186 Social Leaders Assassinated in Colombia Since 2016

Members of the right-wing paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia inspect a bus/Photo: EFE
186 Social Leaders Assassinated in Colombia Since 2016

Over 500 threats against human rights defenders were also registered.

Nearly 200 social leaders have been murdered in Colombia since the beginning of 2016, raising alarm over the safety of activists and the status of the peace accords.

Carlos Alfonso Negret, the Human Rights Ombudsman of Colombia, announced Thursday that the number of assassinations of social leaders has risen to 186 — 52 of which occurred in 2017.

Five of these assassinations were targeted killings of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a trend Negret worries could put in jeopardy the historic peace agreement signed between the FARC and the Colombian government.

“Civil society and the state have to work so that this does not keep happening because if we have reached peace with a group like the FARC we must look for spaces of reconciliation before there is truth and reparation,” he said.

His comments come a day after the FARC announced another member had been murdered. Juan Fernando Amaya was in the process of reintegrating into civilian life after being granted amnesty in December. He is the sixth FARC member to be killed in three months.

The spike in violence has been linked to growing paramilitary activity in areas that the FARC have traditionally controlled.

“There is a pattern here relative to where the killings are occurring. FARC’s leaving these areas has really complicated the lives of (human rights) leaders,” said Todd Howland, the representative of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights in Colombia in March.

But the Colombian government has denied the existence of paramilitary groups and insisted the violence is isolated. This comes despite the escalating death toll and threats against human rights defenders.

In May, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym AGC — one of the offspring of the notorious right-wing paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia  — released a pamphlet promising a violent campaign of torture and death against “human rights organizations, unions, land activists, defenders of FARC and ELN prisoners.”

The United Nations has indicated the “worrying” pattern of violence could threaten to derail the peace process.

“We are deeply worried about the violence against (community) leaders and human rights defenders. The persistence of this violence puts at risk the common goal of peace in the country,” said Martin Santiago, U.N. coordinator in Colombia in March.


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