Iván Duque’s Human Rights Problem

By Verdad Abierta (Colombia)

June 19, 2018

Translated by CSN volunteer Diana Méndez

Original article: https://verdadabierta.com/los-retos-de-ivan-duque-para-cumplir-con-el-pacto-social-por-los-derechos-humanos/

Before the first presidential round, the President-elect [Iván Duque] and his then-campaign rivals, pledged to include a special emphasis in their government plan to protect, respect, and guarantee human rights. The initiative was promoted by the United Nations as a result of high levels of violence against social leaders. This is the outlook the President-elect will have to face.

On March 13, the Colombian President-elect [and then presidential candidate] signed the UN Social Covenant for Human Rights. He also promised to promote “throughout the country, and, in particular, in the areas most affected by the conflict and violence “, the political, economic, and social inclusion of people living in these areas, allowing them the real exercise of civil, economic, political, cultural and social rights (see the document here).

This call was issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) after releasing their yearly report in 2017, in which they documented the critical conditions in the country regarding attacks against social leaders and implementation of the peace agreement achieved by President Juan Manuel Santos with the FARC guerrillas.

The OHCHR indicated that, in spite of the state’s efforts, “441 attacks were recorded, [and] 121 of those assassinations. The latter include 84 leading human rights defenders, 23 members of social and political movements, and 14 people killed during social protests”. In addition, the OHCHR documented “41 attempted murders; 213 threats; 61 violations of the rights to privacy and property (including taking unsolicited pictures and information theft); four forced disappearances; and the rape of a woman activist.”

This outlook led five presidential candidates at the time to sign the UN Covenant for Human Rights without hesitation. However, [no mention of the Covenant appears within] Iván Duque’s campaign proposals.

There are only two proposals related to human rights in the document, which also contains
his 203 government initiatives, which are related to the restoration of honor and military morale (“universal high-quality training in human rights, based on the best international practices, for a harmonious relationship with society”) and to equity for women (“protection of the human rights of women, education on human rights, equitable participation in parenting, titles of ownership, etc.”).

In addition, [the Duque campaign document of government initiatives] also refers to [human rights] indirectly in point 17: “We will strengthen the Writ for the Protection of Constitutional Rights, so that it does more of what [falls within its jurisdiction] (that is, protecting vulnerable or at-risk communities’ rights) and less of what the rest of the justice system needs to do (dealing with things for which there are already suitable mechanisms in place)” (see Ivan Duque’s 203 proposals).

As is stated in the document, these “proposals are the beginning of a plan to build the nation of which we dream. I hope to continue improving [the plan] with your vision.” For that reason, VerdadAbierta.com spoke with three non-governmental organizations [NGOs] that deal with human rights and attacks to social leaders in recent years.

Hard outlook
When the new President of the Republic takes over on August 7, he will receive a fatal inheritance from Juan Manuel Santos (the former president who served two terms). According to figures from the non-governmental organization Somos Defensores (We are Defenders), between 2010 and earlier this month, 488 social leaders were killed.

This “decapitation” of community processes occurs in the midst of a paradoxical situation, since violence against community groups is increasing as the violence caused by the armed conflict is diminishing. It has been well reported by various organizations that, during the last few years, attacks against social leaders began to increase as peace talks between the government and FARC developed for four years in Cuba.

Even though the Santos administration has tried various means of facing the situation, the violence against this sector of the population did not decrease, but rather worsened as was recognized by various NGOs and the OCHR. The situation is so complex that, on March 1, the Ombudsman’s Office, under a decree related to the Final Agreement, released an early warning so that measures could be taken to prevent murders, since, in the 26 months prior, there were nearly 300 murders (read more: “An early warning that arrived 282 deaths later”).

In addition, the Attorney General issued a report that highlights that violence against leaders [of social movements] and leaders defending ethnic territorial rights is systematic and widespread. The situation has worsened so much that it came to [the attention of] international bodies for the protection of human rights, as last May different organizations denounced this drama before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands (read more: “Tragedy of social leaders in Colombia knocks on doors in Europe”).

Much of the violence has been focused against those who promote the implementation of the Final Agreement [for peace with the FARC], in particular the replacement of so-called illicit crops; and also the inhabitants of the FARC’s former territories, which today are contested between groups originated in the [2006] demobilization of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), dissident groups of the FARAC, and other armed groups, as is taking place currently in [the departments of] Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Arauca, and Norte de Santander.

Cristian Delgado, coordinator of the National Team for Guarantees and Rights of the Marcha Patriótica movement, which has suffered the loss of 130 members since its founding in 2010, noted that the new President will find himself with a significant decline in overall violence in Colombia, but with an alarming increase in violence against human rights defenders and social leaders: “This violence is not only in terms of killings (the numbers of which have been rising steadily for the last four years), but also threats, attacks, and forced displacement.”

And [Delgado] adds that “these actions usually take place in areas where risk factors such as the presence of illegal armed groups like the ELN, the EPL, offsprings of paramilitarism, and residual armed groups after the agreement with FARC that operate within illicit economies and cause violence.”

In this regard, Carlos Guevara, IT coordinator of Somos Defensores, posits that most of the violations of human rights “are happening in certain territories, above all where the FARC used to be and the State is absent”, which is why “the new government will have the challenge of bringing in not only the Army, but also social investment and actual programs that can help ensure respect for human rights, and not only physical security, which does not exist. It will be very difficult with only a military plan to cover that part.”

Another factor that should be taken into account by Iván Duque is the violence against the members of the FARC who laid down their arms and their families. According to figures compiled by the Institute of Studies for Peace and Development (Indepaz) and Marcha Patriótica, 68-ex-combatants have been killed and six are missing, in addition to the assassination of 18 of their relatives (read more: “FARC in Arauca: between dissident threats and commitment to reintegration”).

What is to be done?
According to Gustavo Gallon, who is director of the Colombian Jurists Commission and a member of the National Safety Commission (which also includes the President, three ministers, the commanders of the Public Force, the three entities of [government oversight], and five representatives of civil society), the President’s first decisions should combine coercive actions, as well as judicial, economic, social, and political initiatives to face the phenomenon of violence.

“We need to increase our intelligence and military operations in order to contain these groups’ activities and then to take them apart in the areas they operate. We need to identify these groups’ local bases of support, since there are regions where state functionaries are on their side. It is also necessary to develop economic initiatives, educational development, and [employment opportunities] in these regions since these groups are taking advantage of youth with no future,” [Gallon] proposes. He also insists that there needs to be a mechanism for bringing the so-called Armed Organized Groups to justice (read more: “Directive 15: delayed strategy that raises various questions”).

For Delgado, of Marcha Patriótica, the priority is to put forward a National Political Agreement to remove violence from politics. After that, preventive measures could be put in place, such as leave behind the stigmatization of human rights defenders held by members of the Armed Forces and public functionaries which, in [Delgado’s] view, legitimizes sociopolitical violence against the leaders of social movements.

But he strongly insists that the main thing is to implement the Final Peace Agreement, especially the program of collective community protection under Decree 660: “In our minds, it is a very important norm and it is not clear now where the funding [for it] will come from. More than advancing individual protection measures, we must work within the framework of collective protection measures [and] guarantees of rights in the territories.”

He also adds that “from the social movement[s], we have been revindicating the rights of the campesinado as political subjects, and for the strengthening of the Campesina Guard, Indigenous Guard, and Cimarrona Guard as alternative ways of controlling [those] territories” (read more: “Indigenous and Afro[-descendant] peoples, excluded from new community protection program”).

For Guevara of Somos Defensores, in addition to guaranteeing funding for the programs agreed to in the Final Agreement (especially the security measures established in Decree 660), it is key that Duque’s governmental plan strengthen the Prosecutor’s investigative work so that more cases go to court, and incidentally, there be a stronger inter-institutional action between the Elite Police Group and the investigative body.

“The first pillar of his government program regarding this [situation] should be to carry out what was already agreed to regarding peace, implement the General Plan for Human Rights and also the mechanisms for prevention of massive human rights violations, which are already agreed to by the Santos government. If [Duque] does not provide [these pillars with] resources, it’ll be only symbolic. He must respect and comply with them,” he says.

On the other hand, Gallón maintains that the rights problems in Colombia revolve around three high-level problems: “Socio-political violence, impunity, and social inequality”. And he points out that “the activities carried out by the new government should be based on these three areas, but that an ambitious program is needed to satisfy the population’s basic rights in health, education, employment, and land, and continue the [land] restitutions. Socio-political violence, impunity, and inequality are the three axes that make up the human rights crisis. These are issues that have been dragging on for a long time and the new government [should] honor that commitment of advancing a human rights policy.”

This position is shared by OHCHR, which stated the following in its last report: “The weak presence of the state in these zones means that communities lack access to rights and opportunities to connect to economic and legal programs. Therefore, poverty increases and contributes to the development or persistence of illicit economies, which facilitates the formation or entry of criminal organizations and illegal armed groups that compete for control of these zones, generating corruption and endemic levels of violence. In the last quarter of 2017, the OHCHR registered four massacres in the context of disputes over the control of illicit economies in former FARC-EP areas of influence (in Nariño and Cauca).”
In his first speech as president-elect, Iván Duque announced that he will not shatter the Final Agreement, but that he will make modifications. At the same time, he offered guarantees to the demobilized members of the FARC to continue their process of reincorporation into civilian life, announced social investment in the regions most affected by the armed conflict, and indicated that they will respect protest and social mobilizations. In the end, he expressed that he will govern without hatred or resentment.

In the meantime, only time will tell if, at the end of his stay as head of Casa Nariño, he [will have] managed to stop the wave of violence against social leaders, or if, on the contrary, as his detractors state, the violence will get much worse.

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