Paramilitary groups are filling the vacuum left by the FARC, terrorizing the population
Besides pointing the finger at paramilitaries, the report also looked at how the government has failed to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
More human rights defenders lost their lives in Colombia in 2016 than any other year that President Juan Manuel Santos was in power, according to a new report, which partly attributes the violence to a rise in paramilitary presence following the peace process.
Despite the new motto, “Let peace not cost us our lives,” 80 human rights defenders — community leaders, organizers and lawyers defending Indigenous people, campesinos, Afro-Colombians, labor activists, victims’ groups, youth and LGBTI members, in descending order — lost their lives in 2016, reported the Program We Are Defenders, which complies figures every year.
The number represents a 22 percent rise since 2015, as assassination attempts rose by 29, “a violence against human rights defenders and social leaders that has worsened to levels not seen in 10 years,” the report stated. People related or close to defenders and leaders were not counted, but also deserve thorough investigation, said the report.
The count is conservative next to other figures as high as 125 murders, collected by political parties and social movements. Figures peaked in the third and final quarter of the year — the months following the plebiscite on the negotiated peace deal between the government and the FARC guerilla — and are mostly attributable to paramilitary groups, who accounted for two in three attacks and more than half of the killings.
“Defending human rights in Colombia has been, is and will continue to be without a doubt a fight, an eternal fight, against inequality, injustice and exclusion; and it is exactly these above situations that give foundation to an armed conflict that in 2016 began to see its end.”
Besides pointing the finger at paramilitaries, the report also looked at how the government has failed to protect its most vulnerable citizens. After paramilitaries and actors who could not be identified, the most common perpetrators were the armed forces, especially the Anti-Disturbance Squad that serve as riot police and national protection forces.
With such a high number of cases to handle, public prosecutors have devoted less resources and employed a less rigorous methodology in investigating cases, while armed forces take less precautions to prevent further violence. Although 13 percent of those assassinated had already reported a threat on their lives, none was offered help by the national protection forces.
Looking at the root of such violence, Program We Are Defenders wrote that the previous doctrine of national security “was the base of military thinking and brought with it stigmatization and criminalization of many sectors of social movements, accusing them of collaborating with insurgents. It doesn’t answer, either, to the imperative to ‘demilitarize’ the country, which has been demanded by defenders of human rights due to a high presence of armed forces in remote areas, making them the only authorities in said zones, leaving aside the responsibility of civil authorities in governing those territories.”
The government has taken important steps in advancing peace, said the report — such as opening dialogue with the National Liberation Army — but, with the defense minister denying the presence of paramilitary groups, it has a long way to go, the report concluded.