By Nikki Drake, accompanier at FOR Peace Presence
Article originally published on Upside Down World
An alarm of lively music starts each day around 6am, and the street slowly comes to life. Sweetened coffee percolates in houses, fishermen head out in their small wooden boats, and kids get shuffled off to school. Over the ocean, the houses on stilts become busy, and playing children fill the rocky dirt road and elevated walkways of wooden planks. As day turns to night, the doors and windows remain opened until late, the smell of food and sound of voices and music fill the air, and the news of the day is shared between small groups of neighbors and families gathered outside of their houses. It is a daily scene far removed from what it was just four months ago. Welcome to Puente Nayero, the first urban Humanitarian Space in Colombia.
The petition to create the Humanitarian Space came from one of the community leaders of La Playita. After exploratory visits and exchanges with rural humanitarian zones in other regions of the country, he proposed the creation of an urban space free from the presence of all illegal armed actors. He made an official petition to the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (Inter-Ecclesiastic Commission of Justice and Peace), a Colombian human rights NGO, to help facilitate the establishment and accompaniment of the Space. The Commission accepted the petition, and in turn requested the presence of international accompaniers to help provide additional security and spread international visibility for the community.
Prior to the creation of the Humanitarian Space on April 13th of this year, this road in La Playita was empty by 6pm every evening. One of Buenaventura’s most dangerous neighborhoods, residents were prisoners in their homes, afraid to be out in the street after dark. At the end of the road was a ‘chop house,’ where local paramilitary groups tortured and dismembered people, tossing their remains into the ocean. As a bold move toward empowerment, during the opening week of the Humanitarian Space the community made the decision to burn down the house.
It is not a new violence in Buenaventura, but one that continues to be complicated by the presence and involvement of the region’s powerful actors: Colombian public forces, illegal paramilitary groups and drug-traffickers, multi-national corporations, and touristic mega-projects. Buenaventura contains Colombia’s largest port, and has been the country’s drug-trafficking hub for decades under the control of surrounding illegal armed groups.For as long, the city has also been a destination for families and communities forcibly displaced from throughout the Department of Valle de Cauca by these same powerful groups. As people fled to the city for safety, lack of space soon became an issue. In order to create more habitable space, communities constructed roads out of garbage, dirt, and rocks, allowing for new neighborhoods to reach out over the ocean waters like outstretched fingers.
Now these same neighborhoods have become the new urban targets of 21st Century Colombia. Their coastal location has been identified as prime real estate for tourist development and mega-projects, such as hotels and boardwalks. Great efforts have been made to free up the valuable property, including threats and violence toward residents by paramilitary and criminal groups. Since the 2005 “demobilization” of Colombia´s paramilitary groups – considered largely unsuccessful by many national and international entities – smaller, but powerful factions have continuing operating throughout the department. Officially referred to as criminal or delinquent gangs by the State, said groups have had a heavy presence throughout Buenaventura’s urban neighborhoods and rural surroundings, using extortion, threats, violence, and murder as a means to control and displace the civilian population anew.
Local officials have tried other large-scale tactics, such as the campaign they launched in February for tsunami emergency evacuations drills. Poor neighborhoods along the coastline were urged to permanently evacuate and relocate due to the high probability for tsunamis. Coincidentally, these are the same locations that have been earmarked for new hotels and a long, extensive boardwalk. As another way to relocate residents from neighborhoods on desired land, authorities have used the promise of an opportunity for better living conditions in newly constructed housing further inland called San Antonio. According to the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz and residents, those who accept the offer find themselves in a completely isolated area without potable water, a health center, a school, or access to transportation. It isn´t until they attempt to return to their previous house that they realize they unknowingly signed it over to the state.
With the port expansion, entry of more multinational corporations, and increase in large-scale tourist projects, violence and displacement in Buenaventura have continued at an alarming rate. Local and regional authorities, plagued by years of corruption, have yet to develop an effective or comprehensive strategy to address the urgent situation. As part of his bid for reelection, President Santos demonstrated his dedication to curbing the extreme violence in Buenaventura by calling for additional militarization of the city during the months leading up to the May elections. Despite the massive joint effort between the marines, coast guard, and national police, neighborhoods continue to be controlled and terrorized by violent groups who identify themselves as paramilitary factions, but whose existence the State refuses to acknowledge. These groups regularly announce their connections to and support by the local authorities, an accusation residents have been making for years. Local residents have reported that not only do the marines and national police ignore the movements of paramilitary and faction groups, but often clear out of areas just before violent acts are perpetrated against civilians.
Labeled a humanitarian crisis by Human Rights Watch and featured in a report by Amnesty International earlier this year, Buenaventura and Puente Nayero have been gaining international attention. Even so, since the Humanitarian Space was established, more than fifty threats have been made toward community leaders and members, as well as toward the national and international accompaniers. It has remained a challenge to prevent illegal armed groups from moving through the Space, which can be easily accessed by water and neighboring streets. The community is also still waiting for a response from the State to its official request for the provision of additional security measures, including a request for protective measures made to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Despite all the obstacles they face, the members of Puente Nayero are continuing to organize and unite one another in their mission to maintain a space free of violence, and hope to serve as an example and inspiration for surrounding neighborhoods of the power of a non-violent social movement. To date, there have been no murders in the Humanitarian Space.
At the end of Puente Nayero, the dirt road meets the ocean and a welcome breeze cools the hot air. Between two houses there stands an empty space where just four months ago the ‘chop house’ used to be. In the time since, the community has converted their grief into a space to commemorate and celebrate life. Life. Welcome to the Humanitarian Space of Puente Nayero.
This week we are excited to send our first email update as FOR Peace Presence to our grassroots community. We are eager to share with you the evolution of our ongoing work in Colombia as we continue with our transition from a project of Fellowship of Reconciliation USA (FOR USA) to our own independent organization that is part of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) family. Here’s what we have been up to in the past few months:
In recent months, we’ve been saddened and concerned as other international accompaniment and solidarity organizations face difficulty funding and maintaining their teams on the ground. We are doing our best to respond to an increased demand for accompaniment here in Colombia and to be here for the long haul. In response to this increased demand, we’ve started traveling to the Afro-Colombian port city of Buenaventura to accompany the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission and their work with the incredibly courageous people of the Puente Nyero Humanitarian Space.
Additionally, two members of our team just returned from the northern Guajira Department where they observed a People’s Consultation, a community-led endeavor to publicly examine the impacts of mining on territories and communities in La Guajira. This region is undergoing a major drought and environmental and social ills directly associated with the Cerrejón mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in Colombia, and we urge you to sign this petition in solidarity with the affected communities.
We regularly update our website (www.peacepresence.org), our Twitter (https://twitter.com/Peace_Presence), and our Facebook (www.facebook.com/PeacePresence) with the latest happenings on our team and with our partners.
Our work is still needed at this critical moment, and with your support, we continue to stand with Colombian communities and organizations engaged in active nonviolence to defend life, land, and dignity.
Please stay in touch, and thank you for joining us as we carry out this important work in Colombia and explore new paths forward! Together we are building a real and lasting peace.
FOR Peace Presence
– This public action was published originally on the World Development Movement website –
Communities in Colombia are standing up to multinational mining companies displacing them from their land.
Cerrejón Coal, which operates the biggest open-cast coal mine in Latin America, is owned by three of the richest mining companies in the world. Yet their activities are devastating the lives of people in the area, who are seeing few benefits from the mine’s presence.
Please take two minutes to join us in writing to them.
The message to the companies that own the Cerrejón mine can be sent off here – enter your details, click next and your email will be sent. We will also send the message to Colombian embassies in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US.
Communities in northern Colombia have been pushed off their land to make way for the mine. After years of struggle and solidarity, Cerrejón Coal now builds new settlements when villages are moved, but still refuses to provide sufficient land for families to continue their agricultural livelihoods. The small grants it gives people to start new livelihoods have failed because the work most people know is farming.
People are struggling with health effects and many communities have been left with barely enough water to drink. Meanwhile, the company continues to fail on its promises to the communities.
On August 9, indigenous communities in Colombia will join together to commemorate the brutal eviction of the community of Tabaco. They were expelled from their land by armed police and security guards on 9 August 2001 so that the mine could expand. In the days before this, communities affected by the mine will join together to hold their own ‘people’s consultation’ about the mine. Around the world, people will be standing in solidarity with them.
Please join us in writing to the multinational companies which own the Cerrejón mine and the Colombian government (via their embassy) to say you stand in solidarity with the people affected by the mine.
This action is supported by:
Written by Nikki Drake, an accompanier on the FOR Peace Presence team. Published originally here in NACLA Report on the Americas.
As he walked into the room, his face was tense and solemn. He had been here for over three months. His name is Jefferson Shayanne Acosta Ortiz, and we were at the army base in Saravena, Aruaca, one of the most dangerous departments in Colombia due to the ongoing conflict between the army and guerrilla groups.
Jefferson was recruited in April to fulfill his obligatory military service. During his recruitment, he expressed his objection to serve based on his religious and moral beliefs of non-violence. He officially declared himself a conscientious objector—meaning the refusal to perform military service—shortly thereafter, upon learning of the nationally and internationally recognized right. Two members of FOR Peace Presence made the 15-hour bus ride to visit Jefferson and meet with military officials as accompaniers of our partner organization Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors (ACOOC), which has been working on Jefferson’s case since his recruitment.
Although conscientious objection gained international attention during WWI as a fundamental right and political exercise to resist war, the practice was introduced in Colombia only as recently as 1989 as part of an effort by the Mennonite Church and the Collective for Conscientious Objection (COC). The biggest accomplishment by these two groups was their push to have the right to “Freedom of Conscience” included in the 1991 Colombian Constitution. The movement gradually secularized, and in 2000 individuals and entities such as COC, Just Peace, Colombian Working Youth, and the Foundation Growing Unity formed the Collective Action for Conscientious Objection in Colombia (ACOCC).
The present day ACOOC was created in 2009 as an organization focused on strategy and advocacy in its work toward the demilitarization of society and addressing the recruitment of youth by armed actors. In the same year, ACOOC, in coordination with the Swedish organization CIVIS and the Public Interest Group of the University of the Andes, played a large role in the decision by the Colombian Constitutional Court to ratify the fundamental right to object to military service for reasons of conscience. Despite the work of ACOOC and other organizations and networks throughout the country, the ideology and practice of conscientious objection are still largely unknown by the civilian population, and therefore widely unrecognized and often denied by the military.
While we waited to meet with the Lieutenant Colonel of the 18th Airborne Cavalry, we had a few minutes with Jefferson. The two members of ACOOC only had time to ask him some brief questions, trying quickly to assess his condition and the treatment he has been receiving. He responded quietly and calmly, fully aware of the military official in the room. As he had reported in previous phone conversations, he was receiving constant pressure from his superiors and fellow recruits. Once he was woken by his superiors at 3 am, and then made to put on his uniform and sit in a room while being told to abandon his convictions due to all the benefits of being a soldier. His fellow recruits were being made to perform harder exercises as punishment for his behavior. Jefferson had attempted to turn in his uniform and weapon as a way of protest, but he was refused.
As our meeting began with the Lieutenant Colonel, additional military personnel entered the room. Unlike with many of Colombia’s brigades, he was aware of conscientious objection. However, he was quick to point out the fact that Colombia does not have any legislation or laws in place that protect this right. The 2009 Sentence C-728 of the Colombian Constitutional Court determined that conscientious objection is a fundamental right derived by articles 18 and 19 of the Colombian Constitution, which guarantee the liberty of conscience, religion, and worship. Furthermore, Colombia signed the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which served as the basis for the UN’s official recognition of the right of conscientious objection to military service. However, despite these measures, the Colombian government has yet to pass any legislation making this right a law.
Therefore, each case largely depends on the high-level military officials in charge of a specific Battalion and Brigade, who each have varying levels of sensitivity to national and international pressure. At the meeting, one of the majors present was quick to grasp the importance of the case for both sides. “I know what you want to do. You want to establish jurisprudence to use in other cases. We won’t permit that. We will not lose.” By highlighting the lack of protection by law, they can try to make this legal process as long and difficult as possible. ACOOC is up for the challenge, and is dedicated to getting Jefferson released. On July 9, they submitted a tutela, or writ of protection, as an official step to start the judicial process. While both sides wait for the results of the petition, ACOOC has issued an official statement, and FOR Peace Presence has been working with our international base and political networks to bring attention and support to the case of Jefferson.
As the meeting neared an end, ACOOC voiced concerns about the pressure Jefferson is receiving by superiors and fellow recruits for his convictions, but the military officials were quick to dismiss them. A final request was also made to bear witness, along with the FOR Peace Presence accompaniers, to Jefferson turning in his weapon. But as officials explained earlier, “Weapons are the responsibility of the soldier… Jefferson was declared a soldier as of his 10th day.” For the first time in the meeting, the Lieutenant Coronel addressed Jefferson directly: “Let’s say there are enemy forces firing on us in this room. As they get nearer, what do you do?” His response was met by surprised silence, quickly followed by disapproving looks: “I would hide.”
His answer only serves to prove what ACOOC and Jefferson himself have been saying. What use to the army is an individual who does not want to use a weapon, participate in, or support any kind of military action? Jefferson is just one out of countless unknown cases throughout the country, almost all of which lack any kind of legal counsel or representation. Until Colombia’s legislation catches up with its own court rulings and support for the UN’s international declarations, its young men who oppose war and violence will continue to be forcibly recruited, uniformed, and armed. And organizations like ACOOC will continue having to navigate the murky waters of Colombian justice.
Escrito por Nikki Drake, quien forma parte del equipo FOR Presente por la Paz. Se encuentra el artículo publicado aquí en NACLA Reporte de las Americas
El joven entra en el salón con el rostro tenso y solemne. Ha estado aquí en el batallón más de tres meses. Él es Jefferson Shayanne Acosta Ortiz, y está en la base del ejército en Saravena, Aruaca, uno de los departamentos más peligrosos de Colombia debido al conflicto entre el ejército y los grupos guerrilleros.
Jefferson fue reclutado en abril, y durante su reclutamiento, expresó su objeción a prestar el servicio militar por motivos de conciencia, basado en su convicción religiosa y sus principios morales de la no violencia. Se declaró oficialmente objetor de conciencia—cuando uno se niega prestar servicio militar—apenas después, en cuanto aprendió sobre el derecho reconocido a nivel nacional e internacional. Dos integrantes de FOR Presente por la Paz hicieron el viaje de 15 horas en bus para visitar a Jefferson y reunirse con militares como acompañantes de la organización Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC), que ha estado trabajando en el caso de Jefferson a partir de su reclutamiento.
Aunque la objeción de conciencia como derecho fundamental y ejercicio político de resistencia a la guerra ganó reconocimiento internacional durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, en Colombia se empezó a desarrollar recién en 1989, debido a unos primeros esfuerzos realizados por la Iglesia Menonita y el Colectivo por la Objeción de Conciencia (COC). El mayor logro impulsado por estas dos organizaciones fue la inclusión del derecho a la “Libertad de conciencia” en la Constitución de 1991. Este movimiento se secularizó paulatinamente, y en el año 2000 se conformó la ACOCC, colectivo que agrupaba a personas y entidades como el COC, Justapaz, la Juventud Trabajadora Colombiana (JTC) y La Fundación Creciendo Unidos (FCU).
La ACOOC de hoy en día fue creada en 2009, y es una organización que se enfoca en la estrategia y la incidencia en su trabajo en los temas de la desmilitarización de la sociedad y el reclutamiento de jóvenes por parte de actores armados. En ese mismo año, ACOOC en coordinación con la organización sueca CIVIS y el Grupo de Interés Público de la Universidad de los Andes, logró que la corte constitucional ratificara el carácter fundamental de derecho a objetar por razones de conciencia. Actualmente a pesar del trabajo de ACOOC y otras organizaciones y redes en el país, la ideología y la práctica de la objeción de conciencia aún no son masivamente conocidas por la población civil, a esto contribuye el hecho de que muy a menudo los militares no reconozcan o nieguen el derecho.
Mientras nos estabamos esperando reunir con el teniente coronel de la Caballería Aerotransportado No. 18, tenemos unos minutos con Jefferson. Los dos miembros de ACOOC sólo tenían tiempo para unas preguntas breves, tratando de evaluar rápidamente su situación y como lo están tratando. Respondía con calma en voz baja, siendo consciente del militar presente en el salón. Como Jefferson nos había informado en conversaciones anteriores por teléfono, recibe presión constantemente por sus superiores y compañeros. Una vez lo levantaron a las 3am, y lo obligaron ponerse el uniforme y sentarse en un salón, durante la cual lo presionaron a desistir de sus convicciones por las ventajas de ser un soldado. Están haciendo a sus compañeros cumplir con ejercicios más duros, como castigo por su comportamiento. Jefferson había intentado entregar su uniforme y su arma de forma de protesta, pero esto le fue negado.
A medida que inició la reunión con el Teniente Coronel, más militares entraron en el salón. A diferencia de muchas de las brigadas de Colombia, él sabía que es objeción de conciencia. Sin embargo, no perdió tiempo en señalar el hecho de que Colombia no tiene ninguna legislación ni ley que protege este derecho. La Sentencia C-728 de 2009 de la Corte Constitucional de Colombia determinó que objeción de conciencia es un derecho fundamental derivado de los artículos 18 y 19 de la Constitución Política de Colombia, las cuales garantizan la libertad de conciencia, religión y culto. Además, Colombia firmó la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos de la ONU, que sirvió como la base para el reconocimiento official de la ONU del derecho de objeción de conciencia al servicio militar. Sin embargo, el gobierno colombiano aún no ha aprobado ninguna legislación para regular este derecho mediante una ley estatutaria.
Por lo tanto, cada caso depende en gran parte de los militares de alto nivel a cargo de un batallón y brigada específica, que cada uno tiene diferentes niveles de sensibilidad a la presión nacional e internacional. En la reuníon, uno de los mayores presentes, captó rápidamente la importancia del caso para ambos lados. “Yo sé lo que quieren hacer. Quieren establecer jurisprudencia para usar en otros casos. No lo vamos a permitir. No vamos a perder.” Al destacar la falta de protección por ley, pueden intentar hacer este proceso legal lo más largo y difícil posible. ACOOC está lista para el reto, y se dedica a lograr la libertad de Jefferson. El 9 de julio, entregaron una acción de tutela como un paso oficial para iniciar el proceso judicial. Mientras ambos lados esperan los resultados de la petición, ACOOC ha publicado un comunicado oficial, y FOR Presente por la Paz está trabajando con nuestras redes internacionales y políticas para conseguir atención y apoyo para el caso de Jefferson.
Antes que terminó la reunión, ACOOC expresó sus preocupaciones sobre la presión que Jefferson está recibiendo por sus superiores y compañeros sobre sus convicciones, pero los militares las descartaron. ACOOC también pide servir como testigo, junto con las integrantes de FOR Presente por la Paz, para que Jefferson realice la entrega de su arma. Pero los militares repiten lo que habían explicado antes, “Las armas son la responsabilidad del soldado… Jefferson fue declarado un soldado a partir de su 10º día.” Por primera vez en la reunión, el Teniente Coronel se dirigió a Jefferson directamente: “Si el enemigo nos empieza disparar, y nos están acercando en este salón, ¿qué harías?” Su respuesta recibe un silencio sorprendido, seguido por miradas de desaprobación: “Me escondo”.
Su respuesta sirve para demostrar lo que han estado diciendo ACOOC y Jefferson. ¿De qué sirve al ejército un individuo que no quiere usar un arma, ni participar en, ni apoyar ningún tipo de acción militar? Jefferson es solo uno más entre los innumerables casos actualmente desconocidos en el país, de los cuales casi la totalidad carecen de asesoría jurídica o representación legal. Hasta que la legislación de Colombia alcance con los fallos de su propia corte y su propio apoyo a las declaraciones internacionales de la ONU, los jóvenes que se oponen a la guerra y la violencia seguirán siendo reclutados, uniformados y armados por la fuerza. Y las organizaciones como ACOOC continuarán tener que navegar por las aguas turbias de la justicia colombiana.
Para obtener más información sobre el caso de Jefferson Acosta, o para aprender más sobre la objeción de conciencia en Colombia, puede contactar firstname.lastname@example.org.