Yet another Colombian human rights defender was found murdered Thursday in the southwestern department of Cauca, one of the regions hardest hit by the country’s more than half century-long civil war and ongoing violence against rural social leaders.
Diego Fernando Rodriguez, a legal representative for a local community council in the Gana Plata area in Cauca’s Mercaderes municipality, was found dead Thursday morning with stab wounds.
The coordinator of the Human Rights Network of Southwestern Colombia, Deivi Hurtado, stated that Rodriguez was found dead with “signs of violence that indicate it was an assassination,” Colombia’s W Radio reported.
According to Caracol radio, authorities have already launched investigations into the Rodriguez’ case.
The killing comes amid a wave of violence against progressive social leaders in Colombia, particularly in Cauca and other regions of the country where demobilization of the FARC rebel army has created a power vacuum in some rural areas.
According to social organizations, at least 11 community leaders have been murdered in Cauca alone so far this year. In February, human rights defender and campesino leader Falver Ceron, also from Cauca, was killed after being shot at least 11 times.
More recently, in what appears to be part of a systematic campaign against supporters of the peace process and progressive politics, two demobilizing FARC rebels were murdered in less than 10 days. One of the victims, Jose Huber Yatacue, was shot dead in the Cauca town of Toribio.
According to official statistics, a staggering 156 social leaders were killed in Colombia in the 14 months between Jan. 1, 2016 and March 1, 2017. Amid the crisis, rights groups have urged the Colombian government to prioritize tackling paramilitary violence that often targets progressive social leaders including campesinos, Indigenous activists and other human rights defenders.
According to the U.S. State Department, paramilitary forces are responsible for up to 80 percent of the human rights abuses committed in Colombia’s 52-year civil war that has claimed the lives of some 260,000 people and victimized millions more.