A monthly update about the situation of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, from the Inter-Agency Mixed Migration Flows Group in Colombia. (Link at unhcr.org)
A monthly update about the situation of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, from the Inter-Agency Mixed Migration Flows Group in Colombia. (Link at unhcr.org)
Colombian President Iván Duque meets with UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
- President Iván Duque meets with UN Secretary General António Guterres in New York. “A framework agreement has been reached for the UN and its agencies’ [presence] in our country for the 2020-2023 period,” Duque says. The meeting appears to ease some tensions between the government and UN agencies over recent human rights reports and a canceled contract for verifying crop substitution programs.
An interview with Carlos Ruiz Massieu, chief of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, about the status of peace accord implementation after three years.
- Michel Forst, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, presents his report on Colombia to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Forst had a difficult relationship with the Duque government, which prevented him from traveling to the country in 2019 to do follow-up work on his preliminary findings.
On February 26, the Colombian Government publicly condemned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) 2019 Report. The condemnation characterized the report as imprecise and untruthful—and President Iván Duque went as far as saying that one of the report’s recommendations was an “infringement of sovereignty.” Many civil society actors—over 1,000 organizations and activists—came together in solidarity with the UN Human Rights office to support its significant work. They quickly organized to publish a public declaration. Here is an English translation:
WE SUPPORT THE OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER OF THE UNITED NATIONS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA’S WORK AND ITS REPRESENTATIVE ALBERTO BRUNORI
Bogotá, March 2, 2020
Since the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) arrival in Colombia in 1997, the social and human rights movements have supported its work and its reports that annually summarize major events related to socio-political violence in the context of armed conflict, to humanitarian issues, and to the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law in general. Its recommendations have been a valuable and permanent tool for national and international advocacy, as well as a useful document for a better understanding of our reality.
This week, OHCHR’s representative in Colombia, Mr. Alberto Brunori, published the 2019 Report, which we support and consider appropriate, serious, rigorous, and in accordance with Colombia’s human rights reality. This report coincides with the reality that, on a daily basis, is seen through social media and complaints brought by social organizations throughout different territories in the country. The quantitative and qualitative description it contains gives an account of the country’s recent exponential deterioration in human rights.
We consider Iván Duque and the National Government’s reaction to both the report and to the work conducted by the OHCHR under Representative Brunori undue and unjustified. This disproportionate reaction demonstrates the Government’s lack of commitment to human rights at the international level with bodies that – like the Office – constructively contribute to the validity of the human rights situation in our country.
Social and human rights platforms and organizations support the judicious and documented work of Mr. Alberto Brunori and his national and regional work teams, and welcome his stay in the country until 2022. We urge the National Government to address the recommendations contained in the Report, as this will help address the growing violence in the country, and will take truly effective measures to ensure the human rights of the population. This will also ensure the success of the Peace Agreement, considered by the international community to be unprecedented and of global interest.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Colombia will continue to count on our support to continue contributing significantly to the prevalence of coexistence and the pursuit of peace in Colombia through its observation mandate, technical assistance, and verification of the Peace Agreement’s implementation.
On February 25 the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It is a very useful document, full of hard-to-obtain statistics. It also makes some reasoned, high-credibility judgments about controversial topics like implementation of the peace accord and government efforts to protect threatened social leaders.
The Colombian Government didn’t like the report. President Iván Duque criticized “imprecisions” and “not telling the truth” about the government’s performance in implementing the FARC peace accord’s rural provisions, adding that the report’s recommendation that the National Police pass from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry was an “infringement of sovereignty.” High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila, who is charged with implementing many peace accord commitments, said “I have no problem with being told that things are being done badly, but blunders [chambonadas] like this don’t lead to anything.”
This is not the first time that Colombia’s government and the OHCHR have had public disagreements since the office’s establishment in 1996. This won’t be the last time, either. The Office’s injection of inconvenient facts and perspectives into the high-level debate shows why its continued presence in Colombia, with a strong mandate, is so important.
Here are some highlights from the report:
On attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders
In 2019, OHCHR documented 108 killings of human rights defenders, including 15 women and two LGBTI defenders.
The Timely Action Plan initiated by the Ministry of Interior in December 2018 was developed to improve such coordination. To increase the effectiveness of this Plan, broader and more sustained participation of regional authorities and civil society should be prioritized.
Killings of women human rights defenders increased by almost 50 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018.
Of the 108 killings documented by OHCHR, 75 per cent occurred in rural areas; 86 per cent in municipalities with a multidimensional poverty index above the national average; 91 per cent in municipalities where the homicide rate indicates the existence of endemic violence; and 98 per cent in municipalities with the presence of illicit economies and ELN, other violent groups and criminal groups. Fifty-five per cent of these cases occurred in four departments: Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá. The sectors most affected continued to be those defending the rights of communities and ethnic groups, amounting to 65 per cent of all killings and sustaining a trend documented by OHCHR since 2016.
OHCHR continued to document attacks against representatives of Community Action Councils (JACs). 16 Especially in rural areas, JACs serve as the main body for communities’ political participation and the promotion of development and human rights initiatives. While noting a significant reduction from 2018, when it verified 46 cases, OHCHR documented 30 killings of representatives of JACs in 2019.
On the government’s response to these attacks
OHCHR appreciated the efforts of the Office of the Attorney General to investigate the cases it reported and noted some progress in 55 per cent of these cases, all of which occurred between 2016 and 2019. However, challenges persisted in the prosecution of intellectual authors of attacks against human rights defenders. The accused had been convicted in 16 per cent of the cases; 20 per cent were at trial stage; indictments had been issued in 7 per cent of cases; and a valid arrest warrant had been delivered in 11 per cent of cases.
The National Commission on Security Guarantees should be more regularly convened in order to fulfill its full role pursuant to the Peace Agreement, particularly concerning the dismantlement of criminal groups that succeeded the paramilitary organizations and were often responsible for killings of human rights defenders.
The Intersectoral Commission for Rapid Response to Early Warnings (CIPRAT) should sharpen its focus on human rights defenders, especially by defining coordinated and concrete measures to implement actions based on recommendations of the Ombudsman’s early warning system.
The Ministry of Interior’s National Protection Unit (UNP) made significant efforts to respond to the extraordinarily high demand for individual protection measures. Still, measures granted were not always adequate for the rural contexts in which most human rights defenders were killed. In 2019, six human rights defenders were killed in rural areas of Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Risaralda despite protection measures. Prevention and early warning should be prioritized over temporary, individual and reactive protection measures, which do not address the structural causes behind the attacks.
OHCHR highlights the need to increase collective protection measures. Such measures constitute a prevention mechanism, inasmuch as they seek to address risks faced by communities and organizations through the coordination of different authorities to advance human rights guarantees. Whereas the 2019 budget for collective protection measures represented merely 0.22 per cent of the budget of UNP, the implementation of collective protection measures was often hampered by coordination issues between national, departmental and municipal institutions.
On the military and human rights
OHCHR documented 15 cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life in Antioquia, Arauca, Bogotá, Cauca, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Santander and Valle del Cauca. This was the highest number of such cases OHCHR recorded since 2016. In 13 cases, the deaths appeared to have been caused by unnecessary and/or disproportionate use of force. According to information documented by OHCHR, in 11 cases the deaths occurred in military operations related to public security involving anti-narcotics and law enforcement activities. In six cases, the deaths were preceded by law enforcement activities that potentially could have allowed for the arrest of the suspects and thus avoided their killing. In one case, OHCHR observed that weak command and control appeared to result in the killing and attempted enforced disappearance of one person. The military was allegedly responsible in 10 cases and the police in four, while there was alleged joint responsibility for one killing. In all 15 cases, the Office of the Attorney General initiated investigations, but these did not appear to follow the Minnesota Protocol.
OHCHR documented cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life by members of the military and police. In following up on these cases, OHCHR was concerned that the military criminal justice system continued to request jurisdiction over such investigations. In some instances, the Office of the Attorney General even referred cases to the military justice system. In the case of El Tandil, Nariño, the Office of the Attorney General did not take the necessary actions to retain the case within its jurisdiction.
On blurring the lines between military and police
OHCHR observed an increased resort to the military to respond to situations of violence and insecurity. Despite existing protocols, norms and public policies regulating the participation of the military in situations related to public security, these were not fully applied in a range of settings, such as in rural areas in Arauca, Antioquia, Caquetá, Cauca, Córdoba, Cesar, Chocó, Meta, Nariño and Norte de Santander. Nor were they fully applied in urban centres, such as Convención, Medellín, Santa Marta and Valledupar, where the military conducted anti-narcotics operations and other law enforcement activities. Military training, equipment and the nature of military duties are inappropriate in such circumstances. According to police statistics, homicides increased in municipalities in Arauca, Norte de Cauca, Catatumbo and Sur de Córdoba, despite an increased military presence.
On 15 September, the General Command of the Colombian Armed Forces’ announcement establishing anti-riot squads composed of professional soldiers raised questions concerning Colombia’s respect for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ guidance related to the responsibility of the police, rather than the military, to maintain public order.
In line with the need to strengthen the police’s institutional capacity, OHCHR recommends transferring oversight of the police to the Ministry of Interior.
On “stabilization” and establishing state presence in ungoverned territories
Efforts to establish a comprehensive State presence, particularly of civilian authorities, including the Office of the Attorney General and the police have been insufficient, especially in rural areas. The five Strategic Zones for Comprehensive Intervention established by the Government through Decree 2278 of 2019 were created to address this vacuum. However, OHCHR observed that State presence in these areas has remained predominantly military and that the pace of establishing a stronger presence of civilian authorities was slow.
The Office of the Attorney General is present in almost half of Colombia’s municipalities. Nevertheless, it continued to face difficulties to reach rural areas, especially in Antioquia, Arauca, Amazonas, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Nariño and Vaupés, greatly affecting its capacity to guarantee access to justice for all.
In 2018, 16 PDETs were formulated with high levels of community participation, including indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. While this generated significant hope for the effective implementation of PDETs, during the reporting period, OHCHR observed few advances and minimal coordination with other relevant programmes, such as the Collective Reparation Plan contained in the Victims and Land Restitution Law and the Comprehensive National Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS).
[T]he Comprehensive Rural Reform should be supported by an adequate budget to fully implement all of the plans, entities and mechanisms established in the Peace Agreement, rather than a limited focus on PDETs. However, the 2020 budget was reduced for all the institutions responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Rural Reform.
On illicit crop eradication and substitution
Police continued to recruit civilians to eradicate illicit crops. This practice exposes civilians to loss of life or injury due to the presence of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance among the crops. Between January and November, 24 civilians and 8 antinarcotics police officers were affected by such devices in Tumaco, Nariño, while eradicating illicit crops.
OHCHR highlights the recent determination, in a joint report by the Government and United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), that 95 per cent of families participating in PNIS fulfilled the voluntary eradication requirement, whereas 0.4 per cent returned to the cultivation of illicit crops.
Presentation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual report on the situation in Colombia.
The annual report of the UN agency, which has maintained a strong reporting and technical assistance presence in Colombia since the 1990s. (Link to Spanish and English versions at hchr.org.co)
Slideshow accompanying the annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Colombia field office. (Link at hchr.org.co)
- The Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) releases its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It includes criticisms of the government’s implementation of the peace accord’s rural governance provisions and protections of social leaders, while documenting abuses committed by the security forces.
- President Iván Duque criticizes “imprecisions,” adding that the report’s recommendation that the National Police pass from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry is an “infringement of sovereignty.” High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila calls the report a “blunder” (chambonada).
- At a February 27 UN Human Rights Council meeting to review the report, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expresses grave concern about Colombia’s human rights situation. Colombian government representatives regret that the UN High Commissioner’s Office “missed the opportunity to produce a complete, balanced, comprehensive, and updated report that reflects precisely Colombia’s complex reality, and takes into account the precise context in which that reality happens.”
- The “Defendamos la Paz” coalition releases a statement backing the UN agency.
- News emerges that, at some point in recent weeks, the Colombian government terminated its contract with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to monitor and verify the crop-substitution effort carried out under chapter 4 of the peace accord.
- In a thorough February 4 report, UNODC found high levels of compliance with the crop substitution program, with very little re-planting of coca despite delays in government compliance with commitments.
- The Colombian government sends to the UN Human Rights Council a strongly worded, 20-page statement taking issue with the work of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michael Forst. On December 26, 2019, Forst had published a report that was quite critical of the government’s response to the crisis of killings of social leaders, relying significantly on data from non-governmental sources. The Colombian government had refused to allow Forst to revisit the country for a follow-up visit.