Real Lives Behind the Increasing Numbers of Killings of Human Rights Defenders

Meet our new accompanier: Enrique

Enrique is a social leader, human rights defender and member of the victims’ network Communities Constructing Peace in the Communities (CONPAZ). In 2017, he was selected the Human Rights Defender of the Year in the national awards for human rights, granted by Diakonía and the Swedish Church.

His mother and father were campesinos (small-scale farmers). His father was disappeared, after which his mother was motivated to become a leader for her community and a member of the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union) despite great personal risk, as the movement suffered what some term a political genocide, with an estimated over 5000 members killed.

He says:

“My path in human rights defense, social work and community organizing began more than 30 years ago as part of the Catholic church, with whom I did pastoral and missionary work for seven years in different regions of Colombia, such as Santander, Boyacá, Antioquia and Cundinamarca. For over 23 years I worked in the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Comission, accompanying communities in processes of civil resistance and the construction of peace in the midst of  armed conflict. I worked in Chocó, Antioquia, Meta, Putumayo, Cauca, Valle de Cauca and Huila.

My family and I are victims of the conflict who have become leaders of a process of memory, truth-finding, and the search for disappeared persons, as well as advocates for environmental protection and conditions for no-repetition of the violence we experienced.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue building a culture of peace and human rights with FOR Peace Presence as part of the Colombian field team, supporting community processes that affirm their rights to build sustainable peace, which includes social and environmental justice.”

 

Meet our new accompanier: María Eugenia

María Eugenia is from the outskirts of Popayán, in the department of Cauca. She studied ethno-education at the University of Cauca. Her family member was a victim of  an extrajudicial execution, which motivated her to get involved in peace-building work. She is a human rights defender and victim advocate.

She says:
“My work with communities began in the comunidades eclesiales de base (grassroots church communities) in the poor neighborhoods and rural areas around Popayán. Between 1991 and 2001, I was a volunteer with the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission, and was a member of the collective Human Rights, Life and Dignity of Popayán.

I’m part of the network CONPAZ, on behalf of which I was invited to Havana to participate in roundtable discussions for the proposals for victims and the inter-ethnic focus of the Peace Accords between the FARC and the Colombian government of then President Juan Manuel Santos.

I have also been part of a group that witnessed the early Acts of Recognition and Responsibility, public ceremonies that recognize the harm done by violent events that occurred in the mark of the conflict. I have witnessed Acts of Recognition and Responsibility in Bojayá (Chocó) and La Chinita (Apartadó, Antioquia).

Between 2001 and 2018, I accompanied Afro-Colombian, indigenous and small-scale farming communities who are victims of the social and armed conflict, and are building models of humanitarian protection in rural and urban areas in the departments of Chocó, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca and Meta.

FOR Peace Presence is an organization with whom I can continue to support peace-building in the territories of Colombia, accompanying communities and strengthening their protection and non-violent action.”

 

Reflections on Returning to the Peace Community

by Tom Power

When we arrived in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for Christmas, former accompanier Emily and I didn’t really know what to expect. Neither of us had been there for some time, but we were excited that the Peace Community was going to have their Christmas celebration in the new “aldea” (small village), a 45 minute walk from La Unión.

The new “aldea” that the Peace Community has constructed is amazing. About a dozen families live in the newly constructed homes that overlook the Gulf of Urabá, building community through shared projects such as a flourishing garden. This “aldea” is named after Rigoberto Guzman, one of the Peace Community’s leaders who was killed in the massacre of 2000. He is one of many leaders whose bravery and commitment to the Peace Community motivates them to continue moving forward. I was inspired at their new space, and the way they have created rebirth amidst ongoing armed conflict.

Unfortunately, they need this continued resistance because the conflict in Urabá is far from over.  While the FARC demobilized following the 2016 Peace Accords with the government, paramilitary groups continue to grow more powerful in San José. In the short time we were there, paramilitary groups issued death threats to the Peace Community and extorted butchers who live in the main village, just a half mile away from San Josecito- the biggest Peace Community settlement. Paramilitary groups are also charging a fee for each head of cattle owned by the residents of San José, making cattle ranching prohibitively expensive.

Of course, the Peace Community refuses to be extorted, putting them at even higher risk.

Furthermore, the 17th brigade has placed a writ for the protection of constitutional rights against the Peace Community. The 17th brigade alleges the Peace Community has damaged their “right to a good name” for saying the army is working with paramilitaries. After this alarming step taken by the 17th Brigade, various entities and organizations came out in support of the Peace Community, highlighting their right to denounce paramilitary activity and human rights violations in their region.  Nonetheless, if this judicial process is successful, the Peace Community could lose their legal status in the country.

Despite these challenges, the Peace Community still celebrated Christmas, honoring how much they have accomplished. They are no strangers to these types of threats from armed actors and have over 20 years of experience resisting them. Grassroots movements such as the Peace Community are facing a difficult year, but they will  not be intimidated.

“There will never be true peace, until we eliminate hatred within our hearts as a country.”- Peace Community Leader

The following piece and pictures were originally published in Spanish by our Accompanier Dianna E Almanza. 

Peace Community San José de Apartadó: Community House

When I see the sunrise,

I see how mother nature awakens around me,

As if time stood still,

As if this very precise moment that I am living, were to last for a long time,

In which I am caught in a moment of profound tranquility, completely consumed by the grand beauty that surrounds me.

The earth itself that I walk on emits a profound energy, which I can’t even begin to describe,

The energy evokes many emotions within me,

I feel an immense force, an innate connection between the earth, and the guardians of the earth.

I observe the way in which the community takes care of its earth, treating it with such delicacy,

This is the same delicacy I see shown in the looks, caresses and embraces between parents and their children.

Here, I began to understand, with my own flesh and blood, the true meaning of living a life in peace, without hatred.

 

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, (Antioquia), Colombia, is a collective of small scale farmers, founded in 1997 in order to resist in the midst of the armed conflict. The small scale farmers declared themselves neutral (they do not interact with any armed group), they practice nonviolence, they don´t allow any arms in their territory and they have to participate in collective working groups. In order to receive more information, in their own words (in Spanish), visit their homepage www.cdpsanjose.org or follow this link for an introduction to the Peace Community of San José the Apartadó on our homepage in English.

The following pictures represent a selection of the very beginning of a photographic memory[1], which, in my opinion is the most convincing representation of the incredible force, unity, beauty and above all, resilience of the community, from my perspective as International Observer and Accompanier.

 

[1] The whole collection can be found in the original publication.

Real Lives Behind the Increasing Numbers of Killings of Human Rights Defenders

During the last months we have been repeatedly alarmed about the dramatically increasing rates of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia. Since the start of 2018, over 100 Human Rights defenders have been killed.  Seemingly, the situation has become even more violent, during and after the presidential elections, with the new president coming into office this week. 24 human rights leaders were killed just between the months of June and July, averaging almost one human rights defender per day. The number even spiked in the first week of July with nine Human Rights Leaders killed in only four days.

These developments have impacted our work on the ground. We have received a steady increase of general and emergency petitions to walk with and advocate for the safety of social activists and communities, who receive threats, or even attacks. During a visit to Colombia last week, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst expressed his concern about these increasing assassinations of Human Rights Defenders, and highlighted their crucial role in constructing peace in Colombia. Alberto Brunori, the Representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) in Colombia, also stressed that the situation for human rights defenders is very serious.

These human rights defenders are our hope for peace in Colombia! We would like to share at least a few lines about some of them, who do stand for many, knowing that their doings can never be resumed so shortly.


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