2017: international accompaniment and observation during the first year of the Peace Agreement

Despite the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November 2016 and the efforts of the State and other entities to situate Colombia in a “post-conflict” context, the main outcome is that the situation of risk for human rights defenders, their organisations and communities, has stayed the same and in some cases has even worsened after the signing of the Agreement. The initial implementation of the peace agreement has been accompanied by an offensive against social leaders, small-scale farmers and human rights defenders throughout the country. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, in 2017 the number of incidences of forced displacement increased by 36% compared to 2016, attacks against communities increased by 17% during the first half of 2017[1] and the Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported more than 100 violent deaths of leaders and members of social organisations[2]. Killings of women defenders also increased from three registered cases in 2016 to seven in 2017.

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It is worrying that several analyses have found that the vacuum left by the FARC-EP, strengthened by the complete absence of the State, has left new areas in dispute for the resurgence and expansion of all types of crime and illegal armed groups[3]. The Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) highlights several risk scenarios in its Report 010-17 of March 30, 2017, which not only affect human rights defenders, but also the civilian population in general: the dissidents from the FARC-EP, the expansion of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and the increase in military action against this group, as well as the expansion and strengthening of the neo-paramilitary group known as the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC)[4].

In 2017 PBI Colombia provided physical accompaniment to a total of 20 organisations, 2 communities and three individual human rights defenders who work throughout the Colombian territory.

The Ombudsman’s Office recognises that “illegal armed groups aim to take over areas of the territory where the FARC have withdrawn”[5]. According to the analysis of the OHCHR, 45% of the homicides that occurred in 2016 and 67% in 2017 were committed in areas abandoned by the FARC. In turn, the Ombudsman’s Office highlights several aspects related to the systematic nature of attacks against defenders and social leaders: 69% of the victims were involved in community organisation, 25% were indigenous leaders, and many were leaders from Neighbourhood Action Boards (Juntas de Acción Comunal) and leaders from the Marcha Patriótica and Congreso de los Pueblos political movements[6].

Enrique Chimonja, from the Inter-Church Commission of Justice and Peace who won the Diakonia Prize as Human Rights Defensor of the year in September 2017, for its work aupporting the communities in the South west region of Colombia and the Humanitarian Space of Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca)

The PBI Field Teams carried out 222 accompaniments totalling 527 days, 46% of which were accompaniments for women. The teams also held 277 meetings and profile-raising visits with accompanied organisations.

Even though progress has been made in the implementation of the Peace Agreement and the legislative regulation of the protection measures contemplated therein[7], the lack of real implementation and consultation with ethnic and small-scale farming communities in regional territories is worrying, as these sectors are experiencing a serious security crisis in their lands, with increasing reports of the presence of illegal armed groups, threats and persecutions. Another pattern that has intensified since the signing of the Peace Agreement is the increase in violations of human rights related to economic interests and the associated environmental impacts which endanger the livelihoods of ancestral communities. This issue has become the focus of work of many organisations accompanied by PBI, who thanks to our accompaniment have been able to continue working to protect natural resources and local communities whose livelihoods depend on these eco-systems.

As part of our political accompaniment work we held 324 meetings with the international community in Colombia and in other countries, and with Colombian civil and military authorities, to share our concerns about human rights violations in Colombia and raise awareness of our work with the individuals, organisations and communities we accompany

Meanwhile, since the beginning of 2018, the dialogue table between the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and the Colombian government remains in crisis due to changes in the negotiating team, the non-resumption of the bilateral ceasefire that the parties had agreed for three months, which culminated on 9 January 2017, and the consequent escalation of guerrilla warfare against the civilian population, oil pipelines and the state security forces[8]. More than 50 peace and human rights platforms, civil society initiatives and personalities have called upon the delegations of the Government and the National Liberation Army to restart the negotiations and agree a new truce to advance the agreed agenda[9].

Avre, yondó, taller Silvia

PBI Colombia celebrates the release of human rights defender David Ravelo[10] on 20 June 2017, who has been accompanied by PBI for many years, after 7 years of imprisonment as a result of a legal process characterised by irregularities and lack of compliance with international standards on due process, as reported by a number of national and international organisations. David Ravelo’s case was accepted by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. In the course of the 7 year incarceration, PBI Colombia accompanied him physically and politically, as well as the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo) and, specifically, his lawyer Reinaldo Villalba, who did outstanding legal work in this criminal process. We appreciate and recognise the international accompaniment as well as the support provided by several international institutions and organisations in this landmark case for the prosecution of a human rights defender, including, for example, the Delegation of the European Union’s visit to the Barrancabermeja prison in June 2017[11].

170623 David Ravelo

PBI Colombia thanks all its funding agencies who makes this projects possible.

PBI Colombia


[1]El Espectador: “La implementación de la paz no ha llegado”: director del Consejo Noruego de Refugiados, 22 November 2017

[2]According to our work in the field, the Office has verified during this year and until December 20, 2017, a total of 105 homicides against human rights defenders and leaders, including: 73 murders against leaders, 18 murders of members of social and political movements, and 14 victims during social mobilisations. In addition, the Office is verifying a further 11 cases. OHCHR: Press Release (in Spanish), 20 December 2017.

[3] El Espectador: La amenaza del narcoparamilitarismo, 13 February 2017.

[4] Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo): Informe de riesgo no. 010-17 A.I., 30 March 2017, available here: Verdad Abierta: Defensoría del Pueblo emite informe de riesgo sobre líderes sociales, 31 March 2017

[5]Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo): 156 líderes sociales y defensores de derechos humanos han sido asesinados en los últimos 14 meses: Defensoría, 31 March 2017

[6]Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo): Informe de riesgo no. 010-17 A.I., 30 March 2017

[7] National Commission on Security Guarantees, Public Prosecutor’s Special Investigation Unit, Ombudsman’s Office Early Warning System, etc.

[8] El Espectador: Santos suspende inicio del quinto ciclo de conversaciones con el ELN. 29 January 2018

[9] El Espectador: Organizaciones sociales, en “proceso de paz permanente”, 1 February 2018

[10]Front Line Defenders: Freedom for David Ravelo Crespo; Vanguardia.com: El líder social David Ravelo Crespo recobró su libertad, 21 June 2017

[11]To see further information related to this case, visit PBI Colombia’s website: David Ravelo

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