Ninfa Cruz has been a human rights defender and social leader in Colombia for sixteen (16) years and today she is a member of the Board of Directors of the Social Corporation for Community Advice and Training (Corporación Social para la Asesoría y Capacitación Comunitaria – COS-PACC). She took the decision to defend human rights at the end of the 1990s when the small-scale farming movement working together in the Departmental Association of Small-Scale Producers from Casanare (Asociación Departamental de Usuarios Campesinos de Casanare – ADUC) was exterminated by the army, state security forces and paramilitary groups. As she tells it, dozens of leaders were forced to flee, faced with the risk of suffering a fate like that of Carlos Mesías Arreguí, a trade unionist and member of ANUC, who was killed in April 1995, in circumstances which are still unknown to this day. Ninfa herself, as a social leader, has suffered five displacements and one attempt to disappear her, the latter incident occurring in Bogotá.
For this human rights defender, who is also a victim of forced displacement, “there is no difference between being a human rights defender and a social leader. They are both the same at the social level”. However, she continues, “the main difference is that the State also has institutions and people who work in the area of human rights. Unfortunately, today they use these offices and people to persecute social leaders”.
When we ask Ninfa what it means to defend human rights in Colombia, and above all, in the department of Casanare, she quickly replies: defending human rights also implies “defending the environment from development projects which the State imposes without caring about the earth, which lies at the root of all our human rights. If we do not have a healthy environment, we will not have any human rights to defend”; and what is more, “when the big foreign companies arrive national companies are destroyed and so are social networks and relationships”. That is why “we have to keep our wits about us and defend education, health and life. We also need to defend life of course, because they keep on killing us social leaders”.
After these sixteen years “defending life”, this leader remembers “the teachings of the communities who are a great university. The communities have taught me such a lot; with their traditional knowledge they nourish our relationships and make us stronger”. She concludes, “the people are our salvation. That is why we have to strengthen the people, because the State has always persecuted us, and disappeared us”. And she repeats: “the people are our salvation”.
Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo: Colombia: Persecución a la Acnur-UR, 10 July 1995