Colombia

 

  • Colombia: Government must end violence against protesters

     

    Statement at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council


     Delivered by Óscar Eduardo Ramírez, Campaña Defender la Libertad

    As emphasised in the outgoing Rapporteur's report, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social and economic inequalities and, if urgent action is not taken, we will face an epidemic of police killings on an unprecedented scale. 

     

  • Colombia: Rise for Climate marchers unlawfully obstructed

    Peaceful activists and campesinos of the “Movimiento Rios Vivos” were unlawfully obstructed by police in Ituango, Colombia on 8 September 2018 as they participated in the global “Rise for Climate” mobilisation. The action in Ituango was part of a global mobilisation organised by the environmental rights group 350.org, which  brought together tens of thousands of people who took part in 900 actions in 95 countries around the world.  The blocking of the protesters is an example of the ongoing pattern of violations against environmental defenders.

     

  • Colombia: Stop brutal attacks and killings of protesters

    Colombian authorities must stop brutally repressing protesters and investigate the killings, attacks, and excessive use of force by police officers and military personnel against demonstrators, said global civil society alliance CIVICUS. 

    Since April 28, people in Colombia have taken to the streets to demand social justice and oppose a tax reform. Protests take place against a backdrop of growing inequality and violence, sparked by failure to implement the 2016 peace agreements and exacerbated by the pandemic. Protesters have been heavily repressed by police in various cities across the country. The military has been deployed to police the protests, which is only allowed in exceptional cases and on a temporary basis according to international law.  

    On Sunday May 2, President of the Republic Iván Duque Márquez withdrew the controversial tax reform bill but protests have continued. Last week DANE (Colombia’s statistics body) announced that poverty increased in 2020, affecting nearly half of the population.  Growing inequality has intensified unrest and violence in the country. 

    Serious human rights violations, including disproportionate use of force by the police, violent suppression of protests, the killing and disappearance of protesters, sexual abuse, arbitrary detention and use of firearms have been condemned by civil society organisations in Colombia. 

    The use of violence against protesters occurs in a context of heavy stigmatisation against the demonstrators. Civil society in Colombia has condemned national and local government pronouncements against the mobilisation, which compared demonstrators to “vandals” and suggested they are linked to illegal armed groups. 

    The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that while they were on a verification mission on the night of May 3, police opened fire on demonstrators, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people in the city of Cali. Human rights groups accompanying OHCHR were attacked, threatened and shot by police. This was confirmed by the representative of OHCHR in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, who added that none of the members of the mission were injured.

    In one week of protests, monitoring organisations have documented hundreds of human rights violations. As of May 3, Colombia’s Ombudsperson had registered at least 19 people killed since the beginning of the protests – with more cases reported by civil society that are yet to be confirmed. Human rights group Defender la Libertad says around 300 people were wounded and almost a thousand protesters detained. Civil society group Temblores also documented nine cases of sexual violence by the public forces and 56 reports of disappearances during the protests. The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) also documented 70 attacks against the media. 

    “What we are seeing now is an escalation of violence from the Duque government against social mobilisation, which is becoming more and more lethal. The introduction of ‘military aid’ action has legalised the use of military force to suppress the legitimate right to protest and peacefully demonstrate,” said Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

    “CIVICUS reminds the government of Colombia that freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right articulated in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to gather to express collective views is a cornerstone of a free and open society,” said Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America.

    “Even if an assembly includes violent participants, human rights law does not permit the authorities to use excessive force against protesters. When using force, enforcement agencies and officers must not use firearms to disperse crowds and cannot indiscriminately use non-lethal weapons such as tear gas,” Gomez Peña continued.

    CIVICUS calls on the Colombian government to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration, freedom of expression, security, life and integrity of all people participating in the national strike. 

    Colombia is rated REPRESSED by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform measuring the state of civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, in all countries.


    INTERVIEWS

    Interviews are available with:

    • Natalia Gomez Peña, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Latin America;
    • Gina Romero, from the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy-Redlad. 

    Please contact: or  


    ABOUT CIVICUS

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists, dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. CIVICUS has over 10,000 members worldwide.

     

     

  • Colombian activists: ‘We are paying with our lives to defend water’

    Spanish

    CIVICUS speaks to Carlos Andrés Santiago, spokesperson of CORDATEC, an organisation that defends water, the territory and the ecosystems of San Martín, in the Colombian region of Cesar. CORDATEC mobilises against oil extraction through fracking in the area.

    1. Now that the peace accords with the FARC have finally been ratified, one would think that violence in Colombia is over. However, aggressions against social activists have not diminished. You and your colleagues at CORDATEC have reported numerous intimidations and threats. What are the causes of the on-going violence against human rights defenders?
    The conflict between the FARC and the military has effectively de-escalated over the past several months, even before the peace treaty was signed, thanks to the bilateral ceasefire that was declared in August 2016. This is reflected in the information that President Santos provided a few days ago: at that time, a single wounded soldier was being treated at the Military Hospital, in contrast to very high figures just a year earlier.
    In regions such as Cauca changes became apparent as a result of the ceasefire, the signing and ratification of the peace agreements, and more recently the establishment of “normalisation border zones” (zonas veredales de tránsito y normalización). These are areas in which the guerrillas will carry out the process of laying down their weapons, demobilising and reintegrating into civilian life. This, however, has also meant that in these regions a vacant space has remained that is now being occupied by new armed groups or criminal gangs.

    In addition, we are witnessing a transition from a great conflict between two armed actors to a set of diverse conflicts around social issues, many of them linked to environmental causes. For instance, land use conflicts involving victims who demand the restitution of their land and struggles in defence of water and, particularly in communities like ours, mobilised against extractive projects.

    The extinction of the conflict with the FARC, which yielded countless victims, therefore correlates with an increase in the number of murders of social and environmental activists and also the visibility of human rights defenders active in territories and communities.

    2. What is CORDATEC’s role and aims in this context?
    It is important to note that, as part of its post-conflict strategy, in December 2015 the Colombian government signed a contract with two multinational companies (ConocoPhillips and Canacol Energy) to explore and exploit hydrocarbons from unconventional deposits through fracking in three municipalities. One of them is ours: San Martín, in the department of Cesar.

    So our community got organised and in early 2016 we formed the Corporation for the Defence of Water, Territory and Ecosystems, CORDATEC. We began to mobilise: we staged demonstrations, pot-banging protests, a civic strike and several marches. About 9,000 people took part in the most recent one, on 25 September 2016 – in a municipality that has 21 000 inhabitants. We also went to the media, resorted to strategic litigation and looked for allies in Congress. We even went along with CIVICUS to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

    We seek to defend the most fundamental good which is water. By resorting to peaceful resistance, we are trying to prevent oil exploitation through fracking because we acknowledge the environmental and social impacts that it causes, and we are not willing to pay the costs. Among other impacts, fracking uses large amounts of water, contaminates underground and surface water sources, increases induced seismicity, causes serious damages to public health, changes the uses of agricultural land, and releases large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse effect gas.

    3. What sort of restrictions on the exercise of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly have you faced as environmental and anti-fracking activists?
    We face many. In retaliation for resisting fracking, the community of San Martín, and particularly CORDATEC members, have been subjected to harassment. It is clear that the municipal mayor, Saul Educardo Celis, has a strategy of intimidating all the people that are close to CORDATEC. For instance, CORDATEC members’ relatives have lost their jobs in the local administration. I have personally received death threats, and the comrades from the Workers Trade Union (Unión Sindical Obrera), who accompany us in our struggle, were threatened through a pamphlet just a few days ago.

    The company ConocoPhillips has also attempted to file civil lawsuits, and through several letters to the municipal government they have requested that the conflict be judicialised, that is, that measures be taken to arrest and imprison the leaders of the mobilisation and protest actions, and that guarantees be provided so the company could start work in the Pico Plata 1 well, which they had so far been unable to do.
    In the demands that they directed towards the government, the company appealed to the Criminal Code, according to which the obstruction of roads is a crime punishable with imprisonment. In response to these demands, the municipal government – in complicity with the Attorney General at the time and the national government – authorised the use of the ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, or Anti-Riot Squad), the unit of the National Police that is employed to control demonstrations and carry out evictions. Our fundamental right to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, enshrined in Article 37 of our Constitution, was therefore ignored.

    Since then, the ESMAD has repressed the community of San Martín and our comrades from the department’s subdivision of Cuatro Bocas on three separate occasions, and several people have been injured. The ESMAD’s operations have resulted in numerous human rights violations, on top of the threats, intimidation, harassment and illegal surveillance that CORDATEC leaders have been subjected to. These events have been reported to the Office of the Attorney General, the Ombudsman Office, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, of the Organization of American States, among other instances. Nevertheless, the government has taken no measures to safeguard the lives and physical integrity of the environmental defenders under threat.

    Ever since its first operation, on 19 October, the ESMAD has remained in San Martín. The camp and the entrances to the well are guarded by militarised police at all times. In other words, a significant number of military personnel have been assigned to guarding the interests of a multinational company instead of protecting the communities. In the context of a social state based on the rule of law, the communities should take priority – not a transnational corporation that has come to plunder those communities’ natural resources.

    The same is happening in other regions of Colombia, which is not surprising given that there are currently 43 blocks assigned to fracking that would eventually affect more than 300 municipalities across the country. In seven of those blocks there are already signed contracts, most of them adjudicated to foreign companies. To make it worse, despite the pronouncements by the Comptroller General, two additional contracts are currently being processed.

    Why is this happening? It’s fairly simple. The extractive industries create very strong economic interests that frequently involve politicians and government officials who receive bribes in exchange for facilitating contracts, granting environmental licences, providing congressional support or favouring the companies when under investigation. Corruption has pervaded this type of megaprojects: the Odebrecht case is a clear example of this. These are struggles led by small communities that are trying to defend themselves, like the Biblical David from a giant and corrupt Goliath that crushes whoever gets in their way. From their perspective, the end justifies whatever means.

    A few months ago the Minister of the Environment acknowledged that 75% of current conflicts in Colombia are environmental conflicts. And the pattern of threats, intimidation and ESMAD use is replicated throughout the country. It is part of a familiar script that often ends with activists being murdered. We are used to life not being worthy enough; therefore, we see it as relatively normal when physical elimination is resorted to so as to remove from an obstacle from the way. In Colombia, defending water is costing us our lives.

    4. Are there any civil society initiatives to overcome these limitations of civic space?
    Due to the long-standing conflict that we have experienced, many organisations in Colombia have long specialised in human rights issues. Numerous Colombian civil society organisations as well as the international community follow and give accompaniment in this sort of situations and provide support to communities regarding self-protection, visibility and denunciation.

    As the situation in San Martín unfolded, we have found allies willing to accompany the process. Along with trade unions and social and environmental organisations, we are in the process of forming the Alliance Colombia Free of Fracking as an arena in which to weave resistances, and we are moving forward from there.

    But this does not happen in all regions of the country: many struggles are being quietly fought in very small and distant territories that are not easily reached and where access to media and technology is extremely limited. In those places, the law of fear continues to prevail, and whoever gets in the way is easily taken out of the equation.

    5. What concrete actions should the Colombian government adopt in the short term to safeguard civic space and protect the rights of its citizens?
    First of all, the government must stop stigmatising and criminalising environmental activists and human rights defenders, and particularly those who oppose extractive industries. The Mayor’s accusation that we are terrorists, for instance, lapidates us and undermines the legitimacy of human rights defenders’ struggles.

    Secondly, the government must provide guarantees for the exercise of the constitutional rights to mobilise and protest, which is not presently the case. Third, it should stop relying on mining and fossil fuels, and instead reorient its development model towards alternative and sustainable energy sources that do not pollute the environment.

    Fourth, it must channel the required resources towards the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP), which provides protection schemes to persons under threat. The capacity of the UNP is currently insufficient, and only one out of every six submitted applications receives a positive answer entailing the provision of some type of protective measure. This means that five out of six persons seeking protection are left unprotected. Many social leaders who submit applications are told that their risk level does not warrant the granting of security measures.
    Recognising threat levels, however, does not automatically result in the adoption of timely and effective measures. For instance, on 29 November 2016 the Ombudsman’s Office – a human rights guarantor with no enforcement capacity – issued a report identifying several political groups and social organisations in various communities of Cesar, including CORDATEC, as facing imminent risk due to their work. On 1 December an early warning was issued for the authorities to guarantee these persons’ life and integrity. Protection however never came and one of those people – a member of the Community Board of Hatillo – was murdered a month later.

    This situation is a reflection of a very unequal country, where congressional representatives, former presidents and various politicians enjoy very generous protection schemes, with many people assigned to their protection detail, while community leaders and human rights defenders are left exposed.

    6. How connected is local civil society in Cesar with its counterparts in other parts of the world and how can external actors support activists and civil society organisations in Colombia?

    Given the high profile of both the armed conflict and the peace negotiations in Colombia, the organisations that form the United Nations and the Inter-American system, as well as international cooperation agencies and various CSOs around the world have spoken out about what is happening.

    Global Witness in its reports On Dangerous Ground and How Many More?, Front Line Defenders in its Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk 2016, and also CIVICUS in the report Against All Odds about the dangers of environmental activism, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with their strong statements to condemn the assassinations of land rights defenders, and Amnesty International in their 2016/2017 Report – they all converge in alerting the world about the serious risks faced by social and environmental leaders in Colombia. This has originated a very strong movement to repudiate the wave of assassinations, forcing the Colombian state to acknowledge the problem.

    Concrete measures, however, are still very inadequate. That is why it is urgent for the international community to adopt a firmer position vis-à-vis the Colombian government. We need international actors to put more pressure on the Colombian state so it behaves more consistently.
    Indeed, there are currently major contradictions and inconsistencies between what the national government says out there and what they do domestically. The Colombian state promotes and ratifies international commitments in defence of the environment and against climate change; it proclaims the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreements while within its own territory it implements fracking and mining projects that contradict those agreements for the protection of the environment and its inhabitants. Not only does it fail to fulfil its environmental commitments, but it also receives the Nobel Peace Prize while its mining-energy locomotive opens the way for the murder of social leaders. Somebody needs to call them to account.

    Civic space in Colombia is rated as ‘repressed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with CORDATEC through their Facebook page or website, or follow @CarlosSantiagoL on Twitter.

     

  • Country recommendations on civic space for the UN´s Universal Periodic Review

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 30th UPR session (May 2018). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. Countries examined include: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan:

    Bangladesh (Individual/Joint): In this UPR, CIVICUS draws attention to a range of legislative restrictions which have been strengthened and imposed to curtail the operation of independent civic groups in Bangladesh. Of particular concern, are new restrictions on groups seeking funds from abroad, as well the repeated use of the penal code to arrest HRDs and place blanket bans on meetings and assemblies. We further examine the spate of extrajudicial killings against secular bloggers and LGBTI activists which is illustrative of Bangladesh’s downward spiral with respect to civic freedoms and systemic failure to protect civil society.

    Burkina Faso (EN/FR): CIVICUS, the Burkinabé Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and the West African Human Right Defenders Network examine unwarranted limitations on freedom of expression and assembly. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

    Cameroon: CIVICUS, Réseau des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) highlight Cameroon’s fulfilment of the right to association, assembly and expression and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We assess the ongoing judicial persecution and detention of human rights defenders on trumped up charges, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to target journalists and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.  

    Colombia(EN/SP): CIVICUS highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders, social leaders and unions workers who are routinely subject to physical attacks, targeted assassinations, harassment and intimidation by state and non-state actors. CIVICUS examines the increased number of attacks against journalists as well as the government’s lack of effective implementation of protection mechanisms to safeguard the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

    Cuba (EN/SP): CIVICUS and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) highlight the constitutional, legal and de facto obstacles to the exercise of the basic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The submission discusses the situation of CSOs, HRDs, journalists and bloggers, who face harassment, criminalisation, arbitrary arrests, searches of their homes and offices and reprisals for interacting with UN and OAS human rights institutions. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled both in the streets and in the media, offline and online. 

    Djibouti (EN/FR): CIVICUS, Defend Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submission describes how the government of Djibouti has patently ignored the 14 recommendations made during the second UPR cycle related to the protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Instead, in the intervening period, authorities in Djibouti have continued their campaign against dissent, regularly detaining human rights defenders, journalists and trade union activists because of their criticism of the government or human rights activists.  

    Russia: CIVICUS and Citizens’ Watch address concerns regarding the adoption and application of several draconian laws that have resulted in the expulsion and closure of numerous CSOs and restrictions on the activities of countless others. The submission also lays out the increasing criminalisation and persecution of dissenting views by means of growing restrictions, in both law and practice, on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. 

    Turkmenistan: CIVICUS highlights restrictions to freedom of association in Turkmenistan including recent amendments to the 2014 Law on Public Associations which further limit CSOs’ ability to register, operate independently and receive funding from international sources. Additionally, we assess the use of the arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders as well as unwarranted limitations to online and offline freedom of expression.

    Uzbekistan: CIVICUS, The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the International Partnership for Human Rights assess the conditions of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Uzbekistan. We highlight the lack of progress made in implementing recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle. It particular, we note that although there have been some notable improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

     

  • Five countries added to the civic space watchlist

    • Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan join global watchlist
    • Escalating rights violations include arrests, abductions and assassinations of activists, as well as the persecution of journalists and media blackouts
    • International community must pressure governments to end repression and bring perpetrators to account

    Five countries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental freedoms in recent weeks and months. The new watchlist released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms across the globe, identifies growing concerns in Egypt, China (Hong Kong), Colombia, Guinea and Kazakhstan.

    Activists, civil society groups and peaceful protesters in these countries are experiencing an alarming number of attacks to their civic freedoms as protected by international law. In particular, the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Violations include the murder of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia; excessive force and mass arrests against protesters in Hong Kong, Egypt and Kazakhstan; and the arbitrary arrest of activists in Guinea who are trying to uphold the constitution and presidential term limits as the country prepares for 2020 elections. 

    “It is deeply alarming to see ongoing and serious  attacks to basic rights in these countries,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, CIVICUS Civic Space Research Lead. “The scale of these violations is often under reported as journalists in these countries are facing their own host of restrictions” Belalba said. “We call upon neighbouring states and international bodies to put pressure on these countries to end the repression.”

    In September 2019, demonstrations against alleged government corruption in Egypt were met with excessive force. The use of tear gas was widespread and videos have surfaced of police beating protesters before being taken into custody. In a bid to silence government critics, security forces have carried out sweeping arrests of protesters, detained journalists, blocked news websites and disrupted online messaging services. Civic space in Egypt is rated as Closed.

    Human rights groups in Hong Kong have documented excessive and unlawful force by security forces against protesters including the use of truncheons, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters have also been attacked by pro Beijing mobs. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in the context of the mass protests as of mid-September 2019 and some have been ill-treated in detention. Civic space in China (Hong Kong) is rated as Closed.

    In Colombia, dozens of community leaders have been killed this year, and violence has escalated ahead of October's Municipal Elections. Thousands have marched across the country calling for an end to the violence and impunity for these crimes. Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders and environmental activists. Civic space in Colombia is rated as Repressed.

    In Guinea, plans to change the constitution, which could see the presidential term limit abolished, has sparked opposition and protests. Activists opposing constitutional changes have been arbitrarily arrested, and security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas during protests, killing several people and injuring dozens more. Civic space in Guinea is rated as Obstructed.

    While in Kazakhstan, since June 2019 elections human rights abuses have hit a new high. The work of journalists and electoral observers has been obstructed, while thousands have been detained in post-election protests. Civic space in Kazakhstan is rated as Obstructed.

    In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in each of these countries as part of efforts to ensure greater pressure is brought to bear on governments and the perpetrators of these attacks. The CIVICUS Monitor rates countries based on the state of their civic space as either open, narrow, obstructed, repressed or closed. These ratings are based on multiple streams of data that assess the state of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

     

  • Groups call for respect for peaceful protest in Colombia

    December 9 marked the 18th day of peaceful nationwide protests by labor unions, students, peace activists, Afro-Colombians, indigenous, victims, women, farmers negatively impacted by free trade agreements, and many other Colombians. As the demonstrations were launched, U.S. organizations and activists pledged their support to the peaceful protests in a public statement. Days prior to the strike, the Duque administration implemented unnecessary security measures that sent the message that they wanted to squash the protests.

    On November 19, the police raided and searched some 37 homes of activists, artists, and alternative media services. 21 of the raids were declared illegal by Colombian courts. In an attempt to justify repression, the President and members of the Democratic Center Party publicly stigmatized the protestors, criminalizing the right to protest and incorrectly stating that there was a foreign influence driving the protests to destabilize the government. Given this initial response from the highest level of government, we felt compelled to speak out against possible attacks and abuses against protestors.

    Two weeks later, we sadly see that our concerns were justified. Even though the majority of the hundreds of thousands of Colombians protested peacefully, they were met with a brutal response from the Colombian National Police’s Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD, a 3,300-member riot police unit founded in 1999). On November 22, a curfew was issued in both Bogota and Cali due to false rumors spread on social media that thieves—some of them Venezuelans—were taking advantage of the police being busy to attack people’s homes. These rumors caused panic and led to the formation of “para-police” patrolling the streets and fomenting fear and chaos. The government fueled xenophobia against Venezuelans by deporting 60Venezuelans with no due process.

    The next day, Saturday 23, the ESMAD worked methodically and violently to break up any peaceful gathering of protesters, apparently under an order “to disperse any demonstration that might block traffic.” Members of the ESMAD shot 18-year-old Dilan Cruz in the back of the head with a “bean bag” weapon, a “non-lethal” projectile intended, according to UN standards, to “be used in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual and only with a view to addressing an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.” Multiple protestors caught the incident on video. Dilan died from his injuries on November 25. The coroner determined that his death was a homicide.

    According to the coalition Defendemos la Libertad, made up of 60 organizations working together to conduct observation of social protests, over 400 cases of abuse at the hands of the ESMAD and other police were reported just between November 21 and 27. This includes 16 eye injuries caused by tear gas canisters and other projectiles, which are forbidden by Colombian police procedures and international law to be shot at protesters' faces.

    This is not the first time that actions taken by the ESMAD have resulted in death and injuries. Since its creation in 1999, the unit has killed at least 34 people. Their disproportionate use of force and brutal attacks against unarmed civilians in rural protests—especially those led by indigenous communities—have been denounced to authorities on numerous occasions.

    To our knowledge, U.S. public funds do not fund the ESMAD directly. However, many of the ESMAD’s weapons, including tear gas and “bean bags,” are purchased with the Colombian government’s own funds through U.S. arms sales programs. Much of its materiel, for instance, comes from one Pennsylvania-based company, Combined Systems, Inc., which sells tear gas canisters and stun grenades to Colombia. We call on the State Department and the U.S. Congress to place a moratorium on sales of crowd control weapons to Colombia until the ESMAD has either been replaced by a new force or undergone a full overhaul toward building a dramatically different, more rights-respecting culture and doctrine based on de-escalation, respect for peaceful protest, and minimal use of force. The U.S. Embassy and State Department should support civil society’s rightful demands for peace, labor rights, safety for human rights defenders, and environmental protection. The Secretary of State’s reiteration of rumors that widespread social protests across the Americas are driven by Venezuelan and Cuban intervention rather than the real national concerns that lead people to protest in each country, including Colombia, is harmful.

    Lastly, we call on the Duque administration to resolve these protests peacefully through a negotiation involving the broad leadership of the various sectors involved in the protests that leads to a deeper resolution of the issues driving this widespread social discontent. A thorough investigation of the killing of Dilan Cruz and other abuses taking place during the protests should be carried out in civilian courts. The Inspector General’s office (Procuraduria General de la Nación) and the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) should be encouraged and permitted to play their crucial roles in issuing disciplinary measures for public officials and verifying and documenting citizen complaints. Finally, the Duque administration should ensure that the existing protocol for addressing social protest (Resolution 1190 of 2018 of the Ministry of the Interior) is employed at all times instead of completely ignoring it.

    Sincerely,

    • Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
    • Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective
    • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
    • UNIAFRO
    • The International Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights
    • OXFAM America
    • Movement for Peace in Colombia, New York
    • MADRE
    • Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
    • Latin American Studies Association (LASA) – Colombia Section
    • Interdisciplinary Colombian Studies at University of New Mexico
    • Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ
    • Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, DC
    • Colombia Grassroots Support, New Jersey.
    • Codhes
    • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    • Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
    • Center for Justice & International Law (CEJIL)
    • Amazon Watch
    • AFRODES USA
    • ACSN
    • Victoria Sanford, PhD - Director, Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies, Lehman College-NY
    • Sinclair Thomson - New York University-NY
    • Sandra Granobles - DC Government Educator
    • Ofunshi Oba Koso, Minnesota Yoruba Cuba Association- MN
    • Nicolás Sánchez - Department of Latin American Studies, Duke University
    • Nancy Appelbaum - Director, Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies Program, Binghamton University-NY
    • Michael Birenbaum Quintero - Chair, Musicology and Ethnomusicology Department, Boston University
    • Mary Roldán - Epstein Professor of Latin American History Hunter College, CUNY-NY
    • Margaret Powrer – Profesor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
    • Luz M Betancourt, PhD., CUNY, Graduate Center-NY
    • Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera - Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Colombia
    • Lina Britto - Assistant Professor, Northwestern University- IL
    • Kiran Asher - Professor, University of Massachusetts-MA
    • Jonathan Fox – Professor, School of International Service, American University-DC
    • John C. Dugas - Kalamazoo College-MI
    • Joel Wolfe - Professor of History, University of Massachusetts
    • Jessica Srikantia, Associate Professor at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government-VA
    • James E. Sanders - Utah State University-UT
    • Gloria Monroy-DC
    • Gina McDaniel Tarver - Associate Professor of Art History, Texas State University-TX
    • Gabriel Rudas-Burgos - Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, Stony Brook University
    • Felipe Gómez G - Professor, Carnegie Mellon University-PA
    • Fabian Prieto-Ñañez - Postdoctoral Researcher, Virginia Tech-VA
    • Erin K. McFee, PhD - The University of Chicago-IL
    • Danesis Arce - Afromedios
    • Constanza López - Associate Professor, University of North Florida-FL
    • Barbara Gerlach - Minister, United Church of Christ
    • Alexander Fattal - Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego-CA

     

  • Incertidumbre en Colombia: La paz en tiempos de elecciones

    Por Inés Pousadela 

    Lo que en cualquier democracia “normal” sería considerado un dato rutinario devino recientemente en Colombia un hecho de significación histórica: las elecciones legislativas de marzo de este año, en las cuales las ex guerrillas FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) debutaron como partido político, se desarrollaron sin incidentes graves. 

    Leer en: Open Democracy 

     

     

  • Incertidumbre en Colombia: La paz en tiempos de elecciones

    Por Inés Pousadela 

    Lo que en cualquier democracia “normal” sería considerado un dato rutinario devino recientemente en Colombia un hecho de significación histórica: las elecciones legislativas de marzo de este año, en las cuales las ex guerrillas FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) debutaron como partido político, se desarrollaron sin incidentes graves. 

    Leer en: Open Democracy 

     

     

  • Joint letter on Colombia: COVID-19 cannot be a smokescreen to target social leaders

    Joint Letter: Colombia must implement the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recommendations regarding social leaders, even during the pandemic

    In its recent report, IACHR crucially underscores the importance of recognizing the right to defend rights and the fundamental role of social leaders in Colombia, especially in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The report Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in Colombia, recently presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after their visit to the country in November 2018 repeatedly highlights that the work of human rights defenders and social leaders is essential for the full assurance of the Rule of Law and constitutes an indispensable pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracy. When the defense of human rights is impeded, it is not only a particular individual or community that is affected; attacks against social leaders affect the cohesion and continuity of social organization on a larger scale.

    Social leaders play a fundamental role in maintaining the social fabric in their communities, often under precarious security conditions. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations in the report are even more important to safeguard their work. As Erlendy Cuero, social leader and Vice President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), stated in a recent series by Dejusticia on pandemic and inequality, #DelMiedoALaAcción [From Fear to Action], during the pandemic, "homicides, threats and persecution have increased because we find ourselves in a situation where the support for some leaders with protection measures has been reduced and those who do not have security measures are left unprotected.” The latter is compounded by the fact that leaders, who have to stay at home because of the coronavirus, are at greater risk because they are more easily located.

    Leaders in areas far from urban centers are more vulnerable, meaning the Colombian government’s adoption of the IACHR’s recommendations in those areas is even more essential. 

    Key recommendations made by the Commission include that Colombia: 

    • “Redouble its efforts to implement the Peace Agreement so that the right conditions are in place all around the country for people to be able to defend human rights and defend communities”.
    • “Involve social organizations in any efforts to develop a comprehensive public policy on prevention and on protection of human rights defenders and social leaders, reactivating platforms for dialogue such as the National Roundtable on Guarantees and the National Commission on Security Guarantees, in which agreements have already been worked out”
    • “Properly implement any precautionary measures granted by the InterAmerican Commission and keep protection arrangements in place for beneficiaries as long as the measures are in force”
    • “Take all necessary measures to ensure that authorities or third parties do not manipulate the punitive power of the State and its institutions of justice to harass human rights defenders and harm their work. Ensure that the proper punishment is applied if this occurs”
    • “Adopt measures to investigate with due diligence and confront impunity regarding crimes committed against human rights defenders and social leaders in the country, establishing the perpetrators and masterminds of the crimes”
    • "Improve coordination between national and local so that protection measures can be adapted to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and social leaders and ensure that measures are effective in remote rural areas" 
    • "Agree on protection measures to address the level of risk, listening to and consulting with the human rights defenders in order to develop a timely, specialized intervention that is proportionate to the potential risk and has a differentiated approach.”
    • "Improve coordination with international human rights organizations" with which the Commission ends its report.

    The signatory organizations place special emphasis on the Inter-American Commission’s recognition of the right to defend rights and its call to comply with the provisions contained in the Final Peace Agreement, in line with the constitutional judges in the recent tutela [protection] action judgments confirming #TheRighttoDefendRights presented by various social leaders and organizations in the country, at the end of 2019.

    Sincerely,

    ARTICLE 19
    Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
    Asociación Minga
    Amnesty International
    Business & Human Rights Resource Centre 
    CIVICUS
    Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo - Cajar
    Comisión Colombiana de Juristas (CCJ)
    Dejusticia 
    Espacio Público
    Front Line Defenders (FLD)
    Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
    International Land Coalition - LAC (ILC LAC)
    International Service for Human RIghts (ISHR)
    International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
    Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
    Not1More (N1M)
    Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
    Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia (REDLAD)
    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 
    Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (UNITAS)
    Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

     

  • La Colombia rural, Iván Duque y los acuerdos de paz

    Por Natalia Gómez, Oficial de la Coalición Vuka! para la acción cívica, parte de la Alianza global para la Sociedad Civil-CIVICUS

    La autora expresa su temor por que el nuevo presidente altere lo negociado entre las FARC y el Gobierno y ponga en peligro a las comunidades más vulnerables del país.

    Lee el artículo: El País 

     

     

     

  • Open Government Partnership undermined by threats to civil society

    • Fundamental civic freedoms seriously undermined in over a third of OGP countries – Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico fare worst
    • Worrying picture revealed by the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online research tool that rates civic space around the world and documents systemic violations of rights

    Johannesburg, 2 December 2016 –People’s rights to protest, organise and speak out are currently being significantly violated in 25 of the 68 active Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

    The new tool launched in October by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS rates countries based on how well they uphold civic space, made up of three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

    The OGP brings together governments and civil society with the shared aim of making governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens. OGP countries make multiple commitments relating to civil society and public participation, which include consulting with civil society and enabling citizens to input on policy.

    Of the 68 active OGP countries, the CIVICUS Monitor finds that civic space in four - Colombia, Honduras, Liberia and Mexico -  is repressed, which means that those who criticise power holders risk surveillance, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, injury and death. Civic space is also rated as repressed in Azerbaijan and Turkey, both recently declared ‘inactive’ by the OGP’s steering committee.

    In the past six months, the CIVICUS Monitor has documented a wide variety of attacks on civil society in these four countries, ranging from the assassinations of five social leaders in just one week in Colombia, to the police’s use of tear gas and water cannons to disperse student protests in Honduras, and from the four-hour detention and questioning of a newspaper editor in Liberia to the murder of a community radio journalist in Mexico.

    A further 21 OGP countries are rated obstructed, meaning that space for activism is heavily contested through a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.

    Other commitments on civic participation and civic space that OGP countries make include releasing and improving the provision of information relating to civic participation; bringing in or including citizens in oversight mechanisms to monitor government performance; and improving legal and institutional mechanisms to strengthen civil society capabilities to promote an enabling environment for participation. 

    “The existence of significant restrictions on civil society in more than a third of OGP countries is deeply troubling and calls into question their commitment to the principle of empowering citizens upon which the OGP was founded,” said Cathal Gilbert, lead researcher on the CIVICUS Monitor. “OGP countries should be harnessing the potential of public participation in governance, rather than silencing government critics and harassing human rights defenders.”  

    Of the remaining OGP countries, civic space in 31 is rated as narrowed. A total of 12 countries are rated as open, which means that the state safeguards space for civil society and encourages platforms for dialogue. Positively, no OGP countries fall into the CIVICUS Monitor’s closed category.

    “Notably, OGP countries as a group fare better than the rest of the globe on civic space,” said Gilbert. “However, much more needs to be done collectively to ensure that commitments on public participation made by OGP countries in their national development plans are carried through.”

    As heads of state and government, members of parliament, academia, business and civil society representatives meet at the OGP Summit in Paris, France from 7-9 December, CIVICUS urges delegates to focus discussions on best practices to improve civic space conditions in OGP countries.

    ###

    For more information, please contact CIVICUS’ media team on .

    Notes to editor

    During the OGP Summit, lead researcher Cathal Gilbert will present these findings from the CIVICUS Monitor during a session from 11:15 - 12:35 on Thursday 8th December in Room 1, Palais d’Iena, Paris. For more information see here: https://en.ogpsummit.org/osem/conference/ogp-summit/program/proposal/459. CIVICUS Secretary-General Danny Sriskandarajah will take part in a high-level panel on civic space at the OGP Summit on Friday 9th December.

    The CIVICUS Monitor is available at https://monitor.civicus.org. Ratings are based on a combination of inputs from local civil society activists, regional civil society experts and research partners, existing assessments by national and international civil society organisations, user-generated input and media-monitoring. Local views are prioritised. The CIVICUS Monitor is regularly updated during the week and users are invited to contribute. More information on the methodology is available here.

    ###

    Annex I – CIVICUS Monitor ratings, December 2016 (Active OGP countries highlighted in bold)

    All (134) Countries:

    Closed (16 countries): Bahrain, Burundi, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UAE and Vietnam

    Repressed (33 countries): Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, China, Colombia, Djibouti, DRC, Egypt, Gambia, Honduras, Iraq, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Rwanda, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe

    Obstructed (29 countries): Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Ukraine

    Narrowed (40 countries): Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA

    Open (16 countries): Andorra, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world.

    www.civicus.org

    www.twitter.com/CIVICUSalliance

    www.facebook.com/CIVICUS

    #CIVICUSMonitor

     

     

  • Populism and human rights: a new playbook

    Guest article by César Rodríguez-Garavito and Krizna Gomez, Dejusticia, Colombia

     

  • Rural Colombia, Iván Duque and the peace agreements

    By Natalia Gómez is an Official of the Vuka Coalition! for civic action, part of the Global Alliance for Civil Society-CIVICUS.

    The author expresses fears that the new president will alter what was negotiated between the FARC and the government and endanger the most vulnerable communities in the country.

    Read on: El País 

     

  • The deterioration of civic space in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras

    37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Statement during the High Commissioner's country briefings

    CIVICUS is extremely concerned about the spate of attacks against HRDs journalists and peaceful protestors that has taken place across Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras. 

    We remain gravely alarmed by the striking inattention given to the disturbing increase of killings of HRDs since the signing of the Peace Agreement by the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group. Local partners report that 106 defenders were killed and 310 attacks on media workers and journalists took place during 2017. In addition, arbitrary detentions, attacks and judicial harassment are also on the rise.

    Moreover, CIVICUS is concerned about the situation in Honduras.  Honduras has been placed   on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List because of the violence surrounding the November 2017 contested presidential elections. Protests were met with excessive police force and more than 20 protesters were killed, with many others injured or detained. Additionally, reports show increasing attacks against HRDs who denounce the repression of protests.  There has also been an increase in violations of the right to freedom of expression, including smear campaigns, threats, harassment and physical attacks against media workers and activists expressing dissent on the media.

    Finally, Mr President, CIVICUS is extremely concerned by the continuing violence against local communities involved in land rights struggles in Guatemala. These violations are perpetrated by state security forces or by private security working under the orders of private corporations. The authorities have not taken any action to protect these communities. During one such event in late November 2017, a Maya community that had been evicted from their land and were camping on the side of a road was attacked by security guards that opened fire, killing one community member and injuring another.

    In all three cases, CIVICUS calls on the authorities to stop the use of violence against activists, media workers and peaceful demonstrators, to conduct investigations on threats and attacks, and ensure perpetrators of unlawful killings are brought to justice without further delays.

     

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