The voice that will carry the concerns of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

The morning of the 26th November was particularly emotional for the Peace Community and all of its members: it marked the visit of Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, to their main setllement of La Holandita in San José de Apartadó.


The meeting took place in the kiosk, an open, thatched structure where the Community periodically comes together to discuss and reach collective consensus on decisions. There, for more than an hour, Mr Forst listened attentively to the Community’s Internal Council and other members of the community. They related with profound clarity the circumstances that affect them, and also presented  informative materials regarding the history of the Community and the processes that the people who live there been bringing about to achieve justice and reparations for the atrocities of which they have been victims.

“The Peace Community has been a victim of a strategy of extinction which includes more than 1000 violations of its members fundamental human rights, including more than 300 assassinations,” explained Father Javier Giraldo, who has accompanied the Community since its foundation. “The peace they speak of in Colombia is a peace which doesn’t exist in our territory,” emphasised a leader of the Community and another exclaimed, “We demand that these threats against our lives stop, and that there are guarantees (of no repetition)!”.

Germán Graciano, the Legal Representative of The Peace Community, starting the meeting between the members of the Community and the UN Special Rapporteur, Michel Forst

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has spent more than twenty years driving forward its project of peaceful resistance as an alternative form of living within the context of the Colombian armed conflict, a conflict whose horrific events have marked their lives. More than two years since the peace accords were signed between the Colombian state and the FARC-EP rebels, the Peace Community continues to construct peace through non-violent means.

It’s never been easy, and today they continue firm in their dreams despite the barriers they are facing in the present context, which threatens to put a halt to their plans. The presence, social control and threats by illegal armed actors in the territories in which the community cultivate their community project continue[1], as do the attempts to de-legitimise the community. One of the clearest examples of these constant threats is the judicial situation they are facing as a result of a legal action (tutela) that has been brought against them. It threatens one of the main tools that the Peace Community uses to publicly express and denounce situations of risk that they confront daily, their social media accounts and blogs by accusing them of dishonoring the name of the Colombian armed forces by publicly calling out their actions against the community[2] .

Sir Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of Human Rights Defenders, and Father Javier Giraldo

The woman and men of the Peace Community used the opportunity of the visit of the Special Rapporteur Michel Forst to their community seat in La Holandita to tell him about their situation, their relationship with the Colombian state and justice system, and their historic example of non-violent resistance and struggle. It was a unique opportunity for Forst to find out about the current situation in the territory and the history of abuses committed against the community, but also to meet members of the community and to hear about its successes and to see the happiness of the people that live there.

The visit of the Special Rapporteur to the Peace Community concluded with a tour of the memorial that the Community has raised in homage of and to remember the victims of the massacres they have suffered and of the memory garden where many of them rest in peace. For Forst, it was important to see the memorial as, “remembering the names of the dead means that they won’t be forgotten”.


Visiting the Memory parc

However, this important visit doesn’t end here, from this moment onwards the Special Rapporteur will elaborate and present a report on the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia, that will also include recommendations directed towards the Colombian state, so that these HRDs, like the Peace Community members, can continue to develop their work in a safe environment and with guarantees for their security. To conclude the Rapporteur expressed that, “My mandate is unite the voices of communities and human rights defenders before the international community. I’m here to tell the world  the concerns that the Peace Community have shared with me”.

Miguel Añon and Christina Gertds

Miguel Añon and Christina Gerdts (PBI) with Germán Graciano, Legal Representative of the Peace Community

[1] CdP: Apartadó bajo el ordenamiento territorial y político del paramilitarismo, 31 de julio 2018

[2] CdP: Nuestros victimarios reivindican el derecho a amordazar y el poder judicial se los concede, 25 de noviembre 2018


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