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Success Story | Outreach to most-at-risk defenders from Antioquia, Colombia

Banner PD-Report 2019-2022

In June 2022, the OMCT conducted an advocacy and grant accompaniment mission to Medellin (Colombia) to assess the situation of HRDs most exposed to violence in the Antioquia department and better understand their protection needs.

From June 6 to 11, 2022, the OMCT carried out a mission to Medellin (Colombia) as part of its accompaniment to the institutional grant it allocated to the local organisation Fundación Sumapaz in 2021, jointly with a field monitoring and advocacy mission to assess the situation of HRDs most exposed to violence in the Antioquia region.

The situation of human rights defenders in Colombia is marked by an extreme level of violence, with over 400 defenders killed since 2016. Violence and insecurity disproportionately affect defenders working in rural areas, particularly defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples, who defend their land and cultural rights against armed groups and drug trafficking in their territories. This context is reflected with particular intensity in the department of Antioquia. Sumapaz is an organisation that supports HRDs in the department of Antioquia and contributes to their protection through protection strategies and mechanisms to strengthen their security.

In 2021, the OMCT allocated an institutional grant to the Sumapaz Foundation, a Colombian organisation dedicated to the protection of HRDs operating in the department of Antioquia, with the aim to strengthen the initiatives of Sumapaz for the protection of defenders in Antioquia as well as its documentation of violations against defenders and to consolidate protection networks for defenders in the region.

In the framework of its mission, the OMCT met with representatives of Sumapaz, social leaders and other civil society representatives. Specific meetings were also convened with representatives of the government of Antioquia, the police, the Sub-Secretariat for Human Rights of the municipality of Medellin as well as of OHCHR. The OMCT representative also took part in a workshop on the protection for HRDs, which was broadcasted on national television.

The mission was the opportunity for the OMCT to step up its advocacy for the protection of human rights defenders specifically in Antioquia, where they are at particular risk due to the very strong presence of armed groups on the territory. It was also the opportunity for the OMCT to strengthen its collaboration with Fundación Sumapaz, in a very critical region of Colombia where the OMCT had not been very active until now, in turn complementing the work conducted by the OMCT with other Colombian partners.

Thanks to this grant accompaniment and advocacy mission, the OMCT was able not only to demonstrate solidarity with HRDs from Antioquia and to expand its HRDs network within Colombia, but also to get a better understanding of the challenges they face, with a focus on low-profile social leaders working in remote areas and impoverished and violent neighbourhoods in Medellín with the aim to improve their protection.

The OMCT first met with Sumapaz representatives during a field mission it carried out under in 2018, in the framework of which the situation of HRDs in Antioquia had already been highlighted as of major concern while remaining largely under documented. As the situation has sadly deteriorated even further since this mission, the C1.2 grant allocated by the OMCT and subsequent advocacy mission were seen as an opportunity to document more systematically abuses against HRDs in this specific region of Colombia. Sumapaz was also strongly recommended by OMCT’s member the Colombian Commission of Jurists prior to the grant allocation. In the framework of the mission, the OMCT further took part in a workshop along with representatives of the Government of Antioquia, Sumapaz, OHCHR, PBI Colombia and other civil society representatives.

Through this field mission, the OMCT was able to strengthen its work on HRDs in Colombia and specifically in the region of Antioquia, with a focus on low-profile social leaders. It allowed to establish a long-term relationship with Sumapaz, an organisation with which it was not very well connected in the past, allowing to complement its work on HRDs protection in Colombia and to reach most-at-risk and less connected HRDs in Antioquia. This mission reinforced the importance for the OMCT and at large to reach out to remote rural HRDs and stressed once again the importance of using a coordinated and multi-layered approach to HRDs protection, integrating both the advocacy and the institutional support dimensions.

This article is part of a series of articles published in conjunction with the report, providing complementary information. You can read the full report “HOLDING THE LINE – PROTECTING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN THE FACE OF GLOBAL BACKLASH” here.