Auto 200 of 2017
In 2004, the Constitutional Court of Colombia decided case T-025, where it declared an unconstitutional state of affairs in regards to the situation of millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to the country’s armed conflict. The unconstitutional state of affairs was due to the massive human rights violations associated with systemic failures in the safeguarding of IDPs by the State. In order to put an end to the unconstitutional state of affairs, the Court established a structure for follow-ups that consisted of two types: (1) special proceedings to evaluate the progress made by various state agencies, in which agencies were required to provide periodic reports on their compliance with the Court’s orders; and (2) autos de seguimiento, additional written materials from the court which expanded and clarified the Court’s orders in T-025, with specific focus on groups of persons at greater vulnerability and disproportionately impacted by the internal armed conflict. Auto 200 addresses the precarious situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) within the context of armed conflict and displacement.
The Court begins with an analysis of why human rights defenders are targeted during armed conflict and displacement, highlighting the following main factors: (a) identified as "informers" or "informants" by the armed factions; (b) the type of information they handle by virtue of their organizational positions; (c) they are seen as obstacles to the aspirations of social and territorial penetration of the armed groups; and (d) their social visibility, which armed actors use to make their victimization an instrument for intimidation.
The Court noted with concern the government’s lack of action with regards to protecting human rights defenders. For instance, HRDs are met with rejection of their petitions, delay in providing aid, and inattention to the safety requirements. This is exacerbated by the fact that retaliation and targeting of HRDs actually worsens when they resort to governmental authorities for support. This means that by going to the authorities, they are risking their lives, only to be met with inaction and heightened insecurity due to governmental inaction.
This governmental inaction not only leads to a permanent state of anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity for HRDs, but also has led to further displacement or even asylum seeking in other countries. Additionally, the Court found this inaction amounts to violation of HRDs’ fundamental rights to life and personal integrity.
These rights are protected by Colombia’s international obligations, but also constitutionally. For instance, in T-719, the Court held that the right to personal integrity activates obligations to adopt protective holistic measures that have proportional scope, intensity and duration to the risks that each individual faces. As such, constitutional authorities have the obligation to identify the risk, value the source of the risk, define measures to protect the right, implement said measures, and periodically evaluate them. Additionally, the case established a a presumption of risk for displaced persons, which is met by: (a) the presentation of a petition for protection to the authority by a displaced person, (b) the petition was in fact known to the competent authority, (c) the petition presents information that demonstrates, prima facie, that that the person is indeed displaced by violence, for which the referrals made to the competent institutions and are registered in the Unified Registry of Displaced Population, and (d) the information presented specifically alludes to a specific threat to life and integrity of the petitioner or his family. Finally, the measures must be realistic, effective and adequate and must prioritize cases of Indigenous, Afro-Colombians, older persons, mothers who are heads of households, children and adolescents, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI persons.
The Court then surveyed cases of individual HRDs in various regions of Colombia to: (1) showcase governmental incompetence regarding these individuals and the HRD community more broadly and (2) order specific, immediate and complete remedies to these leaders. For instance, in the region of Tolima, the Court evaluated the cases of around nineteen leaders who had since 2001 requested governmental assistance in the face of threats and assassinations of their community members but had received none. For instance, Luis LL filed fourteen petitions of aid after receiving multiple threats to his and his family’s life and knew of many HRDs close to him who had been assassinated yet received no response from the government. The Court in this case ordered the government to evaluate, design and implement an effective protective measure for Luis LL five days after the publication of Auto 200.
As the case of Luis LL illustrated, the government’s response to the situation of HRDs amounted to a systematic failure. Specifically, the Court identified the following problems: (1) failure to treat these aid petitions with the priority that they constitutionally merit; (2) failure to protect HRDs’ family members; (3) lack of an approach that accounts for the disproportionate impact felt by HRDs; (4) failure in the timely processing of aid petitions by HRDs; (5) failure in the studies of risk factors; and (6) incorrect risk studies that put people in better situations than they actually are in.
The Court ordered the Director of the Program of Protection to improve the conditions of HRDs and their access to justice by creating a program for their protection within one month, which should be implemented in three months after its creation.
Colombia is one of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders. Human rights defenders play a crucial role in advocating for human rights, social justice, and peace in Colombia. However, their work often brings them into conflict with powerful interests, including armed groups, drug traffickers, and corrupt individuals within the government or security forces. This places them at high risk of violence, threats, and intimidation. This Auto does the important work of monitoring and addressing the situation to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can carry out their vital work without fear of violence or persecution.