A Colombian human rights defender was shot dead in the northern department of Sucre on Wednesday, in what appears to be another attack on activists working to protect the rights of displaced populations forced off their land by right-wing paramilitaries.
NGO worker Rogelio Martinez, who was 51 years old, was traveling in a moto-taxi in the northern Caribbean town of San Onofre, where he lived, when he was pulled from the vehicle by “five or six hooded men” and shot dead, reports El Nuevo Heraldo.
According to police Colonel Hugo Javier Agudelo, no arrests have been made or motives identified, but human rights groups across Colombia claim that Martinez, due to his work in trying to reclaim land taken from peasant farmers, had been receiving death threats since December 2008.
Martinez had returned to the town of San Onofre in 2008 to live with 52 displaced families, who were trying to reclaim a 556 hectare ranch known as “La Alemania,” according to the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace and the NGO CODHES.
According to CODHES, Martinez’s death raises the number of displaced leaders killed since 2002 to 34.
On Thursday, Colombia’s vice president condemned the murder of Martinez in a press release on his website, offering condolences to the victim’s family and friends, and vowed to capture those responsible.
Right-wing paramilitary groups have been known to threaten NGOs and human rights workers.
On Tuesday, a U.S.-based NGO alleged that they and 80 other Colombian NGOs received death threats from the paramilitary group “Aguilas Negras.”
In April, CODHES reported that they and 60 other NGOs, senators, and human rights activists received death threats from the paramilitary group “Los Rastrojos.”