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“End violence against defenders in Colombia”, the call of UN experts

30 April 2008

The United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders, whose names appear below, issued the following statement, today, 30 April, 2008.

GENEVA-- ‘We are deeply concerned by recent developments in Colombia indicating the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders in recent months, in particular the killings, harassment and intimidation of civil society activists, trade-union leaders and lawyers representing victims.

We recognize and appreciate the adoption of some measures by the Government of Colombia in an attempt to improve the security of those who find themselves at risk as a result of their activities in defense of human rights. We do, however, call upon the Government to provide more effective and consistent protection measures for defenders at risk as a matter of urgency.

In the first months of 2008, there have been 21 killings of trade unionists and civil society leaders and dozens of reports of death threats against activists and defenders from all backgrounds allegedly perpetrated by new illegal armed groups. The recent threats and attacks have principally been directed at organizers of, and participants in, the rally of 6 March, a demonstration intended to honor victims of paramilitary groups and to protest against crimes committed by State actors.

We firmly believe that a political response to the current situation of human rights defenders in Colombia is of the utmost importance. We urge the Government to take concrete steps to give public recognition and legitimacy to human rights defenders and their work, including to those who participated in the demonstration of 6 March. This public support can be demonstrated by way of firm condemnation of crimes, threats and attacks against defenders and by acknowledging the importance of their work.

Concrete and concerted action is needed to stop the endemic impunity for the crimes and violations committed against human rights defenders. We call on the Government to complement more effective protection measures with a functioning framework of investigations.

This escalation in violence against human rights defenders confirms the need for a vigorous and immediate reaction from the Government for the protection of defenders in Colombia. We, therefore, strongly recommend that urgent action be taken for effective protection of defenders at risk, more efficient investigations and conclusive prosecutions of perpetrators, and more open and firm cross-party political support and recognition to defenders and their work.’

This statement is issued by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms Hina Jilani; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr Philip Alston and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr Leandro Despouy.