camp Criticizes Its Role

June 7, 2019

The Defend the Peace movement, a coalition of peace negotiators, members of Colombia’s Congress, and prominent non-governmental organizations that WOLA forms part of, released a statement on June 7 thanking the United Nations for helping solidify peace in Colombia. The coalition released this statement in response to recent statements made by President Duque and Senator Uribe against this international body.

On June 6, former President Alvaro Uribe Velez criticized the United Nations and spread false information about its role in Colombia. Uribe’s defensive attack on the UN was a direct response to a statement issued by UN experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Agnes Callamard, concerning the recent murder of former FARC combatant Dilmar Torres at the hands of Colombian soldiers on April 22 in Northern Santander.  In that statement Colombia is asked to “stop inciting violence against the demobilized FARC” and to “implement the peace accords.” President Duque publicly stated that the UN report was premature and ill-intentioned.

Uribe’s statement comes the same day that President Ivan Duque advance the Special Jurisdiction for Peace’s (JEP) statutory law after having attempted to alter it by presenting the Congress with objections. While Duque, Uribe and others who wish to undermine the transitional justice system are likely to propose new ways to undo the hard won gains of the peace accords, President Duque signing the statutory law is a signal that their efforts are failing. 

Here is the full text translated into English:

Recognition of the Immense Contribution of the United Nations to Peace in Colombia

A Declaration of the Defend the Peace Movement

The Defend the Peace movement rejects the attacks against the United Nations Organization, and in particular the UN Security Council’s Verification Mission of thepeace process in Colombia. At the same time, we acknowledge and appreciate the immense support that this world organization has made to the dialogues that led to the signing of the Final Agreement for the termination of the conflict and the construction of a stable and lasting peace, to the implementation of diverse aspects of that agreement, and the reincorporation of the individuals who were part of the FARC. 

The Secretary General, the member states of the Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, all have consistently encouraged the Colombian people, the National Government and those who laid down their weapons—to persevere, regardless of the difficulties in the peace process.  They have also made it clear that Colombia’s example in this endeavor “is an inspiration for all those who fight to put an end to armed conflicts throughout the world through negotiations”.  Likewise, the United Nations system and each of its agencies have called for the respect of the lives of the social leaders, the peace activists, the human rights advocates, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the comprehensive system that guarantees the rights of the victims.

In our globalized world, the collaboration of international organizations in the construction of peace and their observance of the respect for human rights cannot be misunderstood as a challenge or as an affront to governments.  Such positions are characteristic of authoritarian and narrow nationalist ideological conceptions. With more reason, these conceptions must be rejected if, in order to discredit legitimate international collaboration, the method of systematic misinformation and lies is used.

On the contrary, Defend the Peace considers it necessary to maintain and strengthen the presence of the UN in Colombia and welcomes the upcoming visit to our country of representatives of the Security Council.

Tags: United Nations