Colombia’s government has begun responding to Ombudsman alerts over possible violence against social leaders, more than 430 of whom have been assassinated since the beginning of a peace process in 2016.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez said she would travel to the violence-ridden Bajo Cauca region on Tuesday after the Ombudsman warned about pending violence against social leaders.
Gutierrez agreed to meet with local authorities and social leaders in Caucasia, where paramilitary group AGC and its offspring Las Caparrapos have been involved in a turf war over control over the region’s drug trafficking routes and illegal gold mines.
In 2018 alone, Caucasia was the site of 150 of Bajo Cauca’s 389 homicides – 31 of whom were social leaders. There were two armed attacks there earlier this month.
In nearby Puerto Jobo, between Caucasia and Zaragoza, campesino leader Jose Rafael Solano Gonzalez was killed on January 4.
Earlier this month, Jesus Alian Quintero, coordinator of the NGO network ‘Fundacion Redes ONG’, was declared a military target by the AGC. With no security or protection, he said he has no option but to flee Caucasia.
We have come to learn first-hand about the situation of which the ombudsman has alerted us to, to tell the leaders that they are important and that they are not alone.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez
The Antioquia Police Department and the 7th Division of the National Army have been unable confront criminal groups groups that are aligned with organized crime structures from Medellin, the provincial capital and Colombia’s informal gold trading capital.
A UN report at the end of last year expressed concern over the deaths of social leaders in areas previously occupied by the FARC, noting that murders were concentrated in the departments of Antioquia, Norte de Santander, and Cauca. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the government to act effectively to protect the lives of human rights defenders.
The minister will be hearing from the community and regional bodies in order to move towards protection of civil society, having last week visited the municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, in the Caqueta department. She says she visits territories with the aim of hearing local views, and letting both people and authorities know that “the government is with them.”
The conference will discuss urgent measures to be taken by the State to confront violence against civil society. The delegation includes representatives of the UN, the Defence Ministry, the Commission for Peace, and the National Police.
This mission is a part of Colombia’s early warning system commission (CIPRAT), and the ‘Plan for Rapid Action’ (PAO) initiative, a commission for protection of social leaders and human rights defenders.