Collective protection of HRDs
Document Type: Policy Makers Tools

Collective protection of HRDs: defenders of the right to land and territory

13 October 2017

Protection International, in collaboration with its Colombian partner Pensamiento y Acción Social (PAS), launches an innovative publication exploring broader approaches to the protection of human rights defenders, particularly those defending the right to land and territory: COLLECTIVE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS OF THE RIGHT TO LAND AND TERRITORY – CONCEPTUAL DEVELOPMENTS AND METHODOLOGICAL CHALLENGES.

Why such a research?

At least three elements have motivated Pensamiento y Acción Social (PAS) and Protection International (PI) to undertake a research on collective protection measures for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society organisations (CSOs) and communities struggling for the right to land and territory:

  1. The high level of risk faced by human rights defenders, CSOs and communities, especially those living and operating in remote rural areas
  2. Since 2015, the issue of collective protection has received a growing attention both in Colombian jurisprudence and in the human rights community.
  3. The need to expand the focus on the protection of human rights defenders beyond the protection programme implemented by the government, which has shown strong limits in the response to the risks faced by human rights defenders.

This research aims to explore a more global approach, reflecting the spirit of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to the protection of HRDs and civil society organisations, particularly those based in remote rural areas and linked to the defence of land and territory.

It entails understanding that collective protection concerns two specific types of social subjects:

  1. formally (legally) constituted grassroots organizations; and
  2. communities organizing to defend their right to land and territory.

Background to collective protection in Colombia

The collective protection actions promoted by the Colombian State respond to the internal armed conflict and the forced displacement of the rural population. The notion of collective protection in Colombia has emerged and evolved according to the different situations of the State, communities, international actors and international cooperation agencies.

This report sets out the different protection measures including a collective dimension and explains how this dimension has evolved over time.

Between the end of the 1980s and the end of the 1990s, the notion of “collective” referred to a large group of individuals who shared one of the most cruel human rights violations: forced internal displacement.

The number of internally displaced persons in Colombia was estimated at 2 million between 1985 and 1999; the most recent estimates put the number at about 7 million.

Overview of the report

As indicated in the full version of this report, national public policies for the protection of rural communities and associated CSOs defending the right to land and territory should not limit their collective protection response to a closed list of standard measures. The protection of collective subjects requires a complex response where different state authorities at different levels (from national to local government) contribute to create and ensure a safe space for the defence of human rights. Strategies and measures to prevent and combat aggression depend on comprehensive risk assessments that take into account territorial, social and personal dimensions; context, threats and risks being dynamic, what requires regular assessments.

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