Colombia: Hechos del Callejón No.41 (English version)



Right to defend rights

Dignity and justice for all. This phrase summarizes the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, and next December 10 will be its 60th anniversary.

For its anniversary, during 2008 has been launched a worldwide campaign initiated by the General Secretary of the United Nations and led by the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights that seeks to promote awareness of respect for the Declaration.

The Declaration is the first global recognition that the rights and fundamental freedoms are inalienable and inherent to all human beings, that we all are born free and equal, that we must fight social injustice and work towards human dignity, equality and equity.

Among these rights is the right to defend human rights, work that in Colombia and in many countries of the world is fulfilled by defenders in the middle of a risky situation.

Many have given their lives for this daily task. Others have been threatened, displaced, silenced, stigmatized or have been victims of theft and plunder of the information that is the axis of their work.

Given this situation it is necessary to remember that promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms are legitimate actions that strengthen democracy. The progresses and challenges related to the defenders will be part of the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights.

The State has made progress in ensuring the work of the defenders, as schemes of protection through a special program of the Ministry of the Interior or other initiatives to protect their activities. The confessions from former leaders of the self-defense group have also been important within the framework of Law 975 through which many truths have been found: that that illegal group participated, in alliance with some State agents, in killings and other violations of human rights of leaders and advocates. One step that must be highlighted is the creation of a unit of the Prosecutor's Office to move forward with the cases on trade unionists and the willingness expressed by the Government to assume seriously the complaints about alleged killings by members of the security forces of protected persons or outside the combat.

However, there are still challenges for the State to protect the work of defenders. The first one, total compliance with the presidential directive of September 1999 that makes a special appeal for public servants to refrain from questioning the legitimacy of social rights organizations and their members. Without doubt, recognizing their commitment and their work politically is a path for armored them from violence and intolerance. We invite to a constructive and tolerant dialogue to overcome the differences between the defenders and institutionality through discussion spaces that generate an authentic trust and in which the role that defenders play in strengthening and legitimating governance is recognized. Equally important is to advance in providing guarantees that allow dialogue between the State and human rights organizations to arrange a National Plan of Action on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The second challenge has to do with preventive measures that the State should continue developing against the actors that put this population at risk, which means a challenge, among others, for the Attorney General's task of monitoring and punishing those public officials who do not fulfill their constitutional obligations.

A third challenge is to continue consolidating the Colombian justice system and achieve more progress in the fight against impunity to ensure justice on many actions that have been committed in Colombia against human rights defenders, either by individuals or agents of the State. A decisive step for the challenge of life will be undoubtedly to overcome these challenges and move forward so that through word and action the work of defenders will be respected, protected and ensured.

-Bruno Moro
Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme, undp