In Colombia, over 300 activists and social leaders of indigenous communities have been assassinated since peace accords were signed in 2016 between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The peace accords saw to the demobilization and disarmament of FARC, the absence of which created a so-called power vacuum.
The killings are taking place in territories previously policed by FARC. “The territories FARC controlled are left with no authorities,” said Emily Wright, co-director of They’re Killing Us, a documentary film by The Atlantic detailing routine assassinations in Columbia. “The Colombian state never had a presence in many of those areas. And so in Cauca [in the Colombian countryside] alone, there are a reported 12 different armed groups now operating, mainly as narco-trafficking organizations.”
Since my arrival in Colombia in late June, nine social leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated, according to crime analysis website Analisis Urbano. In 2018, 83 percent of the people killed were related to the defense of natural resources and territories.
According to Colombia Reports, Inspector General Fernando Carrillo addressed the issue, saying, “What we have here is land thieves who are killing land rights leaders,” while calling on “mayors and governors to assume responsibility for the defense of the life and integrity of social leaders, and secondly to citizens to help us investigate…whether state officials at any territorial level and law enforcement agents are involved in the murders of social leaders.”
The most recent killing was of Luis Barrios, an activist of the Democratic Center Party in Palmar de Varela where he was gunned down by two men on a motorbike in the region of Caribbean Atlantico Department. Santa Felicinda Santamaría, a local community leader from Quibido—the capital of Choco—was murdered on July 3.
“With Felicinda Santamaría, there are already 38 leaders of the communal actions that have been murdered in the course of 2018,” said Gutiérrez Ospina, former president of the Committee of the National Council of Peace, Reconciliation and Coexistence.
In response to public outcry, Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera said, “We are beginning to implement a collective protection model for social leaders.” Jaime Gutierrez, a Risaralda community leader and one of the leaders critical of government response, said, “We are taken aback by the silence of the National Government in the face of this problem that we leaders live day after day.”
Analisis Urbano, which has been tracking the killings, stated in Colombia Reports, “The state is not acting decisively to stop this indolent bloodshed…It does not protect these activists, nor does it investigate, let alone search for those responsible for the killers.”
State officials, paramilitary forces, armed groups, FARC dissident groups and drug traffickers are among the accused behind the systematic killings. According to Indepaz, an NGO monitoring political violence in Colombia, government security forces are behind the assassinations of at least 10 of the social leaders killed in 2018. The mass killings not only pose a threat to indigenous leaders but also to the ongoing peace negotiations with FARC.