84 human rights leaders were killed in Colombia last year
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The United Nations said Friday that 84 human rights activists were killed in Colombia last year as the country struggles to contain violence following a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Analysts say the peace deal has led to an overall decrease in homicide rates. But in a report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said activists and social leaders are still being targeted by drug traffickers, right wing death squads and smaller rebel groups.
The report said the FARC’s withdrawal from some remote areas of Colombia has set off fierce competition among criminal groups to gain control of the former guerrillas’ assets, including drug trafficking routes and fields of coca used to make cocaine.
Human rights activists have been caught up in this new power struggle.
“Several of the victims were apparently killed due to their support for policies derived from the (peace) agreement, such as the substitution of illegal crops and integral rural reform,” the report said.
The U.N. agency called on the Colombian government to provide greater presence in rural areas and develop programs that will lure local farmers away from illegal crops. It also urged Colombia to prosecute those who attack rights activists.
“While significant progress has been made by the Office of the Attorney General to identify the material authors of the crimes, in most cases the intellectual authors have not been identified,” the report said.
It also said 36 former FARC members were killed last year and urged Colombia to improve efforts to protect former rebels and facilitate their transition into civilian life.
The report said Colombia has struggled to provide the 7,000 former FARC fighters with adequate health, education and job opportunities, adding that may have led some ex-rebels to join criminal groups.
“Successful reintegration is key to prevent ex combatants from engaging in illegal activities,” the report said.
The U.N. agency also criticized Colombia’s drug policy, saying forcible eradication of illegal coca crops has led to violent clashes between farmers and police. In October, seven farmers were killed in the impoverished district of Tumaco as they tried to stop soldiers from eradicating coca plants. The incident is under investigation.
The report said some communities in isolated parts of the country were promised crop substitution programs, but were then subjected to forced eradication. This “contradictory messaging” has pushed some villages into the sphere of influence of criminal groups, it said.