Colombia: Extreme risks for rights defenders who challenge corporate activity

GENEVA (4 August 2022) – Human rights defenders who raise concerns about business projects in Colombia are under serious threat, and the country's Government must do much more to protect them, UN experts* said today.

“Serious threats, including death threats, are commonplace in Colombia for defenders who raise concerns about corporate activity, in particular in land-intensive industries,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The experts drew attention to the situation of Pedro Jose Velasco Tumiña, an indigenous Misak defender who has been receiving threats for almost a year.

Since July 2021, members of the Misak and Nasa indigenous peoples and campesino communities have held protests in the Cauca Department on land ultimately owned by the Irish company Smurfit-Kappa. As of 2021, the company controlled over 67000 hectares of land in Colombia, of which more than 41,500 comprised pine and eucalyptus plantations.

The protesters have denounced the negative impacts of Smurfit-Kappa's use of land in the country on human rights and the environment and are advocating for the just implementation of the provisions on land reform included in the 2016 Peace Agreement. The indigenous communities assert their right to reclaim land owned by Smurfit-Kappa in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mr. Velasco Tumiña has received death threats for his advocacy on these issues since August 2021. Earlier this year, he travelled to Dublin to communicate concerns to the company directly. Upon returning to Colombia, he received another death threat.

At least one person has been killed since the land movement began, with a man allegedly shot by security forces during an August 2021 protest.

“The State must fulfil its responsibility to protect human rights and investigate any allegations of violations,” said the UN experts. “The threats against Pedro are horrendous and must be taken seriously, as must the issues he and others are raising.”

“In order to ensure businesses respect human rights, the incoming Government should encourage companies to engage constructively with human rights defenders. Companies, for their part, should publicly state their willingness to do so, even if the defenders' advocacy concerns the company's own operations.”

The experts are in contact with the Colombian authorities about the case, as well as the Irish Government and Smurfit-Kappa.


*The experts: Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Ms. Fernanda Hopenhaym (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Robert McCorquodale, Mr. Damilola Olawuyi and Ms. Pichamon Yeophantong (Vice-Chairperson), Working Group on Business and Human Rights; Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.