30 April 2008A group of independent United Nations experts have called for urgent measures to protect those defending human rights in Colombia, following a recent surge in violence that includes killings, harassment and intimidation of civil society activists, trade union leaders and lawyers representing victims. “We are deeply concerned by recent developments in Colombia indicating the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders in recent months,” the experts said in a statement issued today in Geneva. The group reports that so far this year there have been 21 killings of trade unionists and civil society leaders and dozens of reports of death threats against activists and defenders allegedly perpetrated by new illegal armed groups. The recent escalation in violence against human rights defenders “confirms the need for a vigorous and immediate reaction from the Government for the protection of defenders in Colombia,” they added. While recognizing the measures taken by the Government to improve the security of human rights defenders, the group called for “more effective and consistent protection measures for defenders at risk as a matter of urgency.” These include effective protection of defenders at risk, more efficient investigations and conclusive prosecutions of perpetrators, and more open and firm cross-party political support and recognition to defenders and their work. “Concrete and concerted action is needed to stop the endemic impunity for the crimes and violations committed against human rights defenders,” said the experts, all of whom report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. The statement was signed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston; and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy. In a related development, Margaret Sekaggya will begin her duties as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on 1 May. Ms. Sekaggya, who has been the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission since 1996, succeeds Ms. Jilani who has been responsible for this mandate since 2000.