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  • There is increasing concern of violence in Colombia

    There is increasing concern of violence in Colombia's rural areas. | Photo: Reuters

A power vacuum following the FARC's departure from rural areas has made it increasingly dangerous for human rights defenders.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia has observed ongoing violence against leaders and human rights defenders working in Colombia with increasing concern, particularly in rural parts of the country, its office announced Friday.

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In 2016, there have been 35 attacks and 55 murders against leaders and human rights workers in the country as of Nov. 30, the office said. An additional five murder cases are being investigated by the office.

The U.N. revealed that 75 percent of the homicide victims were operating in rural parts of Colombia and attackers were using more sophisticated methods to help cover up their crimes. Since the government signed the first peace deal with FARC leaders on Sep. 26, 13 murders occurred and seven of these were in rural areas, where the FARC had a presence before disarming for peace, the office said.

The office noted that some of the violence was due to a vacuum of power, where previously the FARC's presence in rural areas would help “regulate” disputes.

The office also noted that illegal economies such as illegal crops and mining were proliferating. As well as an absence of the state, other groups had entered the vacuum left by FARC troops and had created tensions and affected the rights of locals, as well as human rights defenders.

In many areas human rights defenders and leaders are often viewed as a barrier for new actors to achieve their economic and political goals within these “vacuum" areas.

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The office said the Colombian state needs to better assert itself in these areas to create a sense of trust and address the structural problems behind the recent violence, including better involving local communities at a political and economic level and adopting prevention policies for violence.   

The announcement comes as left wing politician Aida Avella warned that recent attacks on activists in the country could be the beginning of a new era of political extermination of activists similar to what occurred throughout the 1980s and 1900s.

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