On May 10, 2018, under the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) examined Colombia’s human rights situation. Watchlist’s longstanding partner, the Coalition against the Use of Children Adolescents in the Armed Conflict in Colombia (COALICO), participated in the review alongside more than 500 other civil society organizations.

A partner of Watchlist since 2003, COALICO is a civil society network that seeks to positively transform the situation of children affected by armed conflict in Colombia, especially those subject to, or at risk of, recruitment and use by armed groups. It does so through effective monitoring and reporting on child rights violations, advocacy at the national and international levels, and defense and promotion of children’s rights.

In preparation for the UPR, a group of Colombian civil society organizations, including COALICO, jointly prepared and submitted a report to the UN HRC on the human rights situation in the country between 2013 and 2017. The report analyzes the situation along 25 different thematic areas, including children’s rights, and examines the status of implementation of recommendations from Colombia’s previous UPR cycle.

In September 2017, COALICO and the Alliance for Colombian Children (la Alianza por la niñez colombiana) brought together children, adolescents, and youth from conflict-affected regions of the country to discuss current challenges to the protection and promotion of children’s rights, including violations of the rights of children living in conflict-affected and marginalized communities. The consultations sought to facilitate child participation in the UPR process.

At this third cycle of the UPR, 86 UN Member States participated and provided approximately 200 recommendations to the Colombian Government. Of these, at least 43 focused on the adoption of measures necessary to protect and promote children’s rights, especially in indigenous, Afro-Colombian, rural, and other marginalized communities. In particular, States called on Colombia to strengthen measures to prevent the recruitment and use of children by armed groups; to ensure comprehensive, sustained, and adequate reintegration support for children and adolescents formerly associated with armed groups, including the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejercito del Pueblo (FARC-EP); the treatment of these individuals first and foremost as victims of the conflict; and lastly, the ratification of the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Optional Protocol sets out an international complaints procedure that allows children from States that have ratified to bring complaints about violations of their rights directly to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The UPR takes a comprehensive look at the human rights situation in the country in question. Given the rise in killings of community leaders and social activists, Colombia’s 2018 review focused significantly on the situation of human rights defenders. Such attacks, as well as reports of increasing paramilitary activity in parts of the country, threaten to undermine the gains of the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC-EP and negatively affect efforts to strengthen the protective environment for children. In his 2018 annual report on the situation of human rights in Colombia, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses concern about the situation of rights defenders; in 2017 alone, his office documented a total of 441 attacks including 121 killings. Local civil society plays a critical role in monitoring the situation of human rights, including the rights of children in armed conflict; a longtime supporter of Colombian civil society, Watchlist echoes these concerns.