COLOMBIA: Dear Mr Defence Minister: these are not “lovers’ quarrels”; they are attacks against the right to defend human rights!

Press release
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Geneva-Paris, 20 December 2017 – The declarations of the Colombian Minister of Defence, Mr Luis Carlos Villegas which trivialise the scandalous figures of killings of human rights defenders as “lovers’ quarrels”, call into question his ability to carry out his functions as head of the state security forces, which should instead offer guarantees for defenders’ work, reported the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH).

On December 16, Colombian Defence Minister, Mr. Luis Carlos Villegas, declared in an interview [1] with Noticias Uno that the murders of social leaders “have been overwhelmingly the result of issues related to boundaries, lovers’ quarrels, revenge, and arguments over illicit earnings”. In addition, Mr. Villegas stated that there was no organisation behind the killings of social leaders.

The Observatory laments these declarations by Mr. Villegas which not only trivialise an extremely serious problem in Colombia but also contravene the country’s obligations related to the protection of human rights defenders and their organisations and increase their vulnerability. It is important to highlight that the Procurator General’s Office (Procuraduría) has called upon the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía) to initiate investigations against Mr. Villegas in relation to these declarations.

It should also be noted that the different Colombian State institutions, international organisations and Colombian civil society organisations that collect statistics on aggressions against defenders coincide in reporting figures which show a significant increase in the number of murders of human rights defenders compared to previous years, in the context of the negotiation, signing and implementation of the Peace Agreement [2] . The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office has reported that 156 social leaders and defenders were murdered between January 2016 and March 2017 [3].

Moreover, the declarations of Mr. Villegas call into question the government’s commitment to implementing point 3.4 of the Peace Agreement to dismantle paramilitary structures, who are alleged to be responsible for the majority of attacks against human rights defenders.

These declarations have been made just weeks after the Colombian legislative power approved the Statutory Law on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz - JEP), which includes a provision that discriminates and stigmatises human rights defenders by excluding them from the possibility of holding office as judges in the JEP precisely because of their work defending human rights.

The Observatory notes that all the figures point to the fact that defenders are facing extremely high levels of risk related to their involvement in the peace process which is being promoted by the government to which Mr. Villegas belongs, which means that the Colombian government has the moral responsibility, aside from its legal obligations, to protect human rights defenders.

In light of the above, the Observatory calls for a public statement by Mr. Villegas, the rest of the government and the President himself, to clarify whether they are in agreement with these assertions, and if they are not, they must publicly reject them and reiterate their commitment to establishing guarantees for human rights defenders, including the commitments established within the Peace Agreement.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by OMCT and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

Press contacts:
• OMCT: Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui: (+41) 22 809 49 39
• FIDH: Samuel Hanryon: + 33 6 72 28 42 94 / José Carlos Thissen: + 51 95 41 31 650

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