By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, May 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Colombia is working to prevent the killing of activists and tackle impunity, under mounting international pressure to stem the violence, a minister said on Thursday.
Despite a 2016 government peace accord that ended a half a century of civil war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), activists in the country are still in the firing line, with one gunned down every five days.
They are particularly at risk in regions vacated by rebel fighters following the peace accord, leaving a power vacuum that crime gangs have sought to fill, the United Nations has said.
"The government recognizes that the signing of the peace accord is not peace in itself but a necessary and definitive step towards building a more just and equal society," said Rodrigo Rivera, Colombia's interior minister.
"We are fighting against the impunity of homicides of human rights defenders," he told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday as it reviewed the country's right record.
The government has set up an elite police task force and investigation unit to dismantle criminal groups and investigate killings and attacks against activists, the minister said.
About 4,000 at-risk activists receive protection from the government, including bodyguards, bullet-proof vests and cars, Rivera said.
The government says 144 human rights campaigners were killed in 2016 and 2017 and 103 people have been arrested.
But local rights groups and watchdogs say the true number of dead is higher.
According to Colombia's human rights watchdog, 282 activists and community leaders have been murdered since 2016.
One of the latest victims was Hugo Albeiro George, an enviromental activist and father of 12 who had campaigned against a dam in central Colombia.
He was shot dead last week along with his 23-year-old nephew, local media reported.
The minister said the peace accord had led to a sharp decline in overall murders in Colombia, with 24 murders per 100,000 people in 2017 - the lowest rate in four decades.
Earlier this month, Colombian lawmakers asked the Americas' top human rights commission to call on the government to protect 445 at-risk activists.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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