The homicide rate in Colombia in 2016 was the nation’s lowest in more than four decades, said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. With 24.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year, Colombia reached a level not seen since 1974, according to the government.
There were a total of “around 12,000” homicides, the defense minister said, which is the lowest overall number since 1984. Villegas acknowledged that this is still an unacceptably high figure, but highlighted the downward trend as a positive sign.
“This is a country that definitely is advancing in its conversion to a much more civilized and peaceful society,” said Villegas. He add that the nation still must “lower that figure in the next five years to below 10,000, but it is a good beginning.”
Colombia’s murder rate around the turn of the century was the highest in Latin America. In 2002, at least 28,387 people were killed in the country, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Its homicide rate of 68.9 per 100,000 people in 2002 was more than 10 times higher than Costa Rica (6.3) and nearly twice that of Guatemala (37.0) and Venezuela (38.0).
In 2016, the murder rate in the capital was also historically low at 15.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, down 6% from 2015. Daniel Mejía Londoño, secretary of security, said that personal injuries in Bogotá during 2016 were also down 16.5% from the previous year. Mobile phone theft, an ongoing scourge from street muggings, fell by 20% in the capital, according to officials.
Despite the improvements, there remains major concern about the nature of violence in the country. In November, the United Nations decried the large number of assassinations this year against community leaders that seemed to be politically motivated. Troublingly, many of these came in the wake of the government’s announcement that it had reached a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group to end a half-century of conflict.
ABColombia, a London-based NGO focused on Colombia, cataloged 71 killings of what it calls human rights defenders during the first 11 months of the year. At least 31 of these came between August 26 — the day that the peace agreement was announced — and November 31.
“The Colombian Government’s Centre of Historic Memory express concerns as to whether this could be the beginning of a wave of violence similar to that which happened in the 1980s and early 1990s to the communist party the Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica),” said ABColombia in a statement. “During that time, more than 3,000 members of this political party, which came into existence during a previous peace negotiation between the FARC and the government, were assassinated.”
Drug-related violence also remains a huge problem throughout the country. May represented a particularly bad month, according to Colombia Reports, with homicides in Medellín spiking by 80% as rival trafficking organizations fought a bloody turf war.