Recently, Petro’s government and the National Liberation Army – ELN agreed to a six-months ceasefire.  What seems to be a striking step in negotiations between Colombia’s insurgent group and Petro’s government is becoming a shadow of a profound issue that remains happening across the country – the relentless killing of social leaders and human rights activists.

“This effort to look for peace is a beacon of hope that conflicts can be resolved politically and diplomatically,” said Pablo Beltrán, rebel negotiator at the ceremony in Havana.  It’s crucial to highlight the importance of diplomacy to solve any conflict but while the bilateral agreement gives hope to the negotiations with the insurgent group and sets a gateway for the establishment of a national committee with civil society representatives that would engage in discussions of how to achieve peace with the guerilla; we must not let “hope” eclipse the frightening reality the country is going through.

According to the Institute of Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), at least 59 social leaders have been murdered in the country in 2023 alone with the bloodiest month in April, where ten people were killed in three massacres between April 1 and 11, and 1468 assassinated since the signing of the Havana peace agreement between the Juan Manuel Santo’s government and former-guerilla FARC in 2016.

The brutal killings include human rights activist, Diana Carolina Rodriguez Madrigal who was beaten to death when she was on her way to her home in San Cayetano, Norte de Santander. Social leader Enrique Antonio Garcia who was assassinated by a gunman in Santander, after his name was listed on an AGC pamphlet that had circulated in the area, and social leader Frai Torres, was brutally assassinated in front of his wife and son.

Those 1468 folks are not just a number. They are lives that will not see a new day anymore. They are lives that will not interact with their loved ones. They are lives that will not achieve any other dream. No matter what we do, they are lives that will never come back.

While there are high hopes that the ceasefire with the ELN guerrilla will be an important step to build trust and boost the negotiations with the insurgent group, the government should duplicate efforts to mitigate the systematic killing of human rights defenders in the country.