In 2012, the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), initiated formal peace talks to negotiate an end to the country’s devastating decades-long armed conflict. This is the fourth, and most successful, formal attempt at negotiations, and it is likely to result in a signed agreement this year. Given the devastating impacts of more than 50 years of war, the end of the armed conflict is welcomed and provides an important opportunity for creating and sustaining peace, respect for human rights and reconciling with the victims of Colombia’s war. Colombia’s National Victims’ Unit recently published statistics that as of December 1, 2015 there were 7.8 million victims of the conflict, including almost 6.6 million victims of forced displacement, over 45,000 enforced disappearances and around 263,000 conflict-related killings. The vast majority of victims were civilians.
FOR Peace Presence, and the communities and organizations it accompanies, are embracing the talks and the likely accord with cautious optimism. After all, peace does not live on a piece of paper; rather, peace is dynamic, it is a process of creating live space for diversity to thrive on a daily basis in the streets, in the fields, and in community. Peace is respect for human rights; it is respect for grassroots struggles for justice and dignity; it is respect for communities whose identities and economies are interwoven with their territory and its well-being. Peace requires civil society’s meaningful ongoing participation in order to make it sustainable with the power to transform.
Since the negotiations began in 2012, there has been an increase in threats, harassment, and selective assassinations against human rights defenders, people reclaiming their land, small-scale farmers, indigenous Colombians, and Afro-Colombians. According to a report released by Somos Defensores, 63 human rights defenders and social organization leaders were assassinated in 2015–eight more than in 2014, accounting for a 13% increase with respect to the previous year. The 2015 murder rate against these defenders and grassroots leaders surpasses the 20-year average. Additionally, a 2015 report by Global Witness found that Colombia is the second most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental defender. The peace talks are an important step toward transforming Colombia’s political and social context; nevertheless, the overall human rights situation remains fragile. The negotiated end to the armed conflict does not mean the end of all social, political, environmental, economic, and cultural conflicts in Colombia.
Given this context and coupled with the lack of formal participation in the peace negotiations by human rights and environmental defenders, grassroots leaders, and communities, we created this media campaign to broaden the conversation about “peace” beyond the Colombian government- FARC negotiations. With extensive input and guidance from Colombia partners, this advocacy and solidarity work aims to support the incredibly important and courageous work of frontline communities. The campaign shines a light on the need to adequately examine and address the concerning increase of threats and violent acts against human rights defenders and communities so that they can fully and safely participate in the process of building peace, and defending human rights, on a daily basis.
This campaign is designed to lift-up the diverse voices and experiences of FORPP partners, members of Colombian civil society, and members of the international community, regarding their understanding of peace, hopes for a country as the accord is finalized, and ongoing challenges to building lasting and meaningful peace on-the-ground in distinct Colombian contexts. The aim of the campaign is to broaden the physical and political space for discussion and action to build peace and to recognizing that peace is a process that requires ongoing participation at all levels.