On March 21, the thematic hearing “Investigating Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Colombia” was held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Through its representative for Colombia, Pedro L. Cortes-Ruiz, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights participated in the hearing as petitioner, together with representatives of the Marcha Patriótica and a collective of human rights organizations represented by the Corporación para la Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos Reiniciar.

The hearing was requested by the Colombian government. In its presentation, led by Assistant Attorney General María Paulina Riveros, the government offered an assessment of the adjustments being implemented by the Office of the Attorney General to improve investigations into attacks on human rights defenders and strengthen protection and prevention mechanisms. The government also requested the assistance of the IACHR in developing directives to improve institutional responsiveness in this area.

In the remarks to the Commission by its representative, the Institute expressed its positive assessment of the efforts to improve investigations of attacks. Nevertheless, it conveyed its concern that such efforts “do not adequately include a differentiated approach that recognizes the particular characteristics and impacts involved in the risk situations and rights violations suffered by Afro-Colombian and LGBTI community leaders.”

The Institute also shared the concerns of several partner organizations from Colombia, including those of the Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados (AFRODES). The first concern shared was in regard to the National Protection Unit, the institution responsible for providing protective measures for human rights defenders at risk. Cases continue to occur wherein leaders who have been victims of attacks are not granted protective measures because, according to official evaluations, their risk situation has been classified as “ordinary.” Even in the case of Erlendy Cuero, Vice-President of AFRODES, for whom the IACHR has requested precautionary measures, the government has failed to work with her to implement protective measures because it “insists that she must undertake for the sixth time the administrative process for a risk-assessment.”

The Institute also highlighted the need for the Colombian government to reevaluate institutional processes regarding collective protection measures, reminding the Commission that on two prior occasions before the IACHR the government has declared its commitment to do so, but that has as of yet it has failed to take any action on the matter.

The concerns of the Colombian LGBTI community as conveyed to the Institute by its partners at Caribe Afirmativo were also expressed to the Commission; namely, that in the face of an increasing number of murders and attacks on the LGBTI community, the government has yet to implement the necessary changes to its protection programs recommended by the Commission in 2014.

The Institute’s assessment concluded by relating to the IACHR the message of the Diocese of Quibdó, which included follow-up information on issues and recommendations related to the human rights violations against communities and organizations in Colombia’s Pacific coast region.

Lastly, the Institute offered three specific recommendations to the Commission.

  • That the Commission recommend to the Colombian government that it revise and update the norms and programs for the inclusion of collective protection measures in its provision of protections for Afro-Colombian leaders.
  • That the Commission recommend to the Colombian government to fulfill its commitment expressed to the Commission to refrain from requiring new risk assessments for persons for whom the IACHR has requested precautionary measures.
  • That the Commission urge the Colombian government to act on the Commission’s recommendation from 2014 to modify Decree 4912 of 2011 in order to include LGBTI leaders as persons warranting protection for risks associated with their work regardless of their status as members of a formal human rights organization.

The intervention made by the representative of the Marcha Patriótica offered a critical assessment of the institutional responses regarding investigations and protection of its members, who have been systematically attacked and murdered. A serious concern was expressed for members’ stigmatization and criminalization, which at times has even come from high-level government representatives. It was also announced that the organization would soon make a formal petition to the IACHR for precautionary measures.

The intervention made by Reiniciar focused on questioning the government’s failure to recognize the systematic nature of threats against and murders of human rights defenders, which have increased in intensity of the past fourteen months.

The comments made by the Commissioners following the remarks by the state and the petitioners included a recognition of the usefulness of considering the Institute’s insistence that a differential approach be incorporated in the institutional improvements being made to better protect LGBTI and Afro-Colombian leaders. The Colombian government also publicly expressed its commitment to implementing this recommendation.

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