Two sources point to a welcome, though still woefully insufficient, decline in the number of human rights defenders and social leaders being killed in Colombia.
During the first half of 2023:
According to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), 92 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed between January and June 2023. That is down 19 percent from the 114 killings that the Defensoría counted between January and June 2022.
According to the count kept by the independent journalism site La Silla Vacía, 77 social leaders were murdered in the first six months of 2023. That is down 25 percent from the first half of 2022.
The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, which produces quarterly reports on implementation of aspects of the 2016 peace accord, also found a downward trend in murders of demobilized former members of the FARC guerrilla group. In its latest report, the Mission counts 18 ex-combatants killed between January 1 and June 26, 2023, roughly 30 percent behind the pace of 2022, and the trend has been declining since 2020.
This is all good news, though Colombia is still far from zero.
Why is it happening? Some credit may go to the nearly year-old government of Gustavo Petro, which has extended many of the country’s armed groups an opportunity to negotiate peace or demobilization, which gives them an incentive to improve their behavior toward non-combatants.
In the case of attacks on former FARC combatants, the demobilization process happened six years ago now, so “people just getting on with their lives” is something of a factor. Still, the UN warns that “persisting violence continues to jeopardize the process.” Indeed, imminent threats from FARC “dissidents” is forcing the relocation of sites for demobilized guerrillas in Vistahermosa and Mesetas, Meta, a few hours’ drive south of Bogotá.
The JEP declares “precautionary measures” for ex-FARC members among its defendants, who are facing increased security threats. The transitional justice tribunal calls on the High Commissioner for Peace and the Presidential Counselor for Stabilization to convene bodies created by the peace accord to guarantee ex-combatants’ security, among other specific recommendations.
For security reasons, Colombia’s government helps to relocate an entire settlement of demobilized FARC guerrillas from the Román Ruiz post-conflict demobilization site (ETCR) in Ituango, Antioquia, to the neighboring municipality of Mutatá, several hours’ drive away, where the government has rented new land. Twelve members of the ETCR had been killed in the site’s vicinity since the FARC demobilized. The Gulf Clan and Caparros paramilitary groups are active in Ituango, as are dissident members of the FARC’s old 18th Front.
A statement from the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitary group rejects the government’s decree offering favorable terms for those who demobilize, denying that any commander has been in contact with the government.
A presidential decree lowers judicial penalties to members of criminal groups who agree to demobilize peacefully and submit to the High Commissioner for Peace.
It does not apply to the ELN, whose “political character” the state recognizes, making benefits available to individual ELN deserters. It applies instead to FARC dissident groups, the Gulf Clan and Caparros neo-paramilitary groups, and the Pelusos or EPL. These are the groups that, according to the government, meet the Geneva Conventions Protocol II definition of those “which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations.”
Colombia’s National Reincorporation and Normalization Agency announces that assistance will continue, amid pandemic adjustments, to 2,893 former FARC combatants still residing at 24 demobilization sites (ETCRs). Much follow-up and support will occur via phone and internet.
The government’s Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN) announces that, during the period of COVID-19 social distancing, it will continue food and medical assistance for the 2,893 FARC ex-combatants who remain in 24 former demobilization sites (ETCRs). Monthly transfers of 90 percent of minimum wage are to continue through August. Nearly all outside visits to the ETCRs have been suspended by quarantine measures, and most ARN services, like medical consultations and technical training, are being provided virtually or by telephone.