The Colombian government says 84 social leaders have been killed in 2019

The presidential adviser for Human Rights and International Affairs of Colombia, Francisco Barbosa, said Thursday that between January 1 and December 17 this year 84 social leaders were killed, 25% less than in the same period of the year past.

"In 2019 there were 84 cases compared to 112 cases in 2018, so there is a 25% reduction in homicides in Colombia in 2019," said Barbosa.

The official explained that the murders committed during that period occurred in 58 of the 1,103 municipalities of the country and stressed that this rate represents "one of the maximum reductions that Colombia has in homicides in the last 30 years."

Of the murdered social leaders, 87% were men and the remaining 13% were women, and the killings occurred mainly in areas where there is the presence of illegal armed groups dedicated to drug trafficking and illegal mining.

The last case recorded is Lucy Villarreal, a young cultural manager in the department of Nariño (southwest) who was killed by a hitman on the road that connects Tumaco, Colombia's second port in the Pacific, with Pasto, departmental capital.

That crime was rejected by the executive director for the Americas of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, who condemned the murder and said that although the government "believes it all ended" a year ago with the death of FARC dissident chief Walter Patricio Arizala, aka "Guacho", the truth is that "violence does not cease in Tumaco".

Given this crime, Barbosa said that the Colombian Prosecutor's Office conducts the necessary investigations to find those responsible for the murder and said that the "National Government categorically rejects any murder of any Colombian."

According to the Development and Peace Foundation (Fundepaz), which is based in Nariño, with the murder of Villarreal there are 22 social leaders killed so far this year in Nariño, a border department with Ecuador.

Earlier this month the Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that so far this year at least 86 human rights defenders have been killed in the country.

Meanwhile, the NGO Programa Somos Defensores detailed in the "Semiannual Report January-June 2019" that at least 59 human rights defenders were killed during the first half of this year in Colombia, five of them in Nariño.

Despite this, Barbosa stressed that there is no systematic killing of social leaders, as they are related to illegal activities, and called on local authorities and society to work together to stop that scourge.

"The reasons are diverse, here there is no extermination policy, nor a systematic policy, here what exists are diverse reasons that occur against our social leaders tied to crime phenomena," he concluded.


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