Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: July to December 2016 - Colombia

From July to December 2016, the overall human rights situation in Colombia continued to move in a positive direction. However, there was a significant increase in attacks against human rights defenders in some parts of the country. The UK continued to support the Colombian government’s commitment to make progress on human rights and raised specific concerns with the Colombian government on a regular basis. The Prime Minister discussed human rights with President Santos during the Colombian State Visit to the UK on 1-3 November and reaffirmed our shared commitment to human rights in a Joint Declaration. In the second half of the year the Embassy made 4 regional visits to human rights areas of concern. Our focus on 3 priority issues – Human Rights Defenders, Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI), and Business and Human Rights– continued to make a tangible difference as set out below.

The single biggest contributor to improved security conditions nationwide was the peace agreement signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 24 August 2016. The conclusion of formal peace talks in Colombia ended the longest running conflict in the western hemisphere, which claimed over 220,000 lives and left more than 8 million victims. On 29 August, the government declared a bilateral cease-fire, which led to the most peaceful period in over 40 years of conflict. On 2 October, the Colombian people narrowly rejected the peace agreement with the FARC. After intense negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on 24 November an amended peace deal was signed, and later ratified by Congress on 30 November. The UK continued to support the peace process, and in November, pledged a further £7.5 million in financial support for implementation of the peace agreement. This is being delivered through the UN Trust Fund and includes a dedicated £2.5m to demining projects and £1.5m to the work of the MAPP-OAS, an international peace monitoring mission.

The UN Committee on Human Rights considered Colombia’s Seventh Periodical Review in November. Their observations report positive developments on a range of laws to strengthen human rights, including the adoption of a National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking in 2016. They report concerns about continued conflict-related violence, the need to redress abuses committed by former paramilitary groups, the need to speed up investigations into extrajudicial killings, or “false positives”, and the need to improve prison conditions. They reported continuing discrimination against the LGB&T community, and a bill is currently being passed in Congress to remove adoption rights for LGB&T couples.

The situation for human rights defenders, social leaders, trade unionists, and minority leaders was of concern throughout the period of review. The OHCHR registered 57 murders over the course of 2016, higher than in 2015; 75% of these have occurred in rural areas. It is unclear what is the precise motivation behind all these attacks. The OHCHR reported a link between the peace process and the killings. 13 murders occurred after the peace agreement was signed in August 2016, and according to the Colombian Electoral Observation Mission, 11% of the murders occurred in the municipalities where Transitional Zones for the FARC are located. Several of those murdered were members of the left-wing political organisations such as the Marcha Patriotica or Cumbre Agraria. The Colombian government has taken welcome steps to investigate the murders and threats and held emergency meetings in September after a spike in the killings. The Prosecutor-General’s Office denies a pattern of systematic killings.

The UK continued to support NGOs and worked to promote the protection of HRDs through a range of activities, including project funding, field visits, statements, meetings with the Colombian government, and through joint work with the EU and UN. Working through the UNDP to support and train human rights organisations, we have supported local human rights platforms in 7 regions of Colombia. The UK takes part in the “Ambassadors with Defenders” initiative which launched a high profile media campaign in December 2016 to highlight the fragile situation for HRDs. The embassy also hosted a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur for HRDs in September.

Violence against women and girls in Colombia increased in 2016. The National Forensics Institute reported 7.5% more cases of sexual violence against women and girls between January and October 2016, compared to the same period in 2015 (15,082 cases by 31 October 2016). 84.5% of sexual violence cases are perpetrated against girls. In the same period, 2.4 women were murdered every day (731 feminicides in Jan-Oct 2016 vs. 670 in 2015). The UK is working to prevent and tackle sexual violence and the stigma against victims and survivors, as well as promoting women’s participation in peace building through programme and political work. Our programme work with women’s organisations continues to empower women and young people:

  • delivering prevention plans in schools
  • increasing reporting and documentation of cases using the International Protocol (1,200 criminal reports and 507 cases documented to date)
  • advocating for increased access to justice for victims
  • providing advice to the government on guaranteeing gender considerations in the implementation stage

Three Colombian experts attended the Wilton Park conference to develop a Global Action Plan against stigma. The UK also chaired the International Cooperation Working Group on Gender Justice and Peace in Bogota in 2016.

On Business and Human Rights, the Colombian government reports that it has implemented a fifth of the National Action Plan, launched in December 2015. The Presidential Office for Human Rights launched several pilot projects to improve local and national government coordination with the private sector. In July, the Ministry of Post-Conflict also launched a package of support to the private sector to facilitate their role in post-conflict implementation. The embassy-led programme work is supporting a project to create non-judicial remedy mechanisms for companies, which in turn will assist the Colombian Ministry of Mines to create their own Business and Human Rights Plan and strengthen their role in reducing conflict in the mining sector. We will launch a guide with recommendations for UK business to operate in Colombia with respect for human rights in 2017.