So far in 2020, the number of social leaders who have died amounts to 17, being there more murders than days of the year.
Person holding sign with names of leaders killed in Colombia. / Photo: REUTERS - Luisa Gonzalez
LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez
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Leer en español: Colombia: hay más líderes sociales asesinados que días del año 2020
The Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz) published the first official issues on social leaders and human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2020. By January 13, the day the information was published, 17 people had already been killed throughout the country. Thus having more murders than days elapsed during the year.
The murder of social leaders and human rights defenders has become a systematic fact especially since 2016, after the signing of the Peace Agreement. The lack of state presence and poor protection in rural and less favored communities in the country have become the perfect scenario for criminal gangs, paramilitary groups and guerrillas to take the lives of community leaders fighting for different issues such as protect their lands or the environment, among others.
2019 was one of the most dangerous years for social leaders and also for former FARC combatants, said a report published by the UN. This year it closed with 86 social leaders killed, which meant an alarming figure according to the UN Mission in Colombia.
As if that were not enough, and considering that 2019 was a violent and vulnerable year for these people, 2020 seems to be worse. By the end of January last year, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo said there had been 11 murders of social leaders. However, just the first 15 days of the month, in 2020 there have already been 17.
The situation for social leaders seems to be getting worse and the numbers of murders are greater than the days that have passed. As of January 15, there have been 17 dead social leaders, and a signatory to the peace agreement in Cauca, Benjamin Banguera González, may be added to the list too, as he was the first to die this year, on January 1.
According to the report published by the United Nations Mission in Colombia to end 2019, the places where killings of social leaders occur most are the departments of Cauca and Antioquia. By 2020, according to Indepaz, the murders have occurred five in Cauca, five in Putumayo, two in Antioquia, two in Huila, one in Chocó, one in Cesar and one in Norte de Santander.
The murders usually follow the same pattern, several men intercept the social leader and he dies after bullet impacts. In some cases, there are previous threats, in others, there aren't. Beyond that, nobody knows with certainty who they are and the Government has not been able to clarify with certainty the facts of each one of the murders (so much of this as of the years before).
The Government presented its 2019 security report earlier this year, where President Duque said that the killings of social leaders decreased in 2019 by almost 25 percent. The number did not please the entry, because only in the last week of the year that ended, at least 8 social leaders were killed. Now, with these new numbers in just a few days of the new year, the president's response seems not to verify the events that occur daily.
Likewise, in that report presentation, the Government declared that the main causes of the murders have to do with drug trafficking, illegal mining extraction and organized armed groups, as well as affirming that the Prosecutor's Office is making a greater effort to clarify the facts.
However, organizations such as Indepaz and the United Nations have called for the need for more efforts to know the truth, as they called on the Government to protect not only the leaders but the entire communities.
"La paz no se logrará plenamente mientras las valientes voces de líderes sociales sigan siendo silenciadas por la violencia, y mientras excombatientes que dejaron las armas y están comprometidos con su reincorporación sigan siendo asesinados." #UNSC— Carlos Ruiz Massieu (@CGRuizMassieu) January 13, 2020
Camilo González, director of Indepaz, said on W Radio that "there is an indication of persecution for being committed to peace agreements in the territory." And he also spoke of the need to start a dialogue with the communities in order to clarify the facts, in addition to the imminent need to protect these leaders of vulnerable communities.