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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Colombia: Human rights activists killings

14 January 2020

Press briefing note on Colombia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Marta Hurtado
Location: Geneva
Date: 14 January 2020
Subject:       Colombia

We are deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019. According to our records, 107 activists were killed last year, and our staff in Colombia are still in the process of verifying 13 additional cases reported during 2019 which, if confirmed, would raise the annual total to 120 killings. Attacks on human rights defenders had already intensified during 2018, when 115 killings were confirmed by the UN Human Rights Office in Colombia. And this terrible trend is showing no let-up in 2020, with at least 10 human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of January.

We renew our call on the Colombian Government to make a strenuous effort to prevent attacks on people defending fundamental rights, to investigate each and every case and to prosecute those responsible for these violations, including instigating or aiding and abetting violations. The vicious and endemic cycle of violence and impunity must stop. Victims and their families have a right to justice, truth and reparations.

The great majority of the 107 killings in 2019, happened in rural areas, almost all (98 %) in municipalities with illicit economies where criminal groups or armed groups operate, and 86 % of the total number took place in villages with a poverty rate above the national average. While more than half of the killings occurred in just four provinces -- Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá -- murders were nevertheless recorded in 25 different provinces. The single most targeted group was human rights defenders advocating on behalf of community-based and specific ethnic groups such as indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians. The killings of female human rights defenders increased by almost 50 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018.

The figures reflect the gravity of the problem, but they conceal the structural causes that sustain violence against human rights defenders. The Human Rights Office reiterates that any attack against human rights defenders is unacceptable and constitutes an assault against democracy, undermining participation and people’s access to their human rights.

There were a number of other contributing factors including the penetration of criminal groups and armed groups linked to illicit economies in areas vacated by the FARC-EP, and the favouring of a military response from the Government to control the violence. The continuous challenges in the implementation of the Peace Agreement, especially the dismantling of groups with paramilitary links, the security situation in communities affected by the conflict, land restitution and rural reform, illicit crop substitution programmes, and fulfilment of victims’ rights have also played a role.

We acknowledge some positive steps, such as the recent meeting of the National Commission on Security Guarantees convened by the Government early this year,   to tackle this problem. However, the number of killings clearly shows much more needs to be done.

We call on the authorities to redouble their efforts to ensure a free and secure environment for civic engagement and to increase the presence of civil State authorities in rural areas to provide basic services such as health and education. Disparities in the enjoyment of all rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – especially in rural areas – need to be tackled urgently. Measures of a collective nature aimed at protecting geographical areas or communities must be further developed.  

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]or Jeremy Laurence - 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]
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