Colombian Congressman Guillermo Rivera proposed government officials give up their bodyguards so they can protect threatened land rights leaders instead, reported Radio Caracol Friday.
Rivera suggested before the House of Representatives that all government officials with more than two bodyguards on their security detail follow his example and give one up. His proposal comes three days after Manuel Ruiz, a land restitution leader in the department of Choco, was found dead after having been tortured. His 15-year-old son was with him when he went missing, and is also thought to be dead.
According to papers seen by magazine Semana, Ruiz had unsuccessfully requested government protection three times since last year. According to official figures, at least 17 land rights leaders have been killed since the government began its policy of land restitution in 2010. Some NGOs estimate that the number is actually as high as 49.
“I invite all government employees that enjoy protection schemes of the National Police or the National Agency for Protection of State to give up at least one member of their security scheme,” said Rivera.
Colombia’s new Victims Law, which came into effect at the beginning of this year pledging to compensate victims of human rights abuses and restore stolen land, guarantees protection services to land restitution leaders — but the government has so far failed to fulfil this promise. Just 60 of the country’s 235 land restitution leaders currently have protection details, said Rivera.
According to the congressman, approximately 9,000 government officials have more than two people on their protection team and could afford to spare one. Many of these officials also enjoy increased security in cities whereas most land rights leaders are more vulnerable in isolated rural areas.
In his statement, Rivera also urged the Prosecutor General’s Office to accelerate the investigations into the 17 official cases in which a land rights leader was assassinated.
“It must be a priority to move quickly and deliver research results of the perpetrators, but also the instigators of these crimes. Not only are those who fired their weapons responsible but also the people with obscure interests and criminals behind them,” said Rivera.