“The body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights doesn’t have a single peso to protect the people, and if we can’t protect the people, we can’t protect the peace process.” Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera, Defensor del Pueblo, (Ombudsman).
A new report entitled “Violence and Threats against Social Leaders and Human Rights Defenders,” by Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera, has documented the killing of 156 social leaders and human rights defenders in the last 14 months. In addition to the 156 killings, there have also been 5 disappearances, 33 attacks and over 500 instances of threats. According to the Ombudsman “one of the main causes of this phenomenon is the attempt by illegal armed groups to occupy the territory from which the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have withdrawn.”
Those at particular risk are members of afro-descendant and peasant communities in rural areas. as well as human rights defenders. The situation is further complicated by the activities of those elite groups opposed to the peace process, who object to land reform projects and who, in many cases, have links to paramilitary groups. A study carried out in 2011 found that 52% of the farm land in Colombia was owned by 1.15% of the population.
The department of Cauca, which has a high proportion of indigenous people, has been particularly affected, accounting for 30% of the killings. While the departments of Cauca, Cordoba, Antioquia and Norte de Santander all have high numbers of killings, the problem is widespread with killings taking place in 23 of the 32 departments of the country.
In an interview the Ombudsman said that the bodies responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights in Colombia didn’t have “a peso” to address the findings of the report and if they couldn’t defend the people, neither could they defend the peace process.
The Ombudsman called on the government to provide the resources necessary to confront the issue of killings, adding that, “the government must find a way to work hand in hand with civil society. …… Increased militarisation is not the solution. What is needed is a societal response, working from the ground up, so that there is a local institutional response to this issue. …..The first challenge would be to end the stigmatisation of HRDs and civil society leaders which creates the climate of impunity in which the killings can take place.”