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Photo: Jakeline Romero, Wayuu community leader from the organisation, Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu, whose members received a series of death threats in the first week of May  La Guajira, Colombia


A human rights crisis is unfolding in Colombia. 681 social leaders and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) have been killed in the country since 2016. These killings are systematic in nature: victims are targeted because of their political, social or community activity, especially when it challenges the interests of economically-powerful groups.

The main causes leading to the targeting and killing of HRDs are fundamentally tied to those communities’ opposition to transnational economic and political power structures vying for territorial control over resource-rich territories; and the corridors used for illicit crop farming and export. Land restitution, illicit crop substitution, opposition to mega-projects and mining are the four key conflict areas.

The main factor contributing to threats and insecurity continues to be the existence and operation of organised crime groups. These groups target defenders, social leaders, political activists, communities, ex-FARC combatants and their relatives. They commit massacres, homicides, threats, forced disappearances, physical attacks and extortion. In particular neo-paramilitary structures and their support networks are responsible for the most violent attacks, although a substantive number of perpetrators can’t be identified. Another factor is the stigmatisation and use of military force against social protests and the resurgence of extrajudicial executions by agents of the State.

The Colombian Government is currently developing new laws and regulations to address the violence, including specific measures within the framework of systematic violence for the exercise of political opposition and the work of the Human Rights Defenders. However, to date they have not implemented any effective regulations. Current government plans could roll back important advancements made to develop robust mechanisms to protect human rights.

Our partners and social movements in Colombia believe that the only way to guarantee the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement is to make sure that those on the frontlines of the new wave of post-agreement violence, and their communities, are adequately protected. They are urging the Colombian government to stop dismantling key mechanisms already in place to guarantee the protection of HRDs, and to commit to further integrated and efficient collective measures in consultation with affected communities. 

To honour the lives of lost Human Rights Defenders, we must fight the system that killed them. Help us by making sure the UK government acts to protect defenders. Please write to your MP and encourage them to sign EDM 2232 calling for the effective implementation of the Colombian Peace Accord and for a peaceful and negotiated solution to the conflict with the ELN guerrilla group.

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Background info

The hope that the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Santos Administration and the FARC would bring security for all is rapidly fading. Instead, an increasingly authoritarian government responding to the interests of transnational corporations, coupled with a burgeoning of paramilitary activity, bears all the hallmarks of the type of predatory extractive model that led to the armed conflict in the first place.

The UK is the second largest investor in Colombia, with many investments in the extractive sector. Despite considerable financial support for the Peace Process, the UK government is undoing its efforts to develop efficient mechanisms to protect the lives of HRDs by not holding corporations to account through sufficiently strict regulation overseeing the behaviour of companies abroad.

In Colombia, our partners are calling for urgent and coordinated action from the government – in line with the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs – which will support the implementation of collective protection measures based on forms of autonomous mechanisms created by communities themselves. They are also protesting the government’s neoliberal National Development Plan, which favours transnational corporations and capital, while disregarding people, workers and planet.

EDM 2232 acknowledges the vital role that civil society organisations and human rights defenders play in the effective implementation of the Peace Accord. It therefore calls on the Colombian Government to ensure that the recommendations in the UN Special Rapporteur's report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders are incorporated into, and monitored by, the UN Security Council's Verification Mission to Colombia. It also calls on the UK Government to ensure the effective implementation of the Peace Accord between the Colombian Government and the FARC, including its gender-based agreements and prioritisation of victims' rights.

The #DefendTheDefenders is a campaign formed of civil society and human rights organisations based in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which opposes and raises awareness of the murders of human rights defenders in Colombia. It is supported by War on Want, Rodeemos el Diálogo, Justice For Colombia the UCL Colombian Society ABColombia, Latin American Solidarity Centre (Dublin), Colombian Caravana, Diaspora Woman, Agenda Internacional de Paz, Grupo Europa de Familiares Desaparecidos de Colombia, Paz a la Calle Internacional, Congreso de los Pueblos, Colombia Humana Nodo Londres, Beyond Skin (Northern Ireland), Escuelas de Paz, Marcha Patriótica UK and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign.

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