199 women activists, trade unionists and former guerrillas killed since late 2016

The extent of political violence against women social activists and women former guerrillas in the peace process has been detailed in new figures published by the Colombian human rights NGO, the Institute for Studies in Development and Peace (INDEPAZ).

Between the signing of Colombia’s historic peace agreement in November 2016 and 7 March 2023 – a period a little over six years – 188 women social activists and 11 former FARC guerrillas were murdered.

The most affected region was Cauca, which also leads the tally in overall killings of social activists. INDEPAZ registered 40 women activists murdered there during the period. Cauca also saw the highest number of women former guerrillas killed. Other badly affected regional departments were Nariño (23 murders of women activists), Antioquia (21), Valle del Cauca (11), Putumayo (10), Arauca (9) and Norte de Santander (8). Women activists were murdered in 26 of Colombia’s 32 departments.

With 40 murders, women indigenous leaders were worst affected, accounting for 32 per cent of total cases despite forming only around five per cent of the national population. Peasant leaders represented 20 per cent of victims and trade unionists 17 per cent. Among others targeted were conflict victims, environmental defenders, African-Colombian leaders and civic officials.

Several armed groups continue to compete over illegal economies such as drugs production and resource extraction in different regions, typically in zones that were conflict epicentres during decades of fighting. Disregard by Colombia’s previous government of Iván Duque towards the peace agreement has exacerbated the volatile situation in many parts of the country.

Following the peak of violence over 2018-2020, there has been a reduction in cases. But killings of women leaders continue, as the recent murders of two women, LGBTQ activist Shaina Vanessa Pretel and victims’ representative Rosa Elena Celix Guañarita, in separate attacks on 26 February demonstrate. On 2 January, trade unionist Mariela Reyes Montenegro, an organiser in the SINTRAEMDES trade union for public services workers, was killed in Cauca.

While the government of President Gustavo Petro has taken important steps to address the human rights crisis inherited from its predecessor, violence against activists and leaders has continued. The United Nations has welcomed Petro’s efforts to implement the 2016 peace agreement and open dialogue with active armed groups. But there remain many challenges to activists being able to organise in safety.