A spike in the number of human rights activists killed in the last month highlights the continuing dangers faced by those exposing ongoing abuses, said Amnesty International today as the much-delayed talks with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional ELN) get under way in Ecuador.
The organization is calling on the government to immediately provide effective protection to at-risk human rights defenders after at least 10 were killed in January alone; nearly double last year’s monthly average.
“The peace process in Colombia is a bright light at the end of a long and dark tunnel that has already brought some tangible benefits to many Colombians. However, unless the killings of activists stop, this will leave an indelible stain on any resulting peace accord,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“These brave activists are being silenced by powerful local and regional economic and political interests, as well as various armed groups, including paramilitaries, for defending their rights or exposing the country’s tragic reality.”
The sharp drop in combat-related violence affecting civilians since the start of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) has offered a glimpse of what a post-conflict Colombia could look like. But the rise in killings of community leaders, land rights and environmental activists, with around 80 killed last year, as well as reports of increasing paramilitary activity in regions such as Urabá, in the north-west, could undermine such gains.
Killings this year have included those of Afro-descendant community leader Emilsen Manyoma and her partner Joe Javier Rodallega. They were last seen alive on 14 January and their bodies were discovered on 17 January in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca Department.
The justice deal hammered out with the FARC last year, which is currently being debated in Congress, and which will also benefit members of the armed forces, and will likely be applied to the ELN, is a step forward in terms of realizing victims’ right to truth, justice and reparation.
However, it falls short of what is in compliance under international law, in part because the definition of command responsibility used in the agreement is too narrow and so would make it very difficult to bring guerrilla and security force commanders to justice for the crimes committed by their subordinates.
“True peace will only become a reality once all those suspected of criminal responsibility for some of the most horrific crimes imaginable are held properly to account in fair trials,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
“Effective measures must be put in place to end the killing of human rights defenders, and guarantees given to ensure the safety of Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities in many rural areas, who continue to be targeted, mainly by paramilitary groups.”
Following the start of the implementation of the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the government is starting talks with the ELN, after the group released one of its high-profile hostages, Odín Sánchez, on 2 February.
This article was published on Amnesty International's website on February 7, 2017.