The daughter of David Ravelo speaks with emotion and at moments she sheds tears while she reads a text message that her father has written from Barrancabermeja prison. She struggles to divert her gaze towards the public in the ceremony organised this week by the Unit for Attention and Integral Reparation of Victims. The ceremony was to publicise the news that the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) will now be subject to collective reparation. Her tears remind us of the suffering, indignation and injustice that the victims of the Colombian conflict continue to endure, although little by little there is progress in the reparation of individuals, organisations and municipalities that have suffered throughout decades due to violence, be it armed, verbal or psychological.
An example of this is progress is the recognition that, enshrined in law 1448 of 2011, honours the more than 30 years that CREDHOS have been subject to death threats, assassination attempts, pressure and stigmatisation. Also commemorated are the eleven fatal victims that form part of the memory of this organisation. The event took place on the eve of International Human Rights Day, celebrated every 10th of December.
Before the act Ivan Madero, president of CREDHOS, expressed his emotions on what it means for CREDHOS. “To be compensated and acknowledged feels like a new chapter of strengthening institutions; we are pleased, we deserve it for our 30 years of persistence”, he explained, proud of the work that his organisation has been carrying out in the Magdalena Medio region and for the hopes that this new era of peace and reconciliation can bring to human rights defenders in Colombia.
The family members of the associates of CREDHOS who have been murdered in the last 30 years also attended the ceremony. In an emotional act, they remembered the dead with candles and verbal tributes evoking their memory. In the first row were some of the “old school” human rights defenders – this is how they were presented to the crowd – who had persisted against all odds through the most violent periods suffered in the city of Barrancabermeja, and because of this, have been converted into an example of courage and human persistence.
However Jorge Gomez, one of the founders of CREDHOS in 1987, expressed worries about the lack of political will that “still today” – he assured – exists in guaranteeing the lives and the work of the individuals who defend human rights in Colombia. “The presence of the governor and the municipal mayor are lacking because reparation is not just about giving us bodyguards and bulletproof cars, it is about a greater and more efficient political conviction on behalf of the municipal and departmental governments to compensate the damages done, now that we are speaking about peace and reconciliation in the country”.
For his part, the human rights defender David Ravelo, expressed his gratitude for the recognition in a video message sent from prison. The message was projected during the ceremony and it called for people to not forget his case or his cause. He showed resilience and made reference to some of the influences in his own struggle, such as the recently deceased Marcos Ana – the Spanish political prisoner who spent the longest time in jailed under the dictatorship – who always put his trust in his rights and his ideas.
Ravelo, who PBI Colombia has accompanied even while in prison, has spent six years incarcerated due to accusations made by an ex-paramilitary called Mario Jaime Mejía, aka “El Panadero” (The Baker) about his supposed involvement in the assassination of David Núñez Cala former secretary of Public Works in Barrancabermeja. He was condemned to 18 years in prison although those who have studied the case state that not all the witnesses were interviewed during the trial and their statements were not taken into consideration. Likewise, it was always obvious that David Ravelo was making enemies throughout is career as a human rights defender. In this time he never stopped reporting about the presence of paramilitaries or guerrilla forces in the Magdalena Medio region, he was also active in publicising the five failed attempts on his own life. This is why the current president of CREDHOS considers that “David Ravelo’s case is an example of the criminalisation of social movements and the unlawful imprisonment of human rights defenders”.
Times of hope
Recognising CREDHOS as a subject of collective reparation in a public ceremony where members of the municipality of Barrancabermeja and the local government of Santander clearly stated their intention of offering all the guarantees necessary to support those who defend human rights is an example of how things seem to be changing. For his part Ivan Madero looks towards the future but without forgetting the hard times suffered and that ” there is hope for a strengthened democracy and a durable peace”.
Generally for CREDHOS these times of post-agreements and of peace building are considered “key” for the victims of the armed conflict and for human rights defenders because “it is they that are going to participate in these new scenarios and who are going to generate new hopes for the strengthening the rule of law. They will be the ones who need to form part of the necessary citizen oversight and accompany the implementation of the Peace Agreement” assured Madero with enthusiasm.
For all of these reasons PBI Colombia congratulates CREDHOS and all the individuals who have formed part of this organisation because their talent, strength and persistence have converted this journey and purpose into authentic historic heritage in the defence of human rights in Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio region.
Silvia Arjona Martin (Brigadista in the Barrancabermeja field team)