UN envoy urges Colombia to act quickly to protect leaders

Published by Star Tribune

The new U.N. envoy for Colombia urged the government on Wednesday to swiftly implement its plan to protect social leaders, saying seven leaders were killed in just the first week of January.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu told the Security Council that there have also been 31 attacks since Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report was published earlier this month.

According to the Colombian attorney general’s investigations, three-quarters of the killings are from attacks by “criminal and armed groups” on leaders of “local action boards” and indigenous communities and those active in land reclamation and voluntary crop substitution programs, he said.

Massieu urged the government to not only quickly implement its plan to protect leaders but to ensure the state’s presence in the 10 areas where the killings have taken place.

Since Colombia’s government and the main rebel group, known as the FARC, signed a peace deal in 2016, a total of 87 members of the FARC have also been killed, Massieu said. He said this underscores the need for effective security for new settlements outside the training and reintegration areas where former combatants were initially sent and “where the vast majority of these killings have taken place.”

“The security of communities, leaders and FARC members are ultimately tied to the ability of the state to establish an integrated security and civilian presence in conflict-affected areas,” he said.

What is urgently required, Massieu said, is translating into effective action the government’s “Peace with Legality” plan, which provides a roadmap for security.

He also urged that the consensus of Colombians who rejected violence following the Jan. 17 bombing at the General Santander Police Academy that killed 21 people and injured dozens “continue to be nurtured.” The National Liberation Army, the largest rebel group still fighting the government, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes told the council that the country’s congress is discussing projects related to implementing the “Peace with Legality” plan. He said 20 collective projects and 29 individual projects have been approved, generating income totaling $3.7 million, which will benefit 1,340 former FARC combatants.

Holmes said the government condemns the killings of social leaders, human rights defenders and former FARC members.

Colombia is taking measures to step up protection, including ahead of regional and local elections Oct. 27 that the FARC political party will take part in for the first time, and to provide “the most vulnerable communities and the victims and former combatants” with more security and better access to public services and goods, Holmes said.

He said the government shares Guterres’ assessment that reducing violence and insecurity is “linked to fighting illegal economic activity, especially drug trafficking.”