Colombia Peace Process Update: “If we speak, they kill us, if we stay quiet, they kill us too”

“If we speak, they kill us, if we stay quiet, they kill us too”, this is the statement of one of the Minga representatives who arrived in Bogotá on October 17.

Close to 10,000 indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendent people travelled around 600 km from their territories to the capital, their objective: to call for respect for the lives of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and peasant communities, for their right to land tenure and for the implementation of the Peace Agreement. In the words of an indigenous reservation leader:

“We march to the capital to ask the government to take action on four fronts: the oblivion of the indigenous peoples, which implies being in the midst of armed actors that affect our territories; the systematic assassinations of social leaders, especially in the department of Cauca; the establishment of a debate with the different agents of the government and, finally, a call to intervene in the policies that allow the illegal economies to continue to beat the legal ones”

It is the government’s lack of commitment to the lives of social leaders and human rights defenders, as well as to providing effective security guarantees to communities, that has led to the displacement of the Minga to the capital. Its objective was to denounce the structural problems that the government is ignoring: militarization of the territories, power concentration, ignorance of the Peace Agreement, and state inaction regarding the systematic killing of social leaders, an increase in massacres, forced displacement, and other serious human rights violations.

According to figures from the Institute of Ideas for Peace – INDEPAZ, since the signing of the Peace Agreement until November 15, 2020, 1058 social leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered in the country, 254 of these murders occurred in 2020.

This means that, on average, 6 human rights defenders are killed every week. The sectoral distribution of the killings is as follows: 37.6% indigenous, 10.1% Afro-descendants, and 52.1% peasants (communal, environmental, and leaders of programs for the substitution of illicitly used crops). It should be noted that 70.9% of the homicides occur in rural areas.

The Somos Defensores program, in its report “The Virus of Violence”, revealed that killings of social leaders increased by 61% between January and June 2020, compared to the same period of time in 2019.

One of the explanations for this increase is that the quarantine due to COVID-19 limited the mobility of leaders and defenders, forcing them to stay permanently in their homes, which means that they are easy to identify by the armed groups. In the first half of 2020, a total of 463 aggressions were registered, including threats, murders, attacks, arbitrary detentions, judicial proceedings, forced disappearances, and information theft.

One of the harassment forms that has caused more commotion is the increase of massacres in 2020, facts that President Duque pretends to call “collective homicides”, in an attempt to position a narrative that hides the severity of the facts and that shows his disinterest for the recrudescence of violence in the country.

Likewise, with the greatest degree of cynicism, Duque dares to manipulate the figures on the massacres. On August 22, the president shared figures on social networks indicating that 34 massacres have been documented between 2018 and 2020. This fact provoked a series of criticisms from different sectors of civil society, since the figures that Duque publicizes differ from those handled by other entities such as the Ministry of Defense or the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace1, organizations that document 33 massacres in the first 8 months of 2020.

However, the reality of the exacerbation of conflict and violence in Colombia is far more disturbing than the one presented by the state entities. According to INDEPAZ’s Conflict, Peace and Human Rights Observatory (one of the most reliable sources of information since its methodology is based on the analysis of information provided by grassroots organizations or human rights platforms, official entities and other NGOs), 83 massacres have occurred in the period between January and december 13 of 2020.

In response to the killing of people in the process of reincorporation, President Duque claims that less than 50 ex-combatants have been killed2; however, the Colombian Commission of Jurists claims that there have actually been 238 cases of this type, a figure shared by most of the country’s human rights organizations. It should be noted that the number of murders of ex-combatants that Duque acknowledges are based on data from the Office of the United Nations for Human Rights, an entity that has acknowledged that it does not have the capacity to travel to the regions where the crimes occur or to verify the facts.

The will of the Duque government to confront the security problems and the systematic extermination suffered by the ex-combatants and their families, produced within the framework of the political violence that is being experienced in the country, has been nil. Despite the fact that in point 3.4 of the Agreement, the State formally committed itself to dismantle the organizations and criminal conduct responsible for killings and massacres, no public policy has yet been designed to develop this commitment. The National Commission of Security Guarantees is the authority responsible for designing this policy of dismantling criminal organizations; however, the work has not been done due to the reluctance of the government. For example, the Agreement establishes that the Guarantees Commission must meet on a monthly basis, but the government has only convened it 5 times in 2 years.

The government’s lack of commitment to implementing the Policy for the Dismantling of Criminal Organizations and to providing effective security guarantees has also motivated mobilization actions by former combatants. During 14 days, around 2,000 former combatants mobilized from different parts of the country to Bogotá, in an event they called “Pilgrimage for Life and Peace”.

On November 1, nearly 2,000 unarmed ex-guerrillas, dressed in white and raising white flags, entered Bogotá with the purpose of demanding that the national government comply with the Agreements. All remain firm in their word, condemning the violence and betting on peace even at the risk of their own lives.

Cover Photo: Photo: Javier Jiménez/Colombia Informa

1 There is evidence of a sort of state schizophrenia in the face of the problem of the killings of social leaders: while some institutions recognize the systemic nature of the crimes, others (and especially President Duque and his cabinet) deny it

2 45 seconds, October 22, 2020, Indepaz and the National Government differ in the number of murders of social leaders in Colombia. Available on: