GENEVA, Switzerland - More than 100 human rights workers have been killed in Colombia in the last year, a figure that has 'staggered' the UN human rights office, OHCHR.
According to OHCHR, 107 activists have been verified so far as being killed in 2019. The number however could be as high as 120 as another thirteen cases are awaiting verification.
The OCCHR is "deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia" last year, its spokesperson said on Tuesday.
"The single most targeted group was human rights defenders advocating on behalf of community-based and specific ethnic groups such as indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians," Marta Hurtado told reporters in Geneva, adding that the number of women human rights defenders killed increased "by almost 50% in 2019 compared to 2018."
"This terrible trend is showing no let-up in 2020, with at least ten human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of January," Hurtado said.
"The vicious and endemic cycle of violence and impunity must stop," the spokesperson stresesed. "Victims and their families have a right to justice, truth and reparations".
The vast majority of last year's killings happened in rural areas, 98% of which occurred in municipalities with black market economies, and where criminal groups or armed groups hold sway.
And around 86% of the deaths took place in villages with a poverty rate above the national average.
Although more than half were recorded in the four provinces of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquet, 21 other provinces also saw fatalities.
While the figures reflect the gravity of the problem, Ms. Hurtado pointed out that "they conceal the structural causes that sustain violence against human rights defenders."
"Any attack against human rights defenders is unacceptable and constitutes an assault against democracy, undermining participation and people's access to their human rights," she said.
There were a number of other contributing factors including the penetration of criminal groups and armed groups linked to illicit economies in areas vacated by FARC-EP rebels, and the favouring of a military response from the government to control the violence.
"We call on the authorities to redouble their efforts to ensure a free and secure environment for civic engagement and to increase the presence of civil State authorities in rural areas to provide basic services, such as health and education," Hurtado said.