BOGOTA – A total of 49 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia in 2011, a year in which individual attacks against those activists increased by 36 percent, a report from the non-governmental organization Somos Defensores says.
The document explains that the increase translated into 239 attacks, which included murders, threats, forced disappearances, assaults, arbitrary arrests, attacks in which injuries were inflicted and improper application of the penal system.
Diana Sanchez, a representative for the Asociacion Minga, one of the three NGOs that comprise Somos Defensores, said that 2011 was a year of “lights and darks,” given that while the number of attacks against rights defenders increased the government worked to provide greater protections for the activists.
Sanchez acknowledged the concern of the administration of Juan Manuel Santos with implementing the Victims and Restitution of Lands Law and guaranteeing human rights, but she emphasized the difficulty of doing so, given that Colombian institutions still do not hold complete sway in some parts of the country.
In the case of the northern provinces of Antioquia, Cordoba and Sucre, where 25 of the 49 murders occurred, Sanchez attributed that fact to the “high level of land disputes and paramilitarism” in the region.
“The national government has set its sights there on the Victims Law and there has been much pressure from landowners, ranchers, actors with a lot of real power who refuse to hand over lands that they violently usurped in the past,” Sanchez said.
The activist identified another tumultuous region on the southern border with Ecuador comprising the provinces of Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caqueta and Valle del Cauca, where violence against activists is due “to the heavy ... armed conflict” in that zone, which is a “rearguard area for the guerrillas.”
The report emphasizes that the main victims of the different attacks are Indians, above all members of the Nasa, Embera and Awa tribes, as well as people attempting to reclaim stolen lands and community leaders.
With regard to the attackers, she emphasized the role of “the paramilitaries,” referring to the criminal bands that are the reconstituted offshoots of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, paramilitary group, which demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
“The fact that 50 percent of the reported cases have the paramilitaries as the alleged perpetrators is an indication that they continue acting out from under (government) control,” the document said, adding that there had been an increase in the activities of those groups.
Somos Defensores also said that “the figures show the existing distance between the reality of the regions of Colombia and the effectiveness of the recent prevention and protection policies formulated by the authorities,” and the group demanded that the Attorney General’s Office make a greater commitment toward prosecuting cases involving attacks against rights defenders.
In comparing 2011 with prior years, Sanchez explained the differences, saying: “It’s not that there were no attacks earlier. On the contrary, what is happening is that there are two phenomena. The title of (human rights) defender has more meanings than that of exclusive NGO activist and besides there are more complaints,” Sanchez said.
In addition to the Asociacion Minga, the Colombian Commission of Judges (CCJ) and the NGO Benposta Nacion de Muchachos make up Somos Defensores.
The president of the CCJ, an entity that has consultative status with the United Nations, will present the conclusions of the report on Tuesday, March 6, before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.