Colombia: The rise in attacks against human rights defenders is the main challenge in implementing the Peace Agreement

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In a country in transition towards peace, violence against people who defend human rights cannot be allowed to continue

Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in November 2016, there has been an increase in threats against and killings of human rights activists in Colombia, including people in social leadership positions. The limited measures taken by the Colombian state have so far failed to mitigate the risks facing those who defend the rights of victims of the internal armed conflict, human rights linked to land, and collective rights. This disheartening situation is largely the result of the power vacuums left following the demobilization of the FARC guerrilla movement and the lack of action by the state to increase its presence in historically neglected territories which were weakened by the armed conflict.

Despite some regulatory progress to create mechanisms to protect rights defenders in Colombia, alarming reports of killings in different regions of the country keep coming in day after day. This demonstrates that the state needs to strengthen its prevention policy, beyond simply creating legislation that has no impact in the short term.

The incomplete state figures regarding this violence are insufficient to understand the causes of the rise in targeted killings. This information vacuum limits the possibility for the state to take measures to guarantee the rights of human rights defenders. The only up-to-date official figures are those published in the risk reports of the Colombian Ombudsman, which has reiterated the widespread nature of the violence against human rights activists. According to its reports, between 1 January 2017 and 27 February 2018, 148 killings were reported, mainly concentrated in the departments of Cauca, Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Nariño and Valle del Cauca.

Amnesty International regrets that the response from the highest levels of government to these widespread killings and threats has been to deny that the victims are being targeted due to their leadership positions and work defending human rights, thus failing to curb the patterns of violence that have intensified since the Peace Agreement was signed. Given this state of affairs, the starting point should be for the government as a whole to acknowledge the violence that persists against those who defend the public interest and human rights.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned that in some areas, such as Urabá in the north of Chocó Department, this violence against defenders of land, territory and the environment is a recycled dynamic from two decades ago when paramilitary groups acted with total impunity to dispossess settlers of their land and territories in favour of economic interests. Even though targeted killings and threats against land and territory defenders have increased in this region of the country, there has been no comprehensive response from the state.