Colombian government puts killings of activists in 2020 at under a quarter of UN figure

The Colombian government has said that 13 social activists were murdered between 1 January and 10 April of this year. The figure is far less than the 56 cases between 1 January and 24 March about which the United Nations says it has received information. The UN figures were announced in the latest quarterly report released by its Verification Mission in Colombia. Human rights organisation Somos Defensores puts the number of killings at 62.

With regards to the discrepancies between the government’s figures and other sources, the Interior Minister, Alicia Arango, said ‘not all are social leaders and not all were killed for being social leaders’. She acknowledged that violence against activists and communities has continued during the coronavirus pandemic.

Government figures for killings in 2019 are also far lower than those provided elsewhere: according to Arango, 29 social activists were murdered between 1 January and 4 November 2019. The UN found that at least 86 killings were committed last year, while Colombian human rights organisations have registered well over 100 cases.

Since taking office in August 2018, the government of Iván Duque has faced criticism over its alleged downplaying of the extent of violence against activists and communities in various regions, particularly those affected by high levels of structural poverty and state abandonment. Authorities have often attributed killings to personal feuds and illegal activity.

The UN has also expressed concern over the state’s ‘insufficient’ response to the human rights crisis, citing the fact that the National Commission on Security Guarantees, which is responsible for dismantling criminal groups believed to be behind much of the violence, met only twice last year. In addition to killings, vulnerable communities continue to suffer forced displacement, extortion or forced confinement.