BOGOTA – Colombia suffered 76 massacres resulting in 292 deaths last year, more than doubling the number in 2020 and the highest one-year total since 2014, according to a report from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented on Tuesday.
Though the Andean nation’s homicide rate declined slightly in 2020, from 25 to 23.7 murders for every 100,000 residents, the year saw an intensification of violence and an increase in “territorial and social control” exercised by criminals and other armed groups.
“Since 2018, the number of massacres has increased constantly,” the OHCHR representative in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, told a news conference in Bogota.
And 2021 is already on track to top 2020, with at least a dozen mass casualty events.
The 292 people slain last year in massacres included 23 women and 24 minors.
“The tendency of murders of (human rights) defenders is very concerning and the state has the capacity and possibility to adjust its policies to prevent these cases of violence,” De Rivero said.
Also among the fatalities were 73 former members of the FARC rebel group who laid down their arms under a 2016 peace agreement.
Last year’s bloodshed led to the displacement of more than 25,000 people and nearly 75,000 Colombians were effectively confined to their homes by the edicts of armed groups, above and beyond official lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The OHCHR received information regarding some 800 instances of threats or aggression directed at grassroots leaders along with 450 complaints about violations of the rights of journalists.
In two of those cases, the reporters were killed.
On Monday, the presidential counselor for human rights, Nancy Patricia Gutierrez, said that 66 grassroots leaders were slain last year and attributed those murders to drug traffickers and other criminal organizations.
“While the people responsible for the majority of these attacks and these murders are non-state armed groups or criminals, what is important is the duty of the state to protect these populations and these leaders, and I believe steps can be taken to improve the protection,” De Rivero said on Tuesday.
“We believe that 2021 is a year of great opportunities for Colombia,” she said, pointing to the expected release of a report from the truth commission created by the 2016 peace accord.
Colombia’s government and people will then have the chance to “receive, hear and know the truth delivered by the commission,” De Rivero said. “The present and future of the country to build a genuine reconciliation and full respect for human rights will depend on this capacity to understand the truth and take possession of it.”