Colombian society took to the streets last weekend to demand an end to the killings and an investigation into the murders of more than 311 social leaders since January
“After months of continuous protests by hundreds of activists and organizations against the unpunished murders of social, community, ethnic and rural leaders, the situation is still out of control. Español”
Colombian society, following the death of up to 7 community leaders in less than a week, took to the streets last weekend to demand, with a massive velatón (candlelight vigil), an end to the killings and an investigation into the murders of more than 311 social leaders since January 2016.
We offer 5 key elements to understand these disgraceful occurrences:
1 – Constant uncertainty: nearly 40% of the murderers are unknown and practically no investigation has managed to clarify any of these cases or punish the perpetrator. Some patterns exist which lead us to believe that these are in fact systematic killings – which is something that the government refuses to acknowledge – occurring mostly in the Cauca Nariño region, Norte de Santander and Valle del Cauca, areas historically marked by the armed conflict.
2 – This is not a new phenomenon: for several decades, systematic violence in Colombia has taken the form of this type of action against human rights defenders as a way to persecute and put an end to social movements of the left. Cases such as the genocide of thousands of members of the Patriotic Union in the eighties and nineties are useful to understand that the current murders have some disturbing precedents.
3 – The peace agreement appears to be the main driver: several organizations have denounced that one of the aims of these murders is to prevent the advance of post-conflict implementation in the regions mentioned above. It appears that the forces established in these areas of the country are reluctant to allow any advance of peace that would jeopardize their monopoly of the territory by unidentified armed groups.
4 – The threats are continuous: many of the murdered leaders had been warned and had even reported their cases to the authorities, who could not (or did not want to) guarantee their effective protection. This year, more than 30 human rights defenders have already been killed and the protocols of the authorities are still apparently unable to guarantee that the murders will not keep on occurring. Their impunity is clearly an incentive to continue the massacre.
5 – Society reacts to the slain leaders: a broad and diverse part of society has shown its willingness to react, take to the streets and mobilize social media with the campaign #NosEstánMatando, demanding justice and demonstrating its rejection of this systematic violence. Thousands of people rallied in Bogota during this last weekend, and the mobilization spread to several cities in the country showing that this is a matter that has harmed both Colombians and the world.
The new Colombian president Iván Duque’s inauguration is due to take place in less than a month. Beyond the demand of due investigation and justice, it is essential that he should listen to citizens and set up specific government measures to ensure his administration will not allow this disgrace to continue. Otherwise, he will end up endorsing criminal impunity and endangering the credibility of his mandate from the very first day.
DemocraciaAbierta es la plataforma global que publica en español, portugués e inglés voces de América Latina y más allá, y las conecta con el debate global de openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta
DemocraciaAberta é a plataforma global publicado em vozes espanhol, português e inglês da América Latina e além, e se conecta ao debate global na openDemocracy. Twitter: @demoAbierta
DemocraciaAbierta is the global platform that publishes in Spanish, Portuguese and English voices from Latin America and beyond, and connects them with the openDemocracy global debate. Twitter: @demoAbierta
This article was originally published in la sección latina of the independent online magazine openDemocracy
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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos pins a peace dove on FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez after they signed a peace accord as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat in a plaza outside the Cartagena Indias Convention Center in Cartagena, Colombia, on September 26, 2016, while attending a peace ceremony between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that ended a five-decade conflict.
By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.