Fabián Laverde is a human rights defender working at the Social Corporation for Community Advice and Training (Corporación Social para la Asesoría y Capacitación Comunitaria – COS-PACC), a grassroots non-governmental organisation that accompanies vulnerable communities in Colombia. Since 2009, PBI has had the privilege of accompanying their admirable work “in defence of life”, as Fabián would say, work for which the organisation’s members have received multiple threats. We meet Fabián to chat with him about what it means to be a defender, and, above all, what it is like to do his work amid the constant threats he receives for promoting human rights, like many other defenders in Colombia.
“If I was prepared to die I wouldn’t be a human rights defender. Why would I be defending life?”
“My view about what it means to be a human rights defender is a bit different to the United Nations definition. You defend human rights based on your understanding of the defence of life. Human rights defenders are part of organisational processes; that is to say they do not exist nor can they exist individually.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights defines a defender as: “a person who, individually or with others, works to promote or protect” the rights of all people, everywhere. For Fabián, however, his experience means that he sees his work as part of a community, as part of the fabric of social relationships which give life its meaning and enable life to grow.
So how does he do his work? According to Fabián, “in practical terms you learn every day how to defend life”, it is not something that you know beforehand; instead it requires constant work. It is an everyday practice that “becomes full of meaning”, with more causes to fight for and so you train yourself so that you can do it.
In his years as a defender, “the best experience has been”, for Fabián, “being able to share in and understand a wide diversity of realities, including indigenous collectives, women, afro-descendants, young people”. This experience, for him, has been based on “sharing and building” together; learning and “training constantly so that we can create public policy on human rights”.