Colombian social organisations document former government’s disregard for human rights

More than 30 social organisations in Colombia have produced a report on the state’s failure to meet human rights recommendations put forward by the United Nations in the past 15 years. It comes ahead of Colombia’s scheduled presentation to the UN this November in which it will be required to present documentation of its adherence, or lack thereof, to international standards of human rights. Entitled the Periodic Universal Exam, the report represents a civil society register of different forms of violent confrontation and abuses that have impacted the country in recent years.

Participating organisations include a number which have worked with Justice for Colombia, including the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CAJAR) and the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), alongside others such as the National Trade Union School (ENS). Most of the report’s findings are drawn from the period of governance of right-wing president Iván Duque, who was succeeded by current president Gustavo Petro in August last year. Duque’s presidency was notable for high levels of human rights scandals involving state forces, as well as brutal repression of public protest, with the report containing recommendations for Petro’s administration.

One of the report’s principal areas of focus concerns the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. This was severely neglected under Duque, who had campaigned for the presidency in open opposition to the agreement. Slow or non-implementation of core components of the agreement had severe consequences for social conditions and, particularly, security in conflict-affected regions.

Since the agreement was signed, more than 1,400 and 370 former FARC members have been killed, predominantly in zones earmarked in the agreement for developmental programmes that barely got off the ground under Duque, who also ignored repeated requests from the United Nations to implement security measures. Furthermore, Colombian courts found that Duque’s government had failed to ensure the safety of former guerrillas. According to the report, ‘the reincorporation of peace signatories is threatened by considerable challenges such as insecurity and others around economic and social order.’

The report also finds that among some conflict victims there is disappointment towards the transitional justice court, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), over a perceived ‘lack of recognition of responsibility and contributions to truth.’ It also points to a misuse of funds designated for the peace agreement’s implementation under Duque. Levels of corruption under Duque have been identified since he left office, the report adds.

With regards to human rights, the report says that recommendations issued by the UN in 2018 went unmet, which has contributed to an intensification in new conflicts in Colombia since then. In many regions, it is indigenous, African-Colombian and peasant communities which have borne the brunt of the instability. Conditions have been worsened by the failure of armed actors to comply with International Humanitarian Law. Between 2017 and early 2022, the report finds, there 3,376 deaths relating to social-political violence. However, the perpetrators have only been identified in 1,120 cases, with the state responsible for 36.16 per cent of cases, higher than any other armed actor.

It also addresses the brutal state response to 2021’s trade union-coordinated protests against economic inequality and ongoing conflict. Police committed widespread killings, torture, sexual violence and deliberate eye injuries by firing directly into people’s faces. Impunity has protected those state agents behind abuses, ‘as the investigations by the Attorney General of crimes committed by the public force (the police) have not been adequate.’      

The organisations behind the report urge the current government to address the insecurity crisis by redirecting spending on security forces towards implementing the 2016 agreement and improving social conditions for affected communities. They also express hope that the Petro government’s contrasting approach to his predecessor can tackle abuses and violence in the country: ‘it is more evident than ever that the guarantee of human rights is necessary for peace to be sustainable,’ the report says.

Download or read the report (in Spanish)