Colombia: 766 Human rights defenders killed since 1994

The recent Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia expressed concern at the fact that despite an overall decline in general levels of violence, the number of killings of human rights defenders and community leaders has actually increased, with 127 such killings reported in 2016.

The report warns that armed groups are occupying drug territories as the nation’s largest rebel group starts demobilising. The killings have stirred fears that the Colombian government has failed to swiftly fill the vacuum left in remote regions where coca production has sky rocketed and illegal armed groups are now battling for control. Two-thirds of the human rights defenders killed were assassinated by people affiliated with criminal organisations, and most worked in rural areas where the state has traditionally had little presence.

The government of Colombia continues to maintain the position that the violence is sporadic rather than systematic and denies that the violence is linked to paramilitary activity. However, according to U.N. representative Todd Howland “There is a pattern here relative to where the killings are occurring… . It is a really important moment to consolidate the implementation of the accords”.

What the media reports have not highlighted is that, as noted in the report, the Attorney General’s office has itself compiled a list of 766 human rights defenders killed since 1994. “OHCHR takes note of the progress achieved by the Attorney General in the context of dialogue between the Government and civil society known as the National Roundtable on Guarantees, in identifying cases of killings of human rights defenders since 1994. Of the 766 cases identified to date, the Office of the Attorney General must still locate 193 cases in its registry following changes in its information management systems since 2004″.

This startling statistic underlines the consistent failure of Colombian governments to take effective action to protect HRDs. The Peace Accords present the government with a historic opportunity to address this issue. The credibility of the government’s commitment to the peace process will depend on what action it takes.

Front Line Defenders believes however that even this figure is a significant underestimate.