BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – Massacres of human rights leaders and massacres of civilians are increasing at an alarming rate in Colombia, according to a United Nations report released on Tuesday.

The annual UN report on the human rights situation in Colombia found that violence is “escalating” in some rural areas where the state presence is weak and where armed groups are fighting for it. territorial control after the demobilization in 2016 of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). group.

According to the UN report, at least 133 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia in 2020, an increase of 23% from 2019.

The UN also recorded 76 massacres across the country last year, which are defined as events in which three or more civilians are executed at a time. The number of recorded massacres was “almost double” the number in 2019 and was the highest number since 2016, said Juliette de Rivero, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.

The report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The findings were released as the Colombian government fights to reduce violence in rural areas that were once controlled by the FARC and where illegal activities like cocaine trafficking, timber smuggling and wildcat mining exist. always.

These areas are now being fought by armed groups that include the National Liberation Army, the Gulf clan and former FARC rebels who refused to join the 2016 peace agreement with the Colombian government.

The United Nations has urged the Colombian government to increase its presence in these areas to protect civilians and reduce violence.

One way to do this, De Rivero said at a press conference, is to “put the peace agreement (2016) at the center of the government’s response”.

The peace agreement includes land title projects and programs to help coca growers replace their illegal crops with legal crops. He also created a commission to find solutions to the dismantling of armed groups.

President Ivan Duque has criticized aspects of the peace agreement, including a transitional justice system which he accuses of being too lenient with former rebel commanders. Critics of his government said it had been slow to implement aspects of the peace deal, including coca substitution plans.

The United Nations said the Colombian government has made progress in ending violence against activists by setting up a monitoring system that provides early warnings of threats against human rights defenders. De Rivero also praised a recent initiative by the attorney general’s office to reduce impunity for crimes by driving itinerant judges to remote rural areas.

Nevertheless, the report calls on Colombia to “step up” its efforts to implement the peace agreement.

“The growth in assassinations is worrying,” De Rivero said. “The Colombian state has the capacity to adjust its policies to prevent violence.”

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