Colombia: Law 418 of 1997 on the protection of persons at risk

On the 26th of December 1997, Colombia introduced Law 418 on the protection of persons at risk. This law is the first document to create a protection mechanism that can be applied to human rights defenders. It is also the largest, with the biggest budget (although it should be noted that the programme covers other groups too, such as members of local authorities and former Presidents). In 2015, it covered some 1,810 HRDs and spent US$23 million on bodyguards and vehicles alone.

The element of interest for the protection of human rights defenders is Article 81, which orders the Interior Ministry to establish a protection programme for people at risk as a consequence of the armed conflict and political violence:

“The Ministry of the Interior will set up a programme for the protection of persons whose lives, integrity, security or freedom are at risk due to political or ideological violence or the internal armed conflict in the country.”

Persons protected through this program include leaders or activists of political groups and especially of opposition groups, leaders and activists of social, civic and community organisations, trade unions, trade unions, peasants, and ethnic groups, leaders and activists from human rights organisations and witnesses in cases of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law, whether or not criminal, disciplinary and administrative proceedings have been initiated. (Article 81)

The programme has undergone numerous developments and modifications brought in by different decrees and resolutions, which have adapted it to varying administrative requirements, the demands of HRDs, and decisions of the Colombian legal system. The current Programa de Prevención y Protección de los derechos a la vida, la libertad, la integridad y la seguridad de personas, grupos y comunidades (Programme for Prevention and Protection of the Rights to Life, Liberty, Personal Integrity and Security of Persons, Groups and Communities) dates from 2011.

The mechanism has been severely criticised by human rights organisations because, despite the breadth of its scope, the number of HRDs who have been threatened and murdered during its existence has increased. Read more on the national protection policies in Colombia in The Time is Now (Protection International, 2018).

Find the original document here in Spanish (Gobierno de Colombia).