Court convenes public hearing for #TheRighttoDefendRights: What does it mean?

Court convenes public hearing for #TheRighttoDefendRights: What does it mean?

The public hearing will review the current situation of human rights defenders and the respective commitments of the State. Social leaders, civil society organizations and State entities in charge of guaranteeing the right to defend human rights will participate.

In the midst of the systematic violation of human rights experienced by social leaders, the Constitutional Court convened, this Thursday, a public hearing to evaluate the State’s response to the massive violation of the fundamental rights of human rights defenders.

This public hearing is part of the tutela action filed by a group of social leaders from Cauca, Chocó, Casanare, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Putumayo, Córdoba, Cali and Medellín, supported by human rights platforms and civil society organizations, including Dejusticia.

In this space, in addition to the plaintiffs of the tutela and the organizations that accompany this process, the State authorities in charge of guaranteeing the security of social leaders (such as the National Protection Unit, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ombudsman’s Office) will participate.

Among the objectives of the hearing, which will be virtual, is the collection of information to assess the current situation of state policy on guarantees for human rights defenders in Colombia. The Constitutional Court will also seek access to testimonies that will allow it to understand the effectiveness of the State’s protection routes for leaders in Colombia.

The organizations that signed the tutela action to demand that the Colombian state protect the right to defend rights are: the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), Colombian Commission of Jurists, Rios Vivos Movement, José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (Cajar), the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia), Colombian Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (Afrodes), National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, Alianza de Organizaciones Sociales y Afines, Plataforma Colombiana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo, Corporación Reiniciar, Asociación Minga, Congreso de los Pueblos, Marcha Patriótica, with the support of Somos Defensores, Sisma Mujer, the Cumbre Agraria, Campesina, Étnica y Popular. Support has also come from other social organizations and academia, such as: Universidad ICESI, Universidad Autónoma de México- UNAM, Universidad de Notre Dame, Universidad Javeriana de Cali, Universidad El Rosario, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Alianza Iniciativa Mujeres por la Paz, Sindicato de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de la Defensoría del Pueblo – SINDHEP, Corporación Desarrollo Solidario (CDS) and Asociación Sembrando Semillas de Paz (Sembrando Paz).

Connect here to the public hearing tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, starting at 8:00 a.m.

Read also: The right to defend rights – Dejusticia

What are the major concerns that we will bring before the Court?

  1. After four years of the Duque government, the security situation of social leaders and human rights defenders is dramatic. 

After four years, the Duque government has not only failed to comply with the security guarantees contained and developed in the Final Peace Agreement, but has also implemented alternative measures to address the situation of social leaders. These measures have proven to be ineffective, as indicated by the numbers of violations of the rights to life and personal integrity, reports of threats, displacements and other violations such as theft of information.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, at least 145 social leaders were killed in Colombia in 2021. However, organizations that monitor this problem point out that there may be a significant underreporting.

Why, after four years, has the government preferred to create new security measures instead of implementing those contemplated in the Peace Agreement?

In 2018, the Government stated that it would carry out the Timely Action Plan (PAO) to respond to the violence affecting social leaders.In this process, it ignored the doubts about the plan that civil society organizations and social leaders had, who had no participation in either the configuration or implementation.

2. We insist on a failure with structural scope after the non-compliances

The Executive has taken punctual measures on some security potholes instead of addressing the situation in a structural way. It is important that structural decisions are taken in the framework of an unconstitutional state of affairs (ECI).

In the first decisions, the constitutional judges found that the rights of the plaintiffs were violated and issued the following orders: the recognition and obligation to guarantee the right to defend rights; the reactivation of the National Roundtable of Guarantees and the Territorial Roundtables of Guarantees; the elaboration of a campaign by the Presidency to address the stigmatization of social leaders; and the inclusion of an ethnic, racial and cultural approach in the security measures of the National Protection Unit (UNP).

However, the State institutions have not yet complied with the order and the situation continues to be worrisome. 

What do we hope to achieve with the hearing?

  1. Participation and voice of the plaintiffs regarding the State’s response to guarantee their right to defend their rights.
  2. Listen to the institutions that are responsible for the security of the leaders. What has been the response of the institutions in the last four years? Why has the response not worked? What are the structural flaws in their actions?
  3. The public hearing is an open space that allows us, as a society, to learn about the decision-making process that affects the safety of those who defend rights and build democracy in the country.
  4. We hope that the Constitutional Court can evaluate the situation in order to take structural orders regarding the security of social leaders.


Context: The long road of the charge action

In 2019, a group of social leaders from Cauca, Chocó, Casanare, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Putumayo, Córdoba and Medellín filed a charge before the Superior Court of Bogotá seeking to demand that the Colombian State protect their right to defend human rights.

There, the constitutional judge was asked, among other things, to declare the state of unconstitutionality with respect to the serious security situation faced by those who defend human rights in the country and, consequently, to protect the rights of the plaintiffs. In addition, it requested the adoption of structural measures to overcome the crisis and a pronouncement on the obligation of the authorities to comply with the measures contained in the Final Peace Agreement.

In December 2020, 189 social leaders signed a letter addressed to the Constitutional Court requesting it to review the file of this charge.

On January 29, 2021, the Constitutional Court selected the tutela file for review and is now convening a public hearing to learn about the current situation of social leaders and to determine the scope of public policy regarding the protection of leaders and human rights defenders.

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