Colombia: Presidential Candidates Must Champion Human Rights

Human rights and the fight to end impunity in Colombia must be a high priority for all candidates in the presidential elections scheduled for 25 May, Amnesty International said today in a public letter addressed to the five contenders.

“Human rights should be the cornerstone of any political platform, especially given the backdrop of the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Director for the Americas.

“A long-sought opportunity for peace may be looming, but the next president of Colombia must not bargain away human rights in the negotiations. The candidates should be clear that a lasting peace can only be built on justice and respect for human rights.”

“The Colombian government has failed to guarantee the protection of civilians, who continue to bear the brunt of the worst excesses of the protracted internal armed conflict. This conflict has destroyed the lives of millions of Colombians, and the lives of countless more are still affected on a daily basis.”

The figures are astounding. According to a report published last year by the governmental National Centre for Historic Memory, there have been:

  • Almost 220,000 conflict-related killings, 80 per cent of them civilians, between 1958 and 2012.
  • At least 25,000 victims of enforced disappearances between 1985 and 2012.
  • Around 27,000 kidnapping victims between 1970 and 2010.
  • More than 5 million people forcibly displaced between 1985 and 2012.

In 2013 alone, more than 70 human rights defenders and at least 27 trade unionists were killed, according to figures from Colombian human rights organizations.

In its letter and a wider campaign, Amnesty International is calling on the presidential candidates to disclose what concrete measures they will take on key human rights issues, including:

The protection of the civilian population, particularly of those groups and communities most at risk of human rights violations and abuses:

  • Indigenous, Afro-descendent, peasant farmer and forcibly displaced communities.
  • Human right defenders, including trade unionists and community leaders.
  • Women at risk of conflict-related violence.

Truth, justice and reparation for the victims of human rights violations and abuses:

  • Full investigations by civilian courts into all serious human rights abuses and violations and prosecution of all those suspected of criminal responsibility in such crimes.
  • Real dismantling of paramilitary groups and their support structures and breaking links with sectors of the security forces.
  • Comprehensive reparation to all victims of human rights violations and abuses in the context of the armed conflict.

Despite recognizing some human rights advances in Colombia, Amnesty International’s letter depicts a country still reeling from the human rights consequences of the 50-year-long internal armed conflict.

President Juan Manuel Santos has, unlike his predecessor Álvaro Uribe, acknowledged that Colombia continues to be in the midst of an armed conflict, and that the hostilities have created millions of victims. And although flawed, the government’s Victims and Land Restitution Law does offer at least a glimmer of hope to some, albeit not all, of the victims of the conflict.

“Recognizing the reality of the armed conflict is a positive step, but it falls far short of what’s needed. The day-to-day threats, abductions, forcible displacement, enforced disappearances, and killings committed by the security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups must come to an end,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

In the past several years, Amnesty International has denounced the government’s support for various legislative measures that threaten to boost already high levels of impunity.

“Such efforts could enable those responsible for human rights abuses and violations to evade justice and send a signal to perpetrators that the state will tolerate more atrocities. A pressing issue for Colombia’s new president will be to ensure the implementation of comprehensive and effective measures that guarantee the right of all citizens to live free from violence, as well as the right to all victims of the conflict to truth, justice and reparation”, said Erika Guevara Rosas.   

“Facing up to its past and present is crucial for Colombia to move into the future. We’re calling on the presidential candidates to remember this simple, essential truth.”