Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

The IHR Clinic, in partnership with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, are working to provide protection for human rights defenders in Colombia through the use of international human rights mechanisms.

Human rigthts defender Martha Giraldo directs an organization that seeks justice for victims of extrajudicial killings in Colombia, the National Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE), Cuaca Valley Chapter. She and her husband have received multiple death threats, some of which have been attributed to para-military groups. For instance, on January 31, 2014, Mrs. Giraldo received a text message to her personal cell phone in which she was threatened to be killed. Her husband Jose Milaciades Sanchez, the president of a teachers union, received the same message. Even though the appropriate authorities have been alerted, the perpetrators of these death threats have not been brought to justice. Mrs. Giraldo also reports that her father was murdered extra-judicially several years ago. 

Mrs. Giraldo has written a letter, along with other human rights organizations, to the Government of Colombia detailing the threats she has received to her life. The letter is available here. Unfortunately, she has received no response. It is not uncommon for human rights defenders in Colombia to receive death threats and in most (if not all) cases the perpetrators are not brought to justice. The death threats aimed at Mrs. Giraldo and other human rights defenders are part of a strategy to thwart freedom of expression and silence those attempting to bring to light human righs abuses committed by the government and groups associated with the government. 

Mrs. Giraldo has received precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The letter establishing the precautionary measures is available here. The IHR Clinic and and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights have also sent an Urgent Appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya. The appeal requests that the Special Rapportuer initiate a dialogue with the Government of Colombia in order to urge them to investigate the death threats, bring the perpetrators to justice, and provide protection for Mrs. Giraldo, her husband, and their 2 year old daughter. The Urgent Appeal is available here.