2018: integral accompaniment in time of uncertainties

Two years after the signature of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP guerrilla, a long journey has been undertaken to implement the agreed upon points.  2018 will be remembered as the year when the FARC guerrilla, today a political party, Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, participated for the first time in national elections, definitively leavings its weapons behind to embark on their political project.

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However, the Peace Agreement’s implementation is progressing slowly. Some points have advanced significantly, such as point 6 on the “Implementation, Verification, and Referendum Mechanisms,” with a full implementation of 52% of the measures, and point 3 on the “Termination of the Conflict” with 39% of legislative measures implemented. The first point, “Comprehensive Rural Reform” is underway, however significant results have yet to be seen, in addition to point 4 on the “Solution to the Illicit Drug Problem” which continues to face obstacles and controversies, including the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Use Crops’ (PNIS) lack of implementation and a return to forced eradication.[1]

In 2018, 20 volunteers carried out 264 accompaniments and observation missions adding up to an equivalent of 606 days, which represents an increase of 19% in relation to the previous year

In addition, in 2018 the murder of 155 social leaders and defenders was registered, which equals a 46.2% increase compared to the previous year.[2] This lack of guarantees to exercise the defense of human rights in Colombia continues to threaten stable and lasting peace in the country. There are debates regarding the statistics on assassinated defenders,[3] however, as Alberto Brunori stated,[4] effective results to stop these attacks have yet to be demonstrated.[5] Certain regions like Bajo Cauca, Catatumbo, Chocó, and Nariño have seen armed confrontations return to their regions, generating forced displacements and confinement. According to CODHES, 2018 was the year with the highest number of forced displacements since 2010,[6] and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that between January and November 2018, 30,500 individuals have been forcibly displaced from their territories.[7]


The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, which continues to provide ongoing and broad monitoring of the situation in the regions, issued 80 early alerts during the year. This was the highest number of alerts issued in one year, 52 were issued by the entity in 2017.[8] The office also had to confront multiple challenges regarding its own safety due to threats received by three of its employees (two in Urabá and one in Casanare).[9]

The territories abandoned by the FARC are currently being disputed by other illegal armed groups, successors of the paramilitaries or FARC dissidents, among others, who have regrouped and/or established themselves in different territories, generating an open armed conflict and social and territorial control that impacts the civilian population’s life and safety. A recent International Committee of the Red Cross publication highlights the existence of five armed conflicts in Colombia.[10]

Lideres sociales_ingles-01
Illustration made by Maria Fernanda Lessmes for PBI Colombia

This alarming situation generated international concern and led to visits, at the end of the year, from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of defenders, Michel Forst, to carry out evaluation missions and to elaborate recommendations for the Colombian Government.

Due to the high level of requests, PBI Colombia strengthened its working area known as Support for the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric, facilitating 35 workshops for self-care and self-protection in 2018, which represents 20% more than were held during the previous year. Some 786 people participated in these workshops, 78% of whom were women

This year, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) began operating and initiated its first hearings and investigations on the “most serious and representative [incidents] within the armed conflict”[11] which are: kidnappings carried out by the FARC-EP, crimes committed in Nariño, extrajudicial executions, and the armed conflict and land grabbing in Urabá, and a fifth case on the violence that occurred in North Cauca. One of the first hearings looked at cases of extrajudicial executions that took place under the command of retired General Mario Montoya and his role in the Operation Orión. This process has generated expectations among the victims, who hope to learn the full truth about these atrocious incidents,[12] but they also face disappointment due to the complexity of the cases and procedures, in addition to a lack of will to tell the truth, which has been seen from those implicated in the case.[13]


Iván Duque Márquez was elected as Colombia’s new President in June. He took office on 7 August. The new government has received several observations due to an appointment of controversial individuals to his team, such as Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla, who has been denounced for alleged corruption in 2015,[14] and businessman Guillermo Boteromaker, Minister of Defense, who in the first month of his mandate declared that social protests were financed by mafias in Colombia.[15]

On 23 August, President Duque along with several Ministers, the Inspector General, and the National Human Rights Ombudsman signed a Pact for Life in the city of Apartadó, with the aim to taking effective measures and implementing a public policy for the prevention and protection in attacks against defenders and social leaders. This Pact resulted in the creation of a Timely Action Plan for the Prevention and Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Social and Community Leaders, and Journalists.[16] The plan lays out several focus areas, action strategies, and inter-institutional coordination to respond to the serious situation currently faced by human rights defenders in Colombia. However, to date, advances have yet to be shown in its implementation nor have effective results been seen. The alarming situation generated international concern and led to visits, at the end of the year, from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of defenders, Michel Forst, to carry out evaluation missions and to elaborate recommendations for the Colombian Government.

Febrero 2018 - homenaje a Hernan Bedoya
February 2018 – Tribute to Hernan Bedoya, leader and land claimer from Pedeguita y Mancilla (Chocó) who was murdered on December 8, 2017

The Fundación Ideas por la Paz published a report assessing the three first months of President Duque’s administration which registered 348 protests. This is equivalent to over three protests per day, where citizens expressed their displeasure regarding the country’s current situation, the murder of leaders, and a lack of implementation of the Peace Agreements, among others.[17] Throughout the country the marches faced major repression from the Anti-Riot Police (ESMAD).[18]

PBI organised 7 international speaking tours for human rights defenders in Europe and the USA, while, at the national level, the organisation facilitated 10 meetings and visits of the Diplomatic Corps and international agencies to Colombian regions and in the capital city, opening up space for exchanges between the international community and accompanied organisations and communities

Regarding peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla, there was a change in the negotiations site, from Quito to Havana, as Ecuador pulled out as a guarantor country after FARC dissidents murdered three Ecuadorian journalists in the border region between Colombia and Ecuador.[19] The last negotiations cycle was in July 2018, but it was not possible to reach a bilateral ceasefire between both parties. At the beginning of his administration, President Duque imposed strict conditions to continue with the negotiations. The ELN did release some kidnapped individuals, but it did not agree to abandon criminal activities. At the same time, it implemented a unilateral ceasefire over the Christmas season. However, after the attack against the General Santander Police Academy in Bogotá on 17 January 2019, which was claimed by the guerrilla, the Government announced the end of negotiations and requested the immediate capture of the guerrilla delegation in Havana.[20] The request generated international tensions among the guarantor countries, due to a non-compliance of protocols established with the Santos government. It also generated major uncertainty regarding the armed conflict in Colombian during the coming year.

Diciembre 2018 - asamblea de la Comunidad de Paz en la vereda La unión
December 2018 – Accompaniment to the Peace Community during its Assembly in the La Unión hamlet

In the second half of 2018, PBI faced one of its most difficult moments with the death of our much-loved colleague Juan Carlos Solís after an illness. Juan Carlos was a renowned human rights defender in Mexico and responsible for PBI Colombia’s Digital Security. The emotional and technical impacts of this loss were enormous for the whole PBI team, which we resolved as much as possible by redistributing resources, and by strengthening our team to face the emotional loss. This sad process has lead to a strong collective sense of togetherness, based on solidarity and mutual support.

Equipo Arts
Sergio, Elena y Juan Carlos

PBI Colombia


[1] KROC Institute: State of Implementation of the Colombian Peace Agreement, Report Two, December 2016 – May 2018, August 2018

[2] Público: Asesinados en Colombia 155 defensores de los Derechos Humanos en 2018, 23 April 2019

[3] According to Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, between 1 January 2016 and 30 November 2018, 423 social leaders and human rights defenders were assassinated; in an Indepaz report the murder of 226 defenders is documented between 1 January and 17 November 2018, El Tiempo: Van 226 líderessociales asesinados en el país en lo que va de año, 23 November 2018

[4] Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia

[5] El Espectador, Colombia 2020: “Medidas para proteger a líderes sociales no han dado resultado”: Alberto Brunori, 22 November 2018

[6] CODHES: Se agrava situación humanitaria en Colombia, 20 September 2018 ; El Espectador: Los caminos del desplazamiento forzado, 2 August 2018

[7] El Espectador: Más de 30.500 colombianos han sido desplazados en 2018, 28 December 2018

[8] Verdad Abierta: Alertan sobre posible debilitamiento institucional de la Defensoría del Pueblo, 23 November 2018

[9] Ibid.

[10] ICRC Colombia: Colombia: Five armed conflicts. What’s happening?, 6 December 2018

[11] El Espectador: Un año de la Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, 16 January 2018

[12] CCAJAR: Las víctimas y la sociedad exigen que Montoya diga la verdad, Comunicado conjunto, 13 September 2018

[13] CCAJAR: General Mario Montoya, las víctimas están esperando la verdad, 18 September 2018 ; CCAJAR: Exigimos respeto por el principio de centralidad de las víctimas, 18 October 2018

[14] Caracol: Bonos Carrasquilla solo le sirvieron a 29 de 117 municipios, 12 September 2018

[15] El Espectador: Protesta social, en la mira del Mindefensa, 14 September 2018

[16] Ministerio de Interior: Plan de Acción Oportuna de Prevención y Protección (PAO), 2 November 2018

[17] El Tiempo: En tres meses del actual gobierno van 348 protestas, 19 November 2018

[18] El Espectador: Denuncian excesos por parte del Esmad en las manifestaciones en Bogotá, 15 November 2018

[19] Semana: Fotografías confirmarían el asesinato de los periodistas ecuatorianos, 12 April 2018

[20] El Espectador: Punto final a los diálogos con el Eln, 18 January 2019


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