Colombian Human Rights Defenders Building Sustainable Peace: Program Today

February 18, 2016

Despite optimism that a peace agreement will soon be reached at the peace talks in Havana, the war in Colombia continues, marked by a worrisome rise in attacks on human rights defenders, particularly women.  Human rights defenders are the canaries in the coal mine.  Their work is critical to a healthy democracy.  If human rights defenders cannot be protected, how can those they defend be provided with guarantees of security?  Human rights protections are the basis for any peace to be sustainable and they form part of the fabric of the larger security and protection questions that continue to be issues of vital concern as the peace process moves into its final stages.

Global Trends in Human Rights

Human rights defenders are more vulnerable in Colombia than in any other country in the world.  According to the latest annual report by Frontline Defenders, last year at least 156 human rights defenders were killed or died in detention. Eighty-seven of these deaths were in Latin America, with Colombia alone accounting for 54 killings–more than one-third of the global total.

In its report on the first six months of 2015, Los Nadies, the Colombian NGO Somos Defensores documented 399 cases of attacks against Colombian human rights defenders.  These included 34 death threats (a 216% increase from the same period in 2014),  34 killings (an increase of 15%), 25 attempted killings, and 4 arbitrary arrests.  72% of the attacks were attributed to paramilitaries; 22 % to unknown protagonists, and 5% to state agents.  The FARC and ELN are presumed to be responsible in 3 cases.  In their most recent report on the third quarter of 2015, Somos Defensores registers an additional 178 attacks against human rights defenders.  These included 17 more assassinations (for a total of 51 in the first nine months of 2015), 3 more attempted killings, 15 more arbitrary arrests, and 1 disappearance.  Sixty-one percent (108) of the attacks in third quarter of 2015 were against women, marking a new and worrisome trend.

Role of Human Rights Defenders in Peacebuilding

In the context of a peace accord, the capacity of the State to offer human rights protections and to promote human rights is essential to a smooth transition.  If it has proven difficult to achieve accountability for attacks against human rights defenders, it will be that much more difficult to ensure the safety of ex-combatants who have given up their weapons.  If the FARC is to lay aside their weapons within 60 days of the signing of an Accord, as they have agreed to do, the State must be prepared to assume the protector role that is its responsibility toward all Colombian citizens.  These mechanisms have not been adequate in the past, especially for human rights defenders.  Securing justice in the cases of attacks on human rights defenders, which enjoy virtual impunity, would be an important confidence-building measure as the parties negotiate the terms for ending the conflict in Havana.

Event in Washington, D.C.

Today, February 18th, from 2-3:30(EST), the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America will co-sponsor a Colombia Peace Forum program that focuses on the role of human rights defenders in building a sustainable peace.  The session will feature four of the five winners of last year’s National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia.  For the past four years, international humanitarian agencies working in Colombia have sponsored this competitive national prize to acknowledge the courageous work of individuals and of local and regional organizations that work to protect and promote human rights in the country. Four of last year’s five recipients will be on hand for the discussion, courtesy of the Swedish humanitarian agency Diakonia, which has sponsored their visit to the U.S. The four represent peasant, Afro-Colombian and women’s organizations, and hail from northern Cauca, Comuna 13 (Medellín), Casanare and the Middle Atrato.

The speakers will discuss the challenges they and their fellow advocates face in their regions, and the role of human rights defenders in building sustainable peace in Colombia.  We hope to generate new ideas as well about how more effective protection mechanisms can be designed, how to ensure that those responsible do not enjoy impunity, and the role that human rights defenders might play in relation to the UN political mission that was recently approved by the Security Council to monitor and verify a bilateral ceasefire.  (See my previous post here.)

If you are in Washington, D.C., please join us.   (RSVP required, sign up here.).  The event will be webcast and available from the USIP website here.  You can also join the conversation on Twitter with #ColombiaPeaceForum.

Speakers will include:

Francia Elena Márquez MinaSpeaker
Winner, Defender of the Year, Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) and Consejo Nacional de Paz Afrocolombiano (CONPA)

Luz Elena GaleanoSpeaker
Winner, Social Collective Process of the Year, Mujeres Caminando por la Verdad

Fabián LaverdeSpeaker 
Winner, Collective Process of the Year, NGO Level, Corporación Social para la Asesoría y Capacitación Comunitaria (COS-PACC)

William RivasSpeaker
Winner, Recognition, “Lifetime” Organization, El Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la Asociación Campesina Integral de Atrato (COCOMACIA); El Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó, FISCH

Lisa HaugaardCommentator
Executive Director, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

Gimena SánchezCommentator
Senior Associate for the Andes, Washington Office on Latin America

Virginia M. BouvierModerator
Senior Advisor for Peace Processes, U.S. Institute of Peace




About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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3 Responses to Colombian Human Rights Defenders Building Sustainable Peace: Program Today

  1. elvirasanchezblake says:

    Sounds super interesting the forum for today. Unfortunately I am not able to attend. I will be reading the reports. Good luck.


  2. Pingback: Race to a Finish Line That Proves Elusive Brings Multiple Advances at Colombia’s Peace Table | COLOMBIA CALLS

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