UN Human Rights High Commissioner statement on Colombia

Following his visit to Colombia in February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has presented his findings, which are contained in the UN’s annual human rights report on the country. Türk assessed how ongoing conflict, inequality and abuses were impacting Colombian civil society in 2022.

While there remains an alarming level of massacres and targeted killings of social activists, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also raises points of optimism, particularly in the government’s entering into dialogue with the ELN guerrillas, its openness to talks with other armed groups and its intent to properly implement the 2016 peace agreement.

On 7 March, Türk presented his office’s findings in a report on Colombia, which he presented along with similar reports on Guatemala, Honduras and Cyprus. You can read the section of his presentation on Colombia below or here on the OHCHR website (we will post the report as soon as it is available from the OHCHR).

Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and Cyprus reports are presented by High Commissioner Türk

7 March 2023

I visited the country in January and was impressed by the Government’s openness to frank discussion of human rights challenges. The resumption of talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) in November 2022 is very much welcome, as is the Government’s commitment to “total peace”, including full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC-EP. I encourage the Government to adopt a human rights approach to talks with armed actors and to ensure meaningful participation by victims – including women – and affected communities, and this was part of the conversations I had both with Government and with civil society actors during my mission.

In 2022, my Office documented 92 massacres, in which 321 people were killed, and 116 killings of human rights defenders. This violence is mainly committed by non-state armed groups and criminal organisations, and disproportionately affects indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples. I urge all armed actors to respect human rights and, where applicable, international humanitarian law, and call for the dismantling of criminal groups, as well as greater presence of State civilian institutions epecially in those areas where discussions are taking place.

Steps to address structural inequalities and root causes of conflict, in particular through rural reform, in line with the peace agreement, are very much welcome. The announced shift on drug policy may also address a key cause of violence, and my Office is ready to support a strong human rights-based approach in this regard. Other important steps that the Government is taking include ratification of the Escazú agreement and the adoption of a new Emergency Plan to protect human rights defenders and former FARC-EP combatants. The Ministries of Defence and of the Interior – and I met with both Ministers – are working to integrate a human rights approach to security policies, and my Office, as we discussed, will strengthen our cooperation in this area.

Major advances in transitional justice have been achieved in 2022 bythe Truth Commission, Special Jurisdiction for Peace and Search Unit for Persons Deemed as Missing. I look forward to the integration of the Truth Commission’s recommendations into policy.

I urge the Attorney General’s Office to advance accountability for violations reportedly committed by security forces during protests. The charges of serious offenses, such as terrorism, against protestors, needs to be reviewed.

I deeply appreciate and thank the Government for the recent signing of a new agreement that has extended the presence of my Office for another nine years, a sign of strong commitment to human rights and the work of my Office.