Status: Adopted national law or policy
Colombia is the first country to have adopted a public policy for the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs or defenders). A national law was adopted in 1997, on December 26th. The situation of human rights defenders in Colombia remains worrying, however, as the country remains the country with the largest number of killings of defenders, followed by Mexico and Brazil.
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 protection 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.
Many other decrees and programmes have been introduced since, such as Decree 4065 of 2011 creating the National Protection Unit (UNP), Decree 4912 of 2011 which organizes the Prevention and Protection Programme for the rights to life, liberty, integrity and security of persons, groups and communities, or Resolution 845 of 2018 creating the Comprehensive Programme of Guarantees for Women Leaders and Women Human Rights Defenders. The most recent developments include the introduction of Conpes 4063 de 2021 and the Emergency plan for the protection of social leaders, human rights defenders and signatories to peace agreements. Find a more detailed overview of laws and decrees here.
Colombia also ratified the Escazú agreement in 2022, which is an internationally binding document that protects the universal right to participation in environmental matters. For human rights defenders, it is of particular importance because of Article 9, which obliges the signatory states to contribute to an enabling environment for human rights defenders and to develop effective measures to recognise, protect, and promote all rights of human rights defenders.
Like all countries worldwide, Colombia is monitored by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, who paid their last country visit in 2018. Colombia is closely monitored through many thematic reports published by the Special Rapporteur, which can be found here. Regionally, Colombia is monitored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, who have published a report on the protection of Colombian defenders in 2019, as well as a First Follow-up Report on the Recommendations made following the working visit to Colombia in June 2021, carried out to observe the human rights situation in the context of the social protests during the national strike..
Colombia is equally monitored through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The last UPR national report on Colombia was published in 2018 and mentions many developments concerning the protection of human rights defenders, such as the development of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders within the framework of the 2016 Peace Agreement.
All reports continue to raise concerns about the considerable number of killings and reprisals of human rights defenders. CIVICUS monitor 2022 classifies Colombia as “repressed”, which means that civic space is “significantly constrained”. The Freedom House Democracy Index rates Colombia as “partly free”. Both monitors note continuous and widespread violence against human rights defenders in the country.
Updated in 01/23