Founded in 1999, the Association for Social Research and Action (Nomadesc) is a human rights organisation that advises and accompanies organisations working on social, trade union, civic, indigenous, afro-descendant, agricultural and women’s issues.

PBI_Charlotte Kesl Photography
Photo: Charlotte Kesl


Nomadesc’s history is entwined with the trajectory of one of its founding members, the forensic anthropologist Berenice Celeita, who began her work as a human rights defender in 1985, in reaction to the disappearance of eleven people following a siege by the National Army to retake control of the Palace of Justice in Bogota, which had been taken over by the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19) guerrilla group.[1] Celeita devoted years to investigating the incident and working with the relatives of the people who were disappeared.[2] Nomadesc’s work is also centred on the issue of forced displacement.

Photo: Julian Montoni

Celeita explains: “We are one of the countries with the greatest number of displaced people in the world. When we decided to name our organisation “Nomadesc” it was because we were specifically thinking of how people are forced to become nomads through forced displacement. (…) Being a nomad is a transitory state, going from one place to the next, as with of our communities who have been violently forced from their lands and robbed of what was theirs. They have been dispossessed because they fight for economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. Nomadesc is the combination of these two words: Nomad and DESC (which stands for economic, social and cultural rights in Spanish)”.[3]

Stories from the field: From Cali


Nomadesc has an interdisciplinary approach to defending human rights: it provides sociological and legal advice to victims of human rights violations, as well as education, research and political advocacy. It mainly works in the south-west of Colombia in the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Huila and Nariño, areas which have borne the brunt of the country’s acute social and armed conflict.[4]


Through their work, the organisation’s goal is to promote an integral vision of defending human rights:

“Ours is a vision of social humanism. This means that we are thinking about all the facets of defending human rights: not just a judicial approach to a case, not just looking at what is happening in the socio-political context of communities affected by conflict, but taking a holistic view. We could not advance towards resolving conflict unless we had this perspective”,[5] Berenice Celeita.

Nomadesc’s research focusses on the causes and consequences of the armed conflict. The organisation has studied national and international corporations, and human rights.

It should be emphasised that Nomadesc is an organisation with an interdisciplinary approach, and the professionals who are members of the organisation have trained in different specialisations which enables them to take a holistic approach to human rights work.

Stories from the field: Impunity: Freedom from punishment

Nomadesc also takes part in the Peoples’ Congress, a political and social movement in Colombia that since it was founded in 2010, brings together a broad range of social sectors and individuals who contribute towards “building a proposal for a country based on dignity and social justice in Colombia”.[6] In Celeita’s words: “the Peoples’ Congress emerged as a minga (an indigenous concept of a collective project based on teamwork) of social and community resistance, whose purpose was to create a blueprint for an inclusive country grounded on the peoples’ legislation and giving voice to those whose voices had been silenced”.

Photo: Julian Montoni

La Salvajina: The social and ecological impact of a dam

Nomadesc is researching the hydro-electric dam of La Salvajina and its social, economical and environmental impact.

The dam is located in the southwest of Colombia, in the municipalities of Morales, Suarez and Buenos Aires in the north-east of the department of Cauca. It was built on the river Cauca in the 1980s. According to a study by Erika Gonzalez, 2,124 hectares of land belonging to afro-descendant, indigenous and farming communities were flooded by the dam.[7] Read more

Jarillon Plan: Dignified resettlement for the inhabitants of the Cauca Valley?

Nomadesc also accompanies urban communities who have been persecuted and displaced by large-scale projects.

After the city of Cali was flooded in 2010, the Valle del Cauca Governor’s Office and the Regional Autonomous Corporation Valle del Cauca (CVC), planned to build the Jarillon Plan for the River Cauca and Complementary Works, whose objective was to reduce the risk of flooding.[8] Of the 2,394,870 people who live in Cali (according to estimates by the National Administrative Department of Statistics – DANE – for 2016), 8,777 families live in the outcrops by the River Cauca One of the places where it was decided to prioritise the project’s implementation is at Kilometre 14, in the sectors known as Venecia, Las Vegas and Cinta Larga, where 745 families live.[9] Read more

Buenaventura: Displacement for a competitive economy

Nomadesc has defended human rights in the port city of Buenaventura since 1999, when the Pacific and Farallones fronts of the Calima Block of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group began staging incursions in the area, leaving a trail of crime, theft, displacement and forced disappearance in their wake, all the way from Cali to Buenaventura. Read more

Photo: Delphine Taylor

Peoples’ Intercultural University: Towards a transformative, integral and participatory peace

For Nomadesc, education and research have been two transformative elements for resolving the armed conflict. Through its education strategy, Nomadesc has stimulated and accompanied different ways of educating.

The Peoples’ Intercultural University is innovative in the way that its courses are actually mobile, taking place outside the classrooms and conventional buildings: journeys through the territories where theory is applied in practice, and importance is given to the wisdom and traditions of resilience of its participants and peoples. Read more

Universidad intercultural de los Pueblos

Risks, threats and attacks

Nomadesc and its members have received different threats over many years, because of their work defending human rights. Berenice Celeita was the victim of ‘Operation Dragon’ in which trade unionists, human rights leaders and politicians from Valle del Cauca were the targets of a plan to murder and publicly smear them.

See the most serious attacks against Nomadesc in 2004 to 2012 and 2014 to 2016.

Protection measures

On 25 May 2001, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary protective measures to Berenice Celeita for being one of the targets of ‘Operation Dragon’. The IACHR requested that the State urgently adopt the necessary measures to guarantee Celeita’s life and personal integrity.[10]


En 1998, Berenice Celeita was granted the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights[11] because of her advocacy for social change.[12]

In 2015, Nomadesc received an honourable mention from France’s National Consultative Human Rights Commission (CncDH), for her work in defending human rights and the environment.

International accompaniment

PBI accompanies Nomadesc since 2011 and its president Berenice Celeita since 1999.




[1] PBI Colombia: Interview with Berenice Celeita, May 2011
[2] Ibíd.; PBI Colombia: Tintico con PBI: Berenice Celeita: Vivir en riesgo permanente, 19th March 2015
[3] Documental: Defensora. Paz con Dignidad, 1st April 2011
[4] Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación (CNRR): Monografía regional zona sur occidente: Valle, Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo.  21st October 2011
[5] Interview with Berenice Celeita, Op. Cit.
[6] Official website of Congreso de los Pueblos
[7] Érika González: 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
[8] El País, Jarillón, la amenaza silenciona de Cali, 2016.
[9] Ibíd.
[10] Precautionary measures 2001. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
[11] The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) is a charitable non-profit organisation which works to make ideals possible in a peaceful and just world. The RFK Center forges long-term partnerships with human rights defenders from around the world, including Colombia, to advocate for and support social justice movements through litigation, support and technical initiatives.
[12] RFK Center: 1998: Berenice Celeyta, Jaime Prieto, Gloria Florez, & Mario Calixto, no date

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