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9 Jun 2022

Business and human rights defenders in Colombia: Urgent protection needed for people defending land, territory and environment

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Businesses cannot operate in isolation from the social contexts in which they carry out their activities, yet this is what many seem to desire to do. In the specific context of Colombia, this ‘head in the sand’ approach is demonstrably untenable, given the risks faced by human rights defenders who highlight human rights violations caused or exacerbated by business activities.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America and one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders (HRDs). Decades of internal armed conflict, violence related to organised crime, and dominance of land-intensive and extractive industries in Colombia’s economy have created a climate of systemic intimidation of social leaders, unionists and activists.

The work of HRDs and local civil society is vital to addressing human rights and environmental risks and harms. Since 2015, we have collected data on attacks against HRDs raising concerns about the human rights impacts of business operations. Colombia is consistently one of the most dangerous countries in the world for business-related HRDs.

The situation of HRDs in Colombia requires urgent attention from the Colombian Government, companies and investors which are directly and indirectly related to allegations of abuse. All companies and investors operating in Colombia should undertake heightened human rights due diligence, carry out conflict analysis and adopt a zero tolerance approach to attacks against HRDs.

Analysis of attacks recorded 2020-2021: Key findings

  • We recorded 58 attacks against HRDs raising concerns about business operations in Colombia during 2020-2021.
  • HRDs opposing oil, gas and coal sector projects faced the highest number of attacks (23).
  • Half of all attacks recorded targeted land and environmental defenders.
Businesses are not neutral actors; their presence is not without impact. Even if business does not take a side in the conflict, the impact of their operations will necessarily influence conflict dynamics.
UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Further reading

Due diligence and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in Colombia: The role of business in conflict and post-conflict situations

In February 2021 we delivered a public forum and a workshop with civil society organisations in Colombia on the role of business in conflict and post-conflict situations, with a focus on human rights due diligence and the UN Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs). Here we explore the VPs, transitional justice and due diligence in Colombia.

Human rights defenders & civic freedoms

This hub brings together news on human rights defenders raising concerns about business operations, guidance for companies and investors, and supportive business actions. It also links to our database of attacks and interview series.

2020 Briefing

We analyse attacks against human rights defenders raising concerns about business operations in Colombia from 2015-2019.