Human Rights Watch on Monday urged Colombia to effectively protect community activists and social leaders who have been subjected to death threats and assassinations amid the country’s peace process.
“Peace and rights are unlikely to flourish if abuses dissuade rights defenders from playing their indispensable role,” HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said in a statement.
According to conflict monitoring NGO Indepaz, 116 social leaders were assassinated in 2016. As of late March, Somos Defensores, one of Colombia’s leading groups reporting abuses against activists, confirmed that 20 community leaders have been killed since the beginning of 2017.
HRW also urged the Colombian Government to increase and improve investigations into the suspected culprits in these killings.
“Delays in investigating some cases have meant persistent uncertainty about who the killers are,” HRW said.
In early March 2017, prosecution sources revealed that Colombia had made 56 arrests in investigations into the killings of community leaders and rights activists that have taken place since the beginning of 2016.
Only four of these suspects were convicted, reported newspaper El Tiempo, confirming Colombia’s almost absolute impunity rate.
Following the FARC’s abandonment of traditional guerrilla territory and the military’s alleged slow and inefficient attempts to assume state control, other armed groups have increased activity in many of these areas, especially where illegal mining and drug trafficking are profitable.
According to the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Colombia, more than 60% of the killings took place in areas where FARC previously had a military presence.