A collage of defenders in Colombia and the environment they are seeking to protect

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to defend land, Indigenous territory, and the environment according to the 2023 report of Global Witness. Between 2016 and 2022, an average of one human rights defender was killed every 61 hours in Colombia, according to the organization Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders). The Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ) recorded the killings of 188 more civil society leaders and human rights defenders in 2023. It is an alarming situation. The danger is particularly acute for Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino leaders defending their lands and water. Women defenders face additional risks of gender-based violence.

Despite the gravity and the scale of ongoing violence, defenders refuse to be silenced or to halt their efforts on behalf of their communities and all of us. They appeal to us to amplify their voices, make visible the violence they face, and press for action to prevent further killings.

Listen to what defenders want to tell us

Yuly Velásquez is a hope-inspiring defender of human rights and the environment. President of the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishers of the Department of Santander, known by its acronym FEDEPESAN, Yuly is lucky to be alive. She has survived three armed attacks. There are powerful people who want to silence Yuly’s demands for conservation of wetlands in the Magdalena River basin that sustain lives, communities, and a healthy planet.

Water defender Yuly Velasquez travels in a boat up the river

Here is what Yuly Velázquez wants to tell us:

“Everyone in Colombia deserves the right to clean water. Yet, our rivers and waterways are heavily polluted because of oil and gas. People are suffering from gastrointestinal diseases, and often have constant diarrhea and rashes. It’s because we are drinking polluted water. It’s having a huge impact on our livelihoods too. Where I live, we need pristine water to catch and sell fish. But because of the pollution, our catch is declining. It’s a huge worry for us. It’s troubling to see so many dead fish all year round. That’s why I want to ensure those responsible for pollution are held accountable. It’s not easy. I’ve been shot at. Despite the attacks and the threats, more women have joined our cause.”

It’s troubling to see so many dead fish all year round. That’s why I want to ensure those responsible for pollution are held accountable. It’s not easy. I’ve been shot at. Despite the attacks and the threats, more women have joined our cause. 

Yuly Velásquez, President of FEDEPESAN

The voices and demands of threatened defenders like Yuly Velázquez are at the heart of our campaigning. Our goal is to achieve a safe and enabling environment so they can continue their vital work. In addition to protection, we’re pressing authorities to address the root causes of the violence.

The situation couldn’t be more urgent! But there is an exciting potential now to reverse decades of violence against human rights defenders in Colombia.

A historic opportunity to change course

In mid-2022, Gustavo Petro won the second round of presidential elections in Colombia, accompanied on the ballot by Francia Márquez, his vice-presidential running mate. Their election was historic. Petro became the first President with an explicitly leftist agenda and the first former member of a rebel group to become President. Márquez, a renowned human rights defender and winner of a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, became the first Afro-descendant woman to become Vice President. These precedents imply a radical shift in Colombia’s domestic politics.

The new government prioritized protection of human rights defenders in its first 100 days in office, launching an emergency plan. It strengthened the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior, which plays a key role in the protection of defenders and provided staff and budget to develop collective protection measures.

While a good first step, the emergency plan has not been effective. Homicidal violence against human rights defenders increased. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2022 was the most violent year for defenders since 2012.  

Nevertheless, the Petro-Márquez government has publicly acknowledged the dire realities faced by defenders, challenges inherited from previous governments that were hostile towards human rights defenders. The current government has shown a political will to seek solutions. Amnesty International believes there is a unique window of opportunity now to work with defenders in Colombia to generate the changes needed to stop the killings.

Your activism can help us make a difference. Join us!

Take Action

CREDHOS and FEDEPESAN at a press conference to make public new death threats against them
Ivan Maduro of CREDHOS speaks at a press conference to make public dangerous new threats against his organization and others in Magdalena Medio. The headline reads “Humanitarian and safety crisis, says CREDHOS”.


E-actions enable us to mobilize a massive volume of calls to Colombia’s Minister of the Interior, who has responsibility for the safety of human rights defenders. Sign our e-action Keep Hope Alive in Colombia. Then share it and invite friends and family to sign the action too.

Write a personal message

Personal messages carry additional weight.

Write to Colombia’s Interior Minister about threats against organizations in Magdalena Medio, using the instructions in this Urgent Action.

Write to the Director of the Special Investigation Unit about a grenade attack against a defender of CREDHOS, using the instructions in this Urgent Action.

Social Media

Screen capture of a Tweet expressing concern for the safety of threatened rights defenders and calling on the Minister for urgent action to protect them

Government leaders are attentive to social media. Defenders also tell us that visible international support for them on social media is extremely important.

Post messages like this one or retweet it

Defend the Defenders

In Canada, hugely concerned for the safety of @Credhos_Paz @OFPMujeres @RiosVivosColom FEDEPESAN and other defenders of water and rights in #Colombia. Act now Minister @velascoluisf to coordinate with them and ensure effective protection.

Learn More

Cover of Hope At Risk Report by Amnesty International