On 29th August the Popular Training Institute (IPC) celebrated 35 years of work in defence of human rights and the construction of a peaceful society. It was an important moment to commemorate this difficult struggle in a context of armed conflict and stigmatisation against defenders, to pay homage to those who have suffered threats and persecution for their work in support of human rights.
IPC was born in 1982 in the city of Medellín and since then has undertaken work in investigation, training and capacity building, accompanying communities and social and political movements in the department of Antioquia (above all in the city of Medellín, in Urabá, Bajo Cauca and the east of the department). Since its beginnings it has been very close to the social and workers´ movements, undertaking activities in the different neighbourhoods of the city. Back in this time many neighbourhoods in Medellín were under the influence of insurgent groups, which lead to IPC being stigmatised as having links to the guerilla. Added to this was the wave of violence perpetrated by the Medellín cartel and the different urban guerrillas, as well as the socio-political violence. In the 90s, this scenario became worse with the apparition and increased power of the United Self-defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). On 28th January 1999 four members of IPC were kidnapped by this group who published a statement claiming responsibility on 2nd February 1999.1 After this situation and other acts of oppression against human rights organisations in the city, PBI Colombia, that had been in the country for five years, decided to open an office in Medellín. We accompanied IPC until the year 2010, sharing there everyday lives with them and accompanying their work physically and politically.
Three years ago IPC decided to begin the process for collective reparation as laid out in the Victims and Land Reparations Law (law 1448 of 2011), for which they worked on investigating and reconstructing the history and memory of the organisation. The result of this work can be read in a report that was presented at the ceremony: Resisting political violence, the case of the Popular Training Institute. In a context of peace building, IPC highlights the important work of reconstructing collective memory and the clarification of the truth.
“When I think of the violence in Colombia and the belief that some people have, that our society is fatally condemned to violence and intolerance or corruption, I tell myself that when there are painful and cruel events in a society that repeat themselves decade after decade, what there is is a design error, a bad interpretation of who we are, something that can´t be decoded that doesn´t allow the society to flow through channels of solidarity, understanding and prosperity”.2
Today IPC continues to accompany communities, campesino and victims´ associations amongst others. In Urabá they support the communities that suffered paramilitary violence in the 90s and today continue to reclaim their land. Carlos Montoya began working for IPC 4 years ago, but has been collaborating with them for 8. He is a social communicator, journalist from the University of Antioquia, passionate about politics and empowering young people and citizens in their participation in political spaces. He lives in Apartadó, accompanying communities reclaiming their land, and he tells me that working for IPC “is a luxury, because IPC began its services in Urabá, and you can find documents written on typewriters, but in that time their partners didn´t sign their publications”, this because of the persecution in the context of political violence. “In the years 1985-87, partners of IPC were writing about the disappearances of banana workers, they said `so-and-so disappeared in such-and-such farm´”, his eyes filled with pride and admiration he adds, “working for IPC is a vocation, it´s like a religion or a political party, it´s more than just work”.
The whole PBI team joins me in congratulating IPC for their achievements, their struggle and persistence in defence of human rights. We wish them success in the continuation of their work