Gilberto Valencia, a young Afro-Colombian cultural worker, became 2019's first casualty of political violence in Colombia, when a gunman opened fire on a New Years party he was attending in his village in Cauca region. As the death toll from around the country mounted over the following weeks, the UN Mission to Colombia warned President Iván Duque that he must address "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." Colombia's official rights watchdog, the Defensoría del Pueblo, acknowledges that there was an assassination on average every two days in the country last year—a total of 172, and a rise of more than 35% over 2017. (Photo via Caracol Radio)
In an unprecedented ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) found the Colombian state responsible for several extrajudicial executions carried out under the practice of "false positives"—random civilians claimed as guerillas killed in action. The six cases examined took place in the departments of Arauca, Santander and Casanare between 1992 and 1997. Although individual soldiers had been sentenced by the Colombian courts in some of these cases, the Costa Rica-based IACHR ordered the Colombian government to carry out further investigations and prosecutions, provide reparations to the families of the victims, and commit to a "public act of acknowledgement" of responsibility. (Photo: Contagio Radio)
Thousands of Colombians took to the streets July 6 to protest the mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders in the country. The protests and vigils were largely ignored by the country’s political leaders, who have come under international pressure for their failure to respond to the wholesale killing that has claimed the lives of 311 community leaders since 2016. Days after the mobilization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights issued yet another call for the Colombian government to take urgent measures to call a halt to the ongoing attacks. Opposition leaders charge that the assassinations are a "systematic" campaign, and that authorities must break up resurgent paramilitary networks rather than just arresting individual sicarios (assassins). (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos since an April attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. In May, three indigenous leaders in Cauca region were assassinated by gunmen who invaded their communities. A leading rights group reports that Colombia has seen a spike in assassinations of social leaders this year. A total of 46 social leaders have been killed so far in 2018, up from 26 in the same period last year. (Photo via Contagio Radio)
Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. But violence in the countryside across Colombia remains at an alarming level, as social leaders are targeted for assassination by paramilitary factions. The ELN guerilla organization—which, unlike the FARC, remains in arms—released a statement noting that January had seen an assassination every day across the country, and charged that rightist paramilitary networks are carrying out a "systematic genocide."
Despite the peace process with the FARC rebels, rural unrest persists across Colombia. Recent weeks have seen a wave of peasant strikes across several regions of the country to demand a voice in the peace process for campesino and indigenous communities, and attention to their demands on land restitution and rural development. The National Minga for Life, Territory and Peace was repeatedly attacked by the security forces. (Photo: El Orejiverde)
The wave of deadly attacks on social leaders across Colombia persists in spite of the peace process. Human rights group Global Witness, which annually releases a report on the world's most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, this year names Colombia as second only to Brazil. The group counts 37 environmental activists slain in Colombia in 2016, compared to 26 in 2015. In the first six months of 2017, the figure was already up to 22.
After all-night negotiations with protest leaders in Colombia's Pacific port of Buenaventura, government representatives pledged to invest $517 million in local infrastructure.
Following days of protests, Colombia's largest port city of Buenaventura exploded into violence as police opened fire on demonstrators, leaving one dead and many wounded.
Even as the FARC guerillas begin the disarmament process under Colombia's peace plan, the ongoing wave of deadly violence against social leaders remains unrelenting.
With Colombia's Congress voting to approve the revised peace accord with the FARC rebels, the country is on a countdown to the full demobilization of the guerilla army.
More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced as Colombia's Chocó department is convulsed by conflict with the ELN guerillas.