Murders of Colombia activists fell in first half, but violence persists -ombudsman

by Reuters
Wednesday, 25 August 2021 17:31 GMT

People hold a long banner bearing the names of killed social leaders during a protest against the killing of social activists, in Bogota, Colombia, July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Image Caption and Rights Information

President Ivan Duque has vowed to pursue those responsible, blaming leftist rebels and crime gangs fighting for control of drug trafficking routes and illegal mining areas

By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Murders of human rights and community activists in Colombia were down to 78 in the first half of the year, the country's human rights ombudsman said on Wednesday, but the attacks persist.

The killing of activists is a top problem for the Andean country, with President Ivan Duque vowing he will not rest in the fight against those responsible amid criticism little concrete action has been taken.

"Though there was a decrease in the quantity of homicides, from 90 in the first half of 2020 to 78 in the same period of 2021, I regret that murders and threats against our leaders, principally because of criminal actions by illegal armed groups, continue to occur," ombudsman Carlos Camargo said.

"As a state we must redouble our efforts and take all necessary measures to guarantee the integrity and the lives of social and community leaders and defenders of human rights," Camargo added, citing a report from his office.

The provinces of Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Narino and Choco recorded the most killings of activists between January and June, the report showed. All have armed groups present, cultivation of coca and illegal mining.

Colombia's nearly six-decade conflict between the government, leftist rebels and crime gangs descended from right-wing paramilitary groups has killed 260,000 people and displaced millions.

The leftist National Liberation Army rebels, former members of the FARC rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal and crime gangs like the Clan del Golfo - who are fighting for control of drug trafficking routes and illegal mining areas - are responsible for activist killings, Duque has said.

The ombudsman says 182 activists were killed in 2020, an increase from 134 the year before. Human rights groups, who maintain their own counts, say the figure is higher.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Nick Macfie)