By Rodrigo Uprimny, EL ESPECTADOR, August 19, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Sadly, after a year of the administration of change and “total peace”, the slaughter of social leaders persists, as was demonstrated in a recent article by my colleague at Dejusticia, Sindy Castro.

Certainly not all of that is the fault of the current administration. The Attorney General’s Office and the legal system have an important share of the responsibility: According to a joint investigation by “Somos Defensores” and “Verdad Abierta”, there have only been 75 convictions out of the 1,333 murders of social leaders that occurred between 2022 and the first quarter of 2023. Impunity is unbelievably high, and that feeds the violence.

Besides that, Petro inherited a disastrous situation, because the previous administration kept maintaining its policy on this violence in spite of the fact that it was a failure. The current Attorney General has a great responsibility for that, because, as I have demonstrated in several columns, Barbosa, being Duque’s Human Rights Counsellor, manipulated the statistics on the killing of social leaders, to claim that the policy was functioning and that the number of murders had been reduced significantly, which was a lie.

It’s also true that dealing with these attacks is not easy. The countryside where most of these crimes take place is complicated by the presence of multiple armed actors and criminal economies. Nevertheless, after a year, the Petro administration ought to be showing better results. Or at least they ought to give this matter the moral and humanitarian priority it deserves.

In this context, a presentation last Tuesday by Juliette Rivero, the representative in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (ACNUDH), of the report on the Colombian situation for the first half of this year acquires particular transcendence. This brief and significant report recognizes that the administration has made progress by incorporating a focus on human rights into its policies, but it emphasizes that the violence against social leaders, although it has diminished, continues to be unacceptably high, and that other violence, equally serious, persists, including massacres and the recruitment of children by armed groups. The report then offers several recommendations, and I would like to highlight two of them.

First, that it’s necessary to obtain a better articulation between the search for “total peace” and the policy of security in the countryside. That is fundamental, as the administration can’t rely completely on the progress and eventual success of the conversations with the armed actors, since without a strategy for security in the countryside, one that is credible and effective, “total peace” doesn’t appear to have a future, given that the armed organizations won’t have any real incentive to reach agreements.

Second, the report emphasizes the importance of having the administration promote, besides the conversations with the armed actors, an independent dialog, structured and permanent, with organizing movements and their territorial base, which the report highlights as “the greatest wealth that Colombia has”. That is equally transcendental, because the conversations with the armed actors without the corresponding dialog with–and protection of – the social organizations that are based in the countryside could have the following unintended but perverse effect: that the armed actors will feel legitimized in their attempts to destroy or coopt those organizations, while the organizations will also tend to feel weakened by the lack of direct dialog with the administration.

I hope that these recommendations–and the other recommendations in the report—will be taken very seriously by the administration and by all of us, not only because of the moral authority of ACNUDH, but also because they are pertinent and urgent. This slaughter has got to stop.

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