WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
19 Sep 2023 | News

Colombian Activists, Journalists and Communities Face Security Vacuum

Dear all,

We remain concerned about the safety, security, and protection of social leaders and rural, Afro Descendant, and Indigenous civilian communities in Colombia. The best way to improve protection is for the international community to advance the consolidation of the 2016 peace accord, in particular, the Ethnic Chapter and the Commission for Security Guarantees; support the peace dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN) with whom the Colombian government has a temporary bilateral ceasefire and to support efforts that lead to the dismantlement of illegal criminal groups. For ethnic communities, the Colombian government must step up its support to the indigenous and cimarrona guards so they can better deter and protect communities within the collective ethnic territories. 

At the same time, Colombian authorities (President’s office, Attorney General, Inspector General, Human Rights Ombudsman, Minister of Defense, and Minister of the Interior) must all be encouraged to do their utmost to bring the intellectual and direct perpetrators of violence against social leaders and communities to justice. The National Protection Unit requires reforms so corruption within this entity is rooted out, its process for determining and granting measures is more efficient and integrates a differentiated ethnic, gender, and rural approach, and the individual measures are more in line with the needs of the recipients (in consultation with them) and efforts to provide collective measures are implemented. 

U.S. policymakers and the diplomatic corps should advance political protection of at-risk individuals and communities by publicly denouncing abuses committed against defenders and communities and urging protection and justice in those cases. OAS and UN mechanisms designated to protect journalists should activate in response to threats, intimidation, and spurious legal proceedings of journalists and demand that such hostilities cease. 

In particular, we ask for U.S. and other authorities to act when it comes to two WOLA partners whose security situation is critical:

La Nueva Prensa

Gonzalo Guillén, investigative journalist, and Roberto Mauricio Rodríguez, lawyer, for the Colombian media outlet La Nueva Prensa have suffered death threats and judicial harassment in 2023. They’ve become targets of harassment due to investigations published in La Nueva Prensa and for expressing themselves on social media platforms. The harassment comes from the Prosecutors, Judges, and Magistrates of the Courts and Tribunals of Bogota and Barranquilla and subjects named in the investigation. In 2023 alone they’ve received up to 12 judicial actions, which can result in double or triple appeals in the further and/or contempt that can lead to possible imprisonment. La Nueva Prensa has filed over 15 complaints with the Colombian Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court of Justice. Such complaints, involving illegal armed criminal groups such as the Gulf Clan, public figures, and active prosecutors, are generally and systematically not investigated and/or are subject to archival proceedings.

Veteranos por Colombia

Alexander Chala Saenz, is the Political Chief of the Corporation of retired military veterans for Colombia is an anti-corruption activist who advocates for justice for victims of abuses committed by the armed forces of Colombia, transitional justice, labor rights of current and retired members of the armed forces. Since 2021, he’s publicly exposed public officials who are allegedly corrupt and/or linked to criminal and drug trafficking groups. He denounced Generals and Colonels on active duty and retired. As a result, he’s received numerous death threats including highly public ones. He’s been monitored, and he and his family photographed and attacked on social networks. According to Saenz: “senior officers have ordered members of intelligence units within the national army to monitor me and my family.” Saenz is also at risk because he testified before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) in cases of extrajudicial executions whereby perpetrators were deprived of their liberty for involvement in the same. 

To view all the cases of human rights and security incidents WOLA received from July 31 to September 7, 2023, please click here