Amnesty International Praises Colombia Peace; Blasts Attacks on Human Rights Defenders. ‘Indigenous, Afro-descendants and Farmers’; Calls for Continued International Scrutiny
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS Human rights defenders – including Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer community leaders, trade unionists, journalists, land activists and those campaigning for justice – were at risk of attack, mainly by paramilitaries.
There were also reports of thefts of sensitive information held by human rights organizations. Some criminal investigations into human rights defenders continued to raise concerns that the legal system was being misused in an attempt to undermine their work. In September, Indigenous leader Feliciano Valencia was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment for illegally holding captive a member of the security forces who had infiltrated an Indigenous protest in Cauca Department. Feliciano Valencia, who had long been the target of harassment by civilian and military officials for his defence of Indigenous Peoples’ territorial rights, denied the charges.
According to the NGO We Are Defenders (Somos Defensores), 51 human rights defenders were killed in January-September, compared to 45 during the same period in 2014. According to provisional figures from the NGO National Trade Union School (Escuela Nacional Sindical), 18 members of trade unions were killed in 2015, compared to 21 in 2014. The number of death threats against human rights defenders again increased.
An email sent on 9 March by the Black Eagles South Bloc (Águilas Negras Bloque Sur) threatened 14 individuals, including politicians active on human rights and peacerelated issues, and two human rights NGOs. The threat read: “Communist guerrillas… your days are numbered, your blood will be as fertilizer for the fatherland… this message is also for your children and women.”
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS All parties to the conflict were responsible for crimes of sexual violence committed mainly against women and girls. Very few of the alleged perpetrators were brought to justice. In June, the decision by prosecutors to close the case against and release one of the main suspects in the kidnapping and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya by paramilitaries in 2000 led to a public outcry that forced prosecutors to quickly reverse their decision. In July, the government promulgated Law 1761, which categorized femicide as a separate crime and increased the punishment for those convicted of this offence to up to 50 years’ imprisonment.
Human rights defenders campaigning for justice in sexual violence cases were threatened, and some threats against women activists involved threats of sexual violence.8 US ASSISTANCE US assistance to Colombia continued to fall. The USA allocated some US$174.1 million for military and US$152.2 million for non-military assistance to Colombia. In September, 25% of the total military assistance for the year was released after the US Secretary of State determined that the Colombian authorities had made progress on human rights.
INTERNATIONAL SCRUTINY In his January report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed progress in the peace talks, but expressed concern about impunity and the human rights impact of the conflict, especially on Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities and human rights defenders. Although the report noted that all the warring parties were responsible for human rights abuses and violations, it stated that paramilitaries (referred to as “postdemobilization armed groups linked to organized crime”) represented “the main Amnesty International Report 2015/16 127 public security challenge”. In August, the CERD Committee noted that the armed conflict continued to have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendant communities and criticized the failure to ensure the effective participation of these communities in the peace process. The UN Committee against Torture expressed concern over “the persistence of grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the State party” and the fact that “it has not received information concerning criminal trials or convictions for the offence of enforced disappearance.”