Mar 9, 2023 - World

Colombia, Ecuador to work together to protect Indigenous and environmental activists

Colombian ombudsman Carlos Camargo Assis (left) and Ecuadorean ombudsman César Córdova sign a document on March 7 launching a binational early warning system in Bogotá. Photo: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Colombia and Ecuador this week launched a first-of-its-kind joint security alert system in an attempt to prevent attacks by armed groups against Indigenous and environmental activists near the nations' shared border.

Why it matters: At least 116 activists were killed last year, up from 100 in 2021, according to new data from the UN's Colombian office.

  • Killings of at least three or more people at once — which the UN defines as a massacre — also rose from 78 in 2021 to 92 last year, according to a UN report presented Tuesday in Geneva.
  • Those killed last year include José Albeiro Camayo Güetio, a co-founder of an Indigenous-led lands rights guard in the Cauca region.
  • Some of that violence happened in the Amazonian region, part of which is shared with Ecuador.

Details: As part of the binational alert system launched Tuesday, each country's ombudsman offices, which serve as quasi-civil rights enforcers, will monitor activity near the border closely and share information.

  • They'll look to spotlight crime trends to protect Indigenous groups that also face extortion, displacement and forced recruitment of children.
  • Authorities haven't released more details about how the initiative will work.

The big picture: Violence continues to devastate parts of Colombia despite the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the largest guerrilla force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

  • Other armed groups who were not part of the agreement, like the National Liberation Army (ELN), sought to expand their territories by moving into areas where the Farc demobilized.
  • NGOs and UN experts attribute most assassinations to armed criminal groups that aim to take control of remote jungle areas, where there's long been little security, for drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

What to watch: The government of Colombian President Gustavo Petro came to power last August with promises of "total peace," seeking to establish ceasefires with armed groups and curb violence in rural areas.

  • A second round of peace negotiations between the ELN and the Colombian government is scheduled to end Friday.
  • A third round is scheduled for early April.

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