Death threats, telephone surveillance, kidnapping of family members – the Colombian government uses a range of means in its efforts to intimidate human rights defenders. Since 2012, ECCHR and its Colombian partner organization Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) have researched and documented the brutal repression of trade unionists, environmental activists and community leaders in Colombia. The extent of the crimes, including murder, torture or enforced disappearances shows: the Colombian government systematically attacks its own civilians and thereby commits crimes against humanity.
Within the Colombian justice system there is an apparent unwillingness to prosecute or otherwise address the repression. This is why international criminal justice must step in. In April 2018, ECCHR and CCAJAR submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the complaint, we asked the Office of the Prosecutor to open investigations and to hold those responsible for the crimes in Colombia to account.
In 2016, at least 98 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia. Many more were intimidated in various ways – they were followed to their doorsteps or imprisoned after being falsely accused of being guerrilla fighters. This makes Colombia one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders.
Between 2002 and 2017, more than 4,000 attacks on human rights defenders were recorded – among them more than 600 murders. The Colombian government under the former presidents Alvaro Uribe Vélez and Juan Manuel Santos, denied the systematic suppression. Crimes against human rights defenders rarely lead to prosecutions. The fear of further repression means many crimes go unreported. When they do come before the courts, they are often dismissed on spurious grounds.
In 2012 and 2013, ECCHR and CCAJAR submitted criminal complaints to the ICC arguing that the systematic violence against Colombian trade unionists constitutes a crime against humanity. Through these legal actions, ECCHR seeks to increase the pressure on the Colombian state to protect human rights defenders and to comprehensively address the crimes committed against them.
Colombia's political and economic elite see human rights defenders and their fight for social rights – including for indigenous groups – as an immediate threat to their own privileges. The state, military and police respond often forcefully to these activists or at least tolerate the violence against them. They are supported by corporations that hire paramilitary groups to seize land and break peaceful protests against mining projects.