A Flurry of Activity for Peace in Colombia

Jun 5, 2013 | Human Rights, Impunity and Justice, News, Peace and Nonviolence

By Gina Spigarelli

A Flurry of Activity for Peace in Colombia

On April 9, the National Day for Memory and Solidarity with Victims in Colombia, a massive march for peace was organized and carried out by the Marcha Patriotica social movement. According to many accounts, the march had more than a million participants, who travelled from various regions of the country to show civilian support for the peace process, regardless of

political party.

1497One participant from Tolima was quoted as saying, “I believe this process will bring peace. It’s not that we support Santos, it’s not that we support the FARC, it’s that we live in the middle of gunfire.” This statement is particularly poignant to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) because at the exact same time that this massive march was taking place in the capital, our team and the peace community in La Union were caught in military-FARC crossfire. (Thank you to those who responded to our alert last month about this situation.)

In a further showing of the public call for peace, the national People’s Congress for Peace (“Peoples Constructing Peace for a Dignifying Life”) was held from April 19 to 22, also in Bogota. The congress brought together more than 20,000 groups and individuals from diverse political, social, religious, and ethnic communities in Colombia who, after meeting regionally, came to this national platform to share their proposals throughout the week for peace and justice in Colombia.

FOR participated at the congress with our colleagues from other international protective accompaniment organizations working in Colombia. Together we displayed a two-tier photo exhibit, designed by our accompanied communities across the country. One tier of photos represented images of activities and solidarity in communities where we work that our accompanied organizations believe promote peace. The other represented images of things that they consider are obstructing peace in the various regions.

Accompaniment groups’ display at Peace CongressThe final declaration of the People’s Congress was focused on peace with social justice and included several points of concern including the humanitarian crisis, the inequalities of power and wealth, the focus on production of goods over human rights, and the inadequate justice system and social services. The final declaration also outlined how the participants envision civil society’s participation in the peace process to be vital to establish true peace with justice.

At the end of April, the Colombian government presented its human rights record to the United Nations in Geneva, as part of the Universal Periodic Review, with mixed results. While the entity recognized that Colombia has advanced since their last review four years ago, especially reflected in the current peace talks with the FARC in Cuba and the 2011 Victims Law, participating countries raised several red flags.

The largest concern was widespread impunity of the armed forces, particularly in the cases of extrajudicial killings, in conjunction with the current law being pushed through the courts to allow military human rights violations to be tried within the military justice system. Member-country Austria stated that this was “a step backwards in fighting military impunity,” and several other countries shared their concern that this law may actually increase already rampant impunity for crimes committed by armed forces in Colombia. Colombia denied general impunity and claimed to have had zero cases of extrajudicial killings in 2012; the human rights community contested this and other government statistics. Colombia did resolve to prioritize policies to end sexual violence and improve protection for those returning to their lands under the new land restitution law.

At FOR, just as in the United Nations, we are concerned about the military trying its own cases of human rights violations. An English overview of concerns around this issue can be read here.

The flurry of activity around Colombia’s peace process in April highlighted the overall support for the initiative from the local and international level, both socially and politically. However, from the Colombian public to the U.N., large concerns loom about what this peace will look like. What kind of justice will be done after potential agreements are signed between the Colombian government and the FARC?

Gina Spigarelli is a member of the FOR Colombia accompaniment team, currently based in Bogotá.