Writing for the International Crisis Group, Bram Ebus produced a vivid and alarming look at life in Venezuelan refugee communities on the Colombian side of the northern part of the binational border.
Physicians for Human Rights carried out psychological evaluations of 17 adults and 9 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and “found pervasive symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma.”
Amnesty International produced its annual country-by-country overview of the human rights situation in Latin America, putting particular emphasis on government repression of social protest. It has a great cover.
A team of reporters from Colombia’s La Silla Vacíaprofiles demobilized FARC guerrillas who have been resisting “dissident” groups’ calls on them to re-arm. Richly detailed, with an accompanying podcast episode.
On February 25 the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It is a very useful document, full of hard-to-obtain statistics. It also makes some reasoned, high-credibility judgments about controversial topics like implementation of the peace accord and government efforts to protect threatened social leaders.
The Colombian Government didn’t like the report. President Iván Duque criticized “imprecisions” and “not telling the truth” about the government’s performance in implementing the FARC peace accord’s rural provisions, adding that the report’s recommendation that the National Police pass from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry was an “infringement of sovereignty.” High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila, who is charged with implementing many peace accord commitments, said “I have no problem with being told that things are being done badly, but blunders [chambonadas] like this don’t lead to anything.”
This is not the first time that Colombia’s government and the OHCHR have had public disagreements since the office’s establishment in 1996. This won’t be the last time, either. The Office’s injection of inconvenient facts and perspectives into the high-level debate shows why its continued presence in Colombia, with a strong mandate, is so important.
Here are some highlights from the report:
On attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders
In 2019, OHCHR documented 108 killings of human rights defenders, including 15 women and two LGBTI defenders.
The Timely Action Plan initiated by the Ministry of Interior in December 2018 was developed to improve such coordination. To increase the effectiveness of this Plan, broader and more sustained participation of regional authorities and civil society should be prioritized.
Killings of women human rights defenders increased by almost 50 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018.
Of the 108 killings documented by OHCHR, 75 per cent occurred in rural areas; 86 per cent in municipalities with a multidimensional poverty index above the national average; 91 per cent in municipalities where the homicide rate indicates the existence of endemic violence; and 98 per cent in municipalities with the presence of illicit economies and ELN, other violent groups and criminal groups. Fifty-five per cent of these cases occurred in four departments: Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá. The sectors most affected continued to be those defending the rights of communities and ethnic groups, amounting to 65 per cent of all killings and sustaining a trend documented by OHCHR since 2016.
OHCHR continued to document attacks against representatives of Community Action Councils (JACs). 16 Especially in rural areas, JACs serve as the main body for communities’ political participation and the promotion of development and human rights initiatives. While noting a significant reduction from 2018, when it verified 46 cases, OHCHR documented 30 killings of representatives of JACs in 2019.
On the government’s response to these attacks
OHCHR appreciated the efforts of the Office of the Attorney General to investigate the cases it reported and noted some progress in 55 per cent of these cases, all of which occurred between 2016 and 2019. However, challenges persisted in the prosecution of intellectual authors of attacks against human rights defenders. The accused had been convicted in 16 per cent of the cases; 20 per cent were at trial stage; indictments had been issued in 7 per cent of cases; and a valid arrest warrant had been delivered in 11 per cent of cases.
The National Commission on Security Guarantees should be more regularly convened in order to fulfill its full role pursuant to the Peace Agreement, particularly concerning the dismantlement of criminal groups that succeeded the paramilitary organizations and were often responsible for killings of human rights defenders.
The Intersectoral Commission for Rapid Response to Early Warnings (CIPRAT) should sharpen its focus on human rights defenders, especially by defining coordinated and concrete measures to implement actions based on recommendations of the Ombudsman’s early warning system.
The Ministry of Interior’s National Protection Unit (UNP) made significant efforts to respond to the extraordinarily high demand for individual protection measures. Still, measures granted were not always adequate for the rural contexts in which most human rights defenders were killed. In 2019, six human rights defenders were killed in rural areas of Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Risaralda despite protection measures. Prevention and early warning should be prioritized over temporary, individual and reactive protection measures, which do not address the structural causes behind the attacks.
OHCHR highlights the need to increase collective protection measures. Such measures constitute a prevention mechanism, inasmuch as they seek to address risks faced by communities and organizations through the coordination of different authorities to advance human rights guarantees. Whereas the 2019 budget for collective protection measures represented merely 0.22 per cent of the budget of UNP, the implementation of collective protection measures was often hampered by coordination issues between national, departmental and municipal institutions.
On the military and human rights
OHCHR documented 15 cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life in Antioquia, Arauca, Bogotá, Cauca, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Santander and Valle del Cauca. This was the highest number of such cases OHCHR recorded since 2016. In 13 cases, the deaths appeared to have been caused by unnecessary and/or disproportionate use of force. According to information documented by OHCHR, in 11 cases the deaths occurred in military operations related to public security involving anti-narcotics and law enforcement activities. In six cases, the deaths were preceded by law enforcement activities that potentially could have allowed for the arrest of the suspects and thus avoided their killing. In one case, OHCHR observed that weak command and control appeared to result in the killing and attempted enforced disappearance of one person. The military was allegedly responsible in 10 cases and the police in four, while there was alleged joint responsibility for one killing. In all 15 cases, the Office of the Attorney General initiated investigations, but these did not appear to follow the Minnesota Protocol.
OHCHR documented cases of alleged arbitrary deprivation of life by members of the military and police. In following up on these cases, OHCHR was concerned that the military criminal justice system continued to request jurisdiction over such investigations. In some instances, the Office of the Attorney General even referred cases to the military justice system. In the case of El Tandil, Nariño, the Office of the Attorney General did not take the necessary actions to retain the case within its jurisdiction.
On blurring the lines between military and police
OHCHR observed an increased resort to the military to respond to situations of violence and insecurity. Despite existing protocols, norms and public policies regulating the participation of the military in situations related to public security, these were not fully applied in a range of settings, such as in rural areas in Arauca, Antioquia, Caquetá, Cauca, Córdoba, Cesar, Chocó, Meta, Nariño and Norte de Santander. Nor were they fully applied in urban centres, such as Convención, Medellín, Santa Marta and Valledupar, where the military conducted anti-narcotics operations and other law enforcement activities. Military training, equipment and the nature of military duties are inappropriate in such circumstances. According to police statistics, homicides increased in municipalities in Arauca, Norte de Cauca, Catatumbo and Sur de Córdoba, despite an increased military presence.
On 15 September, the General Command of the Colombian Armed Forces’ announcement establishing anti-riot squads composed of professional soldiers raised questions concerning Colombia’s respect for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ guidance related to the responsibility of the police, rather than the military, to maintain public order.
In line with the need to strengthen the police’s institutional capacity, OHCHR recommends transferring oversight of the police to the Ministry of Interior.
On “stabilization” and establishing state presence in ungoverned territories
Efforts to establish a comprehensive State presence, particularly of civilian authorities, including the Office of the Attorney General and the police have been insufficient, especially in rural areas. The five Strategic Zones for Comprehensive Intervention established by the Government through Decree 2278 of 2019 were created to address this vacuum. However, OHCHR observed that State presence in these areas has remained predominantly military and that the pace of establishing a stronger presence of civilian authorities was slow.
The Office of the Attorney General is present in almost half of Colombia’s municipalities. Nevertheless, it continued to face difficulties to reach rural areas, especially in Antioquia, Arauca, Amazonas, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Nariño and Vaupés, greatly affecting its capacity to guarantee access to justice for all.
In 2018, 16 PDETs were formulated with high levels of community participation, including indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. While this generated significant hope for the effective implementation of PDETs, during the reporting period, OHCHR observed few advances and minimal coordination with other relevant programmes, such as the Collective Reparation Plan contained in the Victims and Land Restitution Law and the Comprehensive National Programme for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS).
[T]he Comprehensive Rural Reform should be supported by an adequate budget to fully implement all of the plans, entities and mechanisms established in the Peace Agreement, rather than a limited focus on PDETs. However, the 2020 budget was reduced for all the institutions responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Rural Reform.
On illicit crop eradication and substitution
Police continued to recruit civilians to eradicate illicit crops. This practice exposes civilians to loss of life or injury due to the presence of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance among the crops. Between January and November, 24 civilians and 8 antinarcotics police officers were affected by such devices in Tumaco, Nariño, while eradicating illicit crops.
OHCHR highlights the recent determination, in a joint report by the Government and United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), that 95 per cent of families participating in PNIS fulfilled the voluntary eradication requirement, whereas 0.4 per cent returned to the cultivation of illicit crops.
The Historical Memory Project at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice invited me to be on a panel this morning about the “military-industrial complex” in Latin America today.
I explained that the “M.-I.C.” is not a term I use very often these days. Instead, I worry about “militarization”: the region’s armed forces playing an ever greater role in the political sphere, taking on responsibilities that civilians should be able to fulfill.
El viernes pasado, el presidente Alberto Fernández llamó a “dar vuelta la página” en relación con las Fuerzas Armadas. Sus dichos fueron repudiados por Nora Cortiñas y por organismos de derechos humanos
There does not seem to be a statistically significant difference in the margin before and after the halt of the preliminary vote. Instead, it is highly likely that Morales surpassed the 10-percentage-point margin in the first round.
El exdirector del Programa Nacional de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito (PNIS) explicó cuál es la gravedad de que el presidente Iván Duque rompiera el convenio con la ONU para verificar el avance del programa
Desde 2014 surgieron en Iguala diversos colectivos de familiares de víctimas de desaparición, a consecuencia del caso de los normalistas de Ayotzinapa, y cuyos buscadores de fosas han logrado recuperar 191 cuerpos
The two pilot programs — the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) for Mexican nationals and Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) for everyone else — were launched in October in El Paso, Texas, but as of early February, “they were operational across the border”
While the Migrant Protection Protocols, more commonly known as Remain in Mexico, have been a key part of throttling asylum applications, two newer, far less visible programs hold the potential to complete the job
While the Trump administration publicly sympathizes with the opposition to the oil-rich country’s socialist leader, Nicolás Maduro, it is also making it more difficult for the country’s political refugees to seek help within the United States
States across the Americas clamped down on the rights to protest and seek asylum last year with flagrant disregard for their obligations under domestic and international law, Amnesty International said today upon launching its annual report for the region
Hardcore supporters of Brazil’s far-right president are planning nationwide protests on 15 March and have been flooding social media with propaganda videos and fliers attacking members of Congress – and even proposing a return to military rule
El dirigente de este partido, Rodrigo Londoño, aseguró a través de un video compartido en redes sociales que “el Presidente es indolente, que su inacción lo hace cómplice del genocidio que se está presentando con los exguerilleros”
El juez que tramita el caso de El Mozote pidió a varias agencias estadounidenses, entre ellas la CIA y el Departamento de Defensa, que entreguen toda la información clasificada sobre los operativos y sobre los militares señalados por la masacre ocurrida en 1981
The remains of chopped-up saguaros are now visible along a swath of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, part of what Native American leaders warn is a range of environmental and archaeological threats
PACR/HARP requires the detention of asylum seekers in dangerous CBP facilities known as “hieleras” (or “iceboxes” for their freezing temperatures) with no meaningful way to obtain or consult with an attorney before their proceedings
I’ll be reachable for a little while mid-morning, and at the end of the day, and that’s about it. (How to contact me)
I’ve got a dentist appointment in the late morning, a mid-day call with groups working on the border, and an internal meeting to talk communications strategy, then in the late afternoon I’m taking a train to New York, where I’ll be on a panel tomorrow morning at John Jay College.
The killing comes just two weeks after Mainor Ortiz Delgado, 29, a leader of the Bribri indigenous people in neighbouring Salitre, was wounded in a gun attack, and less than a year since Sergio Rojas Ortiz, 59, was shot dead
The teen, a Mexican national, was playing with three friends in the concrete culvert that separates the two cities. They dared one another to cross the unmarked border, run up and touch the fence on the U.S. side, then run back to the Mexican side
As of April 2019, only about 77 acres of land in Webb County was between a border barrier and the Rio Grande. That’s compared with more than 10,000 acres in Hidalgo County and more than 12,000 in Cameron County
La Dgcim permanece constantemente en la mira de Naciones Unidas y organizaciones no gubernamentales por las continuas violaciones de derechos humanos que se les atribuyen a los funcionarios, dentro o fuera de su sede
The business elites are suspected of paying hefty bribes to the government officials in exchange for making loans in bolivars to the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., and then receiving repayments in dollars
This morning I’m meeting with a visiting group of Colombian human rights leaders and doing a phone interview about fumigation in Colombia. I’m having lunch with my new intern, and going to an NGO meeting at the UNHCR office in the late afternoon.
Las mujeres trabajan en los enclaves cocaleros como raspachinas, cocineras, cultivadoras y comercializadoras de la hoja o la pasta de coca. Pero, al contrario de los hombres que cumplen los mismos roles, siguen respondiendo por el cuidado del hogar y de sus hijos
Al mismo tiempo que la organización de las Farc sigue siendo parte de la lista de terroristas, porque, como sabemos, hay unas disidencias que todavía están involucradas en el narcotráfico y la violencia, apoyamos, como lo hicimos durante las negociaciones, la implementación del Acuerdo de Paz
They were returning on the morning of Jan. 17 when members of a regional gang called Los Ardillos — the Squirrels — stopped their two trucks on a remote road, forced everybody out and attacked them with knives
El problema con el Ejército ha sido el afán de Ortega de manipularlo, desvirtuando su independencia, junto con la complicidad en dicho esfuerzo de algunos cuadros superiores, en particular el general Avilés
“The United States would expect no less if the situation were reversed and a Mexican government agent, standing in Mexico and shooting across the border, had killed an American child standing on U.S. soil.”
Pervasive symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma; most met diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder
When trying to understand peace accord implementation, security threats, and human rights in Colombia, we have to rely heavily on numbers to explain what’s happening. Whether you’re explaining reintegration of ex-combatants, pointing to coca cultivation trends, or advocating for more prosecutions of those masterminding social leaders’ murders, you often need numerical data. And the most current numbers can be hard to find.
In response to that need, a new section of our “colombiapeace.org” site—which I’ve been updating and improving over the past two weeks—just went live: a compendium of current numbers and statistics about peace, security, and human rights in Colombia. Each number has a link to the source document where we found it; the links are color-coded to indicate whether the source is an official document.
Right now, the page includes 85 individual bits of data, covering the following topics:
Attacks on Social Leaders
Coca and Eradication
Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration
FARC Political Future
Protection of Ex-Combatants
Stabilization and Rural Governance
This page will never be “done.” It’ll need constant updating. It will also receive additions: there are some basic bits of public information still missing, and some topics will get added to the list above. But at this point, the “numbers” page is good enough to share.
As of December 30, 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had verified303 murders of human rights defenders and social leaders between the signing of the FARC peace accord and the end of 2019.
The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría) counts a higher number: 555 social leaders killed between January 1, 2016 and October 31, 2019. That is 133 cases in 2016, 126 cases in 2017, 178 cases in 2018, and 118 cases in 2019.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights counted up to 120 killings of human rights defenders and social leaders in 2019: as of January 14, 2020, 107 cases were verified and 13 more were undergoing verification.
Of these 107, 98%happened “in municipalities with illicit economies where criminal groups or armed groups operate.” 86% occurred “in villages with a poverty rate above the national average.”
In 2018, the UN High Commissioner’s office counted115 killings.
More than half of 2019 social-leader killings occurred in 4 departments: Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, and Caquetá, though UN High Commissioner counted murders in 25 of Colombia’s 32 departments.
“The single most targeted group,” the UN High Commissioner reports, “was human rights defenders advocating on behalf of community-based and specific ethnic groups such as indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians. The killings of female human rights defenders increased by almost 50% in 2019 compared to 2018.”
The UN High Commissioner’s office counted at least 10 killings during the first 13 days of January.
The NGO INDEPAZ counts51 social leaders murdered between January 1 and February 18, 2020.
INDEPAZ counted23 murders of social leaders in the month of December 2019.
On December 17, 2019, the Colombian Presidency’s human rights advisor, Francisco Barbosa (who is now Colombia’s Prosecutor-General) said that 84 social leaders were murdered in 2019, which he said was a 25% reduction from 2018.
As of January 2020, 59participants in coca crop substitution programs had been killed, according to the National Coordination of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Cultivators (COCCAM).