Colombia’s National Ombudsman has revealed alarming new figures showing the scale of the country’s ongoing human rights crisis, with 92 social activists murdered in the first six months of 2023. Those targeted included leaders of peasant, indigenous and African-Colombian communities, trade unionists, LGBT activists and land defenders.
Although the government of Gustavo Petro, which took office last August, has taken important steps to advance peacebuilding and improve security, the findings demonstrate the high levels of insecurity that it is striving to overcome. The United Nations has repeatedly stated that full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and the signing of new agreements with armed groups is vital to strengthening human rights in Colombia. Alongside entering dialogue with armed groups, the Petro government has advanced implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, including the enactment of security mechanisms that were disregarded under the right-wing government of Iván Duque.
However, violence continues in regions that historically have seen high levels of conflict and state abandonment. In January-June 2023, Cauca saw the highest number of killings with 17, followed by Nariño and Antioquia with seven each. Other affected departments were Valle del Cauca and Córdoba (six cases each) and César and Bolívar (five cases).
The tally represents a reduction on the same period last year, when 114 killings were registered. However, as October’s regional elections draw closer and the government advances the peace process, there are serious concerns that violence against social activists could escalate in attempts to cause disruption.
The Ombudsman’s figures are higher than those presented by other institutions. According to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO, 82 social activists were killed in January-June, while Human Rights Watch has put the total at 77. The shocking situation emphasises the urgent need for continued international support to strengthen peacebuilding and human rights in Colombia.