Colombia: UN protests slaying of rights activists

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern in a Jan. 14 statement over the killings of human rights defenders in Colombia last year. The statement said the commission is "deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019." The commission asserted that there were between 107 and 120 killings of rights activists in Colombia over the course of the year. It called on the "Colombian Government to make a strenuous effort to prevent attacks on people defending fundamental rights, to investigate each and every case and to prosecute those responsible for these violations, including instigating or aiding and abetting violations."

The statement did acknowledge some government efforts to address the problem, such as the convening of a National Commission on Security Guarantees, but urged that "much more needs to be done."

"This vicious and endemic cycle of violence and impunity must stop," said Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the high commissioner. (Jurist, Jan. 16; The Guardian, Jan. 14)

In the ongoing wave of assassination of social activists in Colombia, leaders of the demobilized FARC guerillas have been especially targeted. On Jan. 12,  the Colombian National Police announced that they had foiled an attempt to assassinate FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, better known as Timochenko. Gen. Oscar Atehortua, director of the National Police, told reporters that officers acting on a tip intercepted the two paid assassins near a farm where Timochenko was staying on the border of the departments of Quindio and Valle del Cauca. (BBC News, Jan. 12)

Among the more prominent figures targeted for assassination last year was renowned environmental activist and Goldman Prize winner Francia Márquez, who survived an attack on a meeting of Afro-Colombian rights defenders by unknown gunmen. The attack came during a meeting of prominent rights activists on a farm in Santander de Quilichao municipality, Cauca department, on May 4. Two government-assigned bodyguards were wounded when an unknown number of armed men tried to push in. The activists were discussing agreements made between the government and Afro-Colombian communities following a massive land rights protest the previous month. (Mongabay, May 9)

The protest campaign was part of a "minga" that brought indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities together across several regions of the country to demand land restitution, with key highways blocked for days. The departments of Huila and Tolima were heavily affected as well as Cauca. (El Tiempo, March 28)