Oxfam rejects the persistent murders and threats against social leaders in Colombia

Publié: 27th avril 2017

In the short period of time between January and March of the current year, 20 human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia. The most recent victim was Gerson Acosta, a defender of territorial and environmental rights, and indigenous leader of the Kite Kiwe Indigenous Reserve who was murdered on the 18th of April when he left a community meeting in Timbío, in the Department of Cauca in the south-western zone of the country. Gerson Acosta was a member of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), an organisation that Oxfam has a close working relationship with as well as joint peace building projects in the territories.

Oxfam unconditionally rejects the murder of Gerson and all of the violent acts against human rights defenders in Colombia, and expresses its solidarity with the victims and communities that live with constant harassment. 

Added to the murders of leaders in Cauca and other areas of the country are threats from a range of armed groups. Margarita Hílamo Mestizo and other indigenous women from the ACIN have been threatened.

“In northern Cauca, despite the occurrence of the peace dialogues, there is a lot of fear, specially for women”, says Margarita, emphasising that the people who are most exposed to violence are woman leaders who provide social services. In addition to reporting violations of environmental and territorial rights, Margarita has also participated in mobilizations against sexual violence committed by armed actors, which has increased the risks that she is facing. 

Despite the implementation of the Peace Agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) and dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the indigenous communities of Colombia, as well as afro-descendent and rural communities, are experiencing an increase in the number of murders and threats against their leaders.

According to the Annual Report from the Somos Defensores (We are Human Rights Defenders) organisation, 80 human rights defenders were murdered in 2016, which represents an increase of 27% compared to 2015. Of these murders, 22 occurred in the Department of Cauca and 87.5% of the deaths of human rights defenders recorded in rural zones in the country.

The ACIN has reported that the murders and threats against their leaders are a result of their opposition to illegal economies or because of private conflicts. Despite the constant reports from different sectors of society and the international community, the Colombian government has not prioritized the situation and denies the systematic violence that is occurring in rural zones, as well as the presence of paramilitary groups in various regions of the country, above all in the territories where the FARC used to have a presence.

As expressed by different actors who are committed to achieving peace in Colombia, the persistence of this violence puts the work of peace building in the territories at risk.

Oxfam expresses its solidarity with all of the indigenous communities of Colombia as well as the afro-descendent and rural communities that today are suffering from murders, kidnappings and constant harassment against their leaders during the implementation of the Peace Agreement with the FARC and in the midst of new negotiations with the ELN. Oxfam also makes an urgent call to the Colombian government for the implementation of differential collective protection measures that are agreed on with social leaders and that recognise their fundamental role in the construction of peace in the country.



Juan Sebastian Cifuentes in Bogotá, Colombia

Jcifuentes@oxfam.org.co / +57 3123773805

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