By Rodrigo Uprimny,[1] EL ESPECTADOR, June 7, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Michel Forst, then the United Nations rapporteur on this subject, maintained in February of this year that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the defense of human rights. And he is right: between 2017 and 2019, 339 social leaders were murdered, according to official figures confirmed by the United Nations. Up to April 19, 2020, according to the Public Defender’s Office, 56 more were killed. And the deaths are continuing.

These figures are saddening, but they don’t tell the tragic story behind every case. A group of us columnists now wants to tell about the lives of some of these people, making use of the courageous documentation work done by organizations like Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) or the Colombia2020 section of this newspaper.

Maritza Isabel Quiroz Leiva was 60 years old when she was murdered, on January 5, 2019, in her home in the town (vereda) of San Isidro, in Santa Marta. She had suffered violence previously. She was from Valledupar, but she was displaced, along with her family, to Ciénaga. There they were able to rebuild their lives and prosper. But her husband was murdered. With the courage that characterized her, Maritza Quiroz kept fighting, not just for her own family, but also for the welfare of the community. They had to flee again and she ended up, with her children, in Santa Marta, under very difficult conditions. But with the courage that characterized her, and her community. She saw her five children achieve professional positions. And she combined her work in the fields with her community leadership, particularly in the defense of the rights of the Afro-Colombian community, and of women who had been displaced. At the time of her murder, she was an alternate in the Victims’ Organization of Santa Marta and a firm defender of the Peace Agreement. She had been threatened in 2018 and the Constitutional Court had called for measures of protection for her life, but she was murdered.

Gloria Isabel Ocampo was 37 years old when she was murdered in the town (vereda) of La Estrella, in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo Province, on January 7, 2020. At that time she was the Secretary of the Community Action Committee and she accompanied the voluntary substitution procedures for illegal crops. She had also taken part in the formulation of Development Plans with a Territorial Focus (PDET in Spanish). This program comes from the Peace Agreement and is intended to improve the situation of the 170 municipalities that have suffered the worst violence, poverty, and exclusion. She had been threatened because of her leadership, but she kept on with her commitment to peace and alternative development. She was murdered in her home, along with Eladio Moreno. Her husband and her 12-year-old daughter are victims of displacement, because they had to leave the region.

Luis Eduardo Dagua Conda was found dead and with signs of torture on July 16, 2018 in Caloto, Cauca. He was a well-known campesino leader in the region and one of the founders of the town (vereda) El Carmelo. He was also a member of its Community Action Committee and of the pro-constitution association of the Caloto (Astrazonacal) campesino reserve, which is part of Fensuagro.[2] He was also a member of the Popular Unity Group of Southwestern Colombia (Pupsoc in Spanish), and of the Patriotic March in Cauca. He was a great defender of the rights of the elderly. He was also the father of Eduardo Dagua, a former FARC combatant, now re-integrated into civilian life.

These three “life stories” of these leaders are, to make a play on words, “the stories we owe” so that we can get over our indolence in the face of this killing frenzy. It’s a frenzy that is terrible, not just because of the human drama behind every crime, but also because of the serious effects on our precarious democracy. Every murder of a social leader impoverishes democracy, because without social leaders that can exercise without fear their right to defend rights, a vibrant democracy cannot exist.

[1] Dr. Uprimny is a researcher for Dejusticia and a Professor at the National University.

[2] Fensuagro is a Colombian Campesino movement.

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