Colombia: State does nothing as social leaders are exterminated

A placard reads 'Not one more death' in a protest against the killing of social activists, in Bogota, Colombia, on July 6.

Colombia’s authorities seem unable or uninterested in curbing the wholesale slaughter of the country’s social leaders that has occurred since a peace process came into force, with nine leaders being murdered in the last week of June alone.

The violence is threatening Colombia’s peace process that not only sought the demobilisation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but also the increased political inclusion of the left and minorities in general.

Human rights defenders have always been the target of far-right death squads defending the interests of drug traffickers and land and business owners.

However, the demobilisation of the FARC, which effectively policed many parts of rural Colombia until mid-2016, seems to have worsened this age-old practice where the law often only exists in theory.

According to the Colombia-based Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz), 123 social leaders were assassinated in the first half of 2018. This is more than in the same period in 2016 when the FARC was still under arms.

More than 311 social leaders have been killed since the peace accords were signed in November 2016.

The murders in the last week of June all took place in former FARC territory. Many of them took place in areas where coca cultivation is rife.

However, not all the murders can be attributed to drug traffickers trying to prevent farmers from removing their coca crops to make the transition to the legal economy.

The owners of land that was stolen during the war sometimes use deadly force to prevent returning properties to their rightful owners.

Indepaz reported on July 6 that more than 80% of the assassinations carried out this year were due to economic disputes over “land, territory and natural resources.”

Despite efforts, the military and police have grossly failed to assume control over regions previously controlled by the FARC, triggering a wave of violence in which all kinds of disputes appear to be settled with deadly force.

Moreover, Colombia’s inspector general said on July 11 that criminal organisations are working with the police and the military to assassinate community leaders and human rights defenders.

According to Inspector General Fernando Carrillo, “state agents are co-opted by criminal organisations that are eliminating social leaders.”

Colombia’s security forces have a decades-long history of working with death squads and regional economic elites.

[Compiled from Colombia Reports.]

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