Will 2015 be a year for peace and equality in Colombia? As we walk with Colombian human rights defenders, we all hold hope for a comprehensive peace agreement and the changes it could bring. We also prepare for the changes that may not be decided just yet, and for the threats to human rights defenders that may actually increase, given the shifting political climate and land and resource interests for armed groups and international actors currently involved.
In the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, January began with an inaugural dance in the new kiosk of La Unión, where our permanent accompaniment team of two, Julia Schutt and Nikki Drake, offers round-the-clock accompaniment. They also traveled to the nearby hamlet of Arenas Altas to heighten visibility. Despite the increase in militarization the team has observed in these mountains of Urabá, our team has also noted far fewer hostilities taking place between the FARC guerilla group and Colombian military, leading us to believe that the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC in December has held in the area. The Community is also busy preparing for the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the 2005 Massacre in the Peace Community hamlets of Mulatos and Resbaloza.
As the Community reflects daily on the ebb and flow of militarization in their war-torn region, we consider it equally important, especially as internationals living in Colombia, to reflect on the militarization of our own countries of origin. Some of us are US citizens, and all of us are appalled and deeply saddened by the surge in cases of police brutality and murders of unarmed (majority black) individuals. This is by no means a new phenomenon, but rather an illustration of the systemic racism that exists within the US, as well as of the continued militarization of US police forces. FOR Peace Presence researcher and advisor John Lindsay-Poland’s recent Huffington Post article “Don’t Feed the Beast” analyzes the rise in federal assistance to police departments, and argues for the application of human rights standards to federal US police grants.
On the other hand, we are thrilled to share a call for celebration about some historic good news from our partner ACOOC (Collective Action of Conscientious Objectors). On January 28th, the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the National Recruitment Office “to resolve applications for [conscientious objection] within 15 days; to publish a booklet that notifies youth of their grounds for exemption, deferral, and their right to CO; and to end the practices of arbitrary detention, including batidas [recruitment raids, usually in public spaces]. This right to claim conscientious objection includes once they have already entered the barracks. They have also asked the Army to report, within six months, on the implementation of these orders. If fully adopted, the changes would mark a huge change for young people in Colombia, and especially COs.” (War Resisters International)
From the in-the-field Bogotá team, Gale Stafford and Kaya Allan Sugerman departed for Buenaventura to accompany the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission. “Leaving for Buenaventura” documents the preparation done for this accompaniment, as local violence – in the form of threats and disappearances – has seen a rise with the start of the year. While in Buenaventura, the two met with the Metropolitan Police and Defensoría del Pueblo (a type of citizen’s protection office) to share their security concerns and speak about local authority compliance with the Inter-American Commission’s protective measures granted to the Humanitarian Space Puente Nayero in September of last year.
Later in the month, the team traveled to Tamarindo, Atlántico, an area of the country where paramilitary threats to individuals fighting for justice and human rights is on the rise, despite ongoing peace talks. There they accompanied the community organization of ASOTRACAMPO (Association of Farm Workers) in the Humanitarian Space El Mirador. ASOTRACAMPO’s legal representative Juan Martínez, along with other Colombian human rights defenders and land claimants on the Caribbean Coast, were threatened in January through a pamphlet from the Aguilas Negras (“Black Eagles”) paramilitary group. FOR Peace Presence denounces these threats and asks that you too take action to push for their thorough investigation.
Finally, the team traveled to the northern mining regions of Cesar and Magdalena. They started with a meeting at with the Departmental Police in Valledupar, and went from there to accompany Tierra Digna, attending and observing the monthly meetings taking place with various mining companies, government bodies, and environmental control entities involved in the involuntary resettlement of the afro-descendent community of Boquerón, and later with the struggle of the fishing community of Don Jaca near the coal ports in Magdalena.
In numbers, our team in the San José Peace Community accompanied for 31 days and our Bogotá in-the-field team spent 13 days accompanying in the departments of Valle del Cauca, Atlántico, Cesar and Magdalena. In total we had three meetings with regional authorities and attended three additional meetings between regional authorities and our partners. We also made calls to embassies when threats were made against human rights defenders on the Caribbean Coast, and published eight written articles or updates.
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