Despite positive noises coming from the Colombian government, the multitude of problems keeps building for the peace process and the broader political situation in the country.
2017 saw an escalation in murders of social leaders - i.e. political activists, community councillors, trade unionists, human rights defenders and journalists - as over 170 people were killed for political motives. In addition, at least 34 FARC ex combatants who had disarmed as per of the peace process were murdered, as were 11 of their close relatives. In the vast majority of cases nobody was arrested, let alone convicted, for the crimes.
Sadly, the first two months of 2018 have seen an even higher rate of murders, with almost 40 social leaders killed already. Many victims had told authorities of threats against them but little was done to ensure security. Ten more FARC members have been murdered, taking to over 40 the number of FARC members murdered since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016. The government’s failure to implement the measures in the peace agreement to dismantle paramilitary groups is one of the many ways in which the peace process is not being implemented as agreed.
The Juan Manuel Santos administration persists with the claim that paramilitarism no longer exists in Colombia, and that the killings are not systematic, contrary to reports by human rights organisations. Historically, these right-wing armed groups target those working in areas of social justice and human rights. As the FARC left regions formerly under their control, armed groups with different interests have occupied the areas, with the state seemingly incapable of taking control. The groups with links to drug interests are also tackling peasant farmers who are signing up to the crop substitution programme of the peace agreement. The Colombian government must develop strategies to tackle these groups and fully reincorporate former combatants into civil society if politically motivated violence is to be seriously ended.
Currently, however, we cannot be sure who will form Colombia’s next government. 2018 is a hugely important year as the country stages congressional elections on 11 March and presidential elections in May. With the peace process at stake, these are arguably the most important elections in the country’s modern history. While most polls show pro-peace candidates in the lead, the right-wing opposition headed by the Democratic Centre party of former president Alvaro Uribe - who a Medellin court recently recommended be investigated for collusion in paramilitary massacres in the 1990s - may yet spring a surprise. This could be extremely damaging for the future implementation of the peace agreement, and for civil society sectors working to move their country beyond the darkest years of conflict. Whoever wins the presidency, it is imperative that the international community demand full implementation of the peace agreement.
While the FARC is now fully disarmed and reformed as a political party, its attempts to participate in electoral politics have been impeded by a hostile media and seemingly organised attacks. Consequently, mobs violently attacked FARC campaign events in different parts of the country, causing the new political party to suspend campaigning until security for its members and supporters could be assured. This again demonstrates the difficulties faced by emerging political parties in a landscape long dominated by a small powerful sector of society.
Through the support we receive from all our affiliated members, Justice for Colombia will continue applying pressure on the Colombian government to ensure security for Colombian trade unionists, human rights defenders, land activists, political campaigners and all those working towards building a more democratic, peaceful and socially-just country. International solidarity is critical to keeping Colombia in the spotlight and working to prevent the country from slipping deeper into instability.