by Gina Spigarelli
FOR team members with Colombian human rights defendersWhen we began to think about how we wanted to celebrate ten years of FOR’s accompaniment program in Colombia, it was clear from all perspectives that we did not just want to have a “celebration” of our great work here since 2002. We didn’t want to present ourselves as protagonists in the struggle for peace in Colombia, but rather highlight the brave Colombians who spend their lives defending human rights in this country. We wanted to demonstrate that our work here is still necessary, that international protective accompaniment still makes sense and is necessary to protect the lives of human rights workers within the context of the current Santos administration. That even though ten years have passed since we arrived in country, and a lot of great work has been done… there is still a long way to go for human rights in Colombia.
With this in mind, we decided to throw a political forum in conjunction with seven other international protective accompaniment organizations that make up our professional network here in the capital. These organizations – Christian Peacemaker Teams, Swedish FOR, International Action for Peace, International Peace Observatory, Peace Brigades International and Witness for Peace – meet once a month to discuss our work nationally and were all happy to participate in this celebration of FOR-USA’s ten-year anniversary in Colombia. We decided to invite the state, the diplomatic corps, the international humanitarian sector, the United Nations, the Organization of American States and of course, people who have benefited from our accompaniment.
The event was held in Bogota on June 14 and was a smashing success. Several speakers, including FOR’s accompaniment director Liza Smith, British Ambassador John Dew, Amanda Porter of the U.S. embassy’s office on human rights, Claudia Chaparro of the Colombian government, Colombian Human Rights lawyer Jorge Molano and three leaders of peasant movements around Colombia all spoke from their various personal perspectives about why accompaniment is important to their work and lives. The eight accompaniment organizations spoke about our varied work around the country and the impact we can have both for our accompanied communities here in Colombia as well as our political and citizen support bases in our home countries.
Liza Smith of FOR and human rights attorney Jorge MolanoAs the Santos government begins a land restitution process, it is timely to remind people in the diplomatic corps and state agencies how, in rural parts of the country, communities trying to return to their lands still face extreme risk. Leaders of such movements remain highly threatened and some have been killed. Don Enrique Petro and Raul Palacios from Curvarado and Don Salvador Alcántara from El Garzal demonstrated this point as only they can, by talking from personal experience and presenting the true nature of life in the war-torn Colombian countryside.
Each of the eight accompaniment organizations provided large photos of their work around the country, demonstrating the variety of communities and areas in the country where international protective accompaniment is still being used to protect life and land. During the cocktail, we had opportunities to speak with everyone present and there seemed to be a common thread: we all look forward to and work toward a time when this sort of project is no longer needed in Colombia and when Colombians are protected by their own state to build a peaceful society. In the meantime, we in the FOR accompaniment program are thankful to be a small part of building that vision of peace, and we are committed to doing so until it is no longer necessary.