Colombia: Illegal Surveillance of Defenders by the UNP

Concerning news has come forward on the Colombian National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección or UNP in Spanish). Personnel from the Unit, responsible for implementing protection measures for human rights defenders (HRDs or defenders), have allegedly been found to been involved in illegal surveillance of defenders and their dear ones.

Two articles report the story of human rights defenders who were followed, intimidated and spied on by bodyguards of the UNP.While creating the impression of providing safety and protection to defenders, they were discovered to use different strategies for obtaining personal information of the defenders. Reports containing this information are stated to be possibly linked to alliances of former government officials, who are also believed to be involved in other protection schemes. These articles uncover both individual stories and systematic actions against beneficiaries of protection by the UNP, namely through the installation of satellite geolocation systems on the vans that are assigned to them.

This is not the first time that the UNP has been caught in a scandal: in 2014, it was discovered that high level officialswithin the Unit had been involved in the illegaldiversion of at least €240,000. Besides this, the UNP has been outsourcing a large majority of their budget and activities to private security companies. Read more about this in our 2014 FOCUS report (p. 16-19) and our 2017 FOCUS report (p. 19-22).

To date, it is not yet clear whether the information collected by the UNP is or has been used to cause harm to defenders. The Unit’s officials claim that this information is only used for security reasons and that it otherwise remains strictly confidential.

Read the articles here (La Nueva Prensa) and here (AP news) in Spanish.