ABColombia members express their grave concern regarding the assassination of human rights defender and social leader, José Antonio Navas. Mr Navas, a partner of Christian Aid, and a member of the Campesino Association of Catatumbo (Ascamcat), was murdered by unknown gunmen who shot him and fled. Mr Navas, was 55 years old and the father of six children, was also a member of the village governing committee (Junta de Acción Comunal).
Mr Navas was working on the implementation of a government policy derived from the Peace Accord on establishing Peasant Farmer Zones (Zonas de Reservas Campesinas) and was registered on the Comprehensive Programme for Substitution of Illicit Crops.
Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders at the end of his ten-day visit to Colombia in November/December 2018, held a minute of silence in memory of José Antonio Navas. The minute of silence also paid tribute to all those who were killed in Colombia while defending human rights.
Mr Navas was part of a Christian Aid programme called Transformation of the Peasant Farmer Zones from war economies to peace economies (Transformación de las Zonas de Reserva Campesina desde Economías de Guerra a Economías de Paz) in Catatumbo, where this murder took place. Catatumbo is a highly militarised region. Social leader Andres Elias Gil, stated via Twitter in reference to the killing of his colleague ‘what is the purpose of having one military man per five residents in Catatumbo?’ reflecting what many local communities feel: that a high level of military personnel does not equal safety for local communities. According to Ascamcat, at least 15 of the members of this peasant farmer association have been killed in 2018 alone. As a result, many of the leaders have fled the area out of fear, and without the presence of many of the Ascamcat leaders on the ground, it is becoming harder for this organisation to operate.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed its extreme concern at the increase in killings of human rights defenders with 121 killed in 2017[i] and in just the first nine months of 2018 (January–September), the numbers of HRDs killed, according to Somos Defensores,was 109.[ii] Over 400 social leaders have been killed since the Colombian state signed a Peace Accord in 2016 with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Michel Forst in his statement at the end of his mission stated that the negative trend in the killing of HRDs:
“… is linked to the persistence of structural factors. The demobilisation and exit of the FARC-EP left a power vacuum in many rural regions. The lack of an integrated State presence and delays in the implementation of the Peace Accord has allowed illegal armed groups and criminal groups to enter areas and takeover the illicit economies leading to augmented violence. The lack of access to basic services (i.e. health and education) poverty, and ramping unemployment rates hinder communities from becoming part of the legal economy, increasing their risk levels.”
Michel Forst spoke specifically about the region of Catatumbo, stating:
“Catatumbo, a particularly violence struck area of Northern Santander (approx. 200.000 inhabitants), registers the highest levels of internal displacements in the country. According to the Defensoria del Pueblo (NHRI) 35.000 people were forcibly displaced (desplazamientos masivos) this year in Colombia.
In 2017, one in every three HRD killed in the world was Colombian, the number of assassinations of Colombian HRDs in 2018 looks like it will be considerably worse.
[i] ONU DDHH, Informe Anual, “Informe del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos sobre la situación de Derechos Humanos en Colombia durante el año 2017” (March 2018)