Amnesty International documented the killing, mainly by paramilitaries, of at least 8 human rights defenders and 39 trade unionists during 2009.
President Álvaro Uribe's government was tainted by its repeated efforts to smear defenders by falsely linking human rights work with support for guerrilla groups. In several public appearances the then president called human rights defenders the political arm of the FARC. This compromised their safety and weakened their capacity to defend human rights.
According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, the human rights situation has worsened in the past two decades. In 1988 there was an average of 10 politically motivated killings per day. By the year 2003, it was close to 20 a day.
As the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders noted in her 2009 report on Colombia, human rights defenders in Colombia are victim to widespread threats in the form of pamphlets, obituaries, e-mails and phone calls, which "generate a climate of terror within the human rights defenders' community". Furthermore, the Rapporteur raised her concerns about the trend of arbitrary detention and arrest of human rights defenders and unfounded criminal proceedings pursued against them.
One tactic regularly used to silence human rights defenders has been criminal proceedings against human rights defenders, often based on spurious evidence from often paid informants, rather than on evidence gathered in the course of impartial criminal investigations by the civilian investigative authorities.
The November 16, 2010 detention of human rights defender Carolina Rubio on charges of having links with the FARC is a prime example. Ms. Rubio, who was more than eight months pregnant at the time of her arrest, is a member of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) and of the Committee of Solidarity for Political Prisoners (FCSPP). The evidence against Carolina Rubio appears to be based on information from anonymous informants.
Though the Colombian authorities have a duty to investigate any criminal activity and bring to justice those responsible through processes which conform to international standards of fairness, the arrest of Ms. Rubio and similar arrests of human rights defenders raise a great deal of concern that such arrests are part of a strategy designed to silence and discredit the work of human rights defenders and to distract attention from their exposure of human rights violations.
Often, threats against and killings of such activists, either by paramilitaries or members of the security forces, have followed attempts to advance criminal proceedings against them, particularly when these flawed processes fail.