HRW blasts Colombian govt over rights activists' murders

Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, accuses the Colombian government of failing to act on the murders of rights activists
Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, accuses the Colombian government of failing to act on the murders of rights activists Raul ARBOLEDA AFP
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Bogota (AFP)

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday hit out at Colombia's government over the rising number of human rights defenders and activists being murdered in the South American country.

Since the 2016 peace accord that ended half a century of fighting between government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an increasing number of civil society leaders have been killed each year.

But "the government has acted slowly and weakly in the implementation of policies to prevent these murders," HRW said in a statement.

Despite Colombia suffering the largest number of such murders on the continent, "the government's response has been more focussed on making speeches and announcements than adopting measures tha will have an impact in the territories" affected by the violence, said Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas.

In 2016, 61 civil society leaders were killed, a number that increased to 84 in 2017, 115 in 2018, 108 in 2019 and 133 in 2020, according to UN figures, some of which have yet to be verified.

And despite the pandemic, the violence has not abated, according to the peace tribunal set up as part of the 2016 accord, which says the first few days of 2021 were the most violent since 2016.

Vivanco said the government's priority had been to "usually ... take on (armed) groups with the army but not necessarily to protect the population," improve the justice system, guarantee access to education health care or public services.

Behind the wave of violence targeting advocates are National Liberation Army Marxist rebels, dissident FARC guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, as well as armed drug-trafficking groups.

They are fighting each other over access to lucrative cocaine and illegal mining markets.

HRW says most victims were murdered as reprisals for opposing drug-trafficking in their territories, allegedly collaborating with the army or supporting the replacement of illegal coca plantations with legal ones.