Colombia: 181 social leaders murdered in 2023

The Colombian Ombudsman's Office (Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia, DPC) reported Jan. 9 that 181 social leaders and human rights defenders were murdered in 2023. The DPC, in its "Annual report on the killings of social leaders and human rights defenders," counted 160 men and 21 women among the victims. The ombudsman, Carlos Camargo Assis, stated: "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% decrease in cases compared to 2022, with 34 fewer deaths, the DPC remains concerned about the ongoing risks faced by those operating in regions affected by internal armed conflicts. The most affected social sectors include indigenous groups, peasants, Afro-descendants, SOGID*-LGBTIQ+ individuals, and the human rights community. Notably, three departments—Cauca, Antioquia, and Nariño—accounted for 41% of the cases, with Cauca being the most affected at 36 cases.

Camargo Assis called for intensified efforts to protect human rights defenders, urging state entities to implement public policies focused on prevention and guarantees for at-risk individuals. He further issuesd a collective appeal to the security forces, civil society organizations, the international community, and citizens to collaborate in ensuring the safety and respect for human rights workers. "Let us work together and tirelessly to protect leaders and human rights defenders," he said. "Only together can we build a future in which defending rights is safe and respected."

The Defensoría del Pueblo operates within the Public Prosecutor's Office. Established under the 1991 Constitution and 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 DPC recorded a total of 1,294 leaders murdered in the country.

From Jurist, Jan. 10. Used with permission.

* sexual orientation and gender identity-diverse

See our last report on the campaign of assassination in Colombia.