CREDHOS

Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights

CREDHOS was born in the petrol city of Barrancabermeja in the 80s.  The paramilitary take over of the city in 2000 initiated the exodus of many members of CREDHOS due to the reports that they made about the human rights violations that were going on the in region.  This organisation has worked in support of peace throughout the past two years, boosting the peace pedagogy so that the population could understand the content of the Peace Agreements and so they take ownership of them and urge them to be implemented.

The Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation made up of members of civil society from the Magdalena Medio region. It was founded in 1987 to promote, defend and protect human rights, democracy and international humanitarian law (IHL). It is one of Barrancabermeja and Magdalena Medio’s highest profile human rights organisations. It works alongside grassroots organisations and social movements in the region to strengthen civil society’s role in building peace and to raise awareness of human rights violations.

Yesid Triana (CREDHOS) y Andrés Ortiz (CREDHOS) pintan un mensaje en un muro en la Comunidad de Mina Walter, San Pablo, Sur de Cesar durante un aco

Credhos’ history

Credhos was founded in the city of Barrancabermeja as a civic alternative to protect life and dignity in the face of the systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by armed groups in the Colombian conflict. The Corporation was created in response to the violence generated by the 1986 murder of Leonardo Posada Pedraza, a Member of Congress for the Patriotic Union (UP) party, the first member of the UP to be killed in what emerged as a paramilitary plan to exterminate an entire political party. The organisation’s desire to unmask those behind the killing had a massive cost for Credhos which lost seven of its members who were murdered between 1991 and 1992, and almost all its board of directors were forced to leave the city, and even the country.

With the paramilitary takeover of Barrancabermeja between December 2000 and January 2001, Credhos suffered an exodus of many of its members which lasted until March 2005.  As a result, Credhos appointed a new board of directors which stabilised the human rights organisation.  Since it was created and still to this day, Credhos has been harassed and threatened because of the work it does throughout Magdalena Medio.

Aco Credhos a San Pablo, julio 2016
Aco Credhos a San Pablo, julio 2016

Work

An important part of its work is reporting human rights violations committed in the region; Credhos receives about 800 cases every year from individuals and communities.  It also promotes human rights through workshops, training and legal advice.  Both before and since the Peace Agreements between the Colombian Government and the FARC in 2016, the organisation has been providing peace education so that the population can understand what the agreements consist of, take them on board and demand that they be complied with.  Its work focusses both on civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights, protecting the most vulnerable sectors of the population in Colombia and standing up for the rights of the victims of the armed conflict.


Interview: “We play an important role in the search for peace”, Ivan Madero (April 2016)


Credhos is based in Barrancabermeja (Santander) and its work covers the whole of the Magdalena Medio region (including the municipalities of Puerto Wilches, Yondo, Sabana de Torres, San Pablo, Cantagallo and Sogamoso).


Tales from the field: Between cacao and coal (June 2016)


Reporting on neo-paramilitary structures

Dandelions

For many years Credhos has been documenting the presence and activities of neo-paramilitary groups in the region, because they pose an imminent risk to the organisation and the civilian population.  Credhos documents these incidents against a backdrop of very high levels of impunity in Colombia, particularly with regards to human rights violations and attacks against human right defenders.  Due to the lack of effective investigations by the authorities,[1] in recent years their work and their innovative methods have been crucial to documenting the new structures of the neo-paramilitaries and their areas of control.  As well as taking testimony from victims directly, they actively use social media to gather information.

Their methods for analysing all human rights violations as a whole enable them to gain a broad understanding of the context and unravel the dynamics of the armed conflict or “urban warfare”.  This involves knowing how to identify the armed groups in question and their modes of conduct. Studying and understanding the “micro-contexts” from reports by victims and using social media, enables them to transcend the microhistories and weave them together cohesively, building a more elaborate and complex narrative which goes beyond the individual reports by victims and shows how the hierarchical structures of neo-paramilitarism are constructed.

After the cases are documented and investigated, Credhos formally submits them to the authorities (for example the Public Prosecutor or Inspector General’s Offices) generating political pressure for formal investigations to be opened and arrests to be made.  They simultaneously report all findings to the press and media to show who and how the communities’ human rights are affected.

This way of working, based on the trust of communities and victims, and their courage in coming forward to report violations, means that Credhos enabled the neo-paramilitary network that operated in Barrancabermeja’s 1st District, which includes twenty neighbourhoods, to be uncovered in 2016 when it exposed evidence of the links between the members of the armed group on social media. [2]

Credhos’ actions to denounce these structures are directly linked to generating security guarantees, not just for human rights defenders who are threatened and attacked by these groups, but for the community as a whole. Its struggle against impunity contributes to creating a more favourable environment for defending human rights and improving the rule of law.

On the one hand, its proactive and courageous attitude builds commitment, responsibility and obligation amongst the security forces to fulfil their constitutional role of ensuring the safety of Colombian citizens.  Several arrests of neo-paramilitary commanders prove this: the capture of Clan del Golfo members including alias Ochoa,[3] alias Pajas,[4] alias Porras[5] and alias Cachetes.[6]

On the other hand, the way Credhos practises “context investigation” and presents its findings to the Public Prosecutor’s Office once it concludes its analysis, means their documentation and analysis of the region’s situation is powerful.  The problem with investigations by authorities is that in many cases the charges relate only to the last crime committed and after a short sentence the members of illegal structures are released.[7]  Credhos reports on the situation, showing that it is only by taking the context into account that the structures can become known and how dismantling these networks is a matter of will, which bolsters the community’s trust in the organisation. In its political advocacy, Credhos works systematically to change the Public Prosecutor’s methodology and that of the Context Analysis Unit in the Magdalena Medio region.

The success of its work builds trust. This trust is fundamental to its integrated work of promoting human rights, from rebuilding the social fabric in neighbourhoods with women, youth and children’s groups, to training communities about the peace agreements, and strengthening municipal leadership on issues of participation and organisation.

Threats and attacks

During the corporation’s history, the members of its board have received many threats and in recent years these have got worse.  In 2016, the threats made in telephone calls, text messages, messages on social media, email and leaflets were unrelenting, often sent to the organisation’s members and their families too.  The organisation assumes that the increase in threats is due to its work in favour of the peace process and the implementation of the Agreements in the region, but above all, because of its research and reports on the neo-paramilitary structures that operate in Magdalena Medio.

Risks, threats and attacks: 2010-20132014, 2015, 2016

Francisco Campo, defensor amenazado acompañado durante un evento internacional en BB agosto 2001 foto by Julien Menghini
Photo: Julien Menghini

Protection measures

Since 2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures of protection to Credhos’ board members.

Awards and recognition

In 2008 and 2008, the Barrancabermeja Municipal Council, the Mayor of Barrancabermeja and the Santander Departmental Assembly publicly recognised Credhos’ work.

In 2009, the Barrancbermeja Diocese awarded the San Pedro Claver Statuette to David Ravelo, who was then a member of Credhos, in recognition of his work.

In 2016, the Unit for Integrated Attention and Reparation for Victims notified that it recognised Credhos as eligible for collective reparation under the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448 of 2011). This was acknowledged by the Magdalena Medio Territorial Director of the Unit for Integrated Attention and Reparation for Victims “Credhos is one of the few organisations whose commitment and reparation are recognised in the region. It is a grassroots organisation with significant community support and has a historic legacy of defending human rights”.


Feel it to tell it: CREDHOS is subject to collective reparation (December 2016)


Ivan Madero

A decade of exile and an ocean of separation did not distance him from his country’s problems. Perhaps because exile is another kind of struggle, and the desire to return was always there.  Now he has taken the reins of the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights, the organisation that Ivan Madero joined a few years after it was created and which he was forced to leave in 2001 to save his life.  Ivan joined its board of directors in 1993, after dozens of political killings including the murders of several of Credhos’ members. Ivan and his wife, after sleeping in different places every night accompanied by PBI, decided to leave.  When he returned from exile he took on the presidency of Credhos, and a new chapter in the organisation’s history began, marked by David Ravelo’s imprisonment and a new situation generated by neo-paramilitary actions and their different networks.

Ivan Madero, Credhos
Ivan Madero, CREDHOS

International accompaniment

PBI has accompanied Credhos since 1994.


Ivan Madero Vergel of Credhos talks about PBI’s accompaniment


Miguel y Laura 1° Mayo grande


Footnotes:

[1]Credhos, Análisis de contexto: Violación a los derechos humanos y dinámica de los actores armados, September 2016
[2] Ibid. Análisis de contexto: Violación a los derechos humanos y dinámica de los actores armados
[3] HBS Noticias: Capturado Unsey Ochoa, capo del ´Clan del Golfo´ en Barrancabermeja, 5 November 2016
[4] Vanguardia: Fue capturado ´Pajas´, el jefe del clan Úsuga, 12 June 2015
[5] Enlace TV: Capturado Alias “Porras” y su escolta, 22 July 2016
[6] Caracol: Cayó alias ‘Cachetes’, presunto sicario de temida banda en Cartago, Valle, 19 January 2016
[7] Op. cit. Análisis de contexto: Violación a los derechos humanos y dinámica de los actores armados

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