Colombia announces measure on November 19 aimed at protecting social leaders in rural areas
On November 19 President Duque published a statement announcing the creation of a special commission integrated by security agencies and the executive office aimed at protecting social leaders and human right activists in the country. The commission will be called “Action Plan to Prevent and Protect” (PAO) and will work in rural parts of Colombia to ensure the safety of individuals liable to be targeted by organized crime or militants. Duque further stated that PAO will be set in motion in December. Sources indicate that at least 295 human rights activists have been killed in the country since 2016.
Attacks against rural community leaders and social activists remain an important concern, as these individuals are seen as a threat to the peace settlement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Demobilized FARC members have consistently denounced central authorities for purportedly ignoring the plight of local activists who are oftentimes murdered by criminals or militants with different ideological views. In light of these circumstances, the National Liberation Army (ELN) has expressed that the government is unwilling to protect marginal elements from society from armed gangs opposing peace with FARC, thus arguing that Bogota is not interested in a comprehensive peace. Overall, it is unclear if PAO will yield results in the short-term, especially given that the government’s security agenda prioritizes the struggle against militants.