Last year, a successful peace deal with FARC hinted at progress towards demilitarization and an end to violence in Colombia. However, a report released on Thursday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) outlines an important obstacle to this future. The report claims that in 2016, 127 politically significant figures were killed in Colombia, including at least 59 high profile community leaders and human rights advocates.
Conventional brutality associated with drug trafficking and extremist rebel groups has killed 200,000 Colombians, and while activists represent a miniscule portion of these deaths, their targeting points to the particular effectiveness of drug cartels and armed rebel groups at suppressing civil society in Colombia. The report highlights the continued killing of activists as being demonstrative of a greater failure by the Colombian government to create stability in the areas now being vacated by FARC.
Human Rights Lawyer, Luz Perly Cordoba, referred to these targeted killings as “the biggest danger to the implementation of the accords.” The motive of these killings is unambiguous, with those who have voiced vocal opposition to the actions of offending drug cartels and other regional armed groups frequently falling victim to assassination. UN Representative Todd Howland commented, “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.”
This pattern of politically motivated assassination is nothing new to the people of Colombia. During the 1980s, politically motivated assassinations were frequently deployed by powerful drug cartels to shape political ends and discourage their own prosecution. This pattern is significant because the ability of functioning political cultures to emerge in post-conflict zones, such as those previously inhabited by FARC requires an atmosphere of open expression, and in particular, an ability to challenge the destructive actions of Colombia’s other armed groups.
The continued killings of rights activists highlights the Colombian government’s failures in fully implementing key aspects of the peace accord. For instance, the report claims that Colombia’s Congress has stalled in creating laws that are necessary in order to implement key aspects of the Accord.
Still, some progress appears to be occurring. On Monday, March 13, The Colombian Senate approved a transitional justice structure for the repayment of reparations to the victims of FARC. However, this report highlights the pressing need for more rapid steps towards liberalization and demilitarization in areas affected by FARC.
Ultimately, this report should act as a reminder that the important role played by the UN as a mediator in negotiating terms of surrender cannot be vacated as their implementation begins. Instead, this may be the time when outside support and provocation towards reform is most needed.
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