BOGOTA (Reuters) – Killings of women engaged in community organizing and human rights advocacy in Colombia rose nearly 50% in 2019 from a year earlier, the United Nations said on Wednesday as it urged the government to redouble its protection efforts.
Violence against so-called “social leaders” has become a major problem for the government of President Ivan Duque, which has been frequently criticized by the international community, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists for not have done enough to stop the killings.
Last year, 108 human rights defenders of all genders were killed, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters, while 10 other cases were still being verified.
Fifteen of the murdered activists were women.
“We are alarmed that in 2019 the killings of women human rights defenders increased by almost 50%,” said Alberto Brunori, the UN human rights chief in Colombia.
“The rapid and effective implementation of a comprehensive safeguards program for women leaders and women human rights defenders could be an important tool in preventing and protecting against killings and attacks,” he added. .
The number of activist killings has declined overall since Duque took office in August 2018, the center-right president told reporters at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday.
“There is a reduction, but the figure should be zero,” Duque said. He blamed the killings on Marxist-led National Liberation Army rebels, dissidents from the FARC rebel movement who reject a 2016 peace deal and criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining .
There were 36 massacres – defined as the killing of more than four people – in Colombia last year, the highest figure in five years, the UN human rights office said.
Fifteen people died in police or military operations involving alleged arbitrary detentions, the UN added.
A total of 115 activists were killed in Colombia in 2018.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Written by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Tom Brown