Contextualization of the situation of environmental defenders in Colombia

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Author: Eugenia Ponce de León Chaux

“The defense of human rights in Colombia continues to be a high-risk activity”

Human rights defenders2 have seen their own rights violated by actions that prevent them from carrying out their work freely. These actions include threats, persecution, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, stigmatization and even homicide.3 As a result of this situation, the UN has stipulated, on numerous occasions, the need to protect the right to defend human rights, defining it as a right in itself, with the aim of putting an end to the persecution of those who carry out this activity.

In this sense, in 1998, the “Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and institutions to promote and protect universally recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” 5 ((onwards, Statement on Human Rights Defenders), which enshrines the right of every person, individually or collectively, to promote and seek the protection and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This declaration also reaffirms essential rights for the defense of human rights, such as freedom of association, assembly, opinion, expression, the right of access to information, to participate in the management of public affairs, to have effective remedies available and to be protectedinthe eventofthe violationofone’s rights,tofile complaints before a judicial authority or other competent authorities, and to obtain a decision without delay that provides the corresponding redress, among others.

Correlatively, it declares the responsibility and duty of States to protect, promote, and implement those rights and liberties, adopting the necessary measures to create the conditions (e.g.: social, economic, political) and the legal assurances required for all persons under their jurisdiction to enjoy such rights and liberties. It points out that the States must adopt legislative, administrative, and other measures necessary to ensure that the rights and liberties of the Declaration are effectively guaranteed. In addition, it urges States to recognize the value and contribution of human rights defenders to peace, sustainable development, and human rights (A/73/230 of September 27, 2018).

This non-binding Declaration is a soft law instrument and guides the action of the States that are part of the UN. Its development is promoted by the special rapporteur for the topic.

In 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders expressly included environmental defenders as part of human rights defenders.  In this regard, she pointed out the following: “those who defend land rights, the right to natural resources and the right to a clean environment are protected by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders” (Wijdekopthe, p. 5).

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Contextualization of the situation of environmental defenders in Colombia