Four social leaders, including 16-year-old, murdered across Colombia

Several social leaders have been murdered in recent days, including a 16-year-old boy in Medellin, as the horrific violence against community and political organisers across the country shows no sign of abating.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights became the most recent international body to express alarm over the human rights crisis in Colombia, releasing a statement on 19 July which urged ‘the Colombian State to take urgent measures to protect human rights defenders in the country, and to diligently investigate cases bearing in mind victims’ activities in defense of human rights’.

On Friday 20 July, Colombia’s independence day, two people were murdered. José Osvaldo Taquez was shot dead in Orito, department of Putumayo, after he left a community meeting on voluntary removal of illicit crops, one of the core elements of the 2016 peace agreement. For the last two years José Osvaldo, who was 51 years old and president of the Community Action Council in the village of El Remolino, had coordinated local programmes around replacing coca plantations with traditional and legal crops.

According to local residents, armed groups had made threats towards those in the vicinity working on crop substitution. José Osvaldo had recently expressed alarm over the safety of local residents. In Orito, around 3,000 families are enrolled on voluntary crop substitution programmes, with Putumayo one of the regions most affected by neoliberal reforms that decimated small-scale agriculture and left coca farming as the only means of economic survival for many rural populations.

On the same day as José Osvaldo’s murder, Horacio Triana Parra was killed in Otanche, department of Boyacá, where he was president of the local Community Action Council. Horacio had been closely involved in organising environmental campaigns to protect the Serranía de las Quinchas national park, which has been affected by oil spills.

On Saturday 21 July, 16-year-old Kevin León was killed in the Comuna 7 neighbourhood of Medellin. Kevin headed a young people’s peace workshop called the Heroes of Love. Two unidentified men on a motorbike shot him as he was going to his English class. Local residents marched the following day to protest Kevin’s murder and demand justice for his family.

Om Monday 23 July, Libardo Moreno was killed in Villacolombia, department of Valle del Cauca. Like José Osvaldo Taquez and Horacio Triana Parra, he was president of his local Community Action Council, in this case in the village of Las Pilas. His murder came days after pamphlets which threatened at least ten residents were distributed anonymously in the area.

According to Colombia’s national Ombudsman, between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2018, 311 social leaders were murdered in the country. Several killings have taken place since then, with Colombian authorities doing little to protect those involved in political or community organising.