One social activist murdered on average every 18 hours in 2020

Colombia has witnessed an extremely violent start to 2020, with more than one social activist murdered on average each day during the first two weeks of the year, according to a national NGO. The Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ) said that 17 social activists had died between the start of the year and 13 January.

According to the NGO, the most violent regions are Cauca and Putumayo, which have both seen five murders so far this year, while there were two in both Huila and Antioquia and one each in César, Norte de Santander and Chocó. The violence is concentrated in the same regions which have been worst-affected since the peace agreement was signed between the government and the FARC in November 2016.

The violence represents an escalation in killings of social activists compared with 2019’s average of four per week that saw more than 200 victims. So far this year, a murder of a social activist has been committed on average every 18 hours.

In a statement to the United Nations Security Council on 8 January, the Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, said that violence against social activists is the largest threat to peace in Colombia and that full implementation of the 2016 agreement is vital to tackling the human rights catastrophe impacting communities in different parts of the country. Much of the violence has been attributed to armed groups competing to control illicit economies and territory, as well as the government’s failure to enact adequate security measures.

Several social media posts have listed the victims. Overall, more than 600 social activists have been killed since the peace agreement was signed.