Killings of social activists rose by 88 per cent in first quarter of this year

Killings of social activists rose by 88 per cent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2019, according to Colombian human rights organisation Somos Defensores (We are Defenders). While 25 activists were murdered in the period January-March 2019, this year the figure rose to 47.

Somos Defensores warned the figure could be even higher as the COVID-19 pandemic had impeded monitoring in some zones. Documented acts of aggression, such as threats, attacks and displacements, fell overall from 245 to 197. While last year, there were eight cases of forced disappearance, none were recorded in the first quarter of 2020. One factor in the fall in agressions, however, could be that these aggressions have escalated to killings of the same people.

The regions worst affected are Cauca, which saw nine killings during January-March, followed by Putumayo (eight) and Antioquia (six). Nationwide, 42 men and five women were killed. Indigenous and peasant farmer leaders were highly targeted.

45 per cent of cases of aggressions were attributed to paramilitaries, with security forces responsible in seven per cent. The perpetrators remain unidentified in 37 per cent of cases.

Other Colombian human rights organisations have also reported a sharp increase in killings this year. INDEPAZ documented 114 killings between the start of January and end of May.

In its last report on the Colombian peace process, the United Nations Verification Mission said that ensuring security was the main priority for consolidating peace in the country. It also called on the government to convene more regularly the National Commission for Security Guarantees which was created in the peace agreement to target and dismantle paramilitary groups. Despite the widespread human rights crisis, the Commission has met only a handful of times.