By Alfredo Molano Jimeno, CAMBIOColombia, April 10, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Gustavo Gallón is Colombia’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where the heart of human rights at the United Nations is functioning.

Colombia’s Ambassador in Switzerland, Gustavo Gallón, talked with CAMBIO about Colombia’s human rights goals and his work as Colombia’s Permanent Representative in the heart of the UN.

Gustavo Gallón Giraldo, attorney and defender of human rights who has so often represented victims against the government, now is the Ambassador of Colombia in Geneva, Switzerland, and is Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights. It’s a headquarters that Gallón knows to perfection because he has spent the better part of his career knocking on the doors of the UN and of the diplomats of countries that are sensitive to the tragedy that the Colombian conflict has meant. He has accompanied victims, and Gallón even played a leading role in the creation of the Colombian office of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. From there President Gustavo Petro has designated him as Ambassador.

Gallón Giraldo spoke with CAMBIO from Geneva about the challenges he has with this diplomatic mission, such as the atmosphere he has perceived in the United Nations with respect to some of the proposals by the Petro administration. For example, the changed paradigm in the war on drugs. Gallón answered, “The Human Rights Council has seen and has observed with interest and attention the proposals by the administration on this subject which, moreover, I have to say, are based on the Global Commission on Drug Policy headquartered in Geneva. The administration’s proposals correspond completely to Commission reports, and furthermore, it has a report that’s specific to Colombia.

In particular, the Ambassador explained that not only the administration’s proposal but also the proposal by the Global Commission emphasize “not criminalizing the consumers or the campesinos that are producers, but rather developing social, economic, and health policies with them and reserving the coercive measures for the big traders that are the ones that always escape action by the justice system.” That said, Gallón made clear that the Human Rights Council does not deal directly with the subject of drugs, as that discussion takes place at the UN headquarters in Vienna. However, he manifested the international interest in making progress in the search for a new strategy in this area.

The founder and director for more than 30 years of the Colombian Jurists Commission maintained that President Petro had also received the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on his effort to obtain “total peace”. “The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed his satisfaction with the fact that we are seeking peace with the different armed groups in Colombia, respecting, of course, the rights of the victims and guaranteeing justice, but being aware that if we can’t get past the existence of organized, illegal, and armed activity in Colombia, we won’t ever be able to get out of the situation,” said Ambassador Gallón. To the same effect, he believes that the project of “total peace” is a path to ending the murders of social leaders and freezing the germ of our violence: “sociopolitical exclusion”.

The sociopolitical exclusion that Gallón referred to has cost the current Ambassador persecution, stigmatization, and illegal stalking by the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe, who had to admit his responsibility and ask pardon. Gallón, from the Embassy in Geneva, has carried out a series of events with Colombian exiles. “On March 10 we had the first tribute event, recognizing the work of Beatriz Gómez Pereáñéz, a Deputy from the Patriotic Union Party (UP). She had been forced to leave Colombia in 1996 after several of her comrades in the Party were murdered. She settled in Switzerland, where she had a meritorious career as a professor, writer and poet. We had an event recognizing the responsibility of the Colombian government for forcing her to leave, and we are thinking about continuing to have other events like that. As far as possible and as time permits, we will have these recognitions every month. There are many exiled compatriots in Switzerland, so many that we won’t have time to have tribute events for every one of them. But what we want to do is to leave a message to Colombian society and to the international community: the government of change is focused on protecting human rights and will support those who have suffered the disregard of human rights for such a long time.”

As Gallón demonstrates, it’s evident that one of the substantial changes by the Petro administration regarding international tribunals and multilateral agencies is the early recognition of responsibility. “The new administration is aware of the serious human rights situation and of the responsibilities the Colombian government has and has had for the violations. As Ambassador, I have to say it outright: we recognize the government’s responsibility, and we are thankful for the service of the international community and the Human Rights Council for giving us analyses, diagnoses, and recommendations for surmounting the human rights violations in Colombia. We are not going to argue with the reports of the United Nations agencies and other international organs and experts. This is what we should have done all along,” he emphasized.

For Gallón, the Colombian government’s tradition of denying its responsibility has been a waste of time, international credibility, and resources. “Nothing was gained by that attitude. The truth always comes to light. Colombia can’t act like an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand so as not to see what’s going on. Some very serious things have taken place in Colombia with regard to human rights, and we have to get past that, we have to resolve it. And the beginning of that solution is admitting responsibility when that exists,” added the lawyer from Externado University who has been an independent researcher for the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Haiti between 2013 and 2017, and Special Representative of the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Equatorial Guinea from 1999 to 2002.

To that extent, from the Embassy in Geneva, Gallón has sought the support of the UN and the international community to promote the recommendations of the Truth Commission, the operations of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, and the work of the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons. An additional action was the recommendation to the administration that those recommendations be harvested. “The Colombian government has recognized the jurisdiction of the United Nations Committee on Forced Disappearances, which had no jurisdiction to deal with individual cases, and ended some exceptions that had been established in the past in relation to the Commission for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; there were three exceptions that were baseless and were removed. Also, they presented to Congress for approval the Additional Protocols to the Convention Against Torture or practices that are contrary to international conventions.”

Finally, Gallón mentioned that one of his goals at the Embassy in Switzerland is to propose Colombia as the site of the celebration of the UN’s Third World Conference on Human Rights. “We are exploring that possibility, and the President of Colombia announced it in the video that he released on the first day of the sessions of the Human Rights Council. The first conference was in Teheran in 1968 and approved in 1969 the adoption of the convention on racial discrimination, along with many other results. The second took place in Vienna, 25 years later, and it approved the creation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. And recommended that 25 years later, there should be a third world conference, but 2018 arrived and there was no meeting. So now we are suggesting to other countries the possibility of organizing that third conference, because there a lot of areas that need attention, especially the flexibility of functioning of the United Nations agencies that protect human rights”

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