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Colombia by far the world’s most dangerous country for human rights defenders: study

by Adriaan Alseman, for Colombia Reports

Colombia is by far the world’s most dangerous place for human rights defenders, according to Front Line Defenders, an international NGO that monitors violence targeting social leaders.

In its 2018 report, Front Line Defenders (FLD) said that 126 human rights defenders (HRDs) were killed in Colombia last year.

This is more than twice the HRD’s killed in Mexico, the second most dangerous country to defend human rights in the world.

FLD said that the Colombian numbers did not include December’s homicides, making it likely that the true number of killed human rights defenders is higher than reported.

The mass killing of HRDs in Colombia is part of a broader assassination wave that has been targeting all kinds of social activists.

The FLD slammed Colombia’s government for its chronic failures to implement a peace process with the FARC, in particular the elements related to victims and people living in areas that used to be controlled by the former guerrilla group.

Colombia has seen an increase in violence against HRDs since the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC-EP. Two years on, the State has failed to implement most of its obligations, such as establishing an integrated presence in the rural regions and implementing land restitution and crop substitution programs. This has led to a number of illegal armed groups fighting for control of the areas previously occupied by FARC-EP and the strengthening of illicit economies in the area.

Front Line Defenders

The international organization highlighted that in Colombia human rights defenders are also murdered when opposing economic interest, such as the controversial HidroItuango dam of Medellin energy EPM, whose predecessor has been accused of financing now-defunct paramilitary group AUC.

Ethnic minorities, such as indigenous leaders and leaders of African descend have been among the most targeted in Colombia like in the rest of the region.

According to FLD, the increase in violence in Colombia is also part of a regional trend that sees human rights defenders who criticize a sitting government are frequently stigmatized as “enemies of the state.”

While most of the methods used to silence, discredit and intimidate HRDs are not new, they have become more mainstream in recent years and have expanded to more countries. Criticism and stigmatization of defenders for their work has become acceptable and widespread in larger segments of society.