According to newly released data from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, an alarming number of human rights defenders have been killed this year in Colombia. From January to September, nine activists were murdered and another twenty were the targets of assassination attempts. In addition to these deaths, many Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders, trade unionists, land rights activists, and journalists are regularly facing threats, intimidation, and spurious legal charges.
But the last month has been particularly severe. Just in the last two weeks, three activists were murdered—Afro-Colombian youth activist Jhon Jairo Ramirez Olaya of Buenaventura, victims’ leader Luis Fernando Gonzales of the Victims’ Roundtable of Tierra Alta-Cordoba, and environmental defender Daniel Abril of the Civic Human Rights Committee of Meta. In addition to these killings, indigenous leader Feliciano Valencia suffered an assassination attempt and some activists received death threats, including from the National Movement Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), and Afro-Colombian and indigenous authorities in Alto Baudó-Choco.
On March 2, U.S. human rights organizations urged the Director of Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP) to take action to protect a long list of human rights organizations and activists. The response to this call was insufficient and the situation has deteriorated for many. WOLA urges U.S. policymakers to use the human rights conditions on military aid to Colombia to protect the lives of the activists, unionists, and human rights defenders working towards a more-just Colombia. U.S. officials should publicly denounce these killings and urge the Attorney General’s office to not only investigate these crimes, but show results by arresting the perpetrators of these crimes.