The small, brightly lit, white-walled room is filled with a hundred students, some of them sitting on the floor because there is no other room. They didn’t all make it inside in time to hear the presentation by David Ravelo, the human rights defender: “Guaranteeing the lives of civic leaders, a challenge for peace”.
We are at the University of Los Andes, one of Colombia’s most prestigious universities. A young woman introduces the seminar and asks us “to open your eyes, and get to know the reality in Colombia” and with all the charisma of an experienced leader David stands up, looks over the group of young privileged students and starts to tell his story: “Being a human rights leader isn’t easy”.
He tells the story of paramilitarism in Colombia, of how civic leaders became military targets and victims, and how some sectors justify the violence against them. “Human rights defenders have been gradually and systematically exterminated”. He talks about the extermination four thousand members of the Patriotic Union Party in the 1990s. They all listen attentively, some take notes, others take photographs or record David’s presentation on their phones.
“And there are different ways to kill a leader, it can be done physically or judicially”, David explains, and he raises his finger to emphasise this important fact that he has personally lived through. He talks about his life, his struggle, his first imprisonment in 1993, the second in 2010, the irregularities in his case, the false testimony that pinned blame on him, the prosecutor that led the case against him who was apparently involved in an enforced disappearance and was disbarred, and who never should have been assigned his case.
“You are the new generation, you deserve peace; some day you will lead this country and you must have political clarity” he tells the students. “The future has many names, for the weak it is the unknown, for the brave it is opportunity, an opportunity to transform this country”. When he finishes, the students applaud enthusiastically and leave David’s presentation inspired, and he goes back to his native city, Barrancabermeja, to continue the fight for human rights that he never gave up.