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Researching business and human rights in Colombia

View of Bogotá. (C) Hannah Gracher.

I spent seven weeks in Colombia this summer (mostly in Bogotá with a short stint in the Chocó region on the Pacific Coast). This initial period of research served as a scoping phase for my doctoral research project during which I carried out interviews and had many informal conversations as well as collecting material in order to map the business and human rights landscape in Colombia. My intention was to examine what business and human rights initiatives and instruments exist in Colombia as well as what strategies and instruments communities use to hold economic actors accountable with a particular emphasis on how communities engage with human rights frameworks. Given that I spent most of my time during this trip in the capital Bogotá, I was able to interview state and civil society representatives which provided me with important insights into the numerous multi-actor initiatives that have been developed in Colombia. These interviews did not provide me with the perspectives of communities seeking accountability for rights violations, but it did highlight the potential gaps between how these activities are carried out in the capital with how they are experienced in rural areas in the context of armed conflict. My next research trip will therefore take me to several regions of Colombia.

The continuing challenges in the transition from war to peace in Colombia were highlighted during my visit. For example, a march to draw attention to the escalation of violence against social leaders since the signing of the peace accords was organised in Bogotá during the summer. Moreover, I learned about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Chocó during my visit to the Pacific Coast. Some areas have been particularly affected by the breakdown in the peace talks between the Colombian Government and the ELN as well as ongoing activities by paramilitary groups.

Researching the role of economic actors in human rights violations in Colombia is particularly timely given the mandate of the transitional justice mechanisms that were established as part of the peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC to investigate the role of economic actors during the armed conflict (under the category of third party actors), including the truth commission (Comisión para el Escalercimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la no Repetición, CEV) and the specifically installed extrajudicial court system (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP). During the summer a campaign was under way to encourage economic actors to submit to the JEP by the 6 September deadline, given the decision by the Constitutional Court that the participation of third party actors would be on a voluntary basis.

Hannah Gracher

University of Glasgow

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