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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raises concerns about violence and discrimination against indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians as it reviews Colombia’s report

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

28 November 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined seventeenth to nineteenth periodic report of Colombia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  In the dialogue with the State party, Experts raised serious concerns about high levels of violence against indigenous human rights defenders and community leaders, including by foreign mining companies. 

Maria Teresa Verdugo Moreno, Country Rapporteur, said that between January 2016 and mid-2019, over 704 community leaders had been murdered; every 72 hours, a human rights defender died in Colombia. 

The delegation stressed Colombia’s absolute commitment to bringing to justice perpetrators of violence against human rights defenders and indigenous leaders and activists.  A cross-cutting commission for the protection of human rights defenders had been created.  Of the 320 murder cases, 178 had been resolved; 10 of the most sought-after criminals who threatened human rights defenders had been captured; and the police and the army had set up specialized units for the protection of human rights activists and social leaders.

Responding to Experts’ concerns about the spike in supremacist propaganda and hate speech against ethnic minorities, human rights defenders and migrants, the delegation recognized the fundamental importance of the free exchange of thoughts and ideas in a democratic society.  However, delegates said hate speech and incitement to violence and discrimination were prohibited.

Another issue discussed during the dialogue concerned the results of the 2018 census.  The indigenous population had increased by 40 per cent, from 1.4 million in 2005 to 1.9 million in 2018, while the Afro-Colombian population had decreased from 4.3 million in 2005 to 3 million in 2018. 

The delegation said that the increase in the number of those who self-identified as indigenous could be explained by higher birth rates, increased recognition of indigenous peoples in the census, and the greater reach of the communities, made possible by the improved security and a better use of indigenous censor-takers.

As for Afro-Colombians, the delegation explained the drop in the numbers by the fact that only 30 per cent lived in rural areas, where the shared language and tradition made self-identification easier.  The majority of this group lived in towns and had a different sense of identity.

Territorial rights and restitution of land to indigenous peoples represented one of the main areas of concern, said Ms. Verdugo Moreno, who raised concerns about delays in the process.  Experts also highlighted the right to land of the millions of internally displaced persons who had been forced to flee their lands and seek safety in towns.  They urged the delegation to ensure their rights under the law n°70, which was exceptional in the recognition of the rights of Afro-Colombians, but whose implementation on the ground was lacking.

Ms. Verdugo Moreno, in her concluding remarks, said that the perspectives of civil society organizations had added value to the review.  The Rapporteur stressed that rather than being in conflict with the State, their work sought the common good for all Colombians. 

Francisco José Chaux Donado, Vice Minister for Participation and Equality of Rights at the Ministry of Interior of Colombia and Head of Delegation, in his concluding remarks, insisted that the Government remained committed to lifting barriers, alleviating social malaise, and promoting human rights.  Colombia was generous to migrants and fair to its ethnic communities, and it worked hard to eliminate all forms of racism, intolerance and discrimination.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the quality of the dialogue and stressed that peace, justice and the rule of law were key pillars of the fight against discrimination. 

The delegation of Colombia was led by Mr. Chaux Donado and included representatives of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry for Health and Social Protection, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Housing, Urbanism and Territory, Ministry of National Education, National Statistics Agency, Circuit Judges, and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Colombia at the end of the session on 13 December.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage

The Committee’s public meetings are webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/ while the meeting summaries in English and French can be accessed at the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m.  today, 28 November, to review the combined fourteenth to seventeenth periodic report of Cambodia (CERD/C/KHM/14-17).


The Committee is reviewing the combined seventeenth to nineteenth periodic report of Colombia (CERD/C/COL/17-19). 

Presentation of the Report

FRANCISCO JOSÉ CHAUX DONADO, Vice Minister for Participation and Equality of Rights at the Ministry of Interior of Colombia, said 68 languages were spoken in Colombia, reflecting the cultural plurality of the country.  The President of Colombia Iván Duque Márquez had said that there was a need to narrow the gaps affecting ethnic groups and indigenous peoples and to improve State investment in this area.  Colombia had taken great strides to move forward with implementing human rights, eradicating discrimination, and empowering the bodies that would ensure the enjoyment of fundamental rights.  The Colombian society was a free and democratic society based on self-recognition and the promotion and protection of the inherent dignity of each person.  The Government was moving towards the common goal of treating all people with the same level of respect and understanding.  Colombia was a pluri-ethnic, democratic and pluri-cultural State where there was a merger of many populations, making it one of the most diverse in Latin America.  The Colombian legal framework addressed this ethnic and cultural diversity by promoting the development of public policies that protected the right to equality and non-discrimination.  It also provided the same opportunities and level of inclusion and affirmative action to ensure that its communities endured.  The International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 was a part of Colombia’s legal system.  Colombia valued and appreciated the Committee and the Convention, and had a strong conviction to ensure the continuation, protection and cultural relevancy of ethnic communities in the country. 

The Vice Minister said he would speak about the regulatory framework and the political participation of ethnic communities; economic, social and cultural rights of ethnic communities and the bodies and mechanisms that ensured their participation; the administration of justice; victims and the implementation of the final peace agreement; human rights defenders; and the statistics and visibility of ethnic communities.  The Constitution of Colombia embraced a multi-dimensional approach and equality, and encouraged the adoption of measures that would promote vulnerable groups that had been discriminated against.  Law 1955 of 2019 developed the National Development Plan 2018-2022: Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equality.  The plan sought to promote the construction of a better country for all Colombians with no distinctions.  Drafting the agreement had involved all social sectors and the use of mechanisms such as prior consultation and social dialogue.  The Government believed that lawfulness plus entrepreneurship equalled equality, which would remove any type of discrimination. 

The main pillar of the National Development Plan was the recognition of the ethnic diversity of Colombia, where affirmative actions were allowed so as to attain equality.  It had a special chapter on ethnic groups, with an investment of $ 8.4 million for the next four years so as to overcome the differences between ethnic groups and to provide them with an equal playing field, so that Colombia had a fairer and more inclusive society.  The Government had assured that it would improve the care of children of ethnic groups from early childhood, up until adolescence; improve access to and results of health services for ethnic groups by including an inter-cultural approach; reduce the gap of access to basic services such as water and sanitation; create productive projects; strengthen food security; implement protection strategies for the traditional knowledge systems; promote internet connectivity; and guarantee and secure financing of fora to ensure prior and informed consultation.  These commitments were complimented with the national strategy to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights 2014-2034, especially for vulnerable groups. 

To ensure the political participation of ethnic communities, the Constitution, in articles 71 and 176, established electoral, specialised circumscriptions for indigenous peoples, people of African descent, and for the Raizal communities in Congress.  Law 1833 of 2017 created the Commission for the Protection of the Rights of Communities of African Descent in Congress, and it was entrusted with the protection of collective and individual rights, as well as the improvement of standards of living of Afro-Colombian communities.  In the election of local authorities in October 2019, several governors who self-identified as belonging to an ethnic minority had been elected, including the first Afro-descendent governor. 

Colombia did not engage in any kind of ethnic discrimination, and it did not draw distinctions between migrants, residents and citizens when recognizing their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  The Government had an open-door policy, and did not require visas for Venezuelan migrants.  Around 1.7 million Venezuelans were living in Colombia, and the Government was proud to have a health and education system that was strong enough to welcome this migrant population.  A law had been amended that guided how to give Colombian nationality to the children of migrants born in Colombia, which had benefited a total of 25,000 children who had run a risk of becoming stateless. 

Colombia was engaged in prior consultations on the indigenous educational system and the teacher status required for communities of African descent.  This would ensure the provision of the right to a culturally relevant education for the country’s ethnic groups. 

In Colombia, health was a fundamental right.  The Ministry of Health ensured health coverage for 97 per cent of ethnic communities.  The Government had also begun to build, develop and implement indigenous health services for indigenous communities.  Through programmes, Colombia planned to increase the coverage of potable water in rural areas and the treatment of waste water. 

Prior, free and informed consultation and consent were ensured and there were guidelines on how to develop these consultations.  With respect to African-Colombian communities, a wide range of legislative measures had been established.  The Prosecutor’s Office had specific strategies to reinforce its investigations related to crimes enshrined in law 1842 dated 2011 in order to protect populations that were discriminated against.  In November 2019, the Prosecutor’s Office had carried out 611 investigations that were covered by this law, of which 423 were part of crimes of discrimination, and 188 were part of harassment based on religion, race, political ideology, national origin, or cultural or ethnic origin.  Law 1842 fit very well with the Convention.  Access to justice for indigenous communities had been strengthened by measures.  Reparations for victims and restitution of lands had been addressed. 

The President was firmly committed to offer all Colombians, without any sort of discrimination, both peace and security, including the implementation of the final agreement, stabilizing the territories and cohabitation with stronger institutions, the rule of law, full guarantee and rights of all Colombians, as well as many opportunities for the whole population to move forward and progress.  The implementation of the final agreement was a cross-cutting plan of the national development plan, and ensured peace with legality.  The Government recognized that the inclusion of an ethnic perspective in the implementation of the final agreement was indispensable, which was why a high-level body for ethnic minorities had been established.  The programmes for territorial development focused on 170 municipalities that had been most affected by the conflict, with the highest indices of poverty, illegal economic activity, and weakness of institutions.  Of the 115 indigenous peoples that were recognized in Colombia, 40.4 per cent lived in these municipalities.  An integral system for truth, reparation and justice, as well as non-repetition, was in full swing.  The Government had assigned resources to it. 

With respect to human rights defenders, the enemy of human rights was illegality.  Drug criminality and intimidation on behalf of criminal groups was a problem and the State had to provide solutions that were within the framework of the rule of law and due process.  The Government was rolling out integral programmes for guarantees that would cover human rights defenders, both men and women, through pilot projects in two areas. 

Concerning the statistical visibility of ethnic minorities, the National Statistical Department had taken on the responsibility of including a differentiating focus, with the inclusion of an ethnic perspective in its statistics.  It was estimated that there were 4.67 million individuals that identified themselves as Afro-Colombian.  Colombia had the political will to carry out the necessary actions to eradicate all forms of discrimination. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

AMIR NOUREDDINE, Committee Chairperson, said that Mr. Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, a citizen of Colombia, would be leaving the Committee next year.  With respect to people of African descent, he was always present to express the need to recognise these minorities, and was also the author of the General Comment on racial profiling.  The Committee would be losing one of its main architects.  The Chair thanked Mr. Murillo for everything that he had done for the Committee.  The Chair noted that Mr. Murillo could not take the floor today.

MARIA TERESA VERDUGO MORENO, Committee Rapporteur for Colombia, welcomed the Colombian delegation and highly valued their presence, which reaffirmed Colombia’s commitment to the values enshrined in the Convention.  She also thanked Mr. Murillo Martinez for his work.  She thanked the delegation for the excellent presentation.  It was her role to give constructive criticism.  Colombia was a State which was proud of its diversity and many cultures.  It had more than 100 indigenous populations, and more than 60 languages.  The Head of the Delegation had spoken about the survey and its results, but Ms. Verdugo Moreno asked for clarification about the problems that Colombia had had with the survey.  She had accessed the webpage of the Census Office, and there it had been established that there had been a great increase in the population from 2005 to now, from 41 million inhabitants to an estimated 48 million.  In the 2005 census, indigenous minorities made up five per cent of the population, and people of African descent about 10 per cent.  The self-identification criterion was welcomed.  How did the issue of self-identification arise?  Were interviewers trained sufficiently to ensure they gathered good data.  Was the issue of existing groups in remote rural areas addressed to ensure reliable data?  Could the delegation expand on the data on the African-Colombian community, which was of extreme concern for the Committee.  Individuals of African descent in Colombia and elsewhere had been made invisible, so all efforts to rectify this situation were appreciated. 

Concerning racial discrimination, there was the definition in the Convention and that in the legislation of Colombia.  The Constitution welcomed diversity, but the Committee wished to know if there would be further legislative efforts that would encapsulate the definition of discrimination in the Convention.  In the changes in the criminal law in 2011, there was no clear legislation addressing supremacist propaganda.  The real issues that Colombia had to deal with involved hate speech addressed specifically to those who tried to defend human rights, to members of indigenous minorities, or to migrants.  Was there specific legislation to address that concern.  More research and investigation needed to be carried out on hate crimes and crimes related to racial discrimination.  Were there any initiatives that encouraged presenting complaints, and facilitated access to the justice system for marginalized populations.  How was the Observatory against Discrimination, which was created in 2012, working?

As for the armed conflict and the implementation of the peace agreement, Colombia was congratulated for its fruitful process which had led to an end of five decades of armed conflict.  The peace agreement was supposed to include an ethnic chapter, and this review was an excellent opportunity to raise the visibility of these ethnic minorities and to make strides to protect their rights.  However, the situation might not be as peaceful as the agreement would lead all to believe.  What per centage of the provisions that covered ethnic issues had actually been implemented?  Some of the information that the Committee had received talked about only five per cent of provisions implemented.  Also, an ethnic body was supposed to have been created, but it seemed that there was no effective communications mechanism.  How did this and other bodies interact with the system for integration and reparations and non-repetition.  Were there sufficient resources to ensure the full implementation of all the chapters of the peace agreement?  How was the principle of prior and informed consent being implemented in different parts of the country?  It was a concern that there were still 13 armed groups that could directly affect the lives of 40 per cent of the population.  There were also paramilitary activities in different regions; homicides; thousands of displaced persons because of the activities of these armed groups; and children being recruited, as well as individuals of African descent and other minorities.  The effective implementation of peace agreements was always extremely challenging.  But what efforts were being made to ensure that peace reigned and that there was security for all throughout the land. 

The high level of gender violence against women of indigenous origins or of African descent was also a concern for the Committee, and it reportedly went on with complete impunity.

The Committee had heard reports of lack of progress in investigations and trials, and lack of sanctions for those responsible, and there were also problems with the redress, including collective reparations.  There had always been measures to combat structural discrimination which affected indigenous peoples and people of African descent in Colombia.  Initiatives that had been referred to by the delegation were welcomed as they sought to redress that situation.  However, some of these measures were not implemented properly.  What had already been done, and to what extent had Colombia been able to remove levels of inequality and poverty that disproportionately affected ethnic minorities, including in access to potable water and sanitation for indigenous peoples and people of African descent, and the chronic malnutrition of indigenous boys and girls. 

The number of victims of sexual violence was alarmingly high, partly due to the armed conflict.  Were any efforts being made to address the psychological state of mind of the victims, seeking to avoid double victimization.  What specific initiatives had been implemented to do away with the structural discrimination and barriers working against indigenous persons and persons of African descent, including for education and employment.  Had Colombia considered adapting the school programme to take into account the specificities of these groups and to overcome some of the barriers that had been mentioned.

The idea was to open the door to higher education or a job to anyone who wanted it, said the Rapporteur.

Turning to the initiatives to strengthen the cultural participation of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, the Rapporteur asked about the specific initiatives that had been developed in the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

Territorial rights and restitution of land represented one of the main areas of concern.  Colombia had legally recognized the land belonging to indigenous peoples and had in place a broad institutional and legal framework that protected indigenous peoples, people of African descent and Roma.  The armed conflict had particularly affected the land of ethnic minorities where they practiced ancestral customs.  Were there enough funds for the restitution process to operate effectively and quickly?

The right to collective property rested on land titling, which was being implemented by the National Land Authority.  The Committee was alarmed by delays in the allocation of the recognized land to indigenous peoples.  In 2014 and 2016, six favourable rulings had been handed down, but none had led to any material change and 64 per cent of the land restitutions were denied.  Were there effective mechanisms to promote collective land titling and had the prior consultations process been followed in granting mining licences to certain corporations?  The pace at which the requests for land titling and attribution were being processed was too slow to meet the deadline, the Rapporteur noted with concern. 

The delegation was asked to explain the implementation of the law 1793, the main law that recognized the rights of the Afro-Colombian population in Colombia.  It seemed that its implementation was very slow.  Ethnic minorities were traditionally victims of discrimination, in access to basic services, justice, employment and political participation – what policies were in place to promote equality among ethnic minorities?

The armed conflict and the related sexual violence were still ongoing in Colombia.  Ms. Verdugo Moreno asked if there was a mechanism in place to lodge complaints without double victimization, to identify perpetrators and to provide victims with the necessary services.

The practical implementation of the guarantee of prior consultation with ethnic groups seemed to be encumbered, for various reasons, including budgetary constraints.  What was being done to ensure that representatives of ethnic groups were indeed their legitimate emissaries and what criteria were in place to decide on the issues to be put up for consultation?

The Committee was extremely alarmed by the situation of indigenous human rights defenders and disproportionate violence that affected this group.  Between January 2016 and mid-2019, over 704 community leaders had been murdered.  Every 72 hours, a human rights defender died.  The State had an obligation to provide security to all its citizens, Ms. Verdugo Moreno stressed, and asked about emergency measures adopted to curb this violence. 

GUN KUT, Committee Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, recalled that the Committee had adopted concluding observations on Colombia in August 2015, in which four recommendations had been flagged for follow-up: impact of the armed conflict and peace negotiations, structural discrimination against Afro-Colombians, the Afro-Colombian population in Buena Ventura, and the right to safe drinking water. 

Mr. Kut commended Colombia for submitting its follow-up report on concluding observations on time, in September 2016, and reiterated the great importance the Committee attached to the follow-up procedure.

Other Experts said it was important for States to commit to eliminating racial discrimination, not only because they were parties to the International Convention, but because they were also implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which, after all, were grounded in human rights.  What was the level of the achievement of the Goals and how was this agenda changing the lives of indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, especially goal one on no poverty and goal three on health? 

The Experts commended Colombia for its commitment to instituting culturally relevant education and curricula in schools and asked about measures instituted to achieve this in consultation with indigenous peoples and people of African descent.  What was being done to ensure that people in rural and remote areas had access to the state of the art education facilities and curricula that would set them on the road toward higher education.  How many Afro-Colombians had benefitted from the funds for access to higher education?  

Stressing the relationship between their status in the past and current legacies, the Experts asked about specific measures put in place to support Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples in their quest for reparations for colonial wrongs

In 2005, most of the people who had been trained as census takers had not gone to indigenous areas, which were too remote and too hot.  What had changed in the 2018 census, had any census takers from indigenous peoples and people of African descent been trained?  Afro-Colombians were concerned about their inaccurate representation in the 2018 census – how did this happen and what was being done to correct the data?

Commenting on the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the country, an Expert commended Colombia’s efforts in preventing indigenous languages from dying out.

An Expert took note of the legislative and institutional measures in place to fight human trafficking and to assist and protect victims.  Colombia had adopted a decree on setting up an observatory for trafficking in persons, which would also be mandated with collecting and compiling reliable data to enable the country to develop laws and policies to fight the phenomenon.

The Committee was very concerned about the reports of violence against indigenous human rights defenders and activists, often inflicted by foreign mining companies.  Indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians had been marginalized and pushed to live in remote parts of the country, which, it turned out, were the most bio-diverse and mineral-rich areas of the country.  As such, they were the target of exploitation and the sites of mega projects, which were often much resisted by community leaders and indigenous activists.  What data and statistics were available on such violence, victims, perpetrators and sanctions?  What was the Government doing to control the behaviour of foreign companies operating on its soil and to protect the population from violence?

The peace agreement had done away with weapons that had been in Colombia for over 50 years.  Still, violence continued, in particular against indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians and their leaders.  One of the worst-affected areas was Cauca, where despite the presence of 10,000 troops, there was the highest number of murders of indigenous leaders.  The Committee remained concerned about threats against and persecution of indigenous leaders in other parts of the country as well – in October 2019 alone, 36 indigenous persons had been murdered.  The sheer number of cases registered with the Office of the Prosecutor in Buena Ventura was shocking. 

According to the 3183 decree of 2011, the National Narcotic Directorate, an autonomous unit within the Ministry of Justice, was to have been liquidated by 31 December 2013.  Had this been done and what were the reasons for the liquidation?  How were the judges appointed and what was the role and composition of the Higher Council of the Judiciary?

Between 2014 and 2018, the Observatory on Discrimination and Racism had received 104 complaints of racial discrimination, which it had transferred to various State institutions for action.  Were there provisions for monitoring and follow-up measures by the Observatory to ensure that all complaints were given due consideration.  How many of the 104 cases had been brought to courts and what were the outcomes of the court action. 

The national human rights institution, the Defensoria del Pueblo, which had enjoyed status A for nearly two decades, was conspicuously absent from the dialogue with Colombia.  What role was the Defensoria playing in protecting indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians from the consequences of the armed conflict? 

The delegation was asked about the status of the accession to the Inter-American Convention on Racism; the context in which the Constitutional Court had passed the ruling that banned employers from imposing disciplinary actions against employees on the grounds of ethnicity; the number of indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians who were victims of sexual violence; the jurisdiction and the make-up of the special courts; and the percentage of indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians in the two chambers of Congress. 

What was being done to thoroughly identify, register and protect victims of armed conflict, to prosecute the perpetrators, and to provide restitution to the victims?  The Victim Support and Reparation Unit was an institution set up by the 2011 law on Victims and Land Registration – did it target specifically women victims or all victims of the armed conflict?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on the judiciary, the delegation stressed its autonomy and independence.  Anyone who had the right qualifications and good behaviour could pursue a judicial career and the judges were appointed on merit.  Appellate judges were appointed for life, but the appointees had to come from the judicial structures. 

The Supreme Council of the Judiciary was in charge of the administration of the judicial branch.  It was composed of five justices, two appointed by the Supreme Court, two by the Constitutional Court and one by the Supreme Court of Administrative Matters.  The Supreme Court had three chambers concerning civil and commercial matters, criminal affairs and labour affairs. 

As for the judiciary structure in Colombia, there was a judge level, an appeal level and the high court called the Council of the State, composed of five sections, to which judges were appointed for a period of eight years.  The Constitutional Court was composed of nine justices; three were proposed by the President, three by the Council of the State and three by the Supreme Court.  There was another level of the Supreme Court, the special jurisdiction for peace, whose judges were selected by a special commission established by the legislative act n° 1 of 2016. 

The delegate explained that there was not one but several high courts between which there was no hierarchy as they were all the same.  The last decision in judicial matters belonged to the Constitutional Court, which interpreted the highest law of the land, the constitution. 

As for the structure of the Congress, the delegation said it was made up of two chambers.  The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, was composed of 174 members elected by the Colombian departments.  The upper chamber, the Senate, was composed of 100 members elected at the national level by the whole population.  In 1991, a special conscription had been introduced to strengthen the political participation of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.  There were two seats for Afro-Colombians in the House of Representatives.  In the Senate, two seats were reserved for representatives of indigenous peoples.

Colombia had a long democratic tradition which, inter alia, meant that citizens were free to associate with and organize political parties.  Several such parties and movements had been set up to promote and protect the rights and interests of Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples.

There was violence in Colombia, including in the Cauca region, which was marked by criminal activities and murders of leaders.  The Government would never allow foreign companies to promote violence in Colombia; such companies would feel the full weight of the law.  President Duque had stated himself that there was no greater breach of the law than instigating violence.  His Government remained fully committed to protecting the right to peaceful protests.  At the same time, vandalism and violence of those infiltrated in the peaceful protests would not be tolerated.

The 1991 Constitution of Colombia contained the principle of equality and it obliged the State to develop affirmative actions in areas such as health, education and others, to ensure multidimensional and multilevel equality for all its people.  The Constitution also contained an extensive Charter of Rights, which defined that all human rights treaties that Colombia was a party to were directly applicable in the national legislation.

The Office of the Ombudsmen was charged with upholding human rights, specifically providing legal assistance and advice free of charge to those whose rights needed to be upheld.  The Parliament selected and appointed members for a period of four years and two seats were reserved for Afro-Colombians.

The right to freedom of expression was enshrined in the Constitution and the many laws, as prescribed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Free exchanges of thoughts and ideas were the fundamentals of a democratic society.  Incitement to hatred, violence and discrimination were prohibited.

President Duque was concerned about violence in the Cauca Department, where the Government applied a two-pronged approach based on guaranteeing public security and ensuring the functioning of the State institutions.  A security plan for Cauca had been put in place and resources had been allocated to eliminate inequalities between different groups of the population in this area. 

The Office of the Prosecutor and the Office of the Attorney-General were fully committed to bringing to justice perpetrators of violence against human rights defenders and indigenous leaders and activists.  The authorities had been able to clear 28 per cent of the murders and identify and sanction the perpetrators.  The guidelines for the investigation of violence against human rights defenders were based on the United Nations guidelines.

Colombia had applied the concept of self-identification to the 2018 census to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to express themselves.  The census questions had been agreed on with indigenous leaders and 3,113 indigenous persons and 3,524 persons of African descent had been hired to implement the census, representing 12 per cent of the census-takers.  Colombia had spent $ 12 million to train them and transport them to the communities.

In 2005, there had been 1.4 million of those who had identified themselves as indigenous; in 2018, the number had reached 1.9 million, a 40 per cent increase.  Between the two censuses, indigenous peoples had gone from 3.4 to 4.4 per cent of the total population of Colombia.  The increase could not only be explained by the higher birth rate of indigenous peoples, but by a greater reach of the census in remote areas.  This had been made possible by, among other reasons, improved security and the greater recognition of indigenous peoples: 93 groups had been recognized in 2005 census and 115 in the 2018 one.  Indigenous peoples were highly concentrated in rural areas - eight out of every 10 lived in rural areas.  Most lived in four areas, on collective land, sharing languages and traditions, which made the self-identification very natural. 

The number of people of African descent in Colombia had dropped from 4.3 million in 2005 to 3 million in 2018, and represented about 10 per cent of the total population.  The reduction in the number of people who self-identified as Afro-Colombians could be explained by several factors, including the fact that only three out of 10 lived in rural areas and on collective land.  Others lived in urban areas throughout the country and had a different sense of identity compared to indigenous peoples.  A sense of identity was, therefore, a dynamic category.

Colombia was applying an ethnic-based approach and had instituted in 2008 a household and quality of life survey, which aimed to identify gaps in demography.  According to those surveys, the people of African descent were 4.7 million, making up 9.34 per cent of the population.  The National Statistics Office was mandated to improve the degree of accuracy of demographic and socio-economic data and to improve the differentiated and intersectional approach to the collection and interpretation of data.

Colombia had adopted a 10-year health plan, which paid attention to ethnic groups, victims of armed conflict and other groups requiring a specialized approach.  Child malnutrition had been recognized as a public health priority and Colombia had been implementing actions to prevent and reduce the rates of malnutrition throughout the country.  A hotline had been put in place to provide information on nutrition and advice to the population, and a series of measures had been put in place to identify and treat the cases.  To date, Colombia had reduced malnutrition-related mortality by 15 per cent.

A comprehensive and integrated protocol for victims of sexual and gender-based violence had been put in place.  Victims received not only health services but also gained access to justice, free of charge.  The first national survey of violence against children had been recently concluded.  Eighty-five per cent of victims of gender-based violence were women and children and eight per cent were ethnic minorities.

Venezuelan migrants in Colombia received the necessary health care and measures were in place to increase birth registration in rural areas, with an emphasis on ethnic groups, for example the use of mobile registries and the use of mobile phone technology. 

“Protection action” was a mechanism for the protection of fundamental rights instituted by the Constitution.  It allowed anyone who felt threatened or felt that their rights were being violated to resort to the services of the court without the need to use a lawyer.  The courts were obliged to act on the demand within 10 days.

Guajira Azul, the Blue Guajira, was a water and sanitation programme which aimed to strengthen access to clean water for the Wayuu people.  It took into account the geographical specificities of the land and the culture of the people.  The programme’s budget of $ 120 million for the 2018-2020 period would fund 128 interventions, which would increase clean water coverage from the current 4 per cent to 70 per cent and reduce distance to the nearest water point from 7 to 2.5 kilometres.  Because it was women whose job was to fetch water, the impact of this programme on their lives would be clear and immediate.

The right to drinking water was fully protected by the Constitution and access to drinking water was a fundamental right.  That was why access to water for human consumption would always take precedence over its use for industry or mining.  The legal and institutional framework to protect drinking water was in place. 

There were over 13,000 indigenous and Afro-Colombian teachers in the education system.  The Government was developing prior consultation on the indigenous education system and on the questions of professionalization of teaching staff.  Indigenous and ethnic curricula promoted bilingualism between Spanish and native languages.  There was a new curriculum that promoted teaching in native languages, which revitalized culture and ensured that the children stayed in the education system.

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture and the National Council for Indigenous Languages had drawn up a 10-year plan for the preservation of native languages, which was currently in a consultation stage.  The efforts to strengthen culture and cultural identity had increased the proportion of people who spoke indigenous languages, from 44 per cent in 2005 to 50.8 per cent in 2018. 

Colombia had opened the very first indigenous university in Cauco, funded by the Colombian Educational Credit Fund.  This fund had disbursed $ 50 million to more than 10,000 black students to attend university.

In 2018, the Government had approved a public policy to prevent and eradicate child labour, which contained an indigenous and an Afro-Colombian chapter.  The Government was currently working with the Permanent Platform of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian Women on the adoption of those chapters.

The gender parity initiative had been launched in 2019, to reduce barriers to women entering the labour market and attaining leadership positions.

The Observatory of Racism and Racial Discrimination was created in 2011 under the Ministry of Interior to respond to the needs of the black communities.  It had eight professional staff who were mandated to collect data about racism and discrimination, assist the population in lodging complaints of racial discrimination, improve public policies on those matters, and implement anti-racism and anti-discrimination policies.  The Observatory also brought cases of racial discrimination to the attention of the Government.

The Office of the Prosecutor prioritized gender-based violence and sexual violence.  The protocol on sexual violence strengthened the prosecutorial and judicial responses to those crimes.  During the 2012-2015 period, more than 19,000 charges had been brought to justice and 8,073 sentences for the crime of sexual violence had been handed down.  During the 2016-2019 period, more than 33,000 charges had been brought and 8,073 sentences handed down.  Victims had access to justice and could lodge complaints, including to Homes for Justice and other centres that could receive complaints of domestic violence.

The guidelines to strengthen specialized indigenous jurisdiction and courts were in place, which defined when indigenous jurisdiction could be seized.  Some of the elements included the specific behaviours, territoriality, legal interests of indigenous peoples and the indigenous institutions that could provide the right to justice and the right to reparation.

Law 70 of 1993 recognized the collective property in rural areas in Colombia.  This meant that Afro-Colombians who lived in urban areas had access to land on an individual basis, while those living in rural areas enjoyed the right to collective land.  More than 6,000 million hectares belonging to those populations had been recognized. 

Black communities were represented in municipal and departmental authorities, where they could take part through institutions in high-level consultation platforms and various commissions designed to contribute to development planning.  Ethnic communities had the priority in accessing non-renewable resources in rural areas.  The Standing Consultation Council was a permanent body through which indigenous communities could take part in legislative and administrative decisions that had an impact on their communities. 

The Ministry of Interior had signed 14 agreements with indigenous peoples concerning their protection and the national protection system for indigenous peoples in remote areas had been set up in 2018.  Twenty of the 39 safeguarding programmes were being implemented and others were being developed.

There were two types of protection in the legal order, individual and collective.  The Special Protection Unit had been established by a 2015 decree. 

A cross-cutting commission for the protection of human rights defenders had been created.  It was known as Plan Opportuna, under which an email address and a hotline had been set up to report complaints of violence and threats against human rights defenders.  Of the 320 cases of murders of human rights defenders, 178 had been resolved.  So far, 10 of the most sought-after criminals guilty of threatening human rights defenders had been captured.  An elite police force had established six investigative committees to address those specific situations, while in 2018, the army had set up a unit for the protection of human rights activists and social leaders.

Ethnic groups recognized by the law were indigenous peoples, Roma, the Raizal people from the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands, the Palenque and the black Afro-Colombians or mulato.  These populations lived in specific geographical areas, which represented challenges in raising their level of development.  The National Statistics Office had been instructed to carry out surveys in those areas to gather objective information about the quality of life and the level of socio-economic development of these ethnic groups.

The Office of the Prosecutor had received reports of 188 cases of harassment and hate speech, most of which had been classified as racial discrimination cases after investigations were held.  An anti-discrimination unit had been created to protect activities of social movements, in close cooperation with the 3,500 prosecutors across the country.  The Government was also working on strengthening the lodging of complaints, including in remote areas.

Concluding Remarks

MARIA TERESA VERDUGO MORENO, Committee Rapporteur for Colombia, in her concluding remarks, said that the perspectives of civil society organizations had added value to the review.  The Rapporteur stressed that rather than being in conflict with the State, their work sought the common good for all Colombians.  The Committee stood ready to assist Colombia on its path to ensure rights and equality for all.

FRANCISCO JOSÉ CHAUX DONADO, Vice Minister for Participation and Equality of Rights at the Ministry of Interior of Colombia, in his concluding remarks, insisted that in Colombia, there was room for everyone in rights and equity.  The Government remained committed to lifting barriers, alleviating social malaise, and promoting human rights.  Colombia was generous to migrants and fair to its ethnic communities, and it worked hard to eliminate all forms of racism, intolerance and discrimination.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the quality of the dialogue and stressed that peace, justice and the rule of law were key pillars of the fight against discrimination. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

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