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Human Rights in Colombia: State’s Obligation to Put an End to Violations

25 March 2013

On the occasion of its 22nd session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights analysing the situation in Colombia.

WILPF appreciates much of the content within this report, particularly regarding LGBTI rights and the enforced disappearances of women human rights defenders. However, we regret that it does not specifically mention sexual violence against women or the lack of women’s involvement in peace negotiations.

Peace talks as a significant step forward for human rights

The High Commissioner as well as several NGOs welcomed the opening of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC. These negotiations are indeed a great hope of ending the age-old conflict that has been undermining peace and human rights in Colombia for several decades now. This peace process has the potential to sustainably transform Colombia and its society, provided it takes Colombia’s past into consideration and does not repeat errors, past human rights violations must be addressed and impunity must be ended.

Nevertheless, despite these peace negotiations, gross human rights violations continue to be perpetrated in Colombia fueled by the armed conflict. A few examples include enforced disappearances, sexual violence, forced internal displacements, violations of the right to land and among many others. Such difficulties in relation to the progress of human rights are due to structural impediments and issues that block any form of sustainable progress in this domain.

The lack of efforts to combat impunity

Impunity is one of the most structural problems in Colombia. Governmental, paramilitary and rebel forces enjoy impunity for the crimes they committed at different points. The current justice system makes impunity systemic and thus does not successfully dissuade the commission of crimes.

Photo of Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

There was therefore a unanimous call for those responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law to be brought to criminal justice at the earliest opportunity. Indeed, the more one waits for justice, the more difficult it is to lead investigations and to establish criminal responsibility.

In addition, the recent constitutional reform, adopted despite the strong international and national protests, extended the military jurisdiction in what constitutes an infringement of the basic principles of the rule of law, of the right to a fair trial and of the separation of powers. Several cases currently investigated by the ordinary justice will now be taken in charge by military tribunals, which will reinforce impunity instead of combating it.

Responding to the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner and the NGOs, the Colombian delegation stressed that the military justice was modern and impartial, and that the Supreme Court of Colombia would remain the ultimate institution giving final decisions.

However, granting military tribunals larger jurisdiction for crimes is contrary to international law of human rights and to Colombia’s international commitments. Furthermore, it was already a reported practice in Colombia to declare extrajudicial killings as killings in combat in order to have military jurisdiction for the case. In light of this practice, the extension of the military jurisdiction is highly worrying.

Human rights defenders at great risk

Stakeholders stressed that several categories of Colombian society such as indigenous communities, afro-descendants, trade unionists and women activists were most at risk when acting as human rights defenders.

Attacks and threats against human rights defenders are common currency in Colombia, which is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders. Women who denounce land-grabbing and claim for land restitution are particularly targeted.

Several NGOs denounced worrying arbitrary detentions, appalling defamation and stigmatization campaigns against human rights defenders, as well as the lack of suitable protection and prevention from the Colombian government.

Hence, they called upon the authorities to recognize the legitimate work of human rights defenders and to take all appropriate measures so that they can work in a safe environment.

Issues of land restitution, torture in prisons, enforced disappearances and intolerant public statements against LGBT community have also been raised during the discussion.

What to do now?

The upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Colombia will take place here in Geneva, on April 23, 2013. On this occasion, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will assess the situation in Colombia and make further recommendations.

Yet the process of human rights review does not end at the review itself, it is a continuous process that civil society needs to be involved in to ensure the supervision of the implementation of these recommendations.

Civil society must keep advocating for the protection and promotion of all human rights and give strong and achievable recommendations to States, and then also monitor the implementation of the HRC’s recommendations and be involved in the implementation assessments.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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