I feel hugely proud to be able to accompany two of the people who have inspired me most through their commitment and work throughout my nearly 3 years in PBI, Iván Madero and Andrés Ortiz from the Regional Human Rights Defense Corporation (Credhos), in a political advocacy tour in Bogotá.
The two human rights defenders were here to speak about the human rights situation in Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio region and to establish commitments from the national government and the Diplomatic Corps in order to tackle the various problems that are developing in the region
Entering the Congress building in the Plaza Bolivar in the centre of Bogotá, these defenders are far from home, but despite the discomforts of the Colombian capital, the terrible traffic and the incessant rain, they seem calm and prepared to represent their territory, “invisibilised” in the current political context of the country. Outside the Boyacá room we meet with Congressman Alirio Uribe, as President of the Congressional Human Rights Commission and previously accompanied by PBI when he worked as a lawyer for the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers´ Colective, he greets us a friend and a true ally, listening to Iván and Andrés´ concerns and supporting their work with commitments to shed light on and tackle the presented issues.
During this meeting and the others with the Interior Ministry and the delegation from the European Union, Iván and Andrés presented the concerning dynamics of the neo-paramilitary structures that operate in Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio region that, according to Credhos represent the biggest threat to the work of human rights defenders.1 Credhos researches and analyses these dynamics in the region, which provides the content for the reports that the Corporation constantly presents to the relevant authorities so that they can elaborate strategies that help to dismantle neo-paramilitary groups and guarantee security for people working to defend human rights.
During these meetings, the defenders requested that the government follows up on the issues mentioned and strengthens the differential and territorial focus of protection measures for the civilian population. They also asked the government to recognise the presence of neo-paramilitary structures in the region and the constant persecution of these groups against defenders. They asked for national government entities such as the Ombudsman or delegates from the National Guarantees Commission to visit the region in order to better understand the territorial dynamics and so they can listen to the stories from the people first hand. They asked the Diplomatic Crops for political support for human rights defenders and diplomatic visits to the field to draw attention to the issues they brought up.
PBI accompanies these meetings to highlight the reality of the Magdalena Medio region and to back up the information Credhos gave about the threats and persecution the organisation has received. We have accompanied Credhos since 1994 and we have been witnesses to the constant harassment their members have had to put up with.
“One thing is that commitments have been made and the other is that they are fulfilled”, Iván reflects. It´s true that ahead lie many challenges but in general the defenders return content with what they have achieved in Bogotá, that according to Andrés has been of “great utility and impact”.
After each meeting we drank coffee and laughed remembering the many adventures we have had throughout the years we´ve accompanied Credhos: walks through the countryside, swimming in waterfalls, tense moments with authorities in the field and moments during difficult accompaniments where we´ve mutually supported each other. This strong relationship of friendship and respect is the product of personal bonds of trust that we have built over the years, that for us have always been the foundation of the accompaniment that we offer in Colombia
1Contagio Radio, Presidente de CREDHOS es amenazado de muerte por paramilitares, 30 July 2017