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163 Community Leaders Murdered in Colombia in 2023


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163 community leaders murdered in Colombia in 2023 – Credit: Humano Salvaje / CC BY-SA 4.0

The number of community leaders murdered in Colombia between January and November 2023 totals 163, according to the Ombudsman’s Office. This high death toll confirms that crimes against human rights defenders in the country have not ceased this year, although there has been a certain decrease compared to last year’s record figures, when 215 murders were reported. The report explains that these homicides coincide with areas of the country where the main illegal armed groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), FARC dissidents and the paramilitaries of the Clan del Golfo, are active.

It should be recalled that the Colombian State is negotiating with two of these criminal groups in order to extend the Total Peace initiative and reduce violence in these territories. Violence affects mainly 8 departments where 66% of homicides are concentrated, Cauca being the region where most crimes have been committed.

Where the State does not reach

The reality of this situation is that where there is no effective state control, illegal armed groups impose their law. Rural areas in the departments of Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, Córdoba, Bolívar, Norte de Santander and Putumayo are where most of these unfortunate events have occurred.

With the peace of 2016, which succeeded in demobilizing the historic and dangerous FARC guerrillas, crime rates decreased, but the State was not able to regain control of the areas that were occupied by other criminal groups after they were abandoned by FARC.

To address this situation, the Colombian government is advancing its Total Peace project, with the objective of demobilizing as many armed groups as possible. So far, it has initiated talks with two armed groups, ELN and FARC dissidents, but the road is not an easy one and there is still a long way to go to achieve their dissolution.

Distrust, internal confrontations and the practice of kidnapping have been the main stumbling blocks. However, recent commitments to abandon kidnapping by these two illegal armed groups represent an opportunity to move forward with the talks.

Requests for the agenda of the dialogues

“As a priority issue to be addressed in the agenda of the peace negotiations with illegal armed groups, the national government must demand……the cessation of crimes that destroy democracy in the territories. It is distressing what those whose cause is the defense of people’s rights are daily risking their lives to serve the communities,” said Camargo Assis, Colombia’s ombudsman.

The figures are devastating. Between 2016 and 2022, 1,113 community leaders were murdered in the country, with 2016 and 2017 being the years in which crime was most successfully reduced. However, in 2018, coinciding with the change of government from Santos to President Iván Duque, the figures skyrocket, reaching the sad record of 2022, with 215 crimes.

Regarding this, the Colombian justice has assured that “the Colombian State, the authorities of all territorial orders and the citizenship, have the duty to ensure that the ongoing situation is stopped. Indolence, silence or negligence are not admissible under a Constitution such as the one currently in force in Colombia”.

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