UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, met with representatives of Protection International, Pensamiento y Acción Social (PAS) and grassroots organisation COCOCAUCA in Popayán, Cauca region, Colombia. They discussed the threats facing numerous communities across the West and South West of Colombia, including the Cauca, Bolívar and Magdalena regions.
The meeting was part of Forst’s 10 day tour throughout some of Colombia’s most rural areas, and highlights the dramatic increase in violence and threats against Colombian human rights defenders since the peace agreement in 2016. The visit marks the first in 10 years of the Special Rapporteur to Colombia, who expressed his concern about the killings and attacks against Colombian human rights defenders in a statement after the visit.
In his statement, Forst declared that the situation in Colombia is very dramatic and the worst that he has seen. Meeting with over 200 social leaders and activist throughout his visit, Forst highlighted his concern over the situation: “I am concerned that human rights defenders will not be safe in Colombia, as long as impunity persists. This is one of the areas that needs to be addressed urgently.”
Forst described the discrimination against peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities as systematic and institutional. National and international companies interested in Colombia´s natural resources are taking advantage of the vulnerability surrounding these communities.
Although homicides in the country have dropped by 40%, the targeting of social leaders has only increased. Figures from Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office show that between January 2016 and August of this year, 343 social leaders have been reported assassinated. This figure projects Colombia as one of the most dangerous places in the world to defend social and environmental rights. One of the most pertinent struggles facing social leaders is the reclamation of lands. However, various armed groups now battle to control these lands once controlled by FARC.
This visit highlights the need for immediate action, in the name of those most vulnerable to the ever-increasing violence; social leaders and defenders of both human and environmental rights.
Have a look at #SomosComoTú, Protection International’s latest campaign in Colombia. This campaign brings attention to the stigmatization of peasant farming communities, who are criminalized for standing up to protect their human and environmental rights, such as the reclamation of land and protection of natural resources.