(London): Colombian human rights defenders, including a governor from the Indigenous Zenú Peoples in Colombia, are visiting Europe to tell parliamentarians, lawyers and the general public that even if a peace agreement is signed in Havana, peace will not be achieved in Colombia unless civil society has the space and security to carry out its work.
The peace dialogues have been undertaken without a ceasefire, which continues to cause untold suffering on the part of the civilian population.
The peace dialogues taking place between the Colombia Government and the largest of the guerrilla groups the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in Havana. These have encouraged a tentative opening-up of democracy as victims have been able to participate in putting their proposals to the negotiators. Yet at the same time, Colombia is experienced an escalating number of social protests; in 2013 there were 1,027 social protests – the highest number in one year since 1975.
A report to be launched in parliament on 25 November by the human rights group ABColombia (whose members include CAFOD, Christian Aid UKI, Oxfam GB, SCIAF and Trócaire) explains how many of the social protests taking place in Colombia relate to the failure of the Government to implement commitments it has already made, or relate to policies on trade and development, particularly in the mining and energy sector.
In July 2014 the UK Parliament ratified a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with Colombia. The report raises concerns that the BIT could restrict the Colombian Government’s ability to meet its international human rights obligations and to make the policy changes needed for peace, development with social justice and human rights.
‘Despite the ongoing peace talks, Colombia continues to be extremely dangerous for human rights defenders and civil society organisations, particularly those working on land and victims’ rights with 78 human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2013. It is vital that the UK monitors the impact that its trade agreements with Colombia are having, and ensures that UK businesses do not benefit from human rights violations which have taken place in the country’ explains Louise Winstanley, ABColombia Advocacy and Programme Manager.
Irrael Manuel Aguilar Solano and Carmenza Alvarez will share their concerns at an event in the UK Parliament on Tuesday 25 November. The Colombian Ambassador to the UK, Nestor Osorio, the Head of South America at the FCO, Archie Young, and ABColombia Advocacy and Programme Manager, Louise Winstanley will also be speaking at the event. Further information about the event can be found here:
Colombia is facing a crucial and complex moment in its history. The Government of President Juan Manuel Santos opened peace dialogues on 5 October 2012 with the aim of ending the conflict with the guerrilla group the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia –FARC, which started in 1964. By August 2014, the peace dialogues had reached item four in a six point agenda – justice and the rights of victims.
Irrael Manuel Aguilar Solano is a Zenú Indigenous leader from the Department of Córdoba. For many years Irrael has worked tirelessly for the recuperation and defence of the land belonging to the Zenú Peoples. As a result of this work, the Governor has received threats for a number of years. Irrael has also been involved in the protest against the Cerro Matoso mine – a BHP Billiton-owned copper mine located in the municipality of Montelibano which the indigenous communities have said is damaging their health. The Zenú Indigenous Peoples have been faced displacement and violence against leaders and community members as a result of their position of neutrality in the conflict, and their efforts to defend their rights: 46 members of the Zenú Indigenous Resguardo of Alto San Jorge were killed since 2008.
Carmenza Alvarez is a human rights defender who lives in the department of Antioquia, and works for the organisation ‘Women’s Initiative for Peace’. Carmenza lived in Chocó but was forced to displace to Antioquia when the FARC attempted to recruit her youngest child. Since then, Carmenza has dedicated herself to defending the rights of women victims of the armed conflict, and those suffering abuse and domestic violence.
ABColombia is the advocacy project of a group of five leading UK and Irish organisations with programmes in Colombia: CAFOD, Christian Aid UKI, Oxfam GB, SCIAF and Trócaire. Amnesty International and Peace Brigades International are observers. ABColombia’s report ‘Colombia: Women, Conflict-related Sexual Violence and the Peace Process’ can be downloaded in English from their website: www.abcolombia.org.uk.
EU project The human rights defenders visiting Europe in November are part of a joint CAFOD, Caritas Colombia and ABColombia project which aims to help protect human rights defenders in Colombia, with a particular focus on land restitution claimants, women and minority groups. The project is funded by the European Commission, CAFOD and SCIAF. The project is based on recognition of the credibility and reach of the Catholic Church with communities that are marginalised or affected by the armed conflict in the departments of Antioquia and Chocó (Diocese of Apartadó), Bolívar (Diocese of Cartagena), Córdoba (Diocese of Montelíbano) and Sucre (Diocese of Sincelejo).