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Worldwide vigils protest murder of Colombian social leaders

Several cities around the world joined Colombia’s vigil Friday to protest the systematic murder of social and community leaders.

In Colombia's capital city of Bogota, and in Medellin thousands gathered with lit candles to reject incidents of violence, which seems to have become the norm.

We scream in silence that we don’t tolerate one more murder, no more violence, no more aggression against our human rights defenders, no more paramilitary structures trying to silence us. #TheyWon’tSilenceUs #TheCpuntryFirst @CountryFirst,” activist Mafe Carrascal tweeted.

The protests and gatherings of solidarity were organized after a particularly deadly week, during which at least seven social leaders, including Ana Maria Cortes, a social leader, and coordinator of Gustavo Petro’s presidential campaign in the city of Caceres, Antioquia.

Petro has said that Cortes had denounced the mayor of Caceres and that the head of the local police threatened her and other campaign workers. This is consistent with the patterns identified by several social organizations in a report on socio-political violence targeting human rights defenders and community leaders.

Vigils were held in Paris, Valencia, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, London, New York, Rome, and Buenos Aires.

Many us are worried that with the change of government the progress regarding human rights and the peace process might be at risk,” Chris Duarte, a protester in Bogota told the AP. Duque’s party, the Democratic Center has already approved reforms on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a central element of the peace accords signed with former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), effectively delay all hearings related to military and police human rights violations.

On Friday morning several organizations presented a report revealing the murders primarily target Indigenous and Campesino leaders who challenge economic power, that violence against them is systematic and that paramilitaries have acted with Colombian state forces against human rights defenders.

The number of victims differs. According to the Ombudsman's Office of Colombia since January 2016, 311 leaders have been killed. The non-governmental Institute of Studies for Development and Peace has registered 385 murders since the Colombian government signed a peace treaty with the demobilized FARC, in November 2016. If the 18 murders since May 2018 are added, the total number of deaths stands at 403.

In a statement, Colombia's Attorney General said they would "double their efforts in defense of social leaders," however, many fear that a new massacre like the one perpetrated by right-wing paramilitary groups between the 1980s and 1990s could take place.

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