Killings of Colombia human rights defenders fell in 2021 but still a concern -NGO

BOGOTA, May 5 (Reuters) - Killings of human rights defenders in Colombia fell to 139 last year, compared with 199 in 2020, local advocacy group Somos Defensores said on Thursday, though it found that overall acts of intimidation and violence rose slightly.

Despite the decline in killings, the number of cases remained alarming, Somos Defensores said in a report, adding that annual activist murders remain higher than in the years prior to the 2016 peace deal between the government and the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"The persistence of (killings) is still worrying, considering that since 2017 murders have not fallen below a hundred cases," the report said.

Threats, disappearances and sexual violence - among other targeted aggressions against human rights activists - rose to 996 cases last year from 969 cases in 2020, Somos Defensores said.

Colombia's government - which announced a plan to stem activist killings in February last year - accuses FARC dissidents who reject a peace deal with the government, guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) and criminal groups formed by ex-paramilitaries of murdering activists. read more

The decline last year compared with 2020 could be influenced by the lifting of coronavirus restrictions which allowed rights defenders greater freedom of movement, making them harder for attackers to find, Somos Defensores added.

The group also warned that killings in the first quarter of this year had increased dramatically, rising to 53 versus 28 in the year-earlier period.

Reported numbers of activist killings in Colombia vary widely depending on the source.

The Andean country's human rights ombudsman reported in January that 145 social leaders had been killed last year, also down from the previous year.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified the killings of 100 social leaders in 2021, it said in a report published in March.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin in Bogota Editing by Matthew Lewis

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