Mirko Daniel Fernandez

Mirko Daniel Fernandez

Human rights and security sector reform specialist with expertise in methodologies for mainstreaming rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches into security sector governance and related reform programming, results-based (project) management and training. Regional knowledge and experience in Latin America, Eastern and Central Europe (Balkans) and South East Asia with UN organisations, agencies and programmes, as well as with NGOs and the OSCE.

Country Profiles

Case Studies

Human Rights Accountability in the Colombian Military Armed Forces


In 2008, as a result of public and international pressure over overwhelming evidence of systematic human rights abuse committed by the Colombian armed forces, particularly extrajudicial executions, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the establishment of 15 internal measures aimed at improving the human rights performance of the Armed Forces. The measures were part of the government’s comprehensive policy on human rights and international humanitarian law created in 2008. They were designed to build on Directive 300-38 from 2007, which emphasizes captures over kills as a primary criterion for evaluating military success; and a human rights certification program based on polygraph assessment and verification of operational history for all candidates for promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and above.

Additionally, Directive 25 (2008) of the MoD created a system for receiving complaints of violation of human rights on the national level, as well as a system for addressing them and ensuring that the complaints are recognized by the pertinent civilian judicial authorities and notified to the Inspector General so that proper administrative and disciplinary measures can be taken.

Entry points

Understanding their limited capacity to institutionalise the 15 measures the Colombian MoD sought partnerships with academic institutions, civil society and the international community in an unprecedented manner. For example, they worked with the Pontifica Universidad Javeriana to develop and implement a Single Teaching Model (MUP) on human rights and international humanitarian law, and created instructor guidelines in the process.  Moreover, the MoD sought support from the ICRC and the UN in country for training and accompaniment (referring to technical support in the form of recommendations and not meaning monitoring or evaluation) to help bring credibility to the implementation of the 15 measures.

For example, in 2009, the ICRC began assisting the armed forces carry out workshops on lessons learned from past human rights violations. Case studies provided the Divisions with models for how to respect human rights and international humanitarian law when carrying out their duties.

In 2012, a team of SSR and human rights experts (including the author) was formed by UN OHCHR at the request of the MoD to accompany the military forces in the implementation of seven of the 15 measures. These included accompanying the MoD in the revision of their human rights training, system of human rights certification system for all officers and establishment of a human rights complaint reception system at the tactical level amongst others. In the absence of an international accreditation system for human rights and IHL military formation, training and education programmes, this accompaniment by OHCHR Office in Colombia (funded by in-country donors) was a good example of an SSR monitoring mechanism being locally driven and internationally supported.


One very interesting relationship that is worth highlighting for its innovation is the MoD’s working relationship with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This has resulted in a comprehensive policy focuses on Sexual Reproductive Rights, Equality and Gender-based Violence, Sexual Health and Reproduction, with an Emphasis on HIV. The programme includes incorporating obligatory and specialised education and formation training to military and police forces, from recruit to officer level, making Colombia the first Latin American country to do so.

In regards to sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), through this programme the Ministry generates internal awareness of its no tolerance policy as well as of the applicable internal regulations, domestic legislation and the international legal norms such as International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The training on awareness and prevention of GBV becomes progressively sophisticated up through the ranks with command responsibility a central theme, including at the lower levels of command. Moreover, with the assistance of UNFPA, an internal (but public) protocol was created to orientate on managing the prevention of GBV in armed conflict. See 

In 2011, the Ministry, in partnership with UNFPA published their training manual on the prevention of sexual violence and protection of women and international humanitarian law. The accessibility of this training document demonstrated good practice for democratic governance in a society that counts on a strong gender movement and on a very critical civil society supporting women’s and victims’ rights.

Since 2008, the Colombian Military have reported a sharp decrease in external complaints against their personnel in operations. The reduction in the number of complaints made against the armed forces is one of the Ministry’s key indicators that the comprehensive policy is having a positive impact.  The Ministry has also reported building a number of partnerships with various NGOs and representatives from minority communities such as indigenous groups to participate in their training programs. This outreach for external partnerships is a positive step towards strengthening a culture of democratic governance.

Lessons Identified

In spite of progress being documented by the MoD via their statistics on human rights complaints, it is important to highlight that in the case of the military forces, it is the same institution that monitors and processes the complaints made against them. The Colombian military has offices and accessible communication lines open to the public throughout the country established as a result of Directive 25 (2008). This includes the establishment of a human rights complaints office in each military unit and a national toll free number for human rights complaints.

However, the manner in which the military processes complaints made against them is not yet a fully transparent process. This implies that the number of complaints registered and made public by the Colombian military may not reflect reality, including in cases of allegations of GBV. This in turn may impact how the military are converting lessons identified stemming from allegations of human rights and IHL violations against them into didactical human rights and IHL training material.

As a result, the UN has been advocating that the MoD ensure their complaints system has connectivity with civilian agencies on these issues and to make public the claims reported to each division commander or regional police chief through periodic television appearances.

The openness showed by the Colombian MoD should be recognised as a positive model, especially considering that armed confrontations between armed actors continue and mistrust between the military forces and civil society has deep roots. Since then, the MoD has learned to better cooperate with different actors on accountability and use the resulting partnership to become more effective operationally.  

Selected Resources

  1. Política en derechos sexuales y reproductivos, equidad y violencia basada en género, salud sexual y reproductiva, con énfasis en VIH
  2. Prevención de la violencia sexual protección de la mujer y derecho internacional humanitario
  3. Protocolo para la fuerza pública en el manejo de la violencia sexual con énfasis en la violencia sexual con ocasión del conflicto armado
Case Study

Gender Mainstreaming Case Example: ISSAT Evaluation of the UNDP Rule of Law Programme in Colombia

In 2018, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Rule of Law, Justice, Security and Human Rights Unit requested ISSAT’s support to conduct an evaluation of their Colombia Country Programme on Rule of Law and Human Rights for Sustaining Peace and Fostering Development. The objectives of ISSAT’s evaluation were threefold:

  1. To analyse and understand the extent to which Global Program efforts improved Country Program implementation of RoL projects,
  2. To assess the extent to which RoL was integrated into the Country Program, and
  3. To build evidence for a flexible guide for developing good practice monitoring.

ISSAT’s methodological approach explicitly focused on identifying the strategic rationale and effects achieved by the UNDP. This focus on outcomes was specifically designed to identify and evaluate how the program was able to contribute to concrete changes in security and justice conditions. This included documenting the extent to which gender equality was mainstreamed into the RoL interventions supported by UNDP. The information gathered was structured according to the OECD-DAC evaluation criteria with specific emphasis placed on the core areas of Relevance, Effectiveness/Impact, Efficiency and Sustainability. The evaluation found UNDP’s will to systematically promote gender equality, the allocation of resources to improving technical and strategic capacity to be highly effective in fulfilling its institutional commitment to promote gender equality. Activities that support this finding are two Gender Equality Seal processes that the country office went through, appointment of a national expert at the strategic planning level, appointing several gender focal points to ensure a wide institutional reach and development of a gender strategic plan and a corresponding action plan.

Gender equality and empowering women was included as a crosscutting issue in the inception report and evaluation methodology that ISSAT submitted to UNDP/Colombia. To understand the extent to which gender equality has been mainstreamed, the evaluation drew inspiration from UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, the OECD’s Gender Equality Policy Marker (GEPM), and the “Women, Peace and Security” framework. In order to reconcile these frameworks for evaluation purposes, the methodology sought specific information on UNDP’s efforts towards:

  1. Gender parity: the representation of women and girls for their meaningful participation in the targeted programme or intervention. The evaluation reported increased gender parity in UNDP supported projects.
  2. Gender equality: equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. The evaluation has found that the UNDP’s added value is recognised by partners in promoting gender equality.
  3. Gender mainstreaming: the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action. The appointment of a national expert and several gender focal points point out to concrete steps in the implementation of the gender strategic plan. 

Main Takeaways

In recent years, UNDP Colombia has invested significantly in their internal capacity to assist national partners in promoting gender equality in the application of RoL. This includes UNDP Colombia undergoing two Gender Equality Seal processes. The UNDP Gender Equality Seal Programme is aimed at closing persistent gender gaps in the workplace where UNDP provides government partners with tools, guidance and specific assessment criteria to ensure successful implementation and certification. 

In addition, UNDP Colombia has appointed a national expert to advice at the strategic planning level and has appointed several gender focal points to ensure a wide institutional reach. The expert team led a revision of the gender equality portfolio and captured the gender mainstreaming of the country office in practice.

Last but not least, UNDP Colombia has developed its gender strategic plan through a consultation process with women’s civil society networks and a corresponding action plan. As a result, the information available for the evaluation enabled for a quality baseline from which to triangulate information using the methodology proposed. Normally, such information is challenging to obtain in both quality and quantity.

ISSAT had incorporated gender parity, equality and mainstreaming as a cross cutting issue in its evaluation methodology from the start. A systematic approach was used during the desk-review phase as well as in the design of the semi-structured questionnaires and group discussions conducted during the field-research phase. It was also duly taken into consideration when identifying the interviewees and participants in the group-discussions.

To have a member of the evaluation team with the pertinent knowledge, expertise and commitment to this methodological approach was a key factor for the consistency in the application of the gender methodology and analysis. It also worked as a catalyst of the knowledge and experience of the other team members.


  • The adoption of non-discrimination as a norm, as done by UNDP, can contribute to the inclusion of vulnerable groups including ethnic minorities, women and children in defining programme objectives and priorities, thereby leading to improved gender equality through behavioural change in both the implementing institution and target audience.
  • Using a Human Rights Based and gender sensitive lens for evaluations can increase commitment and concrete actions to facilitate the implementation of human rights and gender equality standards.
  • Outcome-level reporting which also includes the collection and presentation of gender disaggregated data can demonstrate trends and gaps in achieving gender equality and lead to a better analysis of needs which in turn could improve gender sensitive programming.
  • The inclusion of gender parity, equality and mainstreaming as a cross cutting issues should be systematised across all evaluations and added to the methodology - in order to ensure gender aspects are evaluated in a holistic manner and that their linkages to other programme objectives are systematically established.
  • Including a gender expert as a team member was of significant value. It not only ensured the inclusion of a gender dimension throughout the mandate, but also succeeded in enhancing the focus on and awareness of gender issues among both team members, the mandating organisation and national counterparts who were engaged in the mandate.

Case study published in July 2019. 

Case Study

Policy and Research Papers

Human Rights Based Approach to SSR

The UN characterises a HRBA as a “conceptual framework that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights”. Similar to the UN’s HRBA Common Understanding, the European Commission’s rights-based approach (RBA) integrates human rights principles and standards into all aspects of the programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In these rights-based conceptual frameworks, participation, local empowerment, national ownership meaningful inclusion and accountability are central elements to their implementation.

This ISSAT Research Paper explores how a HRBA helps us to get started on the right path to doing things right in SSR. 


Other Documents

Interpreting International Norms for a More Impactful Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) in SSR


How can a system-wide guidance tool grounded in international human rights norms and standards strengthen the holistic approach inherent to SSR? This second paper from the HRBA Working Group from ISSAT’s Methodology Cell explores international human rights norms and standards with jurisprudence set by the ECHR, IACHR and UN international instruments.

Read Paper 1: Rethinking a Human Rights-based Approach to SSR

For further information on the Working Group's research, please refer to the Rethinking a Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) in Security Sector Reform blog

Other Document

Decentralisation of Security Governance: Facilitator of a Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) to SSR?

The UN Common Understanding of a HRBA among UN Agencies (2003) was designed to provide guidance to UN mandates on incorporating human rights standards, norms and principles into all programming support components. The third paper from the HRBA Working Group from ISSAT’s Methodology Cell highlights the need for further study on Decentralisation of Security Governance (DSG) by providing brief examples of how Local Security Councils (LSCs), mechanisms of DSG, can help turn the principles of inclusivity, local ownership, accountability and participation into actionable outcomes in line with a HRBA.

Read Paper 1: Rethinking a Human Rights-based Approach to SSR

 & Paper 2: Interpreting International Norms for a More Impactful Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) in SSR

For further information on the Working Group's research, please refer to the Rethinking a Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) in Security Sector Reform blog

Other Document

Rethinking a Human Rights-based Approach to SSR


This is the first of the three Working Papers by ISSAT's Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) Working Group that examine the common linkages between the impact and sustainability of SSR projects and the application of a HRBA as defined by the EU and UN. Working Paper 1 sets the base for the rest by presenting the state of SSR and describing how a HRBA can be reinforced.

For further information on the Working Group's research, please refer to the Rethinking a Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) in Security Sector Reform blog

Read the next in the series - Paper 2: Interpreting International Norms for a more Impactful Human Rights-based Approach (HRBA) in SSR

Other Document

Developing a Theory of Change for Justice and Security Sector Reform in Honduras

ISSAT and Swedepeace had a standing engagement in Honduras since 2013 providing technical assistance to the Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation (SDC) and their partners in civil society Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Secretary of Security of Honduras (SEDS). The Swiss JSSR Team supported the SEDS in their strategic planning by training on and applying a theory of change (ToC). The ToC process was a timely tool for this exercise, as it provided an opportunity to internally reflect on their current planning process and how it will impact externally. The process also allowed for a common understanding for base line to be developed as well as the definition of a desired end-state.

Kindly find the mandate report attached. 

For more information on the mandate Backstopping Support to SDC Honduras (2016-18), kindly follow the link. 

Other Document

Monitoring ISSAT’s Commitment to Gender Equality - Pilot Report 2017

In 2018, ISSAT initiated a pilot case-study to demonstrate its commitment to gender equality during the 2017 reporting cycle. The purpose of the pilot report and the case study is to develop a model for internal monitoring of ISSAT’s gender-sensitive approach that would enable senior management to quality control our commitment to gender equality as well as select the most emblematic case studies for internal learning, public dissemination and reporting.

For ISSAT's report on Gender and SSR 2016, kindly follow the link. 

Other Document