Colombia has made 56 arrests in investigations into the killings of 133 community leaders and rights activists that have taken place since the beginning of 2016. Assassins of four leaders have been convicted, prosecution sources told newspaper El Tiempo.
A court delivered the first verdict in the killing of an activist in 2016 for defending human rights, according to the source close to the investigations.
Prosecutors were able to prove that William Castillo Chima was killed because he defended families in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia, against threats from paramilitary group Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a dissident faction of the now-defunct AUC paramilitary umbrella group.
According to conflict monitoring NGO Indepaz, 116 social leaders were assassinated in 2016. Colombia Reports has counted another 17 so far this year.
In addition to the four convictions, 56 people were arrested and 73 are being investigated in connection to the murders of human rights defenders and community leaders.
Seven people are set to stand trial, according to El Tiempo.
To curb the paramilitary violence that has plagued Colombia since the 1980s, President Juan Manuel Santos in February created the National Security Guarantees Commission, whose purpose is to make sure that no criminal groups threaten the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC.
The commission should also take actions against the groups responsible for murders of people involved in the peace process.
Apart from the FARC, paramilitary groups like the AGC and “Los Puntilleros” as well as the smaller guerrilla group ELN are still carrying out political violence. Small FARC dissidents fronts have also formed.
The paramilitary and drug trafficking organizations accused of the spike in assassinations are trying to take over the criminal rackets left abandoned by the FARC after an initial peace deal closed in September last year.
Due to a slow response by the authorities to assume control and impose state authority in these areas, a power vacuum was created in the generally remote FARC areas, attracting all types of violence and even combat between illegal armed groups.