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Collective Protection for Communities and Rights Defenders At Risk: Lessons from Grassroots Advocacy in Colombia

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posted on 2024-06-17, 15:20 authored by Mauricio Parra Bayona, Elizabeth Barco Moreno, Jonathan FoxJonathan Fox

Rights defenders around the world face unrelenting violent reprisals for their work protecting marginalized communities and their territories.

Some governments respond by committing to protect these citizens at risk—mainly with individualized, police style safeguards. Colombia’s government has Latin America’s largest protection agency by far and has gone beyond its many individual measures to also promise collective protection to communities at risk.

In Colombia’s Pacific region, ACADESAN, the Community Council of the San Juan River region, defends the rights of its 72 Afro-Colombian communities in areas where violent armed conflict remains largely unchecked. ACADESAN calls for bottom-up approaches to protection of the communities they represent – in contrast to the government’s conventional exclusive focus on individual leaders. Their key advocacy win was to persuade a wide range of government agencies to commit to a comprehensive package of measures, going beyond the limited options offered by the National Protection Agency.

ACADESAN has worked to hold the government accountable for delivering on its legal and policy commitments to protect communities at risk by providing comprehensive measures that offer tangible, sustained support for the organization’s autonomous capacity for community self-protection, as well as ensuring economic and social rights.

This brief describes ACADESAN’s breakthrough advocacy campaign for collective protection. It shares insights relevant for efforts to protect rights defenders and communities that go beyond conventional measures. It is basedon the story told in Spanish by Mauricio Parra Bayona, ACADESAN human rights advisor, in his Accountability Working Paper, and the prefaces to that paper by former ACADESAN representative Elizabeth Moreno Barco and Jonathan Fox of ARC.

In his conclusion, Parra reflects on how collective protection must further be adjusted to better serve at-risk communities and organizations, especially those that are smaller than ACADESAN, have fewer allies, and are not prioritized by national government.

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Accountability Research Center

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English

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