At least 178 social leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia in 2018. Human rights groups point their fingers at to paramilitary groups who are active in the country. According to a teleSUR report, the Campesino Association of Catatumbo (Ascamcat) in Colombia denounced Thursday the killing of the social leader Jose Antonio Navas. Like other social leaders and human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2018, Jose Antonio was murdered by unknown gunmen who shot against him and fled. teleSUR has registered at least 178 murders this year alone.
“With profound sadness, we inform of the murder of Jose Antonio Navas in the town of Miramontes after being impacted with gunfire,” the association said via Twitter Thursday night. He was a director of the Communal Action Board of the El Libano town and a member of the Guardia Campesina (Campesino Watch) and the Patriotic March, a political and social federation committed to “peace with social justice.” Navas, 55, was a father of 6 and was working for the establishment of Campesino Reserves and was registered in Colombia’s national program for the substitution of crops of illicit use.
Andres Elias Gil, also a member of the Patriotic March expressed his frustration with the Colombian state and armed forces through social media. “What is the purpose of having one military man per every five residents in Catatumbo,” he asked in a post sharing information on the murder of Navas.
According to Ascamcat at least 15 of its members have been killed this year.
Over 400 social leaders have been killed since the Colombian state signed a peace agreement with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), whose demobilized fighters are also being targeted in the country. The agreement signed in 2016 ended the military conflict between the Colombian armed forces and FARC but violence is rampant in Colombia’s rural areas, where drug trafficking networks and paramilitary forces retain territorial control.
Analysts have argued that FARC’s withdrawal from certain areas generated a power vacuum. The Colombian state’s inability to assert control over those areas has opened space for other armed actors, including the National Liberation Army (ELN) that is currently trying to re-establish peace talks with the government, and many paramilitary groups that continue to operate in Colombian territory.
Human rights groups like the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movice) and the Research Institute for Development and Peace (Indepaz) point to paramilitary structures as responsible for these crimes and demand state action for the effective demobilization of paramilitary forces.