A surge in violence against rights activists and community leaders in Colombia has prompted 37 US Congressmen to ask Secretary of State John Kerry to act quickly to help stop the political violence.
In a letter to Kerry, Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and three dozen other Democratic Congressmen urged the Secretary of State to send Ambassador Kevin Whitaker to the most affected areas in Colombia, among other actions, including providing “protection so that [social leaders} may continue exercising their invaluable leadership and work.”
Just days ago, one of Colombia’s largest peasant organizations, Cumbre Agraria, reported that 94 of its regional leaders have been assassinated so far this year, a 49% increase compared to the same period last year.
Earlier this month, the United Nations expressed its concern over the increase in killings of rights and community leaders. Its Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 57 assassinations of social leaders and 35 additional attempted assassinations in the first 11 months of 2016.
And the Marcha Patriotica, a grouping of leftist social organizations, said late last month that 70 of its members have been murdered this year, while another 232 received death threats.
All this adds up to the largest wave of violence since Juan Manuel Santos became president in 2010.
In an especially alarming statement, the UN noted that that “the methods of the killings and assassination attempts show a high level of sophistication to conceal the intellectual authors.”
Three-quarters of the victims worked in rural areas, the UN said.
The letter from Rep. McGovern and others said: “We write to express our greatest sense of urgency and extreme concern regarding the escalation of murders, threats and attacks against Colombian human rights defenders, trade unionists, LGBT and women activists, land rights advocates, and community, campesino, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders.”
We urge you to press and work with the Colombian government to publicly condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms, increase and expand mechanisms designed to prevent such attacks from being carried out, and provide defenders and social leaders protection so that they may continue exercising their invaluable leadership and work. Such actions must be done repeatedly and consistently, in all regions and at all levels of government. We also strongly recommend that protection measures be designed in close consultation with vulnerable communities, individuals and organizations in order to strengthen their effectiveness.
The administration of outgoing President Barack Obama has long supported the peace process and preceding peace talks in the South American country.