BOGOTÁ (HPD) — Colombia continues to be a dangerous country for social leaders. Between January and September, 157 human rights defenders were murdered, the state Ombudsman’s Office revealed on Friday.
This is an increase in homicides compared to the same period in 2021, when 109 cases were registered. The violence was concentrated, according to the entity, against community and indigenous leaders, with 83 cases, and to a lesser extent on peasants, trade unionists, Afro-descendants and the LGBTI community.
“I make a new call to the illegal armed groups to respect the life and integrity of their leaders. All kinds of actions must cease as true signs of peace that the country demands,” said Carlos Camargo, the Ombudsman.
President Gustavo Petro, who took office in August, intends to open dialogues with different illegal armed actors with his ambitious policy of “total peace” to reduce violence in the country. In September, the government announced that various armed groups such as the Clan del Golfo had decreed a unilateral ceasefire as a sign of their desire for peace.
Camilo González Posso, president of the Institute for Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz), explained to The Associated Press that despite the fact that the government has begun rapprochement with some structures, there are local gangs or smaller groups that act on their own.
Indepaz monitoring gives a lower number of victims so far this year with 151 cases. However, he agrees with the Ombudsman that 2022 has been a more violent year than the previous one for social leaders.
The increase in the number of murdered human rights defenders shows, according to González Posso, that the problem of violence in Colombia goes far beyond high-impact armed groups and that there are still underlying problems such as the dispute over control of the territory, drug trafficking and illegal mining.
81% of the homicides occurred in municipalities where the Ombudsman’s Office has issued early warnings —documents addressed to the State to request immediate action—. Nariño, bordering Ecuador, accumulated 23 homicides, followed by Cauca, to the southwest, with 19, and Putumayo, in the south, with 15 more.
The UN warned in a report presented in July that between 2016 and 2021, 562 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia.
In recent years, the transitory tranquility that the territories experienced after the signing of a peace agreement in 2016 between the State and the extinct guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was broken. The other armed groups expanded especially in territories where the former guerrillas operated.