Colombia

Last updated: 18 February 2019    

Update

Historically, Colombia has had low levels of social mobilization in the form of protests. However, as a result of ever-increasing levels of discontentment with the current government, Colombians have more frequently been taking to the streets to demand change. This was evidenced during the National Strike, which started on November 21, 2019 and was followed by seven subsequent days of protests in the country, including the rare enactment of a curfew on November 22, 2019. After those seven days, there were interspersed protests in December 2019 and January 2020 and a National Strike on January 21, 2020. Most recently, the National Strike Committee announced a national mobilization day on the streets planned for February 21, 2020, which will be followed by another National Strike on March 25, 2020.

In the wake of these protests two draft bills that affect the right to protest have emerged. For further details, please see the Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives section below in this report.

Introduction

Civil society organizations (CSOs) have played a vital role in public policy, development, and peace-building throughout Colombia’s history. In the past decades, CSOs have evolved in the context of, and directly in response to, the armed conflict that has defined Colombia’s political, social and economic landscape. As a result, Colombia has robust, sophisticated and capable CSOs, including human rights organizations, peace building entities, community-strengthening initiatives, women’s rights groups and academic and research centers. Most CSOs are part of alliances or networks.

The 1991 Constitution protects freedom of assembly and actively promotes CSOs. In addition, under the Colombian Constitution, international treaties and agreements that recognize human rights ratified by Congress have the status of Constitutional enactments and thus take precedence in the domestic legal order. Colombia has ratified almost all relevant human rights treaties.

However, Colombia has a complicated and often contradictory web of laws, regulations, and policies that make it difficult to understand the legal framework for CSOs. In addition, despite recent peace accords, the national landscape continues to be marked by threats, gender-based violence and lethal attacks against human rights defenders, which is impacting heavily on civil society. In Colombia, being a human rights defender is still a high-risk occupation.

Organizational FormsNonprofit Corporations/Associations and Foundations
Registration BodyPublic Registries of Chambers of Commerce
Approximate NumberUnknown
Barriers to EntryExcessive discretion in registration process
Barriers to ActivitiesSubjective application of regulations by government institutions
Barriers to Speech and/or AdvocacyHarassment of human rights organizations
Barriers to International ContactNo legal barriers. Practical limits to criticism of government in international arena
Barriers to ResourcesNo legal barriers
Barriers to AssemblyThe Police Code adopted in 2016 establishes vague regulations on obstruction of public roads and limits spontaneous demonstrations.
Population44,200,000 (November 2018 est.)
CapitalBogota
Type of GovernmentRepublic
Life Expectancy at BirthMale: 72.8 years
Female: 79.3 years (2017 est.)
Literacy RateMale: 94.1%
Female: 94.4%
Religious GroupsRoman Catholic: 79%; Other: 21%
Ethnic GroupsMestizo: 58%; White: 20%; Mulatto: 14%; mixed Black-Amerindian: 3%; Amerindian: 1%
GDP per capita$14,500 (2017 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2010.

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index90 (2018)1 – 186
World Bank Rule of Law Index40 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index49 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International99 (2018)1 – 175
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Partly Free
Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 3
(2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index71 (2018)177 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1969
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)Yes1969
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1969
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)No
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1981
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1982
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenYes2007
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1991
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)Yes1995
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)Yes 2011
Regional Treaties
American Convention on Human RightsYes1973
Additional Protocol to the Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights “Protocol of San Salvador”Yes1997

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Despite its armed conflict, Colombia maintains a strong array of rule-of-law institutions. The 1991 constitution includes a comprehensive bill of rights, provisions securing the independence of the judiciary, and other checks and balances on executive power. Since 1991 the Constitutional Court has developed a progressive jurisprudence that affirms the rights of victims of human rights violations and protects individual liberties.

The 1991 Colombian Constitution also recognizes the role of CSOs and establishes that the state has the obligation to support them and to recognize them as legitimate actors in the policy process. Changes currently affecting CSOs in Colombia include their increasingly close links with the state, and difficulties arising from a relative lack of funds from sources promoting international co-operation.

The 1991 Constitution establishes freedom of association in general.

Article 38 guarantees the exercise of the freedom of association, providing that “The right of free association for the promotion of various activities that individuals pursue in society is guaranteed”. In addition, article 95 provides that “The following are duties of the individual and the citizen: … to defend and publicize human rights as a basis of peaceful coexistence…”

Article 20 of the Constitution provides that “Every individual is guaranteed the freedom to express and disseminate his/her thoughts and opinions, to transmit and receive information that is true and impartial, and to establish mass communications media”. In addition, according to article 37, “Any group of individuals may gather and demonstrate publicly and peacefully. The law alone may establish in a specific manner those cases in which the exercise of this right may be limited.”

Article 39 establishes that workers and employers have the right to form trade unions or associations without interference by the state. Their legal status will be recognized by the simple registration of their constituent act. The cancellation or suspension of legal status may only occur through legal means.

Moreover, the Constitution provides that the State “will contribute to the organization, promotion, and guidance of professional, civic, trade union, community, youth and charitable or nongovernmental public-purpose associations, without prejudicing their authority so that they may constitute democratic means of representation in the various functions of participation, agreement, control, and supervision of the public activities that they undertake.”

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Natural and legal persons are guaranteed the right to associate for profit-making and nonprofit-making purposes. The Civil Code regulates the establishment of companies, associations and societies for profit-making and nonprofit-making purposes. Nonprofit, charitable or welfare associations or societies may be established by private acts. Such associations include trade unions and second – and third-level trade union associations whose legal capacity is automatically recognized when they are formed, but which must be registered with the labor authorities upon establishment.

The right of assembly and the right to demonstrate are protected by Article 37 in the chapter of the Constitution on fundamental rights. Statutory Act No. 137 on States of Emergency of 1994 sets no particular restrictions on this right. Decree No. 1355 of 1970, which introduced the National Police Code, contains the regulatory framework relating to the right of assembly.

The Police Code, 2017 requires individuals to provide advance notification to authorities at least 48 hours before a protest. At least three people need to sign a petition to demonstrate at public roads or grounds. Where protesters block a road or street without notification, they may be subject to criminal conviction, fines, and terms of imprisonment pursuant to Colombia’s Criminal Code. A demonstration can be dissolved by the police if there is a “grave and imminent alteration of harmony” and there are no other less intrusive means at the authorities’ disposal.

Law 863 of 2003 (Article 8) establishes income tax exemptions for not-for-profit corporations, foundations and associations with legal standing, with respect to income from all activities and assets employed toward their aims and purposes. CSO must maintain separate books and accounts with respect to any business they carry out and such books need to be registered at the local chamber of commerce.

The Transparency and Access to Public Information Law of March 2014 requires all government agencies and employees to answer requests for information. It also establishes a minimum of information content that the government must publish and requires government entities to provide proof and arguments justifying cases where information is withheld.

Law 1801 (National Police Code and Coexistence) requires individuals to receive approval from authorities at least 48 hours before a protest, and the request can then be denied. Civil rights campaigners feel that this violates a constitutional right to social mobilization, both because permits to hold an assembly can be rejected and because authorities can prevent assemblies by requiring excessive paperwork from applicants. Congressmen who supported Law 1801 claim that it is only intended to control traffic problems and does not give administrators the right to simply silence protesters.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. Historically, Colombia has had low levels of social mobilization in the form of protests. However, as a result of ever-increasing levels of discontentment with the current government, Colombians have more frequently been taking to the streets to demand change. This was evidenced most acutely during the National Strike, which started on November 21, 2019 and was followed by seven days of protests, including the rare enactment of a curfew on November 22. After those seven days, there were interspersed protests in December 2019 and January 2020 and a National Strike on January 21, 2020. Most recently, the National Strike Committee announced a national mobilization day on the streets planned for February 21, 2020, which will be followed by another National Strike on March 25, 2020.

During the protests, five people were killed, and hundreds more were injured. Growing fear and animosity towards the Escuadrones Móviles Antidisturbios (ESMAD), or Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadrons, and their questionable tactics was brought to the fore, especially after the death of Dilan Cruz, a teenager killed by a projectile fired by an ESMAD member. In addition to the deaths and injuries, cities’ infrastructure suffered millions of dollars of damage, in particular from vandalism and destruction of public transportation stations.

In the wake of this growing anger and social mobilization, two bills  that aim to regulate the right to protest made their way to Congress. The draft bills will be discussed in the Congress session that begins on March 16, 2020.

The stated purpose of the first bill, Bill 216 of 2019, is to introduce two new crimes to the penal code: vandalism and the promotion of vandalism. According to the bill’s definition of vandalism, “whoever, taking advantage of a protest, manifestation, or public mobilization, attacks or destroys public or private property, or attacks the physical integrity of members of the public forces will incur 6 to 8 years of prison and a fine of 100 to 500 monthly wages at the time” (roughly $25,600 to $128,000).

Additionally, the crime of vandalism will be considered aggravated, and therefore receive a higher punishment, if the perpetrator committed the crime with others; covered their face completely or partially, so that they could not be identified; or carried, transported, or offered weapons or explosives or other corrosive substances. Finally, the bill would also penalize those who “promote, help, finance, facilitate, stimulate, incite, induce, or provide the means” to carry out vandalism.

This bill fails in many respects to comply with international and national standards of criminal law and human rights and significantly stigmatizes and suppresses the right to protest in Colombia. First, the criminalization of conduct is not the best way to guarantee the full enjoyment of the right to peacefully protest. Second, the bill is unnecessary, since the conduct it intends to criminalize is already covered by existing crimes in the Colombian Penal Code. Third, the punishments provided by the bill would be unreasonably harsh and disproportionate. Fourth, the bill uses ambiguous language, which is highly susceptible to abuse in interpretation.  When defining the crime of vandalism, the bill prohibits “damaging” or “attacking” public or private property or the physical integrity of members of the public forces. The bill does not specify what type of damage or attacks are covered by this provision. Similarly, there are concerns about the broad language used for the second crime – promotion of vandalism. Words like “promote,” “help,” “facilitate,” “incite,” and “induce,” without further specification, are all susceptible to broad interpretation.

2. The second draft bill, Statutory Draft Bill 281 of 2019, purports to regulate, guarantee, and protect the right to social and peaceful protest, mobilization, and assembly; to determine the scope of this right; and to define the responsibilities and obligations of the exercising individuals and the authorities. Among other things, the bill aims to ensure the full and effective enjoyment of this right, as well as to define the contours of when and how this right may be limited, while taking into account a human rights perspective.

According to the draft bill, participants in social protests have the right to participate freely and safely in protests, to peacefully protest without the interference of public forces, and to know their rights during detainment and the motives for being detained. Further, the bill imposes obligations on the State both before and during protests. Prior to protests, the government must properly identify the public forces that will intervene in the protest and verify that the equipment and weapons to be used comply with human rights standards. However, during protests the draft bill requires the government to prevent the presence of people with covered faces, which could be restrictive, and to protect critical infrastructure related to public goods and services.

The draft bill also establishes the National Democracy Fund (FONDEMOCRACIA), whose purpose will be to ensure the availability of resources to indemnify those affected by physical or economic damage in the course of a social protest in Colombia. Damages of a mental nature will not be covered by the fund. Funds will be provided to any person, whether natural or legal, Colombian or foreigner, as long as they have suffered physical or economic damage as a result of a protest. Businesses trying to recuperate funds for damage will have to demonstrate they are legally registered entities and that the damages they are claiming are not related to lost profits as a result of the protest. The maximum payment from the fund will be equivalent to 50 monthly wages at the time (approximately $12,800).

Lastly, the draft bill provides anticipatory and corrective measures that should be implemented in the exercise of the right to protest. For those who commit vandalism during a protest, the bill envisions both economic sanctions, such as fines, and corrective sanctions, including public apologies, community service, and other restorative justice measures.

After almost 30 years without a normative framework for guaranteeing the full enjoyment of the right to peaceful protest, this bill could be a positive development. In addition, the draft bill has some other positive aspects. For instance, the bill explicitly states that the right to protest is a fundamental right. It also does not take a criminalizing approach in regulating the right to protest, but instead incorporates corrective, economic, and restorative measures.

However, the the language of the draft could be strengthened. The bill fails to adopt a robust incorporation of international human rights law. For example, Article 9(b) prohibits the presence of people who cover their faces (called encapuchados) or in any other manner prevent their identification. This provision extends to both during the protest, as well as in forms of media used to promote the protest. Second, the bill does not address the problem of transparency and clarity in police protocols and resolutions. Third, the bill fails to address one of the principal reasons for protests in Colombia – the state’s failure to comply with agreements made after previous protests. Fourth, the bill unreasonably restricts the manner in which protestors can exercise their right to protest. For instance, in the section that discusses the prohibitions for protestors (Article 9), the bill prohibits the carrying of any item that may be used to attack other people or property. The bill also limits where protests may take place, prohibiting protests within 500 meters of hospitals, airports, marine ports, and public transportation terminals. Fifth, the bill’s provisions on asymmetrical measures for rural regions of the country give the state license to violate rural Colombians’ right to protest. Additionally, the bill gives the government broad powers of surveillance, which can violate the right to privacy. Finally, Article 7(i) of the draft bill grants security forces broad powers of discretion in detaining protestors and sending them to special seclusion areas to initiate the imposition of pedagogic and indemnity measures.

3. During the Concordia Summit in America in Bogota, Colombia in July 2018, the newly appointed Defense Minister, Guillermo Botero,argued that the new government should promote measures to regulate social protests. He stated, “We respect social protest, but we also believe that it has to be ordered and truly represent the interests of all Colombians and not just a small group.” Similarly, he mentioned that the next government will be able to make great progress if it succeeds in promoting a statutory law moving in that direction. It is unclear if new measures to regulate social protests will soon be proposed.

4. The National Police Code and Coexistence (Law 1801), which was approved by Congress in 2016, established provisions regulating public demonstrations and protests. At the time, human rights activists considered that, for many reasons, the new regulations violated a Constitutional right to social mobilization. For instance, activists believed that the vagueness of the provisions allowed authorities to prevent assemblies by requiring excessive paperwork from applicants. Shortly after its entry into force, human rights lawyers challenged the legislation before the Constitutional Court. In a 2017 ruling, the Court found that the Code’s chapter that regulates public demonstrations had violated the Constitution insofar as it had not been erected by a Statutory Law, which according to the Constitution is required when regulating individual rights. To avoid a regulatory vacuum, the Constitutional Court deferred the application of its judgment to June 20, 2019 and urged Congress to pass a Statutory Law on the matter. However, at the time of writing this update, Congress had not started the discussion of a draft bill on the Statutory Law.

A statutory law requires not only Congressional approval but also an integral review by the Constitutional Court, which will render it impossible for any new regulations to enter into force by June 20, 2019. There is a debate among legal experts as to what will be the rules governing protests beyond June 20, 2019. To some experts, the previous 1978 Police Code should regain authority, which in the view of activists would be highly problematic since the last Police Code placed unconstitutional restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly. Other legal experts consider that in the absence of a statute, authorities should apply the rules set by the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court. In any case, the lack of regulation will allow authorities an unconstitutionally wide leeway to decide on the legality of demonstrations in the public space.

5. In November 2017, the Colombian Congress approved a bill that makes operational the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a transitional justice system that will prosecute war crimes committed during the country’s 50-year long armed conflict with FARC. This historic bill, however, has been criticized because Article 100 would retroactively ban judges who have already been elected by an independent commission of judicial experts. Article 100 disqualifies judges who have been human rights activists and states that those who have promoted cases of human rights violations before international human rights committees and domestic and international courts are banned from being judges. The Constitutional Court now has to examine whether the bill, which has passed through Congress, is in line with Colombia’s Constitution.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Organizational Forms

Since 2000, Colombian authorities have implemented numerous laws and regulations that address civil society organizations. Unfortunately these rules have complicated the legal framework. For example, these laws and regulations frequently refer to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), without providing a legal definition for NGOs. As a result, the laws regarding nonprofit entities are vague and often contradictory.

Regardless of the variety of types of non-profit legal entities existing in the Colombian legal system, private law only recognizes two forms, the nonprofit corporation/association [1] and public charitable foundations.

In Colombia, the registration of a CSO follows a two-step procedure. According to law, the chambers of commerce manage public registries (commercial, government suppliers and nonprofit organizations). These registries are only a means of publicity. An application for the set up of a CSO should be submitted together with: (a) memorandum of association and rules and regulations; (b) minutes of the Executive Board or General Assembly that endorses the setting up of the CSO; (c) a detailed mission statement, including program and project information; (d) a legal address and a list of the names, addresses and occupations of the founders; (e) a statement showing in detail the assets of the organization; (f) an affidavit sworn by the president or secretary of the CSO; and (g) a declaration by the members of the managing committee that the funds of the society will be used only for the purpose of furthering the aims and objects of the society.  Then, the application for registration needs to be submitted either at the state level (Gobernaciones) or at the district level (alcaldías) in which the CSO is sought to be registered.

In Law 22 of 1987, the legislature authorized the 32 governors of the country and its equivalent, the Mayor of Bogota Capital District to inspect and supervise CSOs. CSOs must submit to the authorities a general balance sheet upon conclusion of the fiscal year and activity reports on a yearly basis.

Cancellation of the legal status of organizations is governed by Presidential Decree 1529 of 1990. The causes for cancellation are established in Article 7. A request for cancellation of legal status of a certain CSO may be submitted by anyone on the grounds of illegal activities, violations of public order, or when its activities do not correspond to the purposes for which it was formed. The corresponding Governor or Mayor Office is requested to open a file to investigate the allegations, make an on-site visit to the concerned CSO, and make a decision within 10 working days.


[1]  The term “association” is not a legal person provided by the Civil Code but refers to the constitutional freedom that people use to form a corporation.

Public Benefit Status

Colombia does not grant public benefit status to a special category of nonprofit organizations. However, foundations are assumed to operate for the “public benefit.”  The Constitution recognizes foundations as being “institutions of public use,” with the intention of “public benefit.”

Under Colombian tax laws, CSOs engaged in health activities, sports, formal education, cultural, scientific or technological, ecological, environmental protection or social development programs, qualify for special tax benefits that include a lower tax rate than commercial companies or, in some cases, full exemption from paying income taxes.

Barriers to Entry

Overall, the requirements to be met in order to set up and operate a CSO in Colombia are straightforward.  In fact, some believe that it is too simple, and the lax process could lead to abuse.

Although the Constitution allows civil society organizations to form for many purposes, there are, in practice, limitations when these purposes conflict with the government’s actions or ideology.  For example, some CSOs, particularly human rights groups that are critical of the government, have greater difficulty obtaining or retaining legal status.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Although there are no express legal barriers to operational activities, the subjective application of regulations by government institutions often produces a disparity between the original intent of the laws and their present enforcement.

Human rights organizations also operate within a climate of harassment, as detailed in the following section.


[1]  See Nonprofit Enterprise and Self-sustainability Team (NESsT), The Legal and Regulatory Framework for CSO Self-Financing in Colombia.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a human rights defender, with dozens of labor rights activists, lawyers, indigenous activists and community and religious leaders being murdered every year.

In recent years, human rights CSOs and their members have been frequent victims of reprisals and undue restrictions as a result of their work in promoting and protecting the victims of the armed conflict. On several occasions, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has voiced its concern about threats against human rights defenders and members of CSOs.

Other forms of violations include: illegal surveillance, smear campaigns and criminal prosecutions, and violations of the home and other arbitrary or abusive entry to the offices of human rights organizations, and interference in correspondence and phone and electronic communication.

Statements by government officials have contributed to a climate of increased danger for human rights defenders in Colombia. International monitoring bodies have also expressed concern about such statements that seem to endorse acts of violence against human rights defenders and their organizations.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to communication and contact internationally. That said, there may be cultural limitation on CSOs interacting with international actors in that it could be considered an act of disloyalty when criticizing the government in the international arena.

Barriers to Resources

CSOs are permitted to receive foreign funding via grants or donations. In addition, CSOs are permitted to acquire and dispose of property, contract personnel, invest resources, and import and export goods. To prevent money laundering, Colombian banks require a document officially translated into Spanish that describes the origin of support when the funds are converted to pesos.

Barriers to Assembly

Vague Provisions. In 2011, Colombia’s Congress approved reforms to the Criminal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Juvenile Criminal Code. Article 353(A) of the Criminal Code uses vague language to address the obstruction of public ways during protests: “Any person who, by illicit means, obstructs, temporarily or permanently, selectively or generally, the public ways or any other transportation infrastructure in such a way that affects the public order or mobility, will be sentenced to prison for four to eight years and mandated to pay a fine of between 13 and 75 times the current monthly minimum wage.” The vagueness of this provision could lead to the prosecution of the lawful exercise of the right to the freedom of assembly provided by the Constitution.

In addition, Article 53 of Law 1801 explicitly defines the permissible purposes of protests to include “collective ideas and interests of cultural, political, economic, religious and social character.” While seemingly broad, there is sufficient ambiguity in the provision as to give administrative authorities the authority to refuse a protest application, by deeming the protest purpose “illegitimate” if they feel the protest would be critical of the current government.

Police under Article 53 also have the right to disband an approved protest if it turns into a “disturbance”. Since there is no clear definition for what constitutes a “disturbance”, a protest can essentially be disbanded for any reason the authorities choose.

Advance Notification.
The National Police Code (Decree No. 1355 of 1970) stipulates in Article 102:

Any person may meet with others or parade in a public place for the purpose of expressing common interests and ideas of a political, economic, religious or social nature or for any other lawful purpose. For these purposes, notice shall be given in person and in writing to the local administrative authorities. The communication shall be signed by at least three persons. The notice shall specify the date, time and place of the proposed meeting and be submitted 48 hours in advance. In the case of parades, the planned route shall be specified.

Accordingly, spontaneous demonstrations would not be lawful, since 48 hours notice must be provided. Article 188 of Decree 522 of 1971 provides that within the 24 hours of the receipt of the notification of an assembly, the public authority may, based on public order considerations and through a reasoned decision, modify the planned route for the parade, its date, place or time. However, if there is no response by the authority within 24 hours, it is understood that the assembly may take place.

Enforcement and Excessive Force. The authorities normally do not interfere with public meetings and demonstrations. There have been, however, complaints of police brutality against demonstrators. For instance, in a 2006 Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that: During the demonstrations that took place on 1 May in Bogotá one person died. The same occurred in Cali, when a demonstration took place at the University of Valle in September. An excessive use of force by the police was observed in Tolima in October during indigenous mingas (traditional community gatherings).

In addition, in May 2016 farmers and indigenous protesters demanded the government keep promises it made in 2013, which led to a national strike in 2013 that left dozens dead during a government crackdown. When protests recommenced tensions immediately escalated just outside Buenaventura, Colombia’s main port city, where police killed one protester after protesters effectively blocked the main road connecting the port city with the rest of the country. The national strike ended when the government made new commitments. However, in March 2019 a new protest was initiated by indigenous communities in Cauca region. The protesters were demanding to meet with Colombia’s President, Ivan Duque, and advocated for strengthened land rights and an end to political violence and displacement. Indigenous leaders claim the government has fallen short in its compliance of what was promised after the 2013 and 2016 demonstrations. The government, however, has declared it cannot satisfy the “excessive promises” made by the former government.

UN Universal Periodic Review ReportsThird Session
National Report
Compilation of UN information
Summary of stakeholders’ information
Report of the Working Group
Decision on the Outcome
Draft Report on the eighth session of the Human Rights Council
Reports of UN Special RapporteursOHCHR: Colombia
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country NotesNot available
U.S. State Department2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Colombia
Fragile States Index ReportsForeign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country ReportsColombia and the IMF
International Commission of JuristsNot available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online LibraryColombia

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Releases Report on Colombia (December 2019)
On December 26, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report prepared by Michael Frost, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, on his visit to the country from 20 November to 3 December 2018. The report highlights that “Colombia remains the country with the highest number of murdered human rights defenders in Latin America, and threats against this group have soared.” According to the report, the defenders most at risk are social leaders defending human rights in rural areas, in particular those promoting the implementation of the Peace Agreement and defending land and environmental rights and the rights of ethnic communities.

Colombia’s Peace Deal Promised a New Era. So Why Are These Rebels Rearming? (June 2019)
After Colombia’s government signed a peace deal with the country’s main rebel group, ending decades of war and upheaval, both sides said it heralded a new era. But two and a half years after the militants agreed to lay down their arms, many of the promises made are not being honored, and the prospect of a true, lasting peace now seems far from certain.

‘Terrible trend’ of rights defenders killed, harassed (May 2019)
Alarmed by the “strikingly high number” of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) in the country on Friday, called on authorities to “make a significant effort” to “tackle the endemic impunity” surrounding these cases.

Regional Strike in Cauca Enters Twelfth Day (March 2019)
In response to the demands of the people for dialogue on implementing state promises in education and agriculture, the government has unleashed special police units which have arrested many and injured dozens. The protesters are seeking dialogue with the national government of president Iván Duque and demand compliance with agreements signed by the state in 2013 concerning education, health, housing and land for all.

Colombia must act to stop killings and attacks against human rights defenders (December 2018)
Since the adoption of a peace agreement in Colombia two years ago there has been a dramatic increase in the number of killings, threats and intimidation of human rights defenders in the country, a UN human rights expert said today.

Student strikes continue: The march of the pencils (November 2018)
Thousands of students have disrupted life in Colombia’s capital with nationwide demonstrations to press demands for President Ivan Duque to increase education spending. The “Pencil March” rallies across Colombia were the latest chapter in more than a half-dozen street protests in recent months demanding that the government boost funding for education.

Colombia’s new defense Minister proposes to limit right to protest and attacks social leaders (July 2018)
During the Concordia Summit in America, which ended Tuesday at the congress center Ágora, the newly appointed Defense Minister Guillermo Botero assured that the new government should promote measures to regulate social protests. “We respect social protest but we also believe that it has to be ordered and that it truly represents the interests of all Colombians and not just a small group,” he said.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights orders Colombia to investigate journalist’s murder (June 2018)
In a statement released June 6, the court condemned the Colombian government for failing to properly investigate and pursue justice in the case of Radio Sur journalist Carvajal. The court found the government guilty of negligent treatment of Carvajal’s family and said that it failed to investigate death threats against nine of the journalist’s relatives, who were forced to flee the country. It also found the government responsible for “extraordinary delays” in pursuing justice.

Iván Duque wins election to become Colombia’s president (June 2018)
Iván Duque, who opposes the peace deal, won in a second round runoff election on Sunday with 53.9% of the vote. Many now worry about the fate of the fragile peace deal signed with the Farc in 2016, which formally ended 52 years of civil war that left 220,000 dead and seven million displaced. Duque promised on the campaign trail to modify the deal’s most contentious components, something that resonated with voters.

IACHR Urges Colombia to Adopt Urgent Measures to Protect Human Rights Defenders (March 2018)
On March 27, 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the high number of murders of human rights defenders and social leaders registered this year in Colombia. The Commission also urged the State to adopt urgent measures to protect those who defend human rights in the country, as well as to carry out diligent investigations that take into consideration the victim’s activity as a human rights defender.

More than 100 human rights activists killed in Colombia in 2017 (December 2017)
More than 100 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2017, according to the United Nations, which urged more accountability and better protections. Activists have been particularly at risk in regions that were vacated by rebel fighters under a peace agreement signed last year, leaving a power vacuum, the UN’s human rights office in Colombia said in a statement.

Colombia’s FARC rebels keep famous acronym for new political party (August 2017)
Colombia’s disarmed FARC rebel group is preserving its famous acronym as it becomes a civilian political party, part of its demobilization under a peace deal with the government to end more than 50 years of war. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels, whose first political conference will close with a concert and speeches in Bogota’s central square, will now go by Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, preserving the Spanish initials. Under the 2016 peace deal to end its part in a war that has killed more than 220,000 people, most of the group’s fighters were granted amnesty and allowed to participate in politics.

EU envoy calls for Colombia’s social leaders to have ‘maximum protection’ (May 2017)
The European Union envoy to Colombia’s peace process has urged the government to provide “maximum protection” to social and community leaders, more than 30 of whom have been assassinated since the beginning of the process. Eamon Gilmore expressed his deep regret about the 35 victims that have been murdered in Colombia since the signing of the peace accord between the government and the FARC, demanding immediate protection for community leaders as well as guerrillas leaving demobilization camps. “One of the concerns we have is the vulnerability of the social leaders, the intimidation and the threats of which they have been victims. What we want is to monitor the safety of these leaders,” he said in an interview with El Espectador newspaper.

Spike in killings as activists targeted amid peace process (February 2017)
A spike in the number of human rights activists killed in the last month highlights the continuing dangers faced by those exposing ongoing abuses, said Amnesty International today as the much-delayed talks with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional ELN) get under way in Ecuador. The organization is calling on the government to immediately provide effective protection to at-risk human rights defenders after at least 10 were killed in January alone; nearly double last year’s monthly average. “The peace process in Colombia is a bright light at the end of a long and dark tunnel that has already brought some tangible benefits to many Colombians. However, unless the killings of activists stop, this will leave an indelible stain on any resulting peace accord,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Security Situation for Human Rights Defenders in Colombia Continues to Deteriorate (January 2017)
WOLA (The Washington Office on Latin America) has gathered a list of emergency cases that currently affect defenders in Colombia. In the last few months, a wave of violence has targeted social leaders, indigenous leaders, land-rights activists, and human rights defenders. The list includes murders, assassination attempts and threats.

Colombia signs peace deal with FARC (November 2016)
Colombia’s government and the FARC rebel group signed a revised peace accord Saturday after years of negotiations and a half a century of conflict.Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the new deal in a TV address Saturday evening, saying it will build a “broader, deeper peace.”A peace deal negotiated earlier this year with FARC rebels was unexpectedly defeated by Colombian voters in October. Many were angered by what they saw as insufficient punishment for those who perpetrated a litany of crimes against their people.

Dejusticia sues the Police Code over protest regulation (October 2016)(Spanish)
The center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society – Dejusticia sued the Police Code over social protest regulation before the Constitutional Court, arguing that different reasons make Law 1801 of 2016 unconstitutional.

The paradox of Colombia’s peace deal for FARC (August 2016)
Over four years of peace talks with the Colombian government, the country’s FARC rebels bargained for the best deal possible — and one that could convince their troops that the past half-century of guerrilla warfare wasn’t for nothing. But in wresting significant concessions from the government, including a launchpad into politics and a chance to skirt prison, the rebels have run the risk of sweetening their deal so much that Colombians won’t stomach it. This was perhaps the key masterstroke of President Juan Manuel Santos’s insistence that the peace deal be contingent on Colombian voter approval. He has set that vote, formally a “plebiscite,” for Oct 2. The entire deal is riding on the outcome.

Colombia peasant protests shut down roads, spur violent police response (June 2016)
Farmers and indigenous protesters demand the government keep its word on promises made in 2013 to end a similar national strike that left dozens dead. The protests began and immediately escalated just outside Buenaventura, Colombia’s main port city, where a man died and protesters effectively blocked the main road connecting the port city with the rest of the country.

Massive Threats against Human Rights Defenders in Colombia (April 2016)
According to human rights organizations, the use of threats against human rights defenders continued to increase in 2015, as 400 of them received 27 pamphlets signed by paramilitary groups. These serious facts, linked to an increase in reports of presence and territorial control by paramilitary groups in several regions of the country, show the lack of guarantees to exercise the defense of human and land rights in Colombia. Also, this situation compromises the viability of the implementation of the peace agreement that the FARC guerrilla and the Colombian government could reach.

IACHR Condemns Killings and Threats Directed against Human Rights Defenders in Colombia (February 2016)
In February 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned  the killing of five human rights defenders in Colombia, and the generalized situation of retaliations, harassment and threats against human rights defenders in the country.

Colombian Government and FARC rebels sign key agreement (December 2015)
The Colombian leader has said the two sides tackled “one of the most sensitive and complex points of the peace talks” in the latest agreement. Under the deal, special tribunals will be created to try former combatants, once a final peace deal is signed. “2016 will be the year that Colombia sees a new dawn,” said Mr Santos. “The dawning of a country without war, in hopefully a united country that can move towards its maximum potential… The hour of peace has arrived in Colombia.” Chief Farc negotiator Ivan Marquez said the agreement showed reconciliation was possible. “If you don’t put adverse obstructions in the way of common sense, we can get closer to our higher purpose of reconciliation,” he said.

Colombian president and rebels declare peace (October 2015)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his alias Timochenko, announced a breakthrough in peace talks that could end a 50-year civil war. They agreed in Havana, Cuba — where the sides began formally negotiating in 2012 — to sign a final agreement in six months after which the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would demobilize within 60 days. “We are on different sides but today we advance in the same direction, in the most noble direction a society can take, which is toward peace,” Santos said. “Colombia’s success in waging war and now in waging peace is a testament to its leaders, civil society, and democratic institutions, including its armed forces and police,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Student and rights activists among arrested ‘ELN’ bombing suspects (July 2015)
On July 8, fifteen people were detained under allegations of having participated in attacks in Bogota over the last year. The detentions have been highly criticized by civil society organizations, students, unions and human rights defenders, and have generated protests calling for the release of the detainees. Critics have labeled some of the detentions as “judicial false positives” and argue that they are in violation of due process and the presumption of innocence. Among the detainees were students, student leaders, well-known civil society members—including journalists, rural advocates and human rights advocates—and employees of the city government. 11 of the detainees were involved with the civil society network, Congreso de Pueblos (Peoples’ Congress). Some advocates allege that the detentions were a form of retaliation for protest and exercise of freedom of expression. Civil society and human rights groups, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have called for respect of due process. The detention of Paola Andrea Salgado Piedrahíta has generated particular protest from civil society. Salgado is a recognized advocate for women’s rights and a lawyer at the Secretary of Health, known for her work in litigation and investigation in a variety of areas including civil and political rights, HIV, reproductive rights and violence against women.

New book on Communications Surveillance and Privacy (April 2015)
In 2014, Colombian media revealed that the country’s intelligence service carried out widespread surveillance of key NGOs, journalists, and leftist politicians, including their own governmental team responsible for negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian guerillas. This new disclosure recalls previous instances of illegal surveillance, known as “Las Chuzadas.” The Colombian secret service (DAS) used to spy on political opponents, journalists, labor organizers, and even NGOs seeking to alleviate human rights abuses. The goal of a newly released book is to examine the Colombian legal framework regarding communications surveillance in light of today’s technologies.

New Presidential Decree on Access to Information and Transparency (January 2015)
On January 20, 2015, President Santos signed a Presidential Decree that regulates the 2014 Law on Access to Information and Transparency. CSOs consider this as an important new instrument that can facilitate the work of CSOs on monitoring state activity.

Wave of Threats Hit Colombian Human Rights Defenders (October 2014)
In what has been dubbed “Black September,” over 150 death threats have been issued in the month of September against Colombian human rights defenders, journalists, and labor leaders. These events require immediate action on behalf of the Colombian government.

Democratic and Social Reforms Needed for Lasting Truce in Colombia (August 2014)
Hopes of ending Colombia’s civil war, one of the longest-running and bloodiest conflicts in the world, will be dashed unless the Colombian government accepts genuine democratic and social reform, leaders of the Farc, the country’s main guerrilla group, have told the Guardian. The government insists the human rights situation is improving in the country and prosecutions of those responsible for extra-judicial killings have started to deliver convictions, but it will not negotiate either economic policy or military strategy.

Juan Manuel Santos reelected in Colombia’s Presidential elections (June 2014)
Incumbent President and U Party candidate Juan Manuel Santos was reelected by a margin of over 5% (with over 99% of the vote counted) in the second round of Colombia’s elections, defeating Democratic Center candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Colombia not on IACHR human rights ‘black list’ (April 2014)
For the second time in a row, Colombia does not appear on a human rights “black list from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to the organization’s latest annual report.

News Archive

Colombia has its first Transparency and Access to Public Information Law (March 2014)