Criminal Gangs 'Exterminating' Human Rights Activists In Colombia

Social activists working on causes related to land rights and the environment are under threat all the time at the hands of drug-trafficking gangs.

The killings of peacemakers in Colombia at the hands of criminal gangs are increasing on an alarming basis, so much so the country’s human rights ombudsman has described it as “an extermination.”

The country signed a landmark peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia also known as FARC in 2016, in hopes of getting rid of serious crimes and war criminals who participated in a political process.

However, nothing much really changed after the agreement was signed as almost 311 activists, community leaders, and human rights defenders were murdered the very same year, according to the national human rights office.

The peace deal was supposed to end the civil war that has reportedly claimed 220,000 lives and displaced 7 million people. But that didn’t happen, and although the military causalities reduced the people who stood for peace, the social leaders who used activism to spread peace were the ones who got targeted.

Two years after the so-called peace agreement, activists live in constant fear. Social leaders working on causes related to peasant land rights and the environment are under threat all the time. Their lives are at a serious risk in remote areas where drug-trafficking gangs and dissident rebel groups operate.

Enrique Fernandez, a leader of the Nasa indigenous tribe, who is also a vocal defender of the environment, has to pay the price for voicing his concerns every day. He is so scared that even if a teenaged ice-cream vendor appears at his door, he hides apprehensively in the back room, convinced the youth might take his life.

For months, gangs advertised money for his head. “There’s a price on my head,” said Fernandez. “And every day it gets higher.”

In February, the activist discovered a bomb outside his home. The army disarmed it but Fernandez had to move to another location.

Last month, he was threatened again with these messages, “We will not rest until Colombia is free from communists like you,” the messages read. “Condolences to your family.” He got threats on phone calls and on text messages.

In July, at least four human rights activists were killed; one of them was a campaign worker for Gustavo Petro, Duque’s leftist rival in the polarizing presidential race.  Several Colombians protested the murders of the activists, demanding an end to these atrocities that are causing hurdles in the peace process. 

President Ivan Duque promised to protect activists and their efforts. However, he has close political alliance with former president Alvaro Uribe – who is under investigation for crimes relating to death squads formed in the late 90s.

Therefore people are skeptical about his promises to end the decade’s long civil conflict. The future of activists in Colombia is still under constant threat because the peace deal hasn’t done much for the peace process, at all.

Thumbnail/Banner Image: Getty Images, Daniel Garzon Herazo, NurPhoto

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