Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights activists. Amid decades of internal armed conflict between the army, guerrilla forces and paramilitary units, dozens of human rights defenders, including labor rights activists, and community and religious leaders are murdered every year. In few if any of these cases are those responsible brought to justice. According to the reports of credible Colombian human rights organizations and U.N. monitors, the majority of these attacks are carried out by paramilitaries. In the past many paramilitary units were under the direction of, or acted in close association with, the government's regular armed forces. Those paramilitaries have now supposedly demobilized but there structure remains intact as evidenced by their continual threats and attacks against human rights defenders.
Issues for Human Rights Defenders and Priority Areas of Work
Regular disparaging comments made by President Álvaro Uribe and other government officials needlessly exacerbate the already enormous risks faced by human rights defenders. Human rights organizations often comment on the failures of government policy vis-à-vis security and human rights. In response, President Uribe and other administration officials have branded them as terrorist sympathizers and have insinuated that illicit connections exist between human rights NGOs and illegal armed groups. Irresponsible comments by government officials in Colombia put the lives of human rights defenders at even greater risk and threaten to undermine the value and credibility of their work.Human Rights First has called on
President Uribe to stop making
such derogatory comments not least because attacks against human rights defenders frequently follow such comments. Colombian human rights defenders should be supported and recognized as an essential tool in establishing lasting security and stability.
Baseless Criminal Charges
Human rights defenders in Colombia play a legitimate and essential role in protecting basic rights and strengthening democratic institutions. Yet they are frequently subjected to spurious criminal charges
such as rebellion, alleging that they are members of guerilla organizations, or slander and libel for exposing human rights violations. These charges are often politically motivated and seek to discredit and stigmatize human rights defenders, thereby deterring them from performing their important work.Human Rights First works closely with human rights defenders such as Iván Cepeda Castro
and Principe Gabriel González
who have been subjected to baseless criminal charges which rely on witness evidence and/or government reports which lack impartiality and credibility.