”The first thing we say is: don’t leave”

Oct 9, 2015 | Human Rights, Impunity and Justice, News, War and Conflict

For the Spanish version, click here.

This post has originally been published by SweFOR Colombia.

“We fear that what happened in Central America will also happen here in Colombia,” said Diana Sanchez, director of the Minga Association and coordinator for the Somos Defensores program, during the conference International accompaniment: the role and challenges for protection in a post-agreement scenario, held on September 15 in Bogota, Colombia.

International accompaniment organizations such as SweFOR and FORPP are used to carrying out their work under complex circumstances in Colombia. With the signing of a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, new challenges are nevertheless to emerge for international accompaniment organizations and their protection and deterrence capabilities. For this reason, several organizations [1] joined forces last month to arrange a conference to which experts in the field were invited.


Conference Panel from left to right: Luis Enrique Eguren (Protection International), Diana Sánchez (Minga Association), Betty Pedraza (moderator, Protection Desk Colombia), Ivan Madero (CCREDHOS) and David Martínez (OHCHR).

The question addressed by Luis Enrique Eguren, president of the board of Protection International, was if deterrence is an effective tool for international accompaniment in a post-agreement Colombia. Eguren suggested that there is a chance that threats will come from private actors in the future. For international accompaniment to have a deterrent effect in such a context, it would be important to identify these actors’ interests and build networks that could generate political or economic costs for them.
In a post-agreement scenario in Colombia, it would be important to keep in mind the international accompaniment experiences in Central America during and after the signing of peace agreements. Some organizations, for instance, withdrew from the public sphere as soon as the peace agreements were signed, but were soon thereafter compelled to return due to the high levels of violence that ensued.


According to Ivan Madero, president of the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights, an organization that has received international accompaniment since 1994, even after the signing of the agreement in Colombia,

“permanent accompaniment will be necessary in the regions.”


Diana Sanchez also stressed the importance of international observers’ continued presence after the signing of a peace agreement, when “political protection will be most needed.”
She deems that international organizations’ political accompaniment provides legitimacy to the work of local human rights defenders vis-à-vis the Colombian authorities. This legitimacy makes it difficult for the latter to ignore the voices of civil society and generates a deterrent effect against potential threats. For her, it is therefore crucial that these organizations carry on with their work after an eventual agreement.


Madero, in turn, thinks that a challenge that needs to be faced is the lack of resources from the international community. In recent years, these resources have increasingly been directed to state agencies and less so to civil society organizations. If this trend continues, it will affect international accompaniment organizations and their ability to provide protection to organizations and human rights defenders facing security issues.


[1] The Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation SweFOR; FOR Peace Presence; PAS/Peace Watch Switzerland; Protection Desk Colombia; and Witness for Peace