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Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 24 April 2020
Subject: Colombia: right defenders killing
The situation in the Cauca department of Colombia, where at least 13 human rights defenders are reported to have been killed so far this year– including three in the past few days - is deeply worrying.
Although these latest cases are still being verified by our Office, we have received reports that, on 22 April, Hugo de Jesús Giraldo, a social leader, was killed in the town of Santander de Quilichao. Last weekend, two other social leaders, Mario Chilhueso and Teodomiro Sotelo Anacona, were also killed, as well as the husband of a third social leader.
A growing number of armed groups as well as criminal groups fighting for the control of illicit economies in this territory are behind most of the attacks, which have been increasing in recent months. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the Government and by communities themselves to avoid the spread of the virus seem to have aggravated an already violent and volatile situation.
Armed groups as well as criminal groups appear to be taking advantage of the fact that most of the people are in lockdown to expand their presence and control over the territory.
In addition to what appear to be targeted killings of human rights defenders and social leaders, our Office has received daily reports of threats – including death threats - and harassment against the local population, including against farmers, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities who are trying to ensure confinement and prevention measures are complied with.
In some parts of Cauca department, clashes between security forces and armed groups and criminal groups have intensified, including in indigenous territories. Civilians have been caught in the violence, resulting in the death of an indigenous child in Toribio and the forced displacement of rural communities in Argelia and El Tambo.
We are also worried about attacks against FARC-EP ex-combatants –according to the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, 36 have been killed in Cauca since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.
We call on all those involved in this violence to halt the fighting, in line with the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, so that measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 can be properly implemented.
We remind the authorities of their obligation to prevent attacks and protect the local population. Any attack against human rights defenders undermines democratic space including the right to participate. An integral response of civil and security authorities is particularly relevant in rural areas.
We call on the Government to conduct thorough, prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and to hold the perpetrators to account.
All victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.
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