A total of 52 Colombian human rights activists and community leaders have been killed in the first three months of this year, authorities say.
It is a significant increase from 2021, which saw 145 murders all year.
Most of the victims are targeted because they clash with the interests of illegal armed groups, including drug trafficking gangs, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman.
The country is one of the world’s most dangerous for activists, monitors say.
The victims include 28 land rights and community rights activists, nine indigenous activists and four farming activists, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports. Of the victims, 48 were men and four were women.
One of the most shocking cases was that of Breiner David Cucuñame, a 14-year-old indigenous activist who was shot dead in January while on patrol with an unarmed group that seeks to protect indigenous lands.
Colombia is officially at peace after signing a deal with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in 2016. But other armed gangs continue to operate in the country, the world’s largest cocaine producer.
Violence started increasing towards the end of last year due to disputes over territory and resources involving dissident Farc rebels and members of another Marxist guerrilla group – the National Liberation Army (ELN) – as well as right-wing paramilitary groups and criminal gangs such as the Gulf Clan.
“The homicides against social leaders and human rights defenders seriously affect the foundations of democracy,” said Carlos Camargo, the human rights ombudsman.