BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A new United Nations report is casting a shadow on peace efforts in Colombia, drawing attention to the killings of dozens of rights activists and warning that armed groups are occupying drug territories as the nation's largest rebel group starts demobilizing.
The report released Thursday by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights said 127 activist deaths were counted in 2016, even as Colombia moved toward implementing an historic peace accord. Half of the deaths were of human rights leaders while others were members of leftist political organizations. Many occurred in areas previously occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
"There is a pattern here relative to where the killings are occurring," said U.N. representative Todd Howland said. "It is a really important moment to consolidate the implementation of the accords."
The killings have stirred fears that the Colombian government has failed to swiftly fill the vacuum left in remote regions where coca production has skyrocketed and illegal armed groups are now battling for control. Two-thirds of the human rights activists killed were assassinated by people affiliated with criminal organizations, and most worked in rural areas where the state has traditionally had little presence.
Some activists also fear a return to the dark days when thousands of leftist leaders and former guerillas were killed in the 1980s following a previous peace accord that ended in bloodshed.
"These are not isolated incidents," said Luz Perly Cordoba, a lawyer and community leader, speaking Thursday at a panel on the report. She called continued threats by armed groups "the biggest danger to the implementation of the accords."
The U.N.'s warning comes as Colombia has struggled with delays in putting key elements of the peace accord in motion. FARC rebels complain the demobilization zones where they are gathered are worse than living in the jungle. Congress has stymied in passing laws to create the institutions that will facilitate implementing agreements on everything from coca eradication to trying rebels for war crimes.
The report raises serious concerns about the accord itself, noting several provisions are not in alignment with international standards, including how high-level military and police officials will be held responsible for human rights abuses committed by subordinates. It also questions a law passed in December granting amnesty to those who committed lesser crimes like sedition, describing references to victim rights in these cases as vague and abstract.
"The high commissioner is very worried these factors which, if not dealt with, can lead to impunity for the perpetrators of grave human rights violations," the analysis concludes.