Targeted Violence Against Social Activists

Third TraCe Working Paper by Visiting Fellow Juan Albarracín and Jonas Wolff sheds light on its characteristics, causes, and transformations

The last ten years have seen an emerging debate about targeted violence against social activists, with a focus on the killings of human rights defenders, environmental activists, and representatives of civil society organizations broadlyspeaking. Whereas violence against civilians in (civil) war contexts is an established field of study, research on this type of violence – which is being observed mainly outside of conventional armed conflict settings in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Honduras or the Philippines – is much less developed and rather fragmented. 

In the newest TraCe Working Paper, authors Juan Albarracín and Jonas Wolff bring together existing data and research to identify what we know – and do not know – about the targeted, lethal violence against civil society activists, including its characteristics and causes. In doing so, they also discuss the question of whether and to what extent this phenomenon can be considered as reflecting a transformation of the (violent) repression of civil society actors. Throughout the paper, the authors draw on cross-national and comparative research on the one hand, and existing studies on the specific case of Colombia on the other, since this is the case for which the best data and most systematic and in-depth research exists. In this paper, though, they are not interested in analyzing the recent wave of assassinations of social activists in Colombia per se, but in discussing insights from Colombia as relevant contributions to the broader, comparative debate.

The working paper is available for download here.

In June and July 2024, TraCe welcomes Juan Albarracín as a Visiting Fellow. He is assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, focusing on the restriction of political and civil rights in cases of organized violence and non-state rule. As a Visiting Fellow of TraCe, he contributes to Research Area 1.1 on findings on the forms, causes and consequences of political violence. Juan Albarracín spends his visiting fellowship at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF).