• Press Release

Measures against COVID-19 in Colombia must not be an excuse for neglecting the protection of human rights defenders

March 27, 2020

Woman walks with a mask on
CALI, COLOMBIA - MARCH 26: Some pedestrians walk through the tourist area of Cali at Boulevard del Rio during the second day of quarantine to stop spread of COVID-19 on March 26, 2020 in Cali, Colombia. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 20,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more. (Photo by Gabriel Aponte/Vizzor Image/Getty Images)
The Colombian state must not use measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to weaken or withdraw protection for human rights defenders and social leaders, Amnesty International said today.

“Colombia is one of the world’s most lethal countries for human rights defenders and social leaders and, in the context of COVID-19, they now face even greater risks. Due to the restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic, state protection measures have been weakened, they can no longer keep moving from one location to another for their safety, and their attackers know that public security forces are focusing on issues related to the pandemic,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The Colombian authorities cannot let human rights defenders suffer attacks and threats. The state must maintain its protection schemes and must generate collective protection strategies for communities at risk, while implementing preventive measures to contain COVID-19.” 

Amnesty International has received information that the protective measures offered by the National Protection Unit to at least two defenders have been reduced in recent days. In one case, due to a reduction on the number of his bodyguards, the defender has been forced into hiding for fear of being attacked by armed groups who have threatened him because of his human rights work. Another defender no longer benefits from nightly patrols, which could expose him to attacks.

On March 24, Amnesty International issued a series of recommendations to states in the Americas to ensure that their responses to COVID-19 are in line with their international human rights obligations. UN experts have also told states that measures taken in the context of the pandemic should not result in the silencing of human rights defenders. 

In the past week, at least six social leaders and human rights defenders had been killed in Colombia. On 19 March, Ivo Humberto Bracamonte Quiroz, a councillor from Puerto Santander and director of the online news program NPS, was killed while exercising in Puerto Santander’s Beltranía neighbourhood.

On the same day, three armed men killed Marco Rivadeneira, a leader of Putumayo’s campesino (peasant farmer) communities and member of the Mesa Nacional de Garantías, after dragging him of a campesino meeting in Puerto Asís’s Nueva Granada neighborhood.

Angel Ovidio Quintero Gonzalez, a social leader and president of the council in San Francisco in the department of Antioquia, was also killed that day. The San Francisco mayor reported that Quintero was the victim of a shooting and, although he managed to escape from it, his body was found in a river hours later.

On March 24, the Regional Indigenous Organization of Valle del Cauca (ORIVAC) reported that two Embera indigenous leaders, Omar and Ernesto Guasiruma, were killed in a rural area of the municipality of Bolivar while complying with the government quarantine at their home. ORIVAC also reported that two members of the same family were injured in the attack.

Carlota Isabel Salinas Péres, a leader of the NGO Organización Femenina Popular, was also killed on March 24, in the municipality of San Pablo in the department of Bolivar. At around 8pm, armed men arrived at her home in the Guarigua neighborhood and shot her dead. Her partner is still missing today.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Mariya Parodi, [email protected] 

To learn more about COVID-19 and human rights, visit: https://www.amnestyusa.org/distant-but-together-responding-to-covid-19/

Amnesty International USA held its first media workshop on human rights and COVID-19 centered around immigration and criminal justice. The video recording, audio recording, transcript, and summary are available at this link.