We will always accompany your work

On the 18th of January, we accompanied Emilsen Manyoma, a human rights defender from Bajo Calima (Valle del Cauca), for the very last time. A week before she was assassinated alongside her partner Joe Javier Rodallega.

A modest and emotional ceremony in the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura, something she had been committed to, was the setting for her farewell. Beforehand, when we were in the funeral parlour we had noticed a strange normality in the air but it was in Puente Nayero where we started to realise that death had become normalised in a context as violent as the Colombian one; this was especially the case for Buenaventura.

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Emilsen Manyoma was 31 years old and she was a leading figure in CONPAZ, a project that forms peace proposals that originate from the different territories of Colombia. She was assassinated along with her husband Joe Javier Rodallega on the 17th of January 2017. Photo: Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission

Puente Nayero, like other places stricken by poverty, is riddled with children, and during the religious ceremony they gathered around the two coffins. One of them, a kid of about 6 or 7, came up to us and seeing our jackets and our foreign appearance he said “They killed them in Punta Icaco, am I right?”.

The crime didn’t take place where the child was indicating but Punta Icaco was the next street and most probably formed part of the limits of the small universe that the child had explored. This incident made us think that since the most innocent times of childhood, these children have learnt to live with such violence. We were also surprised by the sobriety of the family members, who seemed to consider this loss as some sort of compromise, a price to pay in the eternal struggle for the land that they live on.

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Afterwards the procession headed to “La Colonia” in Bajo Calima, the small town 18km from Buenaventura where Emilsen was from. After a couple of kilometres of dirt track we arrived at a cemetery where more family members were waiting alongside a troop of about 20 soldiers from the armed forces whose task was to provide security to this solemn event. These are the same soldiers who could not guarantee the security of leaders and human rights defenders who are still being assassinated throughout the country despite the hopeful glimpse of peace that exists at this moment in Colombia.

We accompanied Emilsen in her struggle for human rights, we accompanied her in her last voyage and we will always accompany her work.

Fernando (Spanish brigadista from PBI Colombia)

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