Colombia Is The Most Dangerous Country For Human Rights Defenders

We must demand more accountability from both our press and our government.
01/10/2017 08:22 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2017

Frontline Defenders, which has put out an annual report on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) at Risk since 1998, just put out its most recent report detailing the struggle of HRDs throughout the world in 2016. As Frontline Defenders details, there were 281 HRDs killed throughout the globe in 2016, and an incredible 85 of these (or about 30%) were from Colombia, the U.S.’s closest ally in the Western Hemisphere.

Another 58 HRDs killed were from Brazil which experienced a U.S.-supported right-wing coup beginning in April of 2016; and 33 were from Honduras which had a right-wing, U.S.-backed coup in 2009. In total, these three countries accounted for about 61% of all HRDs killed world-wide in 2016.

What is more shocking than even these statistics, is the lack of reporting on them that one hears in the mainstream media (MSM).

Colombia in particular receives barely a whisper of reportage from the U.S. press, despite its uniquely bad human rights situation, a human rights situation which has only gotten worse as the peace process in that country progressed. As Frontline Defenders explains:

In Colombia, the progression of the peace process and the establishment of a definitive ceasefire between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) . . . was met by an increase in the level of violence experienced by the HRDs. After the peace agreement was unveiled on 26 August, 13 HRDs were assassinated in less than three weeks in Antioquia, César, Cauca and Nariño.

As Frontline Defenders points out, “[l]ocal organizations reported that these and other attacks were carried out by groups who sought to derail or postpone the peace process” – namely, the right-wing paramilitaries backed by the Colombian security forces who are in turn backed by the United States. Indeed, the well-respected NGO, Programa Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders Program) related in its report covering the first half of 2016 that paramilitaries and the official Colombian security forces were responsible for a combined 78% of all aggressions against HRDs, while the FARC guerillas were responsible for a mere 0.1% of such aggressions.

Of course, these figures are the exact opposite of what one might have guessed from consuming mainstream press information which tends to downplay the crimes of the Colombian State while attempting to blame the FARC for the terrible human rights situation in Colombia. Meanwhile, it must be said that the FARC has shown a sincere resolve to end the nearly 53-year conflict in that country, to own up to the crimes it has committed over the years and build a lasting peace in that country.

As all of this illustrates, the mainstream press simply refuses to give equal time to the atrocities carried out by the U.S. and its allies, while instead focusing on the abuses (both imagined and real) of the U.S.’s ostensible enemies.

And so, while the press obsesses about any and all alleged misdeeds of Colombia’s next door neighbor, Venezuela, you might be surprised to learn that Frontline Defenders relates that only 1 HRD was killed in that country last year. But alas, these are inconvenient facts to a press corps which largely has become a mouthpiece for the U.S. State Department, and has stopped doing any real journalism.

The selective concern of the MSM has real-life consequences. If the press focused on the human rights situation in such countries as Colombia proportionally to the abuses they commit, countries like Colombia would receive nearly-daily coverage, and there would be some real accountability for the U.S.’s continued support of the Colombian military to the tune of $10 billion since 2000 and counting. However, as it stands now, there is almost no accountability at all. So, in a real way, the MSM aids and abets the U.S.’s continued support for repressive regimes, while stoking public antipathy for countries the U.S. has designated as our enemies.

We must demand more accountability from both our press and our government in order for human rights to be honored as they should be, instead of being used as a mere bludgeon for the U.S. to wield against countries which are simply too independent for its liking.

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