HomeNewsMurders of Colombia's Social Leaders at Six-Year High Despite Peace Talks
NEWS

Murders of Colombia's Social Leaders at Six-Year High Despite Peace Talks

COLOMBIA / 15 DEC 2022 BY ALEJANDRA RODRIGUEZ EN

Killings of social leaders in Colombia have reached a six-year high, suggesting violence in the country's most troubled regions has been unaffected by wider plans for peace.

Colombia’s Ombudsman's Office (Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia) reported that 199 social leaders had been killed so far this year from January to early December. This tally was the highest total since the government signed a peace agreement in 2016 with the country's most significant guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).

The murders were concentrated in the departments of Antioquia, Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca, and Arauca, all of which are traditional drug production and trafficking hubs.

Other indicators of violence in the country’s main conflict zones have also increased, including rates of mass displacement and confinement, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Colombia reported in late November. The most affected departments include Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, and Antioquia.

SEE ALSO: Five Security Challenges for Gustavo Petro, Colombia's Next President 

Confrontations between armed groups and attacks against the civilian population and social leaders rose despite the election of President Gustavo Petro and the beginning of his "Total Peace” plan, the government's flagship project that seeks to negotiate peace or plea bargains with a score of criminal groups, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN).

Dozens of social leaders and human rights activists have been killed since Petro took office on August 7, according to the non-governmental organization Institute of Peace and Development Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz - Indepaz). 

InSight Crime Analysis

The ongoing violence against leaders and community members in Colombia poses questions about the preparedness of the Colombian government in regard to its security policy during the period of negotiations with armed groups.

The departments most affected by Colombia’s armed conflict have faced high levels of violence since the beginning of 2022 and have seen the highest number of assassinations of social leaders. As a result of confrontations between groups, ceasefires have been difficult to broker.

These departments, like Nariño and Cauca, are well-known areas of activity for various armed groups, where illicit economies including coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking -- and clashes between armed gangs over their control -- are routinely reported.

SEE ALSO: Can Colombia's Gustavo Petro Overcome Violent Challenge to 'Total Peace'?

With 33 killings, Nariño, a department in western Colombia on the border with Ecuador, recorded the highest number of murders of social leaders. It faces a humanitarian crisis due to massive displacements caused by clashes between armed groups fighting over territory to control drug trafficking routes.

Cauca registered 25 murders of social leaders as of November 2022. In the municipality of Cajibío, a community leader was killed during a triple murder in mid-November. Days later, six people were murdered in less than 48 hours in the municipality of Santander de Quilichao.

At least twenty social leaders were killed in Antioquia in 2022. Residents also reported fighting between former FARC dissidents, known as the ex-FARC Mafia, and the Urabeños, better known as the Gulf Clan or Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia - AGC). These reports were confirmed by the Colombian Army.

Putumayo, where threats and violence against the civilian population and indigenous communities are ongoing and deaths in combat between armed groups have been reported, 20 social leaders have been killed.

And Arauca is not far behind. This year, 12 social leaders have been murdered in the department. On November 20, four young people were massacred on a rural road.

The violence in each department is multifaceted and distinct, Ángela Olaya, a former InSight Crime investigator and co-founder of the Conflict Responses Foundation (Fundación Conflict Responses - CORE), told InSight Crime.

"What is happening in Cauca is not the same as what is happening in Antioquia because the violence that is occurring involves different conflicts and criminal actors in each region,” she said. 

The election of a new government under President Petro arrived with hopes of a new public security situation in the country, alongside his Total Peace plan. Yet these killings appear to illustrate the lack of a clear policy to protect civilians and social leaders in many of the country's historically most violent departments as the government negotiates with armed gangs. As in Colombia's recent elections, moments of national sensitivity are often used by armed actors hoping to force their influence. Alternatively, some groups may be attempting to take advantage of negotiations in order to gain a foothold in certain criminal economies.

"Despite the fact that the new government is working to achieve 'Total Peace,' this is not an effective security policy, it is a negotiation. We need a defined strategy throughout the country to protect social leaders," she said. 

Progress may be coming. Recently, Colombian media outlet Semana reported on the government’s attempt to establish a non-aggression pact with the ELN, and an agreement for the military not to operate in the regions of Bajo Calima, Valle del Cauca, and Medio San Juan, Chocó.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 29 DEC 2022

The US is losing allies in Latin America just as production of cocaine, fentanyl, and other synthetic drugs is going…

COLOMBIA / 12 MAY 2022

The assassination of a crusading Paraguayan prosecutor while on honeymoon in Colombia has caused widespread alarm about the rising levels…

DISPLACEMENT / 2 JUN 2021

The number of displaced people within Mexico has increased for the first time in three years, indicating that the country's…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…

THE ORGANIZATION

‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…