All posts by pbicolombia

Peace Brigades International (PBI) has carried out observation and international accompaniment in thirteen countries on five continents since 1981 and in Colombia since 1994.

Accompanying defenders by walking alongside them

We recently welcomed new field volunteers to the PBI Colombia project from Argentina, Chile, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Basque Country, Ireland, Italy and Norway.

They arrived to accompany human rights defenders in Colombia just a few months ago, and here we asked them to introduce themselves to you.

Aldana, Argentina

My name is Aldana, of Argentinean nationality. For several years I have known about the work carried out by PBI in the Colombian territory which aligns with many of the values that drive me.  Throughout my life I have been formed in the social and community movements, passing through spaces and institutions related to the defence of Human Rights. As a Latin American woman, I am very committed to the diverse realities of our continent. Each of these realities with its particular pathway, is identified in a common history, a history full of struggle and resistance. It is for this reason that today I am happy to have the opportunity to be of service to the community of my continent. This is the main motivation that inspired me and inspires me to be part of the PBI Colombia project. I believe that it is an organization that responds in a concrete way to the problems that this country is going through today, collaborating in the construction of a stable and lasting peace. And above all, working on a daily basis for a world where there is a place for each and every one of us.

Delia, Chile

Hello, my name is Delia and I’m Chilean. The deep-rooted feeling of belonging and appreciation of this continent makes me feel committed to its history, its wonderful culture and to the defense of human rights, which are so often violated here.

On my path here to Colombia, I carried out internships at the Inter-American level, both at the Commission and the IACHR Court, where I had to analise numerous processes, in all their stages, meaning that my approach to this subject, until now, has been intellectual. However, the great impact caused by the prevailing socio-political violence in Colombia, which has dragged on for so many decades, led me to seek a way to collaborate more directly in the defense of the fundamental rights of the Colombian people.

Therefore, on the advice of my friend Fidel, who spoke highly of PBI, I decided to participate as a field brigadista in Colombia, (“so beautiful and good” – as the Cuban-guajiro Polo Montañez sang). Interacting, collaborating, accompanying and closely observing the processes of organizations, defenders and communities who, tirelessly, and against all odds, persist in their just struggle, seemed to me much more effective and gratifying than summarizing hundreds of pages of judicial processes, where I felt that my contribution was meager.

PBI’s integral protection approach, its mandates, work focuses and principles, which I have come to know, have made me feel useful and absolutely committed to what I intended to do and what I came to do. I’m convinced that this experience implies participating in the purest human richness and will be an exceptional learning experience.

Jason, Ireland

I arrived in Colombia for the first time in July 2016, a month after the signing of the Peace Agreement. I spent two and a half years living in a Colombia in transition. It seemed to me that there was a lot of hope for the future. Although I left Colombia at the end of 2018, I followed the situation in the country and the progress of the Peace Agreement with great interest. I was disappointed to observe the trajectory of the country in recent years and the increase in violence faced by human rights defenders and community leaders.

I wanted to go back to do what I could to support the peace process. Luckily, a colleague recommended PBI to me. I was very impressed by the principles and strategies of the organization, especially the strategy of non-interference. I loved the proposal to be able to protect and facilitate, through accompaniment, the important work of Colombian human rights organizations. We have already met some human rights defenders in our training and they have inspired me tremendously. It will be an honour to accompany them. I am very grateful to be here in Colombia with PBI and I am very excited to get started.

Ruth, Spain

I always explain that I have a very extensive CV. I’ve been a dancer, holiday entertainment crew, I´ve worked in events, as a waitress and even had my own travel agency. While working as cabin crew for an English airline, I studied sociology. When I decided to reorient my professional career towards the social sector, I worked in an emergency centre for unaccompanied foreign minors, but I still had I still had to try to work in the field. It was something that I always thought of doing, but due to circumstances, I still hadn’t had the chance.

I discovered PBI thanks to a colleague from a humanitarian logistics course, I became interested in the organization, and it seemed like a very good way to start on the field. I hope to do my bit and help so that human rights defenders in Colombia can continue to carry out their work and thus build a lasting peace in this wonderful country.

Not only that, but I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be here and participate in this project with PBI!

Tasos, Greece

Hello! My name is Tasos and I am from Greece. I feel grateful for participating in this project with Peace Brigades and to walk alongside the human rights defenders who are involved in implementing the peace process in Colombia. There is much to learn from the peace communities and the human rights defenders who risk their life in the struggle for fair and peaceful social change. This is a critical moment for Colombia, with many challenges, but the Colombian people have the resilience and the power to construct a stable and sustainable peace.

Margherita, Italy

In 2019 I first heard the testimony of an Italian volunteer who had spent two years in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The commitment to non-violence in the midst of a conflict, whether individual or communal, rarely obtains an international resonance equal to the darkest chronicles of the war; I had never heard of the San José community and my knowledge of the Colombian conflict was mostly limited to a few academic articles dealing with the much better-known topic of the “guerrilla”.

A year later, during my master in “Human Rights and Conflict Management”, a colleague told me about PBI and for the second time I came across the name of the community, which is accompanied by the organization. What struck me most of the PBI’s work was its commitment to non-interference with the self-determination of peoples: there is nothing that as external actors we can teach, or impose, on those who live a conflict and resists non-violently every day, quite the opposite. However, this does not mean remaining neutral in the face of human rights violations, but rather accompanying people involved in peace processes by walking alongside them.

PBI’s deep work ethic is what most prompted me to take this path. I believe that the year and a half that lies ahead of me and my team in Urabá as field volunteers will be full of frustrations and joys; however, I am ready to face this challenge with the genuine happiness of having come this far, with the conviction that change, however small it may be, is always possible.

Íñigo, País Vasco

I came to know PBI through their report about the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Back then I was finishing my masters in Colombia and working in a local communications organization dedicated to Peace and Human Rights issues. Mi biggest interest during my studies was the humanitarian-peace-development nexus. I feel that PBI’s work in Colombia is a perfect example of this type of protection to all those people committed in building peace at the local level through their engagement in the defence of universal rights that have been undermined by decades of violence. Those committed with defending peace, their life, their land, their culture, their communities, their identity and their nonviolent resistance mechanisms have inspired me to choose this path that has led me to PBI.

For the next 18 months I will be in Uraba’s field team and I will have the opportunity to meet the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, my main interest coming back to Colombia and how I came to know PBI’s work. Without a doubt, this period will be full of lessons and space to learn about the collective work of the communities and the people involved in this beautiful project. I hope I will be able to contribute to the work of the accompanied organizations during these months and that it will provide spaces for mutual learning.

Hannah, Norway

What struck me the first time I heard about PBI was how progressive and modern the way of working is. In particular, the principles of horizontality and non-interference are tools that I have a lot of confidence in. To achieve the goal of protecting the space around human rights defenders, non-interference allows us to do exactly that: the defenders are the experts in their work, and our mandate is to protect their power and right to do that work in peace. More and more we see that this way of working is the most sustainable.

When the opportunity to do this kind of work opened up, I felt like I had found the best project to work on in terms of human rights. I always wanted to put my passion into practice. My studies and work so far have focused mostly on the environment, protecting the world’s forests, the oceans and vulnerable ecosystems. If we protect the space for human rights defenders, at the same time we protect the environment in the long run. They are two sides of the same coin. I am incredibly happy that the opportunity to work with PBI in Colombia has presented itself to me. I think being a brigadista requires analytical skills, strong commitment and passion for the principles of the organization, and that resonates with me a lot. I think it’s also going to be a life learning experience, and very enriching for me personally.

¡Welcome to PBI Colombia!

Social protest in Colombia: the hope for a dignified life for all

The national strike of 21 November 2019 for many people was a symbol of democracy and the hope of being able to change the status quo in which Colombian society live[1].  For this reason, on November 21, 2019, 253,000 Colombian citizens, according to registered government figures, took to the streets to express their disagreement with the Colombian reality and to demand respect for human rights.

However, that hope was shattered amid riots, abuses and violence experienced by the population on the day itself; the Ministry of Defense reported “122 civilians injured and three dead”[2]. However, these violent events were not just evident that day, but became the norm in the way that the Armed Forces reacted to protestors with violence during the national strike. The Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), an organization supported by PBI, represents the family of Dilan Cruz[3], a young man shot dead by a police officer on November 23[4]. The case has been sent to the military justice courts,[5] a decision that led Human Rights Watch to recently request that the Colombian Supreme Court take into account that, according to international law, human rights and international standards, Dilan Cruz’s case should be referred to the ordinary justice system[6].

At the start of 2020 the demonstrations were halted due to the COVID 19 pandemic and the subsequent movement restrictions put in place. However, protests reignited on the 9 September in Bogota in response to the death of the law student, Javier Ordoñez[7]. The citizen died after a police control where abuses of force were evident[8].

This violent act, in the context of many weeks of exacerbated violence in the country, provoked a wave of protests in various sectors of Bogota during the nights of the 9, 10, 11 September, which was responded to by the abuse of force by the national police force. These demonstrations reached extremely high levels of violence: images and videos show shocking scenes of police officers beating people in handcuffs with no possibility to protect themselves, uniformed members of the police and others in civilian clothes shooting towards the civilian population with rifles and CAIs (Police Immediate Attention Centers) in flames [9].

In a few days of protests the resulting impact was without precedents: 13 people were killed – at least 8 of them shot with firearms -, 200 civilians were injured[10], and 75 people were arrested for acts associated with the demonstrations[11]. In addition, torture, arbitrary detentions, and sexual abuse[12] by State agents[13], among others, were reported. This indiscriminate use of force and violence occurred without any legal control by civil authorities[14]. Among these incidents were incidents suffered by organizations accompanied by PBI, including: the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Cajar)[15], the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (FNEB)[16] and the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (J&P)[17].

On various occasions, such as on September 10, PBI accompanied the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) in its legitimate work of verifying compliance with human rights by the security forces through the campaign “Defending Freedom, a matter for everyone”[18]. Field volunteers also accompanied the organization DH Colombia on September 13 during a vigil for a young man who was in critical condition after being shot twice[19].

PBI accompanies a vigil with DH Colombia in Bogota

DH Colombia legally assumed several cases of people injured or killed in those protests[20] and in December filed a complaint against the then Minister of Defence, Carlos Holmes (deceased in January 2021), the director of the National Police and other senior police commanders requesting an investigation of the responsibility they may have had, by line of command, in the events of September[21].  As a first step towards justice and truth, at the beginning of 2021, charges were brought against several police officers considered directly responsible for the death of two young men in the Verbenal[22] neighbourhood on September 9 and of a woman killed in the Suba neighborhood[23]. Despite this, DH Colombia denounced the general lack of an adequate judicial response, 6 months after the events[24], in addition to highlighting the deliberate and premeditated intention to conceal the crimes that were committed.

Historical use of excessive force in Colombia

Historically in Colombia, the state’s response to peaceful state protest has been marked with violence. PBI also accompanies DH Colombia in two court cases regarding the case of Nicolás Neira, a young man killed by the ESMAD in 2005[25].  On January 25, 2021, an agent was convicted by the 18th Criminal Court of the Bogotá Circuit for the crime of homicide in the modality of intentional homicide[26] in the first national conviction of a member of the ESMAD for acts resulting from excessive force in social protest. In the second trial, on March 25, 2021, in an equally historic decision, the Commander of the Esmad in 2005, Major Mauricio Infante Pinzón, was convicted for the crime of aiding and abetting the murder of Nicolás, due to the cover-up he attempted to carry out following the murder. Likewise, the responsibility of the chain of command in the events was recognized, as it has rarely been done.  It should be emphasized that these convictions came 15 years after the events[27].

Following the violence seen in late 2019 during the National Strike, several non-governmental organizations, lawyer collectives and student movements felt the need to demand the protection of the right to social protest, freedom of expression and freedom of press, which concluded in a constitutional action through a tutela at the end of last year[28]. Among these authors are DH Colombia, the CSPP and Cajar, lawyers’ organizations accompanied by PBI[29]. In this tutela the different authors were able to demonstrate that “the way the Government and the National Police acted during the protests last November violated the constitutional rights of those who demonstrated”[30]. Nine months later, on September 22, the Supreme Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling on the matter[31], confirming what the organizations already knew: “there was -and may continue to be- a repeated and constant disproportionate aggression by the public forces against those who peacefully demonstrated”[32]. Likewise, the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca ruled in favour of the Tutela[33].

The two courts ordered the state, the armed forces and the district administrations to take various actions to avoid repeating this lack of guarantees for peaceful protests. At the district level, a process in favour of the demonstrations is already beginning, with a dialogue table and the revision of the protest protocol with the participation of the civil society[34].

As for the process at the national level, the progress is not so satisfactory, since there are two respective rulings, which generate confusion. This can be seen, for example, in the rejection by social organizations of the temporary protocol for demonstrations (resolution 1139), issued on October 20, 2020 by the government. As Jomary Ortegón Osorio, president of Cajar, says: “Based on a decision of the Court of Cundinamarca on the rules for protests, the Ministry of the Interior issued a protocol that does not comply with the Supreme Court ruling”[35].

There is still a long road ahead with many obstacles for protesters and those who defend the rights of peaceful protest, but the glimmer of hope has never been completely extinguished. In a CAI in the city of Bogota, the site of the death of citizen Julieth Ramirez which was completely destroyed and burned by protesters, the community built a library two days after the event. And it is not the only site: all over the capital city the population began to transform those sites of fear into cultural and commemorative sites[36].

Peaceful protest as a tool of democracy, to demonstrate discontent and to demand an improvement of policies in favour of society is not only happening in the capital but also in other areas of the country. In October 2020, the indigenous Minga, made up of approximately 9000 people from various regions in the south west of Colombia, began in the capital of Valle del Cauca, Cali, where the participants had the purpose of meeting with the president of the nation, Ivan Duque. Their goal was to work together to find a way to stop the assassinations of social leaders, massacres and to demand the right to life for all Colombian people. Since the president did not respond to this request, the Minga decided to mobilize to Bogotá, with the hope that this time they would be heard[37]. Although the government did not eventually meet with the Minga and despite the stigmatization against the indigenous movement[38], on October 21 the protesters united in a completely peaceful manner[39], hopes were raised and voices intensified, to demand the same thing: a dignified life for all.

More than a year after the protests of November 2019, the need for dialogue between the Government and social organizations remains, in order to guarantee security and the right to take to the streets and demonstrate without fear. The right to social protest in Colombia continues to be a challenge for people who decide to exercise it, due to the strong repression. However, the organizations will continue to fight alongside the families and friends of the victims demanding truth and justice, the streets and their murals will continue to speak and remember the faces of the victims of such brutality and, undoubtedly, citizens will continue to take to the streets, demanding their rights and better living conditions.

Bogotá Field Team

[1] Agencia de Información Laboral – AIL: El Paro Nacional significa esperanza para el país según reciente encuesta, 2 December 2019

[2] Voa Noticias: Colombia: Paro nacional deja 273 heridos y tres muertos, 22 November 2019

[3] W Radio, Velatón por un año de la muerte de Dilan Cruz, 23 November 2020

[4] Colombia Informa, Asesinato de Dilan Cruz: nueve meses de impunidad, 24 August 2020

[5] El Tiempo, ¿Por qué volvieron a enviar caso de Dilan Cruz a la Justicia Militar?, 29 August 2020

[6] Human Rights Watch, Amicus Curie sobre el caso de Dilan Cruz 24 de marzo de 2020

[7] Contagio Radio, El abogado Javier Ordóñez fue asesinado por la Policía afirman sus familiares, 09 de septiembre de 2020

[8] El Tiempo: Javier Ordóñez, el asesinato que sumió a Bogotá en un caos, 12 September 2020

[9] Momento 24: Veeduría denuncia presuntos hechos de “para-policía” en las protestas de Bogotá, 18 September 2020

[10] El Cronista, Movilizaciones, cacerolazos y velatón en todo el país, 15 de septiembre de 2020

[11] Cuestión Pública: Al menos 13 asesinados en medio de abuso policial, 10 September 2020

[12] CIJP: ONG denuncia abuso sexual a 3 mujeres en CAI durante protestas, 12 September 2020

[13] Defender la Libertad: Boletín informativo 1: #9S, 10 September 2020

[14] Cceeu: Ante los graves hechos de violencia policial, urgen reformas estructurales, 16 September 2020

[15] Cajar: Tweet, 10 September 2020

[16] FNEB: Tweet,16 September 2020

[17] CIJP: Agresiones a defensoras de J&P y periodista de Contagio Radio, 10 September 2020

[18] Defender la Libertad: Quienes Somos

[19] DH Colombia: Acción Urgente, 10 September 2020

[20] DH Colombia, Acción Urgente, 09 September 2020

[21] El Espectador, La denuncia que se viene en contra del ministro de Defensa por las protestas del 9S, 11 December de 2020

[22] La Silla Vacía, La Silla reconstruye cómo policías mataron a los tres jóvenes de Verbenal, 28 September 2020

[23] El Espectador, Imputan cargos a policía investigado por homicidio en medio de protestas del 9-S, 19 January 2021

[24] DH Colombia, 152 días de la masacre del 9 de septiembre de 2020. 152 días de impunidad, 9 February 2021

[25] El Espectador, Los obstáculos para que haya justicia en el caso de Nicolás Neira, 15 años después, 1 May 2020

[26] El Tiempo, Condenan a policía del Esmad por homicidio del joven Nicolás Neira, 25 January 2021

[27] Semana, Mayor retirado que encubrió la muerte de Nicolás Neira fue condenado, 26 March 2021

[28] Defender la Libertad, Corte Suprema de Justicia Protege el Derecho a la Protesta frente a la violencia Policial, 23 September 2020

[29] Comisión Colombiana de Juristas: Una acción de tutela para que se proteja el derecho a la protesta social y otros derechos fundamentales, 16 December 2019

[30] Ibid

[31] Dejusticia: Corte Suprema de Justicia protege el derecho a la protesta frente a la violencia policial, 22 September 2020

[32] Ibid

[33] El Tiempo: Este es el protocolo para las manifestaciones y marchas públicas, 20 October 2020

[34] Alcaldía de Bogotá: Distrito hará propuesta del protocolo de protestas con organizaciones sociales, 5 October 2020

[35] El Tiempo: Reparos de tutelantes a cumplimiento de fallo que protege la protesta, 23 October 2020

[36] El Espectador: Organizaciones piden a la Corte Suprema proteger la protesta social, 11 September 2020

[37] Semana: Indígenas anuncian que “si Duque no va a Cali, la Minga irá a Bogotá”, 12 September 2020

[38] El Tiempo: Reparos de tutelantes a cumplimiento de fallo que protege la protesta, 23 September 2020

[39] Publimetro: “No hubo infiltrados del Eln, tampoco de las Farc”: Claudia López entrega balance de marchas, 21 September 2020

 

“The right to freedom of expression is the most essential right in a democracy” Father Javier Giraldo

At the end of last year, in the context of Christmas celebrations, PBI-Colombia met with Father Javier Giraldo, a recognized human rights defender and political and spiritual advisor to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.[1] During a coffee break in La Holandita, brigadistas from the PBI team in Urabá took advantage of Father Javier’s visit to talk about Constitutional Court ruling T-342/[2]020 that directly pertains to the Peace Community and, indirectly, to the defense of human rights throughout the country.

Father Javier Giraldo

What is the context of this ruling?

In September 2018, the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade filed a tutela (writ of protection of constitutional rights) against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, where it demanded that the Community remove eight denouncements it had published that year. The 17th Brigade argued that its right to a good name had been violated and that the Community must remove its publications. For the Community, however, these publications[3] are an important tool to report what is happening in the rural area given that, many years ago, since 2005, they stopped working with the State justice system.

 In what context did the Peace Community break relations with the judicial system?

After the horrible February 2005 massacre,[4] the Community decided to end all relations with the Colombian judicial apparatus, unless it recognized its errors, corrected them, and asked for forgiveness. The judicial apparatus had frequently violated Community members’ rights, had initiated criminal proceedings with false witnesses, and, more than anything, ensured absolute impunity for hundreds of crimes committed by the State against the Community. There was no justice.

Where was the tutela filed?

The Brigade filed the tutela with the first mixed (promiscua) court of Apartadó, which immediately decided to open a case and the Community was informed. That is when the Community got to work. There were many internal meetings, and with allies and lawyers. In line with the community’s rupture with the justice system, they decided not to respond. So, some deadlines passed, and the Brigade requested that contempt procedures be initiated. The judge initiates these proceedings, and since contempt is a crime in itself, she orders the arrest of Germán Graciano, the Community’s legal representative. The Police of San José de Apartadó are responsible for carrying out the order.

What happened then?

Since the tutela was studied by a mixed jurisdiction court, the decision was then reviewed by a civil judge. When looking for information about Germán Graciano, the judge found that he was a threatened person, with provisional measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and that many international organizations had called for his protection. The judge had a simple reflection: “Ok, whose rights are more important? The military’s right to a good name or Germán Graciano’s right to life.” And without pause, the prior judge’s decision was annulled, and the arrest warrant was halted. Nevertheless, the tutela ruling was still effective and for that reason, the Community, lawyers, and other allies requested that the tutela be reviewed by the Constitutional Court.[5] This was the second instance, after the national human rights ombudsman and a Constitutional Court magistrate called for its review, the Court decided to study the case. That was in November 2018. According to Constitutional Court rules, reviewing a tutela shouldn’t take more than 3 months, this time it took over two years.

What does the Constitutional Court ruling say?

In the end, the ruling backed the military, opting to accept its request and rule against the Community. The ruling is quite long and goes over a lot of case law regarding both rights, good name and freedom of expression. It cites a lot of other Constitutional Court rulings and those of other courts like the IACHR but, as I see it, it does not mention the most important element.

What was missing from the Constitutional Court ruling?

The most important element is that case law on the right to freedom of expression, from the Constitutional Court, IACHR, and other courts, gives priority to the right to freedom of expression as the most essential right in a democracy; for there to be democracy, this right must exist and be protected, which is what the Community defends. However, the ruling does not mention Constitutional Court case law showing that the right to a good name is inherently tied to any position, nor is it obtained by a judicial decision, instead it depends on the good behavior of the individual who is demanding this right. And that this good behavior is recognized by society.

“the right to freedom of expression as the most essential right in a democracy; for there to be democracy, this right must exist and be protected, which is what the Community defends.”

 How will this affect the Community’s freedom to publish public complaints?

Well, the truth is that the final and most decisive section of the ruling does not order the Community to remove its public complaints nor does it say they cannot publish future complaints. The ruling states that the fact that the Court is affirming a violation of the Brigade’s right to a good name is sufficient punishment for the Community and to redress the military. For many, this ruling is very strange and debatable as it ruled in favor of the military and against a community that has been victim to so many paramilitary and military crimes. So, many allies have expressed the need to do something and they have been put their heads together to think about it.

What do you think about the ruling?

When I read the ruling, I thought “nothing can be done.” It is from the highest court in the state apparatus; nobody is above it and nobody can control it.  Then, I decided to write a letter to three of the magistrates who signed the ruling.[6] A letter from an ethical perspective saying, “you are the highest Court, but you were mistaken,” and I cited many IACHR texts and a Constitutional Court ruling in favor of the Peace Community itself. And I shared other reflections, focused on everything the Community has undergone, in large extent because of the military.

Read more from Padre Javier: Sobre preferencias, asfixias y vergüenzas – Desde los márgenes

Nathalie (PBI) together with Father Javier Giraldo and German Graciano Posso (legal representative of the Peace Community)

 What did the lawyers do?

These allied lawyers started thinking, to see if there was some legal action, and then they remembered that even though it is the highest court, they had heard of a Constitutional Court ruling that had been appealed and the appeal was successful. So, they started looking for a path forward, and that is to request the full Court to annul the ruling.

What are the arguments to request an annulment?

First, there is a very evident and legal reason. The ruling cites one of the Constitutional Court’s internal regulation that prohibits a change in jurisprudence unless the full Court rules to make this change. But in this case, it was just a chamber and so they did not have the right to change the jurisprudence. The lawyers also cited concrete case law on the right to a good name, showing that in the case of the 17th Brigade this right does not exist, as they have not earned it. On the contrary, the annulment request mentions all the times the IACHR, the Constitutional Court itself, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Prosecutor General’s Office, etc. have accused the 17th Brigade of crimes against humanity. For that reason, they state that this good name does not exist, and, if it does not exist it cannot be defended.  On the other hand, the right to free expression does exists and has been backed by the Constitutional Court.

 Do you believe that the annulment request will be accepted?

Honestly, I am not very optimistic. The Court has changed a lot, it isn’t the same as it was two or three years ago, now there are right-wing magistrates, several named by Uribe or Duque, and for that reason I do not believe they will accept the demand and annul the ruling. On the other hand, I believe that the lawsuit has a very strong legal foundation and is important that this be made known.

 What are the consequences of the ruling for the Peace Community, and in general?

Even though the ruling does not demand a retraction, looking at the 17th Brigade’s past actions (see 2005 massacre[7]) against the Community, I fear that the military will use the ruling and use it as a foundation for other actions against the Community. And, on more general terms, I believe that the military can use the ruling to accuse many social organizations, anyone who files complaints against the military could be accused of violating its good name.

I fear that the military will use the ruling and use it as a foundation for other actions against the Community.

 What can the international community do?

In December, we had a virtual conference with allied organizations in Europe and they asked that same question. Currently, while there is still no word from Court on the annulment, it is very important that international organizations make statements, both before the Constitutional Court itself and before the Colombian Government, embassies, and before entities such as the United Nations, the OAS, the IACHR. etc. Why? Because the Court ruling mentions the large amount of communications and statements received from international entities, which show the Community’s broad international support. Even if the ruling is not favorable, those statement have weight in the Court and favor the Community.

Father Javier, any words of hope to conclude?

The atmosphere in which the Community lives clearly shows that we are facing a very challenging context but the heart of the community is ready to face it, as always.

 

[1] PBI Colombia: Raising Awareness and Reporting Human Rights Violations: Father Javier Giraldo. 8 November 2018

[2]Corte Constitucional: Sentencia T-342/20. 21 August 2020

[3]Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó: Los alcances no imaginables ni sustentables de la mordaza. 13 December 2020

[4]PBI Colombia: The Massacre that Changed the Peace Community Forever. 13 December 2019

[5]PBI Colombia: Letter Signed by 71 International Organisations to Support the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, 7 November 2018

[6] Javier Giraldo: Sobre preferencias, asfixias y verdades. 9 December 2020

[7]El Espectador: Victimas piden que la masacre de San José de Apartadó salga de la JEP. 5 March 2020

Giving One’s Life, but Not the Land

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó’s fight for land, as is the case for many peasant, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities, is historic and the most central aspect of their existence.

Today, the need to defend land is more important than ever. A consequence of the Peace Agreement between the former guerrilla group, FARC-EP, and the Colombian government has been a commodification of territories that, due to the armed conflict, were on the periphery of the market system. In the case of the Peace Community, this means defending land from mining companies that have come into the area to exploit the wealth of natural resources. There are several valid mining titles in the rural area of San José de Apartadó[1] and the Peace Community has denounced the constant efforts from mining companies to penetrate the region and their attempts to persuade the local population.[2]

The Peace Community highlights that defending the territory does not only mean taking care of the land, but defending life itself: “Giving one’s life but not the land.” The legitimate and legal fight to defend land is not to formalize titles but instead to show that land is a necessity for the peasantry. For the Community, land is a fundamental right; a human being needs land to construct their home, to carry out their life project and for those of future generations. Caring for the land is a key point for the Community and for that reason its members practice sustainable land management with soil conservation and environmental protections. This means protecting the biodiversity and planting crops that can guarantee a certain food sovereignty. Ultimately, land is necessary for survival and resistance in the rural context.

Within the Peace Community’s conception, collectivity is fundamental and the territory is precisely the collective patrimony of present and future generations. They vindicate a peasant-led agrarian reform in a territory with a painful history. The Peace Community has lost over 300 individuals since its creation;[3] it has suffered massacres and selective murders.[4] Hence, each piece of land has significant meaning because of the incidents that occurred on that land. Each plot has its collective memory, which the Peace Community continues to remember and cultivate to fight against oblivion and to find true and dignified peace. However, despite their daily fight, today, the panorama is discouraging. Jesús Emilio, a member of the Community’s Internal Council states: “It is possible that we will lose the fight against multinationals and the State. But at least we will provide humanity with the story of our struggle.”

Field Team, Urabá

[1]     Ministerio de Minas y Energía (2017): Catastro Minero Colombiano.

[2]     Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó: Aniversario en medio de virus mortales. 30 March 2020

[3]     Colombia Plural: ¿Por qué resiste la comunidad de paz de San José de Apartadó? 3 January 2017

[4]     Idem

Buenaventura: a town that won’t give up

The people of Buenaventura have been experiencing an escalation of the conflict since 2020. Today, all eyes are on the port city, because since last December 30, the lives of 170,500 people are at risk due to clashes between “Los Shotas” and “Los Espartanos”, two factions of “La Local”, a group inherited from paramilitarism. So far in 2021, according to the Pacific Regional Ombudsman’s Office, due to more than 38 confrontations that have taken place in the urban area of Buenaventura in January, 907 families – around 2186 people – have had to be forcibly displaced from their neighborhoods and 22 people have been killed, mostly young people between 16 and 35 years old who have refused to be recruited by these groups.

Amidst the crossfire, the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space, in the La Playita neighborhood of Buenaventura, resists. Its main street is named after the Naya’s municipal capital: San Francisco, patron saint of the Nayeros, since 90% of the population that lives there comes from the Naya River. In search of better living conditions, in the 1970s, many of the Afro-Colombian rural population of Naya migrated to Buenaventura and began to settle in this neighborhood by the sea. Beginning in the 2000s, more inhabitants of Naya arrived, displaced by the violence exercised by the Calima Block of the AUC paramilitary group.

San Francisco Street, like other streets in the La Playita neighborhood, became famous for the chilling torture practices of the ‘casas de pique’: rudimentary cabins built over the water where paramilitary structures dismembered and mutilated civilians, often with the sole intention of sending messages of terror to the community. In February, Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo, Bishop of Buenaventura, indicated that this practice is once again operating in the city. On April 13, 2014, the community created the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space with the aim of expelling and preventing the entry of illegal armed actors.

2014: The first urban humanitarian space in the world

Today, the Humanitarian Space has Precautionary Measures from the IACHR and two control points requested by the community, where Colombian police are permanently present in order to guarantee the security of the population. Since January 2021, CIJP has denounced that the inhabitants of the Humanitarian Space have experienced an increase in intimidation, threatening messages, extortion, incursions by illegal armed actors and attempts of forced recruitment.

Orlando Castillo, leader of the Humanitarian Space community and member of the Naya Community Council, is an extremely attentive, kind and humble person who never stops working for his community. The recognized leader has the backing of the people who live in the Humanitarian Space and the support of several Colombian human rights organizations, such as CIJP, as well as that of the international community. Despite all this support, Orlando has suffered several attacks, an assasination attempt and threats throughout his career as a defender of peace in this territory.

These threats are in addition to follow-ups, false accusations and accusations that have affected other leaders of the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space, who since April 2014 have developed a peace and self-protection proposal to confront paramilitary actions and violence.

At the beginning of 2021, due to the increase in violence, the community of the Puente Nayero has decided to install a series of security cameras as a prevention and protection mechanism. The images will be monitored from Bogota and are intended to combat the control exercised by paramilitaries who have entered the Humanitarian Space several times so far in 2021, threatening those who want to live in peace and dignity.

The territorial disputes that plunge Buenaventura into violence are not only a consequence of the actions of illegal armed actors. It should not be forgotten that in the port of Buenaventura – through which 60% of the merchandise enters and leaves Colombia – there are great economic interests, both from the private and public sectors, to carry out port expansions that have generated urban displacements, forced disappearances and threats to those who defend their territory or represent victims.

One of the projects that began in 2019 is the dredging of the San Antonio estuary. This work – financed with public and private money – aims to achieve a greater depth of the waters of the Bay of Buenaventura to enable the entry of larger ships. The problem is that the San Antonio estuary is one of the largest mass graves in Colombia and relatives of victims of the armed conflict are still searching for the disappeared.

During the most bloody years of the armed conflict in Buenaventura, especially from the 2000s onwards, the San Antonio estuary became a mass grave where bodies of people who disappeared at the hands of paramilitary groups were constantly found. It is believed that in the water graves, “aquafosas” as they are known by the community, there are around 1,000 missing persons.

Numerous social organizations, including PBI acompanied CIJP, Nomadesc and the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (FNEB), have opposed the dredging project in the San Antonio estuary so that the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons (UBPD) can search for the thousands of missing persons in this water system. At the end of 2020, organisations requested that the JEP grant provisional precautionary measures so that dredging would not continue until a search plan for the missing persons has been established.

Just 20 minutes away from the San Antonio estuary water ponds is the neighborhood of Punta del Este, in Commune 5 of Buenaventura. On April 19, 2005, paramilitaries from the Calima Block of the AUC deceived 11 young people – between 18 and 21 years of age – telling them that they were going to play a soccer game in the town of Dagua, department of Valle, with the promise to pay them the sum of two hundred thousand pesos. The young men were taken one by one from the Punta del Este neighborhood. On the outskirts of the city, the vehicle was diverted from its route towards the San Antonio – Bodegas de Cilano estuary. The 11 youths were forced to get out of the vehicle, tortured and later killed. The lifeless bodies of the 11 youths were found days later together with another one, still unidentified. CIJP continues to work with the mothers from Punta del Este, so that the Truth Commission hears their testimony and their proposal for collective reparation measures.

Faced with the serious situation of violence that has generated fear and massive displacement of the civilian population, initiatives and articulations have emerged such as the “Buenaventura S.O.S.” movement, which aims to make these complaints visible and to stop the violence.

On February 10, a human chain for dignity was organized in Buenaventura. Thousands of Buenaventura residents dressed in white and formed a 22 km long chain along the main road of the port city. Protests against the grave situation in Buenaventura and for the dignity of the black people have continued throughout this week.

On February 11, 2021, to the cry of “the people do not give up, dammit”, “no more violence” and “the anti-racist struggle has come to Latin America”, members of social collectives, students, community leaders and, above all, Afro-Colombian youth, participated in a march in Cali, thus joining the wave of protests that are being organized in Buenaventura, especially the youth. They are not giving up and will continue to protest peacefully until the violence stops.

Valentina Carvajal

Continue reading about Buenaventura:

THE VOICE OF BUENAVENTURA

Eighteen days of public protests show another side to Buenaventura

2017: Buenaventura’s Civic Strike