Land restitution campaigners are often targeted by criminals

A human rights watchdog in Colombia documented a rise in killings of human rights defenders in 2013 with paramilitaries the primary perpetrators, a development likely linked to continued push-back against land reform by economic interests with criminal ties.

The annual report (pdf) of the Colombian NGO Somos Defensores noted an increase in the number of human rights workers murdered, from 69 in 2012 to 78 in 2013. Of the 78 defenders killed, 15 were reportedly by paramilitary groups, eight by guerrillas, 5 by members of government security forces, and 50 by unknown authors.

These numbers represent an increase in assassinations by paramilitary groups (from nine in 2012 to 15 in 2013) and security forces (from one to five), and a decrease in those by guerrillas (from 11 to eight). Somos Defensores speculates this decrease may be tied to advances in peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cuba.

Overall, Somos Defensores counted 366 aggressions against human rights defenders and social organizations, including threats, assaults, forced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions. The NGO attributed 50 percent of these incidents to paramilitaries.

The most targeted human rights leaders were farmers, indigenous people, and those fighting for land restitution, while murders of rural leaders increased from three in 2012 to 15 in 2013.

InSight Crime Analysis

The targeting of human rights defenders in Colombia is generally a result of these defenders crossing the paths of powerful economic elites with criminal ties looking to protect their interests, and the problem has been particularly acute in regards to the intimidation of land activists, often by paramilitary-style groups.

The issue has its roots in Colombia's armed conflict, when many rural and indigenous communities were displaced from resource rich land by paramilitaries, often working on behalf of private agri-businesses and cattle ranchers. Since the formal demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), some of these businesses have continued to use neo-paramilitary criminal groups such as the Urabeños to suppress calls for land reform through targeted assassinations of activists.

Drug trafficking also complicates land restitution, with groups such as the Urabeños and the Rastrojos controlling drug corridors in areas central to the land conflict.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of BACRIM

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the paramilitary drug trafficking hybrid organizations labeled the "BACRIM" groups (for the abbreviation of the Spanish for "criminal bands") now represent the most serious impediment to Colombia's land restitution process. They have also been pointed to as responsible for 30 percent of human rights violations in the country. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs.