Edilberto Cristancho became the 175th social leader killed in Colombia in 2018. Cristancho was a palm worker for Aceites Manuelita who was leading the fight for better working conditions and to formalize labor employed in the company.
According to the National Union of Workers in the Food and Oil Products Industry (Sintraimagra), the union Edilberto belonged to, he was leading a campaign to increase union affiliation in the Llanos Orientales, or OrinoquIa, region. The campaign to guarantee “palm companies in the region fulfill constitutional and legal rights, as well as the international conventions of the ILO (International Labor Organization)” received the support of Colombia’s Central Workers’ Union (CUT).
He was stabbed to death 18 times on Nov. 4. According to the declarations he provided to Colombian authorities shortly before dying. He was in a taxi when two unknown men entered the vehicle and attacked him.
The CUT has demanded the “competent authorities to investigate and punish those responsible for the facts and review the protection guarantees for union leaders grouped by Sintraimagra.” It also warned in an official statement: “this fact is added to a series of threats and murders of social leaders in the country. Without guarantees, there are no rights.”
On Tuesday Sintraimagra called on all unions and human rights organization to show their solidarity at the national and international level by “submitting letters of protest to the Colombian state.”
In 2016 the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace treaty to end decades of conflict. However, in rural Colombia, social and community leaders continue being targeted and murdered with impunity.
Local rights group Research Institute for Development and Peace, or Indepaz, places the number of victims between November 2016 and May 2018 at 385, while teleSUR’s own monitoring of these cases places the up-to-date number at over 400.
According to Camilo Bonilla, coordinator of the research department of the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), it is difficult to know with certainty who is behind these murders due to a lack of investigation by a state that responds to political and economic motivations. Human rights defenders point to paramilitary groups that continue to operate in Colombian territory.
A shadow report on human rights for the United Nations Universal Periodic Review showed that the General Attorney’s Office “lacks an investigation strategy that recognizes the existence of paramilitaries, the systematic character of the attacks, and that the condition of being human rights defenders constitutes a motive.”