A good example of this is the Orlando Fals Borda Socio-Legal Collective, which since 2009 has accompanied and represented victims of grave human rights violations in different judicial instances, especially in the eastern plains of the country, one of the areas most affected by the armed conflict.
Cesar Santoyo is their Executive Director, and appreciates this year in which, despite the whole situation, they have managed to strengthen their work. "The most representative achievement was to open a new region - Casanare - to investigate the violations that occur such as extrajudicial executions and forced disappearance as cruel mechanisms of criminality not only by the State, but also in the framework of the armed conflict," he says.
However, the emergence of the pandemic was a major change for those who defend rights. Covid-19 is seriously affecting the entire population and almost 1.4 million cases have been counted to date. The government's response was to restrict movement and reduce social contact, which also influenced advocacy work. "The pandemic has been notoriously dramatic with human rights advocacy work throughout the country. First because of the mandatory restrictions, but also because of how the Colombian government has approached it for our organization and the set of victims we accompany," Santoyo said. She also explains how it affected public mobilization. "The public forces, especially the national police, have had an increase in police brutality with which they have tried to silence the processes of mobilization and social protest that have come from hunger and the social inequality that the pandemic has shown," he says.
Despite limited mobility, this situation has not been an obstacle for threats and attacks to continue affecting defenders. It is worth remembering that, according to the Program Somos Defensores, between July and September of this year, there have been 184 attacks against 182 human rights defenders, and 40 murders have been recorded. In this sense, Santoyo recognizes how the situation of insecurity has also increased due to the "incapacity of the government" to cover the areas left by the extinct FARC guerrillas after the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016. Santoyo himself has already suffered an attack in recent weeks, when a dog he had as a pet was kidnapped and killed, and her body was left in front of the place where he was celebrating his son's birthday with his family. They also stole her bicycle and tried to do the same with her cell phone, which is her daily work tool. He also comments that the organization itself suffered attacks, in this case, against its computer systems.
Santoyo highlights the little effective dialogue they have with the authorities: "The national police to whom I resorted, did not have any notes in relation to the criminal act and we have had to focus on the report to the human rights platform such as the platform Coordination Colombia-Europe-United States, the Movement of Victims of State Crimes have been offering to make visible the situation that has been happening, not only with my person but also with the organization and the processes". But it does not lose sight of the central concern of the collective and the commitment they have to continue accompanying the almost 900 victims they represent before the authorities in their search for the Truth. "Our greatest concern is, above all, to preserve the life, integrity and disposition of the victims throughout the national territory so that they continue to make their complaints and continue to offer truth and demand it from the agents who were within the context of the armed conflict so that we can find their families and the disappeared," he concludes.
We extend our recognition to all the human rights organizations that continue working in the territory despite all the difficulties they have had during this year. Our commitment is firm to continue being close to the work that these organizations carry out in Colombia, and for this, we plan to extend this accompaniment to more than 50 during the beginning of 2021.
Photo: Orlando Fals Borda Socio-Legal Collective