BOGOTA – At least 555 social leaders were killed in Colombia between Jan. 1, 2016 and Oct. 31, 2019, according to the Ombudsman’s Office on Tuesday, with 15 more cases from November and December still being verified.
“There are at least 555 homicides in the last four years that left a deep wound in the human rights and democracy of Colombia,” said Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret in a statement published on the social media networks of the organization.
Last year, 118 social leaders were killed, 99 of them men and 19 women, Negret said, adding that “we are talking about the lives that were willing to support the nation-building process.”
“These 118 cases join 133 cases in 2016… In 2017 there were 126 cases (108 men and 18 women) and in 2018 (there were) 178 cases involving 166 men and 12 women,” he said.
The ombudsman also expressed concern over the violence against women human rights defenders and social leaders by stressing that although there was a “slight downward trend in the overall figure between 2018 and 2019,” in the case of women there was an “exponential increase.”
He said that the number of women leaders and defenders killed between 2018 and 2019 increased from 12 to 19, with a cut-off date of Oct. 31, an increase of 63 percent.
In that regard, he regretted the situation in the department of Putumayo at the border between Ecuador and Peru, “where they are putting pressure on women who are leading projects such as the voluntary substitution of (illegal) crops and who have opposed the use of armed violence in their territories.”
He urged state authorities, including the Ombudsman’s Office, to act with “speed and diligence” to curb the violence.
“The solution can also be found in society, which must recognize the work of social leaders and human rights defenders, protecting them without stigmatizing them. In this way we can advance towards the ideal of a State with strong institutions and a civil society with rights to promote the interests of its communities,” Negret said.
The figure of the Ombudsman’s Office of 118 leaders killed in 2019 was close to the figure reported by the United Nations Office for Human Rights, which said on Tuesday in Geneva that there were 107.
“According to our records, 107 activists were killed last year, and our staff in Colombia are still in the process of verifying 13 additional cases reported during 2019 which, if confirmed, would raise the annual total to 120 killings,” said a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Marta Hurtado.
Social organizations have reported that in the first 14 days of 2020, 19 social leaders were killed, while the UN placed the figure at 10.
Negret commented that “we have a complex beginning of the year, the violent actors are taking advantage of the transition of local and departmental administrations to send out a message of power.”