Colombia: Woman indigenous leader Angelica Ortiz denounces abuse by businesses as country faces scrutiny at UN

In Colombia, defenders who seek to prevent or expose human rights abuse and violations by businesses and government face concerted and often deadly attacks - and both the government and businesses need to act decisively to prevent and address them. This was the message sent by both the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on HRDs, through his report, and a number of civil society organizations, including ours, at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) last week  - and it reverberated in the media.

Angelica Ortiz isa Wayuu indigenous woman leader from the Ipuana clan of the Lomomato indigenous reserve in La Guajira, Colombia, a human rights defender and part of the Wayuu Women's Force Movement. Angelica and her movement denounce what they see as negative impacts of exploitation and export of coal in her region. She was meant to be at the HRC, but could not attend due to the COVID-19 related cancellations of events in Geneva. Since she could not be there in person, we are sharing Angelica's message for the HRC below. The SR on HRDs' report is available here, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre's report on Colombia and defenders is available here, and examples of international and national media coverage of the issues are below. 

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Article
10 March 2020

Human Rights Defender Angélica Ortiz, Fuerza de Mujeres Wayúu (Colombia) sends message to UN

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Article
9 March 2020

"At least 72 critics of business abuse were killed in Colombia"

Author: El Universal (Colombia)

Unofficial translation from Spanish into English by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

… In 2011 the Colombian Government created the National Protection Unit (UNP), attached to the Ministry of Interior, to protect leaders and defenders, but this entity has been overwhelmed by the increase in threats and the critical state of these cases in justice ... "The Colombian State has taken some important measures to address this situation, but so far it has failed to overcome the growing attacks against human rights defenders that raise concerns about commercial operations," said the study ... In it In line with the report, the Ombudsman's Office pointed out that the proliferation of norms has not translated into higher levels of commitment by the authorities and, on the contrary,it disperses the responsibilities of the State to protect the fundamental rights of community leaders… “Colombia must act decisively to protect human rights defenders who raise their complaints about the conduct of companies, and the often marginalized rural communities they represent” , highlighted the report ...

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Article
9 March 2020

"Which are the companies related to human rights violations in Colombia?"

Author: La W Radio (Colombia)

Unofficial translation from Spanish into English by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

...The report says that "doing business without the proper care of communities and workers - even by not consulting communities or having accessible grievance mechanisms - only makes the brutal silencing of their representatives more likely" ... The most documented type of attack were murders, followed by death threats, beatings and violence. Most of the people who were attacked were leaders and members of the affected communities, trade unionists and Afro-Colombian and indigenous people ... In some cases, companies have allegedly contributed to the attacks. In most of the others, defenders have been attacked because their work raised concerns about business operations...

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Article
9 March 2020

Talk Radio: Business & Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

Author: Jon Bonfiglio, Talk Radio

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Article
8 March 2020

Colombia: Report provides analysis of the role of legitimate business in aggravating attacks on defenders

Author: Greg Heilers, Triple Pundit

"As Human Rights Come Under Attack in Colombia, Corporations Look the Other Way"

...In a new report, the Business and Human Rights Resource Center (BHRRC) highlighted the role businesses play in aggravating attacks on activists across the nation of 50 million people. “Weak state institutions, armed gangs and illegal economies contribute to making Colombia a dangerous place for human rights defenders,” said Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders. “But what is often missed by this analysis is the role of legitimate business in aggravating attacks on defenders and businesses’ potential to contribute meaningfully to the protection of defenders, including enabling an environment for human rights protection.” Around 90 percent of attacks that victimized human rights activists in Colombia were tied to only four industries: hydroelectric power, fossil fuels, mining and agriculture. Nearly half of the attacks on these citizens were against those who spoke up specifically against companies such as Ecopetrol, EPM, BG Salinas, Cerrejón Coal and AngloGold Ashanti. The report further highlighted the fact that the majority of HRDs who fell victim to violence were leaders and members of marginalized communities, union leaders, Afro-Colombian citizens and indigenous citizens... BHRRC made sure to clarify it is not accusing specific companies of sponsoring attacks on human rights activists, it did point out the inadequate measures taken by companies to prevent violence... The report highlights violations against the group Ríos Vivos Antioquia Movement, which opposes an embankment dam on the Cauca River under construction by the public utility EPM...

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Author: El Universal (Colombia)

2 de marzo de 2020

…En 2011 el Gobierno colombiano creó la Unidad Nacional de Protección (UNP), adscrita al Ministerio del Interior, para proteger a líderes y defensores, pero esta entidad se ha visto desbordada por el aumento de las amenazas y el estado crítico de estos casos en la justicia… “El Estado colombiano ha tomado algunas medidas importantes para hacer frente a esta situación, pero hasta ahora no ha logrado superar los crecientes ataques contra defensores de derechos humanos que plantean preocupaciones sobre las operaciones comerciales”, indicó el estudio… En la misma línea del informe, la Defensoría del Pueblo señaló que la proliferación de normas no se ha traducido en mayores niveles de compromiso por parte de las autoridades y, por el contrario, dispersa las responsabilidades del Estado de proteger los derechos fundamentales de los líderes comunitarios… “Colombia debe actuar con decisión para proteger a los defensores de derechos humanos que plantean sus denuncias sobre la conducta de las empresas, y a las comunidades rurales a menudo marginadas que representan”, destacó el informe…

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Author: La W Radio

March 3, 2020

violated or threatened ... The report says that "doing business without the proper care of communities and workers - even by not consulting communities or having accessible grievance mechanisms - only makes the brutal silencing of their representatives more likely" ... The most documented type of attack were murders, followed by death threats, beatings and violence. Most of the people who were attacked were leaders and members of the affected communities, trade unionists and Afro-Colombian and indigenous people ... In some cases, companies have allegedly contributed to the attacks. In most of the others, defenders have been attacked because their work raised concerns about business operations,

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