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Colombia under the human rights microscope

Jineth Bedoya delivers her remarks to the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations, 17 October 2016
Jineth Bedoya delivers her remarks to the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations, 17 October 2016

This statement was originally published on panorama.ridh.org on 14 October 2016.

By Carolina Pardal Belinchón

The seventh review of Colombia before the Human Rights Committee will take place on the 19th and 20th of October in Geneva. The Committee is a UN organ consisting of 18 independent experts whose mandate is to supervise the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the State in 1969.

In the report presented to the Committee, Colombia highlighted the measures undertaken to set in motion the recommendations it received in 2010, after its last review before this organ. The experts' preoccupations and the information provided by civil society, however, reflect the need for further efforts to guarantee the civil and political rights of citizens and to prevent and sanction their violations.

Issues of particular concern include restrictions to freedom of expression and association, the inequality in the enjoyment of rights faced by women and the LGBT community, violations of the right to life, the issue of human trafficking and labour exploitation, the dire detention conditions of persons deprived of their liberty and the discrimination in the recognition of legal personality or guarantees of fair trial.

As part of the review mechanism, several non governmental organizations submitted alternative reports in order to show a different version from that of the government and give the experts more input to analyze the situation. These are some of them:

Freedom of expression
The Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP), a member of IFEX, the global network of freedom of expression stated in its report that assaults on journalists have not ceased: data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, cited in the document, show that Colombia occupies the eleventh position in the list of most dangerous countries to practice journalism.

In its report, elaborated with the help of the International Network for Human Rights (RIDH), the NGO requested that the Committee recommend the application of complementary measures to the existing protection schemes, and above all, strategies to anticipate risks, guarantee the rights of journalists and combat impunity in cases of violations.

With respect to the regulation of official advertising in the media, FLIP suggested that the Committee recommend the issuing of a legal framework that would guarantee that contracting guidelines operate under the principles of objectivity and transparency.

Executive summary of the FLIP, IFEX and RIDH's alternate report

Finally, the report presented two emblematic cases of attacks against freedom of expression in Colombia: on one hand the murder of former director of newspaper El Espectador, Guillermo Cano, committed in 1986 and whose investigation has led to no arrests to this date.

On the other hand, the abduction, torture and sexual assault of Jineth Bedoya, sub-editor of newspaper El Tiempo, while she was working as a reporter. The incident took place in 2000, and since then, only two people have been convicted as perpetrators, but the intellectual author has yet to be brought to justice. The journalist is part of the delegation, joining IFEX and FLIP, which will travel to Geneva to be interviewed by the Committee's experts and to present them her case in the context of Colombia's review.

Right to justice and reparations. Freedom of association and non-discrimination
Also elaborated with the assistance of the RIDH, the report of the Claretian Promotion for Development (PROCLADE), an organization which helps communities in the recovery of historical memory denounced the vulnerability of women in ethnic groups which were victims of the conflict and revealed the importance of boosting productive proposals which would allow the communities to remain on the territory. In addition, it asked the Committee to recommend full reparation to all victims of the conflict.

On the other hand, the Congress of Peoples' report shed light on the corruption within the penitentiary system and the persistence of mass and arbitrary detentions, repression of social protests and persecution of lawyers, community leaders and human rights defenders.

The Central Unitaria de Trabajadores noted in its document the violence suffered by its members and the decrease in protection for its union leaders. Likewise, it highlighted the absence of individual and collective reparations for union members which have suffered civil and political rights violations.

The Saldarriaga Concha Foundation wrote a report in which it points to the huge gaps in terms of public policies and strategies aimed at guaranteeing the rights of disabled persons. For example, the State lacks a comprehensive register of this population including socioeconomic and age variables, as well as the relation between the cause of the disability and the armed conflict.

Indigenous peoples autonomy and protection of the LGBT population
Another document, submitted by a group of indigenous organizations, indicates that although Decree 1953 was issued in 2014, guaranteeing the administrative and political autonomy of indigenous territories, it has still not been implemented, as the Interior Ministry argues that the communities are not structurally able and lack the administrative experience to exercise this autonomy.

As to the situation of LGBT persons, and as is testified in the report presented by the organization Colombia Diversa, legal progress has been insufficient to protect and guarantee their human rights. This is why the NGO suggests that the experts recommend that the State stop considering transsexual identity as a mental illness and guarantee that the health system recognize that corporal transformations are necessary for some members of this community.

The Human Rights Committee will publish its recommendations to the State on the 4th of November, the last day of its 118th session during which it will also review Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Moldova, Morocco, Poland and Slovakia.

We invite you to follow the live streaming of the review through our Twitter account.

Read the full report from FLIP, RIDH and IFEX or review the Executive summary

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