Colombian activist murders reach record levels in 2022: Ombudsman
The country's human rights ombudsman reported that more than 200 social leaders and human rights activists perished in Colombia last year as armed gangs contending for control of drug trafficking routes upped their attacks.
According to a statement made by Carlos Camargo on Monday, 215 social leaders and human rights advocates were assassinated in 2022. This phrase is also used to refer to community, land, and environmental leaders.
It was higher than the previous record-high death toll of 182 in 2020 and 145 in 2021.
According to the ombudsman, "it has a major impact on the foundation of democracy because these are leaders who take up the problems of the people, who serve as spokespersons, and who strive for a nation where human rights are protected."
The statistics come as Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who took office in August, has worked to implement a "complete peace" strategy in an effort to end the country's long-running armed conflict, which claimed the lives of more than 450,000 people between 1985 and 2018.
In 2016, Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel organization struck a peace accord that caused the group's members to disarm. However, some FARC dissidents rejected the agreement and re-upped arms.
Recent years have seen an increase in violence in Colombia, particularly in regions that are not under the control of the government and where armed organizations are engaged in drug trafficking and other illegal operations. Last year, there were approximately 100 massacres, according to the INDEPAZ research institute.
According to Juan Pappier, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, the killings in some places of Colombia are related to "conflict among the different groups and claims that the social leaders are working for the other party," he told Al Jazeera in July of last year.
"In other regions of Colombia, people are being slain because they support plans to replace cocaine crops with food, which obviously might harm the illicit economy of these same groups, or because they support efforts to reclaim land that was taken during the armed war," he said.
Concern has also been expressed by Amnesty International regarding the killings of social leaders in Colombia.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, the organization's director for the Americas, stated in a statement in February 2022 that "the protection of Indigenous, campesino, and Afro-descendant communities in Colombia is ineffective because it does not address the structural causes of violence and frequently occurs without the proper participation of those at risk."
In the nation regarded as the most hazardous in the world for safeguarding human rights, Guevara-Rosas stated, "Defenders of communities at risk are continually unprotected, and threats, attacks, and killings are constant."
There is optimism that Petro's advocacy of "complete peace" and readiness to bargain with unrecognized armed organizations may contribute to a decrease in violence.
Late last year, the government picked up peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest surviving armed organization in Colombia, in the neighboring Venezuela. Soon, a second round of negotiations is anticipated to take place in Mexico.
Along with two FARC dissident organizations, the criminal organization Clan del Golfo, paramilitaries in Colombia's Sierra Nevada area, and others, Bogota recently announced bilateral ceasefires with all of these groups.
The ombudsman, Camargo, stated on Monday, "We hope the beginning of discussions with the ELN and the ceasefire with other illegal armed groups would lead to decreased violence against social leaders and human rights advocates."
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