(Translated by CSN Volunteer Translator Steve Cagan)

By Colombia2020, El Espectador, September 12, 2017

Three reports by the non-governmental program Somos Defensores [We are Defenders] will be released today. Attention is focused on the impunity that surrounds the crimes, the role of state intelligence, and the deficiencies in their protection.

458 human rights defenders were murdered between 2009 and 2016 in Colombia/ Courtesy of Somos Defensores.

This Tuesday, September 12, Somos Defensores, a non-governmental program that defends human rights defenders, will publish three reports in which they give the story of the grave situation of those across Colombia who do this work. The investigation, which was carried out over two years, applies a magnifying glass to three aspects: the impunity that surrounds the crimes; the role of the intelligence services in this persecution; and the errors that the government commits when they try to protect them.

In the first report, titled Primer Episodio [First Episode] (referring to the Star Wars saga), they unmask terrifying statistics: impunity rules in 87% of the 458 murders of human rights defenders that have been recorded between 2009 and 2016. There have been only 28 guilty findings in those cases. “Impunity counterattacks,” says the report.

It is very difficult to establish that the murders are systematic, but the difficulty of doing so is a result of impunity. With some 62% of the investigations merely in the inquiry stage, it would be very difficult for the government to succeed in establishing whether there are common patterns among the crimes. But Somos Defensores found several characteristics that the bulk of the murders share: the attacks happen late at night or very early in the morning; they are perpetrated in the houses of the victims, very near there, or on the way there; and they are carried out by assassins, in the majority of cases with firearms. “If that is not a modus operandi, then we do not know what it is,” said Carlos Guevara, director of the non-governmental program.

The report offers several proposals to resolve the problem of impunity. For example, the cleansing of the Public Prosecutor’s office, and a single policy within that institution so that it would act “in an integral manner” in confronting the murders.

In the second report, titled Segundo Episodio [Second Episode], concerns are expressed about the actions of the intelligence services. It seems to Somos Defensores that controls over the activities of intelligence services are nil, and that their financial resources are like “rivers of money.” What is most worrisome is that, in this sector of the state security forces, a doctrine of “the internal enemy” is in place, and that the reforms that have been pushed by the executive branch have not modernized the intelligence services. “If the political, doctrinal, and institutional environment of the intelligence organizations in Colombia is not transformed, this work will continue to represent a risk for human rights defenders,” state the conclusions of the second report.

The third report, “Tercer Episodio” [Third Episode], centers our attention on the protection that the government is giving to human rights defenders. The complaint is centered on the fact that the Peace Accord between the government and the FARC was an opportunity to change a strategy that is getting worn out: individual protection. The authors suggest that the focus should be collective protection because the threats and attacks increasingly involve the environment surrounding the leaders. For example, the murder of family members or people close to the targets is a new tool that those behind the murders are using to cut off the processes that the human rights defenders are undertaking in the regions.

The recommendation of the report is that personal security be accompanied by government actions directed at offering guarantees for defending human rights. As the document says, “[t]o deposit so much hope in physical protection without removing the cause, the risk ends up being perverse.”

In various ways, Somos Defensores has called for the attention of the authorities and of civil society to be focused on stopping the massacre of human rights defenders. In August of this year, they raised their voice, asking us to “be sharper” in the face of the murders. Now they ask that the war against the defenders stop, appealing to the famous saga of Star Wars; Stop Wars, they implore.


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