Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Increase in Killings of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

November 2, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) regrets the increase in killings of human rights defenders in recent months of 2016 and notes with concern the greater vulnerability to this type of violence for peasant, indigenous and Afrocolombian leaders.

The IACHR notes that even though the reports of threats, attacks, arbitrary detention and harassment against human rights defenders have significantly decreased with respect to 2015, the killings have increased in recent months. In this regard, it is especially worrisome for the Commission that, according to civil society organizations, during the last few months the killings of defenders have increased. Specifically, according to the organization Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders), 19 human rights defenders were killed between July and September 2016 (3 more than the previous trimester, and than the same period for 2015), which reaches a total of 54 this year so far. In most cases, the perpetrators are allegedly illegal armed groups.

Also, the Inter-American Commission expresses its preoccupation with the special vulnerability of peasant, indigenous and Afrocolombian Leaders to these killings, concentrated in the Departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia and Nariño. The last case informed to the IACHR is that of the killing of peasant defender Yimer Chávez Rivera on October 16 in the Cauca Department. Mr. Rivera was a member of the Organization for Urban and Peasant Development (Organización para el Desarrollo Urbano y Campesino - ORDEURCA) as well as a leader of the Peasant Popular Guard (Guardia Campesina y Popular) in the Frontino township of the La Sierra Municipality.

On February 25 2016, the Commission issued a press release where it condemned the killing of five human Rights defenders in Colombia, as well as the generalized context of reprisals, harassment and threats against human Rights defenders in the country. In light of the continuation and increase of the killings, the Commission expresses alarm at these acts of violence. “The Inter-American Commission joins the recent expressions of concern by several International and regional human rights organs regarding the serious situation of violence against human rights defenders in Colombia”, said Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco, IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates that it is a duty of the State to investigate this type of acts ex officio, and to punish the material and intellectual perpetrators. The IACHR takes note of the investigations currently underway and calls on the State of Colombia to continue them. This must include the development of lines of investigation under the hypothesis that these killings could have been perpetrated in connection with the work of human rights defense. Such investigations must be undertaken with due diligence, and in a manner that is comprehensive, serious and impartial. Also, the IACHR urges the State to adopt all measures necessary to guarantee the rights to life, integrity and security of human rights defenders.

The Commission reiterates that the acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees afforded to all human beings, but also attempt against the fundamental role they play in society. Also, the Commission has highlighted the duty of States in guaranteeing the security of groups of defenders who are at special risk by adopting specific measures of protection in light of their activities and usual risks. The IACHR reiterates that the State has the duty to investigate these murders in a manner that is serious, prompt and efficient.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 160/16