“Feelings of helplessness and pain for what the communities are experiencing,” is how one of the participants summed up the Humanitarian Missions conducted by social organizations and human rights groups in Colombia. Since the national government decreed its lockdown to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, the violence has strangely increased against the country’s rural population at the hands of official and irregular armed groups.
Some figures give an idea of the scale of the situation: 971 people, including social leaders and human rights defenders, and 211 former FARC combatants have been killed since the signing of the Peace Agreement.
Ten thousand (10,000) people were forcibly displaced in the first three months of the year alone; illegal armed groups have confined 7,300 people; anti-personnel mines have maimed or killed over 100 people. Moreover, several incidents seem to confirm that the State policy of “false positives” is still in place.
Duque hasn’t even acted against the new wave of violence under his government. On the contrary, he seems to be encouraging it. He’s sending his troops to destroy the crops of small farmers, not just the illegal crops, but also their subsistence crops, and burn their houses, kill their cattle and chickens, and rape women and girls.
When people protest the forced eradication operations, the army fires at them, even if they’re unarmed and the peasants’ lives are put at risk. Several deaths have already occurred, deaths that could have been avoided had the government accepted setting up dialogue and consultation tables, one of the communities’ demands. It’s clear that the strategy of land dispossession is still in force under the Duque government.
In 70.13% of the murders of social leaders, the victims were members of peasant, indigenous, Afro-descendant, environmental or community organizations.
This shows that the violence is related to agrarian conflicts over land, territory and natural resources. Ten per cent of the homicides involve people related to the PNIS (National integrated program for replacing Illicit Crops) or cases of abuse of authority during forced eradication operations.
In parallel with this humanitarian crisis, the Duque administration continues to follow its policy of feigning compliance with the Agreement. We know that the current administration is attempting to limit compliance with the land fund clause to simply registering the areas included in the fund, without verifying whether or not these areas have been handed over to landless or land-poor peasants. In the same vein, government entities are including data on the legalization of rural properties as land handover data to claim they are complying with the clause on the handover of land. A warning call is required against these de facto changes to the Agreement. Point one of the Agreement states that 3 million hectares of land should be handed to the peasants and 7 million hectares should be legalized. There can be no claim of compliance with the Agreement if these targets aren’t met.
The Duque administration’s lack of political will to promote access to land and the social organization of rural property shows that it doesn’t recognize the importance of the peasant, family and community economy, and its fundamental role in the development of the countryside.
The international community is called upon to surround and protect the country’s vulnerable communities, and demand that Duque:
- Acknowledge the systematic nature of the murders of social leaders and human rights defenders;
- Acknowledge and stop the ongoing genocide against social movements;
- Adopt the necessary actions to stop and investigate the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights committed by security forces;
- Provide guarantees of effective protection to the country’s rural populations, and the communities that are implementing voluntary eradication processes and being harassed by illegal armed groups;
- Stop forced illicit crop eradication and glyphosate spraying operations;
- Stop the militarization of the territories and prosecute paramilitary groups and other illegal armed groups that harass the population;
- Implement the Peace Agreement in good faith by promoting the democratization and access to rural property, guaranteeing the effective implementation of cross-cutting approaches and keeping with the spirit of the agreement.
All types of violence against the Colombian people need to end. The Duque Government needs to follow up responsibly on the murders and massacres and stop criminalizing peasants who demand the enforcement of their rights and the implementation of the Peace Agreement.