Human rights defenders promoting land restitution are to be given greater protection, the Colombian government announced in a statement Wednesday.
The National Protection Unit, the government agency in charge of providing security for threatened people, will approve protection services for another 80 land restitution leaders by the end of March, in addition to the 45 leaders who have already been approved.
Interior Minister Vargas Lleras announced that this number would increase even further. “Between this month and next [we] will raise to 175 the number of people and leaders of restitution programs who shall have the best security conditions,” he said.
Colombian human rights defenders and land restitution leaders have long been targeted by illegal armed groups, and their assassination rate has increased significantly since Juan Manuel Santos took office. There is fierce opposition to his policies aiming to restore land to the country’s millions of displaced people — according to a report from the non-governmental United States Office on Colombia at least 20 land restitution activists were killed between Santos taking office in August 2010 and October last year.
Lleras’ announcement came on the same day that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a report illustrating the disturbingly dangerous position of human rights defenders in Colombia and particularly for land restitution leaders.
The report cited data which indicated that between 2002 and 2011 at least 45 members of displaced communities seeking land were murdered in Colombia. The IACHR report also expressed concern that beneficiaries of the government protection program must repeatedly demonstrate “proof of risk” in order to receive protective services.