Prominent Afro-Colombian human rights defender murdered

Association

Afro-Colombian human rights defender Emilsen Manyoma, 32, and her partner Joe Javier Rodallega were murdered in January. Their bodies were found on 18th January in Buenaventura. Manyoma had been a prominent leader in the Bajo Calima region since 2005. She was an active member of the network CONPAZ and a harsh critic of right-wing paramilitary groups and international mining and agribusiness interests that caused displacement of local populations. As a member of the Truth Commission in charge of revealing the truth about the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, Manyoma played a key role in documenting attacks on human rights defenders in the region.

On 23rd January, President Juan Manuel Santos signed Decree 092 to curb direct state contracting with not-for-profit organisations, which he views as a major source of corruption. President Santos stated that many foundations and NGOs are "a favourite tool of the corrupt to skim off the state." According to reports by the domestic transparency office, contracts with nonprofits amount to at least 1.2 billion pesos a year. The report states that such contracts are growing in popularity because contracting with not-for-profit organisations allows government agencies to skip public bidding processes. Under the new decree, this form of contracting - which is allowed by article 355 of the Constitution - will remain in place but will be subjected to restrictions.

As the decree was issued, the Colombian Confederation of NGOs (CCONG) released a statement expressing their concern about the government's stigmatisation of civil society organisations. The umbrella organisation stated that:

"in the current situation of the country it is inconvenient for the national government to imply to public opinion that corruption occurs within non-profit entities, while ignoring the responsibility of public institutions and other sectors of society regarding lack of transparency in the management of public resources."

CCONG also pointed out that the political and civil rights of civil society entities are being systematically violated, their role as a social and political actor weakened, and their sustainability over time jeopardised.

Expression

On 12th January, two newspaper reporters narrowly escaped a murder attempt in the northeastern city of Cúcuta. Cristian Herrera, a crime reporter for the daily Q'Hubo, received a tip-off from one of his sources that a murder had just taken place in a dangerous part of town, a gathering place for criminal gangs, smugglers and drug traffickers. Herrera, who has been under state protection since October 2014 after receiving several death threats and warnings to stop covering crime, set off along with the two bodyguards assigned to him by the National Protection Unit (UNP) and one of his colleagues, Andrés González, in a UNP pickup truck. As they arrived at the scene, they were surrounded by gunmen on motorcycles who insulted the reporters, tried to forcibly open the vehicle doors and finally opened fire. The reporters and his bodyguards fled at high speed and nobody was injured.

Emmanuel Colombié, head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s Latin America bureau, said:

“We condemn what was both an act of extreme cowardliness and a grave violation of the freedom to report the news.[...] This murder attempt against a working journalist guarded by the National Protection Unit is indicative of the ineffectiveness of the protective mechanisms in place in a country that is still badly affected by the violence of criminal groups, a country where investigative reporting continues to be very dangerous.”

In September, due to the actions of a powerful soft drinks company, the state censored a public health campaign which had sought to spread a public health message. Due to a complaint about a misleading ad by one of the most powerful Colombian soft drinks companies, the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC) shut down a public health campaign ran by a consumers advocacy NGO. The campaign's objective was to warn the public about the health hazards and costs to the public health system caused by the consumption of sugary drinks. 

Educar Consumidores (Educate Consumers), a civil society organisation that conducts research and advocacy on consumers' issues that affect human health and the environment, had developed a national public health campaign including workshops and forums to inform the population about the risks and consequences of consuming sugary drinks. A social media and stream media campaign was also designed for the same purpose, but the organisation was forced to remove it from the air and compelled to send the authorities any information related to sugary drinks prior to publication, so the agency could grant or deny authorisation for publication, both in traditional and social media. The SIC resolution was issued on 7th September and is still in force because no decision has been made regarding appeals.