Nearly 150 activists killed in Colombia in 2021: Rights ombudsman

Those killed included members of Indigenous groups, advocates for rural communities, and trade unionists.

Activists lie covered with sheets to represent corpses outside the venue of the 49th OAS General Assembly, to protest against the killing of social and youth leaders, in Medellin, Colombia
Activists lie covered with sheets to represent corpses in Medellin, Colombia in June 2019. [File: Luis Benavides/The Associated Press]

At least 145 community leaders and rights activists were killed in 2021 in Colombia, the country’s human rights ombudsman has said.

The 2021 death toll, which came amid a year defined by protests and government crackdowns, was lower than in 2020, when 182 killings were registered, the offices of ombud Carlos Camargo said in a statement on Monday.

Among those killed in 2021 were 32 representatives of Indigenous groups, 16 advocates for rural or agricultural communities, and seven trade unionists.

“We repudiate these acts that are mainly due to the criminal actions of illegal armed groups,” said the statement, without naming the alleged perpetrators.

Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for activists, according to observer groups such as Global Witness, which has identified the country as the deadliest for environmentalists, with 65 killed in 2020.

While Colombia is officially at peace since signing a pact with the FARC group in 2016 to end more than a half-century of armed conflict, it has seen a flare-up of violence in recent months due to fighting over territory and resources by dissident FARC fighters, the ELN rebel group, paramilitary forces and drug cartels.

The regions that saw the highest number of killings in 2021 were areas where groups continue to fight over thousands of kilometres of drug crops or illegal mines.

President Ivan Duque’s government accuses drug traffickers of being behind the majority of killings in the country, which is the world’s largest cocaine producer.

However, in May of last year, anti-government protests were met with brutal crackdowns by police and soldiers.

More than 60 people were killed in weeks of clashes, with the clampdowns condemned by the United Nations, United States, European Union and international rights groups.

A December report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the government used “unnecessary or disproportionate force”.

The 63-page report said state security forces were guilty of murder, arbitrary detentions, sexual and gender-based violence, and acts of discrimination and racism.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies