Who are “human rights defenders”?

The Office of the Attorney General considers that an individual is a “human rights defender” whenever he/she directly or indirectly promotes or exercises activities for the promotion and protection of human rights recognized at national or international level.

From the perspective of the Office of the Attorney General, the status of a human rights defender is not linked to a post within an organization or to a certain profession; the status of a human rights defender is acquired through the exercise of activities to protect human rights, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

What do “human rights defenders” do?

Human rights defenders carry out multiple activities that are related to the promotion and protection of human rights. Some of them are:

  • Reporting human rights violations committed by third parties or public servants.
  • Disclosing mechanisms for citizen participation.
  • Promoting, in different roles, the creation and continuity of social, peasant, indigenous, African descent, victims, and women’s organizations, among others.
  • Promoting measures for the progressive access to economic, social and cultural rights.
  • Promoting and participating in the opportunities defined in the Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace.
  • Accompanying or advising victims for access to truth, justice and reparation mechanisms.

Which rights do “human rights defenders” promote?

Human rights defenders participate in the promotion, defense, and protection of recognized human rights, whether civil, political, economic, social, cultural, collective or even new rights whose formulation is still under discussion.

What is the Office of the Attorney General doing to investigate crimes committed against “human rights defenders”?

The Office of the Attorney General recognizes the fundamental role of human rights defenders in favor of the validity of the Social Rule of Law, democratic participation and the human rights of everyone. For this reason, an institution was designed in 2016, and it is developing a specific strategy for the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against those who protect human rights.

The strategy of the Attorney General’s Office has eight lines of action that are described on the entity’s website: Human Rights Defenders (Defensores de Derechos Humanos)

Does the Office of the Attorney General only investigate cases reported by the United Nations?

No, the Office of the Attorney General recognizes and values the work carried out by the multiplicity of actors involved in monitoring the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia. The entity strictly follows reports from international organizations, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); State institutions, such as the Ombudsman’s Office; and civil society organizations, such as Coordinación Social y Política Marcha Patriótica, Cumbre Agraria, Somos Defensores, among others. Our institution investigates all killings reported by these sources. Regarding these cases, the Office of the Attorney General has made a 48% of progress in clarifications with the following results: 78 cases with a judgment, 117 cases in trial, 36 cases in which people have been charged, 62 cases with arrest warrants and 7 precluded.

What does the Office of the Attorney General mean by “advance in clarifications”?

Within the indicator of “advance in clarification”, the Office of the Attorney General takes into account those cases in which it has been possible to establish the following: conditions of mode, time and place where the crime occurred, the possible person responsible for the crime, a reasonable inference about the authorship or participation in the facts and that a Supervisory Judge has issued an arrest warrant against the person. Likewise, the indicator contemplates cases in which an accusation has been formulated, the indictment has been presented (cases in trial) or a judgment has been delivered.

How much has the Office of the Attorney General moved forward in the investigation of crimes against human rights defenders?

See: Report on victimization of human rights defenders (Informe sobre Victimización a personas defensoras de derechos humanos)

What does the Office of the Attorney General do to investigate the killings of human rights defenders that occur in remote regions of the State?

The highest percentage of killings against human rights defenders occurs in rural areas (72.3%) and in some other locations where access is limited by geographical conditions or by issues related to security and public order. However, the Office of the Attorney General has itinerant units to attend, in real time, the killings that occur in any region of the State.

To reach these areas, in a large percentage, the entity coordinates with the Public Force (National Police, Army, and Navy). The collaboration of these institutions has been vital to guarantee the safety of the members of the Office of the Attorney General who work at the crime scene, carry out the urgent acts and protect the evidence.

What role does the Unit (created in the Peace Agreement) play in the investigation of crimes against human rights defenders?

The Special Investigation Unit was created pursuant to a commitment made by the Colombian State in the Final Agreement to End the Armed Conflict and Build a Stable and Lasting Peace. It was adopted through Decree Law 898 of 2017. It bears the main mandate of investigating, prosecuting, and charging criminal organizations responsible for serious offenses against leaders, human rights defenders, and individuals in process of reincorporation and their families.

In this sense, the Unit was in charge of developing an investigative methodology by stages: (a) investigative advances (clarification), (b) the association of criminal acts and understanding of criminal structures (sustainability) and (c) the strategic identification of objectives to contribute in the dismantling of criminal organizations (consolidation).

In the development of this strategy, the Unit established territorial and itinerant teams to deal with investigations in which human rights defenders, leaders, individuals in the process of reincorporation and their families were affected.

In 2020, the Unit was strengthened to coordinate the Strategy for the Investigation and Prosecution of Crimes Committed Against Human Rights Defenders, which is under the leadership of the Deputy Attorney General. To that end, regional prosecutors and investigative projects have been defined to significantly affect the dimensions of criminal organizations.

What does the Office of the Attorney General do to investigate threats against human rights defenders?

The Office of the Attorney General has strengthened the investigation process when the victim of a threat is a human rights defender, in accordance with the measures listed below:

The creation of a working group to support, promote and coordinate the analysis, investigation and prosecution of cases about threats against human rights defenders. This group was created by Resolution 0339 of April 04, 2018, and its validity was renewed through Resolution 0395 of April 04, 2019. This working group has the following main functions:

  • Promoting investigation processes dealing with threats against human rights defenders.
  • Coordinating the work of the various areas of Office of the Attorney General that have threat cases under their investigative purview.
  • Investigating analytically and strategically those threat cases, so that a link between the different cases can be identified and the contexts in which they are framed can be understood.
  • Strengthening institutional capacity by supporting the threat investigations carried out in the Sectional Offices, in order to provide a prompt and effective reply.

In that sense, the Office of the Attorney General influenced the creation of the crime of threats against human rights defenders, regulated in article 188E of the Criminal Code.

Finally, a mechanism is available to receive complaints regarding threats against human rights defenders. Service 24 hours a day: line 3506011181, contact center 122 and email recepcion.amenazas@fiscalia.gov.co.