UN reports killings of activists in midst of peace process

News from Colombia | on: Friday, 17 March 2017

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has released its latest report on the human rights situation in Colombia, detailing the huge challenges facing the country in the midst of the peace process. While it praised the advances towards peace and the human rights guarantees included in the peace deal, the report stated that the peace agreement must be diligently implemented to combat structural human rights abuses in the country.

Attacks against and killings of human rights defenders is one of the major concerns highlighted in the report. The UN stated that 127 killings were reported in 2016. Just under half of these (59) were human rights leaders, with the rest being trade unionists and members of social and political organisations. The report detailed 389 attacks in total, including threats, forced disappearance, sexual violence, amongst others. The areas of the country with the highest assassination rates of social leaders were Cauca, Antioquia, Norte de Santander and Córdoba.

The majority of killings occurred in areas previously controlled by the FARC. The withdrawal of the FARC has increased the risk of violence for the communities in those areas. Illegal economic activities have increased, state authorities are not protecting the local population and numerous armed groups are competing for territorial control. Violence in these areas is also being facilitated by poverty, marginalisation and a lack of opportunities.

UN representative Todd Howland stated: "There is a pattern here relative to where the killings are occurring. It is a really important moment to consolidate the implementation of the accords."

Forced displacement has not ended in Colombia despite the peace process. The UN also stated that 47 emergencies as a result of mass displacement occurred in 2016, with 13,864 people affected.

The report criticised the failure to finish the special reinsertion zones in time, stating that this has created an atmosphere of distrust and put FARC members in a vulnerable position.

The report also raises some concerns about the peace accord itself, in particular the legal framework applicable to members of the police and armed forces who have committed human rights abuses. The UN stated that this does not comply with international human rights standards on superior and command responsibility.

The UN furthermore criticised the ongoing refusal in some sectors to recognise that state agents committed human rights violations. The report documented six cases of arbitrary detention of civilians by state agents in 2016 and the worrying involvement of members of the armed forces in citizen security, which should be the jurisdiction of the police. The report also criticised the failure to advance in the fight against impunity in relation to forced disappearances committed by armed forces in the past.

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