Colombia’s President Ivan Duque has announced a new strategy to curb the mass killing of social leaders that allegedly spiked after he took office in August.
International bodies and the United Nations have urged Colombia to step up its efforts in protecting activists who are being murdered with frightening frequency.
More than 416 leaders have been assassinated in Colombia since a peace process with the FARC guerrilla group was signed in December 2016, according to latest figures by the conflict monitoring NGO Indepaz.
Duque on Monday signed a decree to curb these assassinations, just months after signing a “Pact for Life” in August, months after another strategy to end the bloodshed of civilians had been coined by his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos.
Along with the armed forces, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Comptroller’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office will work together by going into the territories hit hardest by the violence from December 1.
The decree states that the government will “provide support and protection to those human rights defenders in the context of their work” with a Plan of Timely Action (PTA) to prevent murders by spotting warning signs, such as threats against activists.
The new strategy is virtually the same as that of of Santos.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez said along with mayors and governors of the most troubled areas that they will “generate collective and individual prevention protocols,” similar to protocols established by the Santos administration.
Numerous NGOs and the country’s own ombudsman have said that there are indications that state officials may be colluding with criminal groups to carry out the executions.
Whether or not the action plan will solve the problem will remain to be seen. Protests urging President Duque to do more have taken place all over the country and even abroad.
“All Colombians must reject any form of violence in the country and it is inadmissible that they continue to present threats against leaders,” Duque said.
Violence in Colombia has increased since last year – particularly with the killing of social leaders.
Figures show that at least 125 have been killed this year alone, prompting the country’s ombudsman to describe it as an “extermination.”
Regions with the highest number of killings, such as the rural parts of the Cauca, Antioquia and Choco provinces, are those where the state has traditionally been absent and where armed groups are filling the void left by the FARC who disarmed and became a political party last year.
Anti-corruption campaigners, representatives of coca-growing communities, rights defenders are all being targeted by mafias or far-right paramilitary groups.
According to the country’s prosecution, even some in Colombia’s private sector are using death squads to assassinate victims of displacement who seek the return of stolen land.