Colombia rights watchdog reports 181 activists slain in 2023

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Some 181 community activists were murdered in Colombia in 2023, the human rights ombudsman’s office said on Tuesday, calling the situation a tragedy.

The number of murdered activists, known as social leaders, and human rights defenders in Colombia was lower in 2023 than the prior year, the ombudsman said, adding that killings in 2022 were a record 215.

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“It’s an unacceptable situation that last year, on average, a social leader or human rights defender was murdered every two days in Colombia,” ombudsman Carlos Camargo said in a statement.

The killings occurred in spite of President Gustavo Petro’s “total peace” policy, which the government hopes will end Colombia’s six decades of internal armed conflict that has left at least 450,000 dead.

“Every life lost is a tragedy for their families, for the communities and for the defense of fundamental rights in the country,” Camargo said.

Violence against social leaders is a major challenge for Colombian governments, prompting frequent criticism from the international community and advocacy groups, which demand actions to stop the killings.

Colombia’s most violence-ridden provinces last year included Cauca, Antioquia and Narino, the ombudsman’s office said, adding all three are affected by the presence of illegal armed groups, illicit gold mining and crops of coca, the chief ingredient in cocaine.

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