Human Rights Council
24 February–20 March 2020
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development
The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, on his visit to Colombia, from 20 November to 3 December 2018.
The Special Rapporteur notes the political will and initiatives of the Government to create a safe environment conducive to the defence of human rights in Colombia.
However, he concludes that the vast majority of human rights defenders are at risk, and that this risk has increased in the three years since the signature of the Peace Agreement.
The defenders most at risk are social leaders defending human rights in rural areas, in particular those promoting the implementation of the Peace Agreement and defending land and environmental rights and the rights of ethnic communities against the interests of criminal groups, illegal armed groups and State and non-State actors, such as national and international corporations and other powerful interest groups.
Colombia remains the country with the highest number of murdered human rights defenders in Latin America, and threats against this group have soared. Despite progress in this area, there is still a high level of impunity. Although the President of the Government and other authorities have made public statements recognizing the important role of human rights defenders, there is a general lack of positive social recognition and they are undermined and criminalized by other State and non-State actors.
The Special Rapporteur stresses the importance of the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement and the development of a comprehensive policy for the defence of human rights, with the full participation of human rights defenders and civil society, and of further progress in the fight against impunity to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders conducted an official visit to Colombia from 20 November to 3 December 2018 at the invitation of the Government. The main objective of his visit was to assess the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia and to evaluate whether the Colombian State guarantees a safe and supportive environment for the defence of human rights throughout the country. That assessment was conducted in the light of the State’s obligations and commitments under international human rights law and under the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders).
Another aim of the visit was to observe and guide the efforts of the new administration to improve the protection of human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur visited the capital, Bogotá, and various locations in the departments of Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Magdalena, La Guajira and Cauca and met with rights defenders from Nariño. During his visit, he met with the President of the Republic, senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence and the Office of the Presidential Advisor on Human Rights and International Affairs, the Attorney General and Counsel General and judges of the Supreme Court. He also met with the transitional justice mechanisms and officials from the Land Restitution Unit and the National Land Agency. The Special Rapporteur also held talks with the Ombudsman and the director and staff of the National Protection Unit.
The Special Rapporteur met with a large number of defenders – about 60 per cent of them women – representing various sectors of civil society who are working in a number of fields.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur participated in a high-level public event to mark International Human Rights Defenders Day, organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and the Ombudsman’s Office.
The Special Rapporteur wishes to express his gratitude to the Government for its invitation and for its cooperation before and during his visit. He extends his thanks to the State and departmental authorities that met with him and to the OHCHR office in Colombia for its invaluable support in connection with his visit. The Special Rapporteur is also grateful to the more than 200 human rights defenders who met with him and shared their experiences and insights, particularly to those who travelled long distances to do so.