More than 200 social leaders and human rights activists were killed in Colombia last year, the country’s human rights ombudsman has announced, as armed groups vying for control of drug trafficking routes increased their attacks.

Carlos Camargo said in a statement on Monday that 215 human rights activists and social leaders – a term used to describe community, land and environmental leaders, among others – were killed in 2022.

It was the highest death toll ever recorded, up from 145 in 2021 and 182 in 2020.

“It’s a serious impact on the basis of democracy, because these are leaders who take up the concerns of the people, who are spokespersons and who work for a country where human rights are respected,” the ombudsman said.

The tally comes as Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who took office last August, has pursued a “total peace” plan to try to bring an end to the armed conflict that killed more than 450,000 people in the South American country between 1985 and 2018.

Bogota signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group in 2016, leading members of the organisation to disarm. But some FARC dissidents rejected the deal and picked up weapons again.