UN Human Rights Office urged to remain in Colombia

A delegation of the Defendamos La Paz (Let’s Defend Peace) citizens’ movement has met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in Geneva to request that her office extend its role in Colombia for the foreseeable future to oversee implementation of the peace process and in the face of the human rights crisis that has seen hundreds of social activists and FARC former guerrillas murdered since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

In a letter which the delegation presented to Bachelet, Defendamos La Paz says that, since its establishment in 1996, the office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia ‘has played a fundamental role in the promotion and defence of fundamental rights and has become a privileged ally of victims and human rights movements’.

The letter also cited other important interventions by the OHCHR in protecting human rights in Colombia, such as its role in the Constitutional Court ruling against the formation of armed civilian groups, known as Convivir, which were closely linked to paramilitary organisations that committed massive human rights violations. The letter also highlighted the OHCHR’s backing for land restitution and victims’ laws and its documentation of extrajudicial executions committed by Colombian security forces.

With regards to ongoing violence in Colombia, the letter said that the ‘OHCHR is the most authoritative international voice to denounce the murders and threats to social leaders, to document them and to push their investigation’. It also said the OHCHR was crucial for determining the status of FARC members who remain in prison despite the amnesty contained in the peace agreement and in monitoring and protecting former guerrillas in the reincorporation process.

Defendamos La Paz was founded in March 2019 by politicians from various opposition political parties, as well as human rights and grassroots organisations representing civil society. The movement supports the peace process and human rights in Colombia, while also pushing for renewed negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s last remaining armed guerrilla movement. It convoked the global day of action on 26 July that saw mass rallies staged around the world in solidarity with the peace process and to denounce the murders of social activists and former guerrillas.

The letter comes after fresh doubts were raised over the peace process after it was revealed that the Colombian government plans to cut funding for core institutions created in the agreement and to restrict foreign diplomatic involvement in overseeing its implementation.