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Colombia and International Systems for the Protection of Human Rights (July 2013)


The United Nations and human rights in Colombia

Colombia has been a member of the United Nations since November 1945, and has signed both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with its two Optional Protocols and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (both ratified in October 1969), as well as a number of UN treaties establishing specific rights. There are a large number of UN programs and agencies with offices in Colombia, including UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Women and UNDP.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been present in Colombia since 1997, and implements a programme which includes observing and reporting on human rights and international humanitarian law, giving advice, providing technical cooperation, promoting and disseminating human rights and international humanitarian law, and strengthening national authorities and civil society.

Each year, the OHCHR produces a report on the human rights situation in Colombia, including a series of recommendations. In its latest annual report on Colombia 2012 (issued in January 2013), the Office included recommendations on the protection of human rights defenders (including members of the judiciary) and on aspects of the Colombian justice system, including the constitutional reform of military criminal jurisdiction.

Colombia is obliged to present information periodically to committees who examine its compliance with the UN treaties. The latest such examinations were carried out by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights both in 2010.

Several UN special mechanisms have also carried out in situ visits to Colombia in recent years and written specific reports with detailed recommendations, including, in 2009, Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and Margaret Sekkagya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

In addition, Colombia has been examined twice by the UN Human Rights Council (2008 and 2013) in the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, under which States make human rights recommendations to other States every four years, which they then monitor.

The International Criminal Court

Colombia is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which means that in theory it could be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. There have been many calls for the ICC to open an investigation on Colombia, and in November 2012, the Office of the ICC Prosecutor published an exceptional preliminary report examining the situation. So far, there has been no formal decision to open an investigation, but the ICC preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia continues.


The Inter-American Human Rights System

The inter-American regional human rights system was born with the adoption of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in 1948.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was created in 1959, as a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. It is composed of seven independent members who serve in a personal capacity. The IACHR holds sessions up to three times a year, where it hears cases of human rights violations.

The IACHR is expressly authorized to examine complaints or petitions regarding specific cases of human rights violations. The IACHR has received thousands of petitions, which have resulted in more than 12,000 cases which have been processed or are currently being processed. The final published reports of the IACHR regarding these individual cases may be found in the Annual Reports of the Commission or independently by country.

In serious and urgent situations, the Commission may request that a State adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to persons or to the subject matter of the proceedings in connection with a pending petition or case, as well as to persons under the jurisdiction of the State concerned, independently of any pending petition or case. A number of precautionary measures have been granted in Colombian cases, which the State is obliged to comply with and to regularly report on.

The IACHR also carries out on-site visits to observe the general human rights situation in a country or to investigate specific situations. In relation to its visits for the observation of the general human rights situation of a country, the IACHR has published 44 special country reports to date. The last specific report on Colombia was produced in 1999, although subsequently Colombia has been the subject of a special report under section IV of the IACHR Annual Reports, reserved for countries of specific concern.

The IACHR also monitors and produces reports on priority thematic areas, including reports on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas (the latest in 2012), which includes information on the importance of the role of lawyers and members of the judiciary in defending human rights. The IACHR also has a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, currently Mr. José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez from Mexico.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights

In 1969, the American Convention on Human Rights was adopted, entering into force in 1978. To date, it has been ratified by 25 countries, including Colombia. The Convention defines the human rights which the ratifying States have agreed to respect and ensure. The Convention also creates the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and defines the functions and procedures of both the Commission and the Court.

The Court has two main functions. Firstly it hears and rules on the specific cases referred to it, regarding human rights violations committed by State parties to the American Convention. Secondly it issues opinions on matters of legal interpretation brought to its attention by other OAS bodies or member states.

The Inter-American Commission receives all complaints and decides on their admissibility. If a case is admissible, it then makes a decision on the case and orders the State to carry out a series of recommendations to make amends for the violation. When the State does not comply with this, or when the case is considered to be of great legal importance, it is referred to the Court. A number of contentious cases on Colombia have been heard by the Court.

The Court can also order the State to implement provisional protection measures, in cases where the Commission’s precautionary measures are found not to have been applied. These can be accessed on the websites of the Court and the Commission.


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