Canada urged to monitor Colombia’s fragile peace accord as killings of activists mount


Colombian Canadians, alarmed at the number of human rights leaders murdered in the South American nation, will gather in Toronto to condemn what they see as a threat to the country’s long-fought peace.On Tuesday, a rally will be held at 6 p.m. at the Mark Cohen Park near Bloor St. W., and Spadina Ave., to protest the violence and send a message to Colombia’s newly elected right-wing president Ivan Duque to uphold the 2016 Peace Accord.


The agreement, signed by then-President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timochenko, ended Colombia’s 50-year guerrilla war which left more than 220,000 dead and countless missing and displaced. Rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was disarmed and demobilized, and a transitional justice system was established to seek out the truth of the conflict.


Since then, the country’s civilian murder rate has reached an all-time low — 24 people per 100,000 last year — however, there has been a surge of killings of community activists who had been trying to enforce the peace agreement.


According to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, 311 social movement leaders have been murdered in the country since January 2016, more than 100 of them killed this year alone by what locals called “Fuerzas Oscuras” in Spanish or “dark forces” in English.


“The accord has failed to open up a space where people can advocate for themselves without themselves being targeted,” noted Ilian Burbano of the Colombian Action Solidarity Alliance, a Toronto-based advocacy group.Burbano fears that Duque, who will be inaugurated on Tuesday, will stall the full implementation of the accord.“It’s not easy for the government to backtrack but it is a concern for everyone if the accord fails.”Academics, activists and Colombians in Canada have started a petition to call on Ottawa to use its economic muscle — with bilateral trade totalling $1.73 billion in 2017 — to protect Colombian rights leaders and monitor the implementation of the peace process.Ottawa has committed more than $78 million to projects in support of Colombia’s peace efforts, such as demining and rural education, and recommended the new government improve the human rights situation through strengthening security, timely investigations and addressing impunity.


“Canada has strongly condemned continued attacks against human-rights defenders in Colombia,” said Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Krista Humick.


A spokesperson with the Colombian Embassy in Ottawa noted that the recent presidential election was “the most peaceful … in Colombian history, with the highest turnout of voters ever. We had 19 million engaged citizens who voted and will demand accountability from their elected officials.”


The spokesperson added that the government has vowed to carry out an intervention plan in troubled areas and increase the budget for a national security. “The implementation of the peace agreement involves some ambitious and long-term goals to really transform the country and prevent future conflicts. This will take time and there will be bumps in the road to reconciliation.”