Community leader and human rights campaigner William Castillo Chima, 43, was shot and killed on Monday, becoming the latest in a series of recent activist victims in Colombia and Latin America.
He was killed by a group of armed gunmen shortly after attending a meeting with officials in the town of El Bagre, Anitioquia.
Chima collaborated with local campesino organisations, such as Guamocó’s Association of Agroecological and Mining Brotherhoods (Aheramigua), and Colombia’s National Coordination of Agrarian Organisations (Conap). These organisations provide a voice to indigenous groups regarding their rights to lands.
A statement by Conap blamed paramilitary groups for the murder, saying Chima had been “unjustly persecuted by the Colombian government and threatened by paramilitary groups because of his work as a defender and promoter of human rights in the region”.
A member of Aheramigua in El Bagre, María Dania Arrieta Pérez, reported he had received death threats in the days before his murder.
Chima’s killing is the latest in a string of recent attacks on indigenous and community leaders. On 1st March, William Alexander Oime, the indigenous governor of Río Blanco, was shot dead in the town of Popayán in a crime the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia called “part of a strategy to exterminate indigenous leaders and peoples”.
Two days earlier another campesino activist, Maricela Tombé, was killed in the rural town of El Tambo. Groups in the region had been reporting the distribution of pamphlets, signed by paramilitary groups, calling for “social cleansing”.
Chima’s death also comes just days after renowned Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was killed, prompting the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to condemn the murders as a “worrying sign of violence and racism”.
According to a study released by Global Witness in April 2015, Colombia had the second highest number of murdered environmentalists in the world in 2014. The UN also reported that 729 human rights activists were killed in Colombia between 1994 and September 2015, with signs that the rate of murders was on the increase.