Fabian Laverde loves the countryside and, like any good farmer, he can walk for hours up and down hills to get to the community that needs his help. He understands all too well what the peasantry’s historic exclusion signifies and the “guerrilla” stigma that falls on those who live in distant regions abandoned by the State, because he has lived this story. “I am a classic young person… who is now over 40,1” he mentions in passing with a mischievous smile. His story as a human rights defender began in 1993 when he was still in high school, during a strike led by peasants who were drowning under predatory loans. They took to the streets to achieve better conditions and prices for their coffee.
Two years later, in another strike, he met an inspiring agrarian leader, Fernando Lambona. The adolescent and the experienced leader discussed at length the countryside´s socioeconomic situation. This moment marked his life and sowed the conviction that he should dedicate his life to fighting for the interests of peasants. Lambona’s murder, just a few months later, also taught Laverde about the risks involved in being a spokesperson for the forgotten people.
In 2004, Laverde had to leave his rural home after receiving death threats. His land had become a battlefield and the guerrilla presence was used against the peasants. Paramilitaries sought to eradicate any possible social mobilization. Due to violence against the population, selective murders, enforced disappearances, and malicious prosecution, many people abandoned their lands. Laverde went to Bogotá, arriving without money and with very few contacts. Shortly after, he learned of and joined the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COS-PACC), an organization that accompanies victims of grave human rights violations.
Laverde and the other members of COS-PACC have been detained, persecuted, surveilled, and threatened, among other kinds of persecution. In the search to implement protection measures for defenders, on 10 December, 2019, International Human Rights Day, ten persecuted leaders, including Laverde, –with the support of prestigious human rights organizations– filed a tutela (writ of protection of constitutional rights) with the motto “the right to defend rights.” On 25 March, 2020, the 45th Civil Circuit Court ruled in favor of the petitioners and recognized the fundamental right to defend human rights. The ruling was later confirmed by the Civil Chamber of the Superior Court of Bogotá2.
Fernando Lambona’s murder taught Laverde about the risks involved in being a spokesperson for the forgotten people.
Laverde applauds the court decision. After two decades of persecution, for the first time a court is obligating the Government to dialogue. “Generally, conversations with governmental entities result from mass social protests and political pressure on the streets,” explains Laverde and he summarizes: “The tutela means that the Colombian social movement and the movement of human rights defenders were right when we made denouncements and when we demanded state responsibility.3”
The court orders the National Government to implement a campaign against the stigma, an element that continuously increases risks for leaders, highlighted Laverde. It also orders the Government to urgently reactivate the National Guarantees Roundtable, a dialogue space between high-level National Government employees and human rights organizations to advance the protection of human rights in Colombia.
“The tutela means that the Colombian social movement and the movement of human rights defenders were right when we made denouncements and when we demanded state responsibility.”
Laverde insists that the protection is not for him and the others who filed the tutela, but for the organizational initiatives. He said, “the ruling orders the National Government to implement collective protection measures that are decided upon with the social organizations.4” Just a few days after the ruling, Laverde, with accompaniment from the Foundation Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (FCSPP) and the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (CCEEU) met with the Governor’s Office of Casanare –one of the departments where COS-PACC focuses its work– to define a plan to implement the ruling. What troubles him is that the Casanare Governor’s Office is interpreting the court order as protection just for COS-PACC, instead of collective protection for the communities in general. “What good is it if they protect me, but don’t protect the organizational initiatives?” Laverde believes it is important to strengthen the indigenous, maroon, and peasant guard initiatives. “These are alternative options, that aren’t armed, but are based on grassroots power, from a community and peaceful perspective, with political territorial control,” states the human rights defender5. Thanks to Laverde’s advocacy efforts and those of organizations in Casanare, it is possible that a new dialogue space will be created, a Territorial Guarantees Roundtable, as a historic participation space for defenders.
Laverde trusts that “the National Government is committed to fulfilling the ruling, at least for its image,” but he is also concerned by its interpretation. “For us, a telephone call from the Minister of the Interior is not an indicator of success.” For Laverde, the National Protection Unit (UNP, in Spanish) shouldn’t focus its efforts on providing protection with guns and bulletproof vests for at risk leaders and defenders, instead it should guarantee prevention measures, and recognize and support social processes.
“For us, a telephone call from the Minister of the Interior is not an indicator of success.”
He insists that the ruling is applicable to the entire Colombian social movement, but for this to be made clear, an education campaign is needed to explain the tutela, the ruling, and its scope. This way, persecuted organizations can demand guarantees for their protection.
At a time with shocking numbers on the murder of human rights defenders –107 during 2019, according to the UN registry6– Laverde celebrates this judicial victory that creates new opportunities for the social movement. Many of the people that Laverde has known during his life have been killed and he is infuriated by a normalizing of attacks against leaders on social media. “It’s messed up that there is an attempt to naturalize death and uprooting.” There are so many people who resist in their territory and they are killed because they reject forced displacement and being uprooted from their lands. These are the people who Laverde will always continue to accompanying. ” 2019, according to the UN registry– Laverde celebrates this judicial victory that creates new opportunities for the social movement. Many of the people that Laverde has known during his life have been killed and he is infuriated by a normalizing of attacks against leaders on social media. “It’s messed up that there is an attempt to naturalize death and uprooting.” There are so many people who resist in their territory and they are killed because they reject forced displacement and being uprooted from their lands. These are the people Laverde will keep accompanying.