Colombia suffering “endemic impunity” for mass killing of social leaders: UN

A boy commemorates a social leader who was assassinated in Medellin's 13th district. (Image: Francois Luxembourg)

The United Nations urged Colombia to make a “significant effort” to end the “endemic impunity” enjoyed by those behind the mass killing of the country’s social leaders.

A press release by the United Nations’ Office for human rights OHCHR on Friday is a proverbial slap in the face of Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez who praised “the efficiency of justice” in Colombia last month.

The chief prosecutor, who has been submerged in corruption allegations, also claimed his office’s results in the investigations of attacks on human rights defenders and social leaders were “unprecedented in the history of criminal investigations in Colombia.”

Government ignoring alert system put in place to prevent killing of social leaders

But according to OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville, the Prosecutor General’s Office has yet to make a “significant effort” to tackle the “endemic impunity” enjoyed by those who are sowing terror in Colombia, particularly on the countryside.

According to Colville, Martinez has taken “some positive actions,” but nearly not enough to curb the “terrible trend” of killing human rights defenders and community leaders.

Despite some positive actions by the Office of the Prosecutor General, we urge the State to make sure all killings, attacks and threats are properly investigated and the perpetrators – including those directing them, as well as those carrying them out – are brought to justice.

OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville

The OHCHR official urged state institutions “to redouble their efforts to expand and strengthen efforts to safeguard a free and secure environment for civic engagement.”

According to OHCHR spokeswoman Marta Hurado said on Twitter that “in just the first four months of this year, a total of 51 alleged killings of human rights defenders have been reported.”

2018 was one of the worst years for Colombia’s social leaders, and 2019 is already exponentially worse

“The number of violent attacks may increase even further” ahead of local and regional elections that are held in Colombia in October, warned Colville, echoing concerns of electoral observers and other social organizations.

The OHCHR spokesman said that his office is “closely following up” on allegations made by civil society groups, who asked the International Criminal Court to open criminal investigations over the apparent failing of Colombia’s justice system last month.

According to think tank Somos Defensores, human rights defenders and community leaders suffered more than 800 attacks last year. This organization warned that violence increase another 66% in the first quarter of 2019.

Violence against social leaders has been going up since a 2016 peace deal between the government and former guerrilla group FARC, which effectively controlled one third of Colombia until their demobilization and disarmament in 2017.

President Ivan Duque has been an outspoken opponent of the peace process and has defunded elements of the peace deal, including programs that would improve security in the countryside, and particularly for rural community leaders.

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