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Colombia ombudsman’s office reports 181 activist murders in 2023

The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office (DPC) reported Tuesday that 181 social leaders and human rights defenders were murdered in 2023. The figure dropped 16 percent from the data reported for 2022.

The ombudsman’s office, in its “Annual report on the killings of social leaders and human rights defenders,” highlighted the alarming situation faced by individuals dedicated to promoting and safeguarding the rights of communities. As per the report, a total of 181 leaders and human rights defenders were murdered in the country in 2023, with 160 men and 21 women among the victims. The Ombudsman, Carlos Camargo Assis, condemned the situation and added, “It is an unacceptable situation that every two days last year, on average, a social leader or human rights defender was murdered in Colombia. Every life lost is a tragedy for their families, for the communities and for the defense of fundamental rights in the country”.

While the report acknowledges a 16 percent decrease in cases compared to 2022, with 34 fewer deaths, the Ombudsman remains concerned about the ongoing risks faced by those operating in regions affected by internal armed conflicts. The most affected social sectors include the community, indigenous groups, peasants, Afro-descendants, victims, SOGID-LGBTIQ+ individuals, and human rights activists. The report reveals that April, June, and July experienced the highest number of murders, with 19, 18, and 18 cases, respectively. Notably, three departments—Cauca, Antioquia, and Nariño—accounted for 41% of the cases, with Cauca being the most affected with 36 cases.

Carlos Camargo Assis calls for intensified efforts to protect human rights defenders, urging state entities to implement public plans and policies focused on prevention and guarantees for these individuals. Furthermore, the Ombudsman issues a collective appeal to national entities, security forces, civil society organizations, the international community, and citizens to collaborate in ensuring the safety and respect for human rights defenders. The Ombudsman concludes, “Let us work together and tirelessly to protect leaders and human rights defenders. Only together can we build a future in which defending rights is safe and respected.”

Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office (DPC) is a key entity defending and promoting human rights. It addresses illegal actions by authorities or individuals, operating within the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Established under the 1991 Constitution, it focuses on human rights education and implementing international agreements. Regulated by Decree 025 of 2014 and Legislative Act 02 of 2015, its mission includes safeguarding rights and contributing to a just society. Over the past eight years (2016-2023), the Ombudsman’s Office recorded a total of 1,294 leaders murdered in the country.

Serious human rights concerns persist in Colombia, with challenges such as abuses by armed groups, limited access to justice and high poverty levels, especially affecting Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Despite the 2016 peace accord between the government and the leftist guerilla group FARC, violence continues. Issues like security force abuses, displacement, and economic disparities persist. The government generally investigates these issues, but delays are common. Armed groups, including former guerrillas and drug traffickers, contribute to human rights abuses, with the government addressing and prosecuting such actions.