brigadista PBI Berenice Celeyta NOMADESC


Association for Social Research and Action Nomadesc

Nomadesc is a human rights organisations that advises and accompanies social organisations and unions as well as civic, women’s’, indigenous, afro-descendent, and peasant farmer organisations.  Human rights defender and forensic anthropologist Berenice Celeyta founded the organisation in 1999.  Currently, Celeyta is a member of the board of directors and president of Nomadesc.

The Work of Nomadesc

Nomadesc works in various aspects of the defence of human rights: socio-legal counsel, educational and investigative work, and political advocacy.  The organisation is based in Cali (Valle de Cauca) and works principally in south western Colombia in the departments of Valle de Cauca, Cauca, Huila and Nariño—regions characterized for the particular intensity of the social and armed conflict suffered throughout the country.[1]

The work of Nomadesc aims to generate a pedagogical approach for the integral defence of human rights.  According to President, Berenice Celeyta:

“We work from a perspective of social humanism.  When we talk about social humanism we are thinking about the integral nature of the defence of human rights: not only attending to the legal aspects of a case, not only looking at what is happening in the socio-political context of the communities affected by the conflict, but having an holistic perspective.  We cannot make strides towards the resolution of the conflict without having this perspective.”[2]

The history of Nomadesc is very much linked to the trajectory of Celeyta herself who initiated her work in the defence of human rights in 1985, moved by disappearance of 11 people during the National Army´s operation to regain control of the Palace of Justice after an assault by the guerrilla organisation Movement 19th of April (M-19). [3]  She dedicated several years to the investigation to the Palace takeover, and worked closely with the family members of the disappeared. [4]  The work of Nomadesc is also connected to the situation of forced displacement.  Celeyta explains: “We are the country with the greatest number of displaced people in the world; 300,000 per year.  When we decided to call our organisation Nomadesc we were thinking of the obligatory nomadism produced by forced displacement.” [5]

The research carried out by Nomadesc focuses on the causes and consequences of the armed conflict.  The organisation has studied national and international business practices and human rights.  For example, in western Cauca, Nomadesc studied the hydroelectric dam La Salvajina and the socioeconomic and environmental impact that its construction has generated. [6]  “It’s truly savage what they have done to the natural environment and with the indigenous, afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities that live in the region,” Celeyta states.

The community in the Honduras indigenous reservation (municipality of Morales, Cauca) is one of largest reservations in the department with 6,800 inhabitants.  It is also one of the most affected by the construction of the dam.  A 2005 study about the effects of the dam, Nomadesc detailed 125 different human and environmental consequences. [7]  “The communities lived from fishing and from the biodiversity.  All of that ended with the flooding,” Celeyta comments.

Nomadesc accompanies the community in the Honduras reservation researching the socioeconomic impact of La Salvajina and providing educational projects.  The Intercultural School of Knowledge is one of the most important educational initiatives that Nomadesc has accompanied together with the Regional Indigenous Council in Cauca (CRIC) and the National University of Colombia.  The initiative is a pedagogical exercise that works towards reconstructing the historical origins of different communities and social movements, recuperating traditional practices and customs, analysing the current situation, and developing a plan for the future. [8]

For Nomadesc, education and research are two elements that have transformative potential in a resolution to the armed conflict.  Between 2010 and 2011, Nomadesc has offered 15 courses in human rights education and research.  650 people from afro-descendent, indigenous and peasant farmer communities have graduated from this program.  For Celeyta, “these are 650 more human rights defenders in the Southwest that are working for ways out of the conflict and towards peace.”

Returning a voice to the people

According to Celeyta, another significant movement is the Peoples’ Congress that emerged as the “minga”[9] of social and communitarian resistance.  The goals highlighted by Celeyta were “to think together about our proposal for an inclusive country from the legislation of its different peoples and to give voice to those whose voice has been taken.”[10]

There were two Peoples ‘Congresses held between 2010 and 2011 with approximately 90,000 participants. [11]  In the most recent Congress, representatives from indigenous, peasant farmer and afro-descendant communities arrived in the city of Cali to discuss the armed conflict, dispossession and the defence of the ancestral lands of ethnic minorities.

Celeyta holds the following to be some of the concrete achievements of the Peoples’ Congress: making visible what really occurs in Colombia, formulating concrete demands towards the Government that resulted in halting legislative projects that “were to the detriment of the rights of different peoples  and environmental rights,” and bringing together diverse communities.  Celeyta also emphasizes the necessity to join forces among the different social sectors.  “We can´t do it alone” she says, underlining that in the past different mobilizations and resistance occurred in each of the sectors—women, peasant farmers, indigenous peoples—but they developed specific strategies to vindicate their rights.

Nomadesc’s Areas of Work

  • Human rights education;
  • Research on a diversity of issues: multinational corporations, the mining and energy sector, public services, human rights violations, and crimes against humanity;
  • Political work to influence national and international issues;
  • Movement-building across different social sectors;
  • Communications;
  • Legal work; and
  • Coordinating the visits of international organisms to the region as well as coordinating tours by community members and representatives of different social sectors from Colombia to Canada, the United States, Europe, and Latin America.


In 1998 Berenice Celeyta received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her influence in creating social change.[12]

Nomadesc’s work under threat

List of threats

Protection Measures

On May 25 2001, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) issued cautionary measures in favour of Berenice Celeyta for being the target of intimidating phone calls and surveillance by unknown individuals.  These incidents were linked to her work on the situation of social leaders, union members and different populations in the Valle de Cauca region.  The CIDH asked the State to immediately adopt measures to guarantee Celeyta´s life and personal safety.[13]

International Accompaniment

PBI has accompanied Nomadesc since 2011 and its president Berenice Celeyta since 1999.

Contact Information

[1] For more information about the armed conflict in the southwest consult, for example:  Monografía regional zona sur occidente: Valle, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo. National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation (CNRR). 21 October 2011.

[2] Interview with Berenice Celeyta, May 2011

[3] Interview with Berenice Celeyta, May 2011

[4] Interview with Berenice Celeyta, May 2011

[5] Documentary: Defensora. Paz con Dignidad, 1 April 2011

[6]  La Salvajina hydro-electric dam is located in the southwest of Colombia and in the northwest of the department of Cauca in the municipalities of Morales, Suarez, and Buenos Aires.  The dam was built on the Cauca River in the 1980s.   According to a study by Erika Gonzalez, 2,124 hectares were flooded affecting the indigenous, afro-descendent, and peasant farmer territories.  GONZALEZ, Erika: Impacto sobre el medioambiente en el suroccidente de Colombia. In: Bajo el Foco – Unión Fenosa: Los impactos de la multinacional eléctrica en Colombia. Observatorio de Multinacionales en América Latina y Paz con Dignidad. February 2008.

[7] Interview with Berenice Celeyta, May 2011

[9] Translator´s note: Minga is a word linked to indigenous Colombian groups meaning social struggle.

[10] Interview with Berenice Celeyta, 24 April2012

[11] Interview with Berenice Celeyta, 24 April2012

[12] 1998: Berenice Celeyta, Gloria Flórez, Jaime Prieto and Mario Calixto, Colombia.

[13] Cautionary Measures 2001. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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