At least 215 social or trade union leaders and campaigners for Human Rights were murdered in 2022 in Colombiawith the number breaking records since statistics on crimes of this nature began to be kept in 2016, the Ombudsman announced yesterday Monday.
“It’s not just about numbers: we have to think about the 215 families that were severely affected, and the communities that found themselves without any defender of their rights,” said Ombudsman Carlos Camargo in a video distributed to the press.
In total, 1,113 social activists have been killed since Colombia signed a 2016 peace deal with the former FARC rebel group, according to the public human rights watchdog.
“In 2016 there were 133 murders, in 2017 the number reached 126, in 2018 the record was 178, in 2019 the number was 134, in 2020 it reached 182 and in 2021 there were 145 deaths,” the Ombudsman’s office clarified in the press release that made public.
Among the people murdered last year were 47 indigenous rights defenders, 18 farmers or community leaders and 8 trade unionists. The regions where the heaviest casualties were recorded were Narinio (35), Cauca (26), Antioquia (22) and Putumayo (22). These are areas through which drug trafficking routes pass through the state with the largest cocaine production on the planet.
In the more than half century of civil war that continues to bleed Colombia, the murders of social activists are an ever-recurring phenomenon. According to local collectives and NGOs, behind these murders are rebels, drug traffickers, but also people of the state.
Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president — he took office in August 2022 — is trying to find a negotiated solution to end the multifaceted armed conflict involving a myriad of armed organizations, more or less known, less or more politicized, however very often involved in the trafficking of drugs and other illegal items.
Since the beginning of the year, a ceasefire has been in place between government forces, FARC dissidents (who reject the 2016 peace deal and have taken up arms again), members of the Clan del Golfo (the country’s largest drug-trafficking gang) and far-right paramilitary groups.
Mr. Petros’s government is simultaneously conducting peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN, Guevarists), officially the last rebel organization that continues the armed struggle in Colombia.
“We hope that the talks with the ELN and the bilateral ceasefire with the other illegal armed organizations will also lead to a reduction in attacks against social leaders,” commented Mr. Camargo.
Colombia is among the most dangerous countries in the world for activists, defenders of human rights and the environment, according to the international NGO Global Witness.
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