By Maribel Arenas Vadillo
Bogota, Dec 1 (EFE) – The secretary general of London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International says Colombia is a country marked by “endemic impunity,” in which the security forces have free rein to act without accountability.
“More than a year and a half after (2021 anti-government protests), still not one sentence for human rights violations during that period has been delivered,” Agnes Callamard told EFE in an interview during a visit to Bogota to present AI’s new report, “The Police Do Not Protect Me: Sexual violence and other gender-based violence during the 2021 National Strike.”
During those protests that began in late April 2021 and lasted for much of last year to call attention to economic disparity under then-President Ivan Duque, AI documented 28 cases of gender-based violence against women and LGBTIQ+ people between April 28 and June 30.
“So it’s a complete impunity for the crimes committed by the state against peaceful protesters,” the French human rights activist stated.
Callamard said that during her visit she planned to meet with Colombian authorities and discuss how they intend to “redress the situation, to counter that regime of impunity and offer remedy and reparation to the victims.”
The AI secretary-general also called for urgent action to protect social leaders in Colombia, which she described as one of the least secure places for human rights defenders and “anyone fighting for the environment or for access to land.”
She said that, according to the London-based watchdog’s calculations, one human rights defender was killed every 48 hours in 2018.
Four years later, the situation is virtually unchanged, with figures released by the Ombudsman’s Office indicating that 136 human rights leaders and activists were killed between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year.
Referring to leftist President Gustavo Petro’s flagship “Total Peace” policy, Callamard said it is essential that victims’ voices, accountability to victims and human rights guarantees be at the heart of the government’s conversations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) or other illegal armed groups.
She also stressed that peace talks must also include the participation of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, farmers and fishermen with claims to land and resources in conflict areas.
“It’s not just about a negotiation between the government and an armed group. It must be a negotiation that is all-encompassing of all the people who are working, living, trying to survive out of that territory,” she added.
Callamard noted that the South American country tends to have a poor image abroad for different reasons.
Besides the dangers faced by human rights defenders, she said it is a country with “endemic impunity” where “security forces basically can do anything they want” because “there will be no accountability demanded of them.”
“It is a country where the powerful are very powerful and the vulnerable and the poor are really very, very poor.”
Even so, she praised that nation as a model globally in terms of its treatment and integration of Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
The fact that the previous government and the current administration have taken in Venezuelan migrants rather than sending them back to their crisis-hit homeland or enacting policies to discourage them from entering Colombia should be celebrated, she said.
Callamard noted that, by contrast, many current migration policies around the world are constructed on the basis of deterrence and the militarization of border areas.
Through November of this year, the total number of Venezuelan migrants worldwide was estimated at 7.13 million, of whom 5.99 million are in Latin America and the Caribbean and 2.48 million are in Colombia, according to the latest data from the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V). EFE