Community Leader Murders Endangers Peace in Colombia

By Sinikka Tarvainen, (dpa)


HAVANA TIMES – Colombian civil society activists are facing mounting violence despite the 2016 peace deal and the coronavirus pandemic. At least 415 of them killed in less than five years, the International Crisis Group said on Tuesday.

Hundreds more have been harassed or forcibly displaced since 2016, according to the report.

The Colombian watchdog Indepaz gives higher figures. They put the number of slain community leaders and human rights activists at about 1,000. All of these since the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016.

Local activists, commonly referred to as social leaders, are the “most ardent backers” of the peace deal with the guerrilla movement FARC, which ended a 52-year conflict, the Crisis Group said.

The agreement led to the demobilization of 7,000 fighters, but FARC dissidents, the guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), paramilitary and criminal gangs remain active.

Who commits the murders?

Figures kept by prosecutors suggest that 59% of murders are attributable to identifiable armed groups. Some 39% to unknown individuals or bands, and 2 per cent to military officers, according to the report.

The pandemic has exacerbated insecurity for social leaders. Armed groups have exploited movement restrictions to consolidate control, the Crisis Group said.

Competing armed groups often “regard social leaders as obstacles to illicit business – notably, coca production and cocaine trafficking – or their plans to coerce communities’ allegiance,” state the report.

“Other murders point to the role of shadowy interests in the state, local business or the armed forces,” it added.

President Ivan Duque’s government provides protection schemes to nearly 5,000 social leaders at risk. Furthermore, it uses military force against armed groups, the Crisis Group said.

However, the forced eradication of coca plants and military operations may actually worsen conditions for leaders, according to the report.

“No armed group in Colombia is now powerful enough to battle the state militarily; when their interests are threatened, these outfits retaliate against local civilians – and particularly leaders who vocally oppose their sway,” the Crisis Group said.

Attacks against civil society leaders “weaken the 2016 accord and its base of popular support, exposing the state’s grave difficulties in protecting communities from vested interests with violent designs,” according to the report.

“The government has yet to properly diagnose the socio-economic ills that underpin these attacks,” the Crisis Group said, encouraging Duque to fully implement rural reforms foreseen in the peace agreement.

The NGO International Crisis Group describes itself as working to prevent war and promote peace.

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