The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR) published on 5 October 2017 a report drawing attention to a largely unexplored phenomenon: the specific role of economic actors in the vulnerability of individuals and groups of land and environmental rights defenders, and more specifically, corporate State capture that threatens the security, peace and even the life of these defenders.
In a post-conflict context, in which many organisations have alerted about the increasing attacks against individuals and groups of land and environmental rights defenders working in the context of extractive industries, the report “Defending land and the environment in contexts of extractive industries” describes, through three emblematic cases, the relationship between the State, companies and attacks against land and environmental rights defenders.
The accumulation of judicial proceedings, stigmatization, and threats against the lawyers of the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados “Luis Carlos Pérez” (CCALCP), and their chronological relation to key moments of their work denouncing the negative impact of business activities on the rights of the Barí indigenous people and several rural communities in the Catatumbo region, raise questions about the role of businesses in those attacks. To reduce the pressure faced by defenders in those regions, it is necessary to investigate specifically the role of corporate actors in areas where armed actors operate, in order to understand how their interests and actions articulate, and take measures to prevent or combat this situation.
Similarly, the unjustified criminalisation of the trade union and environmental leader Héctor Sánchez Gómez and the academic and activist Miller Dussán, points to the instrumentalisation of criminal law by companies like Pacific E&P and Egemsa, through the filing of disproportionate complaints or exercise of undue influence on judges and prosecutors in order to slow down or disrupt collective movements at time when actions to ensure the effective enjoyment of human rights are progressing.
The paradoxical asymmetry between expeditious judicial proceedings conducted against defenders on the one hand and protracted investigations of complaints brought by defenders, their organisations or communities against the State and companies, suggest a collusion or inaction on the part of state actors, including the judiciary, against human rights defenders.
The report also denounces corporate State capture, as demonstrated by the persecution and surveillance of Héctor Sánchez by private security companies contracted by Pacific E&P and law enforcement bodies, which in some cases are part of mining and energy battalions financed by mining companies through cooperation agreements between companies and law enforcement State bodies. Human rights defenders are therefore perceived by these actors as enemies to be repressed. The report also gives several examples of the growing phenomenon of the revolving door, which refers to the unhindered movement of high-ranking personnel between the public and private sectors, and identifies this situation as a factor contributing to the vulnerability of defenders.
Considering these findings, the Observatory and CAJAR provide a constructive insight on the issue, calling on the State to identify the vulnerabilities of land and environmental rights defenders, in particular by characterizing the role played by economic actors in the context of socio-environmental conflicts. The multi-causality of violence in the regions should not be an argument to dilute the responsibility of the State and corporate actors in addressing the situation of human rights defenders. These recommendations seek to contribute to preventing the escalation of attacks, to consolidate a democratic system that recognizes the legitimate work of human rights defenders.
This report sends an urgent call to the different actors to protect land and environmental rights defenders. Our organisations call on the Colombian government to strengthen protection mechanisms, which should act more effectively to prevent the attacks suffered by defenders, and avert the increase of assassinations. They also call on business actors to recognize and refrain from hindering the legitimate and essential work defenders do to ensure respect for human rights linked to the land and the environment in Colombia.