Since his inauguration, the new president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, has stated that the “Total Peace” policy is one of his priorities. The policy seeks to open dialogues and demobilize all illegal armed structures. Since then, four of these groups have declared a ceasefire and, in November 2022, negotiations was reinstated with the ELN guerrilla (National Liberation Army), which had been suspended during the Iván Duque administration. A bill to bring the other armed structures before the justice system is also planned. The government defines these groups as “high impact criminal groups,” that lack a political character and these would include structures that arose out of paramilitarism, such as the Gaitan Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC, in Spanish).
February 21 commemorated the Mulatos and La Resbalosa massacre perpetrated by the XVII Brigade of the Army and the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC, in Spanish) paramilitary group, in which eight individuals were killed, seven of whom were members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and three of whom were minors. In 2005, during Operation Fénix, around 60 paramilitary members, together with army troops, assassinated Peace Community leader, Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family in the hamlet of Mulatos, and then killed the family of Alfonso Bolívar, a leader of the Resbalosa humanitarian zone. Since then, this day is remembered each year in the rural communities, as an act of memory and to denounce the ongoing impunity in the country.
Almost two years after the 2021 National Strike, the high-ranking members of state security forces investigated for serious human rights violations committed during the repression of protests remain in total impunity. Of the 3,169 criminal acts reported, the Prosecutor General’s Office only attributed 65 cases to the state security forces, of which 11 were archived and, to date, there have been no convictions. Meanwhile, 230 young people are being prosecuted for leading the protest.
Among other serious human rights violations committed in the context of the protests, enforced disappearance was a systematic practice, the full scope of which is still unknown. Several human rights organizations have collected testimonies and complaints about individuals disappeared during the 2021 protests and highlight the impunity surrounding these cases. Recently, Sergio Venegas, a businessman in charge of administering cemeteries in Bogotá, accused the National Police of using crematorium ovens to disappear up to 300 individuals during the National Strike. Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the human rights observatory at the Coordination Colombia Europe United States (CCEEU), indicates that the whereabouts of 87 individuals who may have been disappeared at the Bogotá cemeteries are still unknown.
With the promise of establishing substantial changes in Colombia, based on social and environmental justice and a transformation of the security policy, recently inaugurated President Gustavo Petro, faces serious challenges at a time of increasing sociopolitical violence. According to 500 Colombian human rights organizations, the outgoing Iván Duque administration left a legacy of “hunger and war,” which became systematic human rights violations, increased violence against leaders and human rights defenders, a reactivation of the armed conflict, an expansion of paramilitary and other armed groups, as well as the expansion of illicit use crops and cocaine production in the country. 
In this context, the new president stated that he will prioritize social dialogue as a pillar to resolve the armed conflict, which has persisted over six decades in Colombia. He also highlighted the need to protect to communities and human rights to overcome the country’s historic inequalities. The Petro administration has declared that “Total Peace,” a law recently approved by Congress, will be a cornerstone of his policy to disarm all illegal armed structures, open negotiations with armed groups, bring criminal organizations before the justice system, and definitively end the conflict. The “Total Peace” policy includes several proposals from “Somos Génesis,” a network of over 180 ethnic-territorial communities, victims of the armed conflict, and who, since 2020, have been calling for the signature of Global Humanitarian Agreements and dialogue with the armed actors, allowing them to live in peace in their territory. Unfortunately, these petitions were not addressed by the prior administration.
International Civil Society Organizations support the call in favor of the United Nations Global Humanitarian Agreement and UN Mission in Colombia’s call for a ceasefire and we ask for the protection of the lives of all vulnerable people in the midst of the pandemic
Bogota, April 3, 2020
The International Civil Society Organizations that subscribe to this communiqué identify in the unilateral ceasefire ordered by the ELN starting on April 1, 2020, and in the reactivation of the figure of the peace managers (gestores de paz) by the government of Ivan Duque, a possibility to return to the path of dialogue with this guerrilla group; a path which must be prioritized over any other.
Also, with great concern, we note and warn about the continuation of killings against people who defend peace and human rights, including those who signed the Final Peace Agreement with the Farc-Ep.
We also warn about the aggressions and effects caused by the presence of illegal armed groups which have led to, according to a MAPP OAS report, “confinements and forced displacements of communities in Alto Baudó (Chocó), Roberto Payán (Nariño), Algeria and El Tambo (Cauca), as well as harassments at police stations in Northern Cauca which put civilians at high risk.”* During the quarantine, eight people have been killed, three of them were in the process of reintegrating.
This is a time for, as the director of the UN Mission in Colombia says, consolidating efforts to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. The Colombian State must ensure that the measures taken to address the pandemic do not become a new factor that endangers and violates the rights of the country’s most impoverished people.
¡La Vida por encima de todo!
María Cristina Umbarila Chacón
Espacio de Cooperación para la Paz