Tag Archives: human rights defenders

The Peace University: Keep dreaming and resisting from the territory

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was born 25 years ago, amid violence and forced displacement. Men and women, peasants, from different rural communities in the department of Antioquia organized themselves to create a neutral community as a response to the conflict, and they built a peaceful alternative to preserve life and protect their territory. Since then, the Peace Community has shared its perspectives and experiences with numerous initiatives in Colombia and abroad. In fact, one of the Peace Community’s legacies is the University of Peace and Resistance or Peasant University, created with 20 other Colombian peasant communities.

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Beyond the Peace Agreement: A Global Humanitarian Agreement

Two years ago, amid the upsurge of the pandemic caused by Covid-19, several Colombian ethnic and peasant communities, accompanied by the Commission for Justice and Peace (JyP), sent an open letter to President Iván Duque, requesting a Global Humanitarian Agreement [1].  The call included a cessation of hostilities and new peace talks that would include the multiple armed actors still present in the regions. Since then, over 160 communities, with support from the Catholic Church, [2] international entities [3] and civil society organizations, [4] have sent 57 open letters [5] with the same aim. There has been no response from the outgoing government.

The calls for a ceasefire come from communities who have yet to see any real improvements in their territories since the 2016 signature of the Peace Agreement between the Juan Manuel Santos administration and the FARC-EP. Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Chocó, and Putumayo, among others, are regions where PBI accompanies JyP and ethnic-territorial and peasant communities who are victims of the armed conflict. The state presence is mainly military in these communities and they continue to register intense waves of violence, including the murder of defenders, massacres [6], sexual violence, and forced displacement [7], among other serious human rights violations.

Amid socio-political violence, these community initiatives are still convinced that only through “respectful and honest dialogue and recognition from decisive actors will the territorial context of injustice and structural and historical exclusion be transformed into a new social-environmental pact for peace”. [8] To achieve this, over 160 community initiatives are calling for and implementing a Global Humanitarian Agreement throughout the country.

Danilo Rueda, a JyP coordinator that PBI has walked with for almost three decades, has dedicated his life to peacebuilding from the territories, supporting victims of the armed conflict, and making denouncements whenever their rights are brutally violated, while he himself has been a victim of serious attacks.[9] According to the human rights defender, recently chosen to be High Commissioner for Peace,[10] the Global Humanitarian Agreement seeks to end the armed violence in the territories and safeguard life and integrity in the communities, as well as of those party to the armed confrontations as military enemies.

With determination, Danilo has promoted the Global Humanitarian Agreement proposal to generate conditions for a Global Territorial Peace or Full Peace. This Full Peace signifies “the creation and disposition of a state and government that is open to talking, based on the nature and identity of each armed group, to reach a laying down of arms and the generation of agreements”. According to JyP, and the communities they accompany, to end the attacks and violence against women and to end the recruitment of youth, the call for a Global Humanitarian Agreement must be answered.

In the last 15 years, there have been two processes to lay down arms: one between the Álvaro Uribe Vélez administration and the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary in 2005 and another with the FARC-EP and Juan Manuel Santos administration in 2016. According to Danilo Rueda, lessons were learned from both processes on a diversity of issues, including what is known as transitional justice and the importance of truth. However, even more so, these experiences have shown the fragility of the signed agreements, characterized by a lack of guarantees for ex-combatants and the absence of an effective governmental response to the range of commitments it has taken on. This lack of response and fulfillment of commitments has Colombia “ad portas of initiating new cycles of violence, which already have very concrete manifestations in different territories”, reflects Danilo Rueda with concern. For the human rights defender, the only way to have responsible investment and confront the country’s nearly endemic corruption “is to achieve peace with the range of armed expressions that exist in Colombia today, on both urban and rural levels”. From the territory, the communities have already managed to generate spaces for the distension and differentiation between armed and civilian groups, which, to date, “have been relatively respected by diverse armed groups”.

Nevertheless, five years into the Peace Agreement and with continues efforts to promote the Global Humanitarian Agreement, life in the territories continues to be marked by violence. From Cacarica, in the north of Chocó, the Afro-Colombian leaders Ana de Carmen Martín and John Jairo Mena, both members of the Association of Communities of Self-determination, Life, and Dignity (CAVIDA), speak with conviction, their search is for a dignified life.

For Ana de Carmen Martín it is clear that if the Global Humanitarian Agreement is not implemented “the war will continue”. John Jairo Mena hopes that the new government signifies a possibility for change and a promotion of the proposal for a Global Humanitarian Agreement so that peasants, mestizos, Indigenous, and Black peoples can enjoy their territories.

This is no different from the experience in the Perla Amazónica Peasant Reserve Area, in the south of the country, in Putumayo. From this beautiful Amazonian territory, the emblematic leader Jani Silva, president of the Association for Holistic Sustainable Development – Perla Amazónica (ADISPA), defends peace, life, the territory, and its biodiversity. This has cost her numerous forced displacements and serious threats. Jani is also concerned about the Peace Agreement’s lack of implementation and, therefore, a reconfiguration of the armed conflict. “As a woman and victim of the conflict, I am worried about the conflict’s intensification, and that our work on environmental issues, with a gender perspective, is impacted by the clashes between groups”.

A high-level militarization of the regions—as the state’s sole response to date—in addition to major offensive strikes such as the aerial bombings and flashy attention-grabbing arrests, are far from fulfilling the communities’ repeated calls for peace. To respect the lives of the civilian population and communities in the regions, for full peace with a territorial perspective, the proposal from the regions must be heard, a cry for this war to end. Beyond the Peace Agreement, a Global Humanitarian Agreement is needed.

PBI Colombia.


[1] Comisión de Justicia y Paz: CartaAbierta 2 Salud, alimentación, agua URGENTE y respuesta a ACUERDO HUMANITARIO GLOBALCOVID19, 9 April 2020.

[2] El Tiempo: Iglesia pide al Estado actuar ante crisis humanitaria en Chocó y Antioquia, 19 November 2021.

[3] UN News: El llamado al alto el fuego mundial para ayudar a contener el coronavirus empieza a tener repercusión,  23 March 2020.

[4] Protection International: Organizaciones Internacionales de Sociedad Civil respaldan el llamamiento al Acuerdo Humanitario Global de las Naciones Unidas y el llamado de Misión ONU Colombia por un cese al fuego y piden que se proteja la vida de todas las personas en condición de vulnerabilidad en medio de la pandemia, 3 April 2020.

[5] Somos Génesis: Carta Abierta 57, 26 July 2022.

[6] Indepaz: Informe de Masacres en Colombia durante el 2020 y 2021, 29 November 2021.

[7] El Espectador: En Colombia ha aumentado un 213% el desplazamiento forzado, 27 October 2021.

[8] Somos Génesis: Carta Abierta 55, 15 July 2022.

[9] Frontline Defenders: Case History: Danilo Rueda.

[10] El País: Danilo Rueda: Un defensor de derechos humanos será el comisionado para la Paz de Colombia, 26 July 2022.

 

 

In defence of water and life: the Pajaral marshes

The marshes are bodies of water that are essential to the ecosystem, bodies of water which give life to extraordinary flora and fauna. These natural phenomena also attract economic interests that threaten to damage them, even to make them disappear, as is the case with the rivers and marshes of Magdalena Medio. In this region, full of water and environmental defenders, extractive activities, agribusiness and extensive cattle ranching are advancing, devastating in their path territories inhabited by ancestral communities, in the case of Sur de Bolívar especially Afro-Colombian peoples, peasants and artisanal fishermen.

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Protecting the Essence

“As women we are diverse and today we come together amid that diversity.” Those were the opening words at the Gathering of Women Defenders organized by PBI Colombia, held in La Vega this past 24 to 27 of February. Colombian women, from their Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and mixed-race ancestry of resistance have taught us something essential about protection: it is also necessary to protect our spirit, our sense of being, our center, our essence.

This protection is not as visible as a fence or armored car, but it sustains organizational efforts as roots hold up a tree. Many scientists now talk about the importance of roots in primary forests, how they are intertwined with the roots of other trees as a greater community that accompanies the forests, from underground.

We have also been shown how these roots, thanks to mycorrhiza, transmit information that keeps the forest healthy and favors growth in the smallest and sickest trees. This paradigm shift is still pending within the western perspective; an understanding of the connection between humans and nature (the nature that we carry inside us and the external nature that cares for us). This language reaffirms what women, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian peoples have been saying for so long: there is so much beyond what our eyes see.

Protecting our roots is protecting what remains invisible yet sustains us. Roots sustain the trunk, hold the earth in place, and maintain the forest even when it is burned. “If the forest burns, let it burn, that same vine will sprout again,” as a song states. This also happens with protection, strong and collective roots are part of the protection that we provide as individuals, communities, and organizations.

There are many ways to protect our essence, depending on our world vision and culture, depending on our history. Through the many spaces that PBI Colombia has shared with women leaders, defenders, and organizations we have identified the importance of once again asking ourselves: What keeps us united in our efforts? What are our values?  What connects us to life and the defense of rights and the territory?

Sociopolitical violence and abrupt and unexpected transformations, such as the pandemic, can lead us to lose sight of the horizon we are moving towards and where we came from. It can put us in a state of emergency, reacting to events. And over time we can lose that profound “why” in the essence of what we do and our connection to life.

We want to highlight three paths to protect that essence, which we identify as powerful, necessary, and inspirational

First, a coming together of the generations to dialogue on how we understand the values that sustain us as a community or organization and that connect us to the defense of human rights; second, the space for and vindication of our own culture, with the symbols, rituals, songs, languages, or education that comprise it; and third, a collective and creative construction of memory.

This dimension of protection, at times invisible, is fundamental, and like all the other dimensions it must be taken care, even when it is underground. For that reason, today on 8 of March, the international day for the rights of women workers and girls, we ask ourselves once again: Why do we continue accompanying after 27 years in Colombia?

Perhaps, as is reflected in the etymological meaning of spirit, it is because it helps us breathe. After all, it gives us air to walk the path of constructing spaces built on solidarity, peace, and friendship. Breathing in collective, with other women, allows us to recognize ourselves in others, to strengthen the invisible network of which we are a part, constructing safe spaces out of vulnerability and interdependence. Today, 8 of March, we do not want to forget all of the contributions made, day in and day out, by women leaders and defenders to understand protection from a holistic lens, understanding that protection and care always go hand in hand. A very special thanks to all the women, women leaders and human rights defenders, who inspire us every day.

PBI Colombia.

DEATH THREATS PERSIST AGAINST ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN MAGDALENA MEDIO

The region of Magdalena Medio, home to 6% of Colombia’s armed conflict victims, has historically suffered serious impacts from the extractivist economic model. Today, once again, its environmental leaders and human rights defenders are under serious threat and at risk of displacement. For more than a century, communities have been victims of the expropriation of their lands, the expansion of agribusiness and the exploitation of hydrocarbons, severely affecting the region’s diverse fauna and flora within the countless water sources, rivers and marshes. Oil extraction has caused irreparable environmental damage, and has seriously affected communities’ ancestral fishing economies. Moreover, the enclave economy of the Magdalena Medio region has not generated benefits for the communities that protect it, where communities suffer limited access to clean drinking water and energy services.


Recently, through their constant denouncement of serious human rights violations, human rights and environmental organizations such as the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) have succeeded in getting the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to turn its attention to the region and to prioritize the investigation of crimes committed by the security forces during the armed conflict. In spite of the importance of this recent decision by the JEP to prioritize the Magdalena Medio region in relation to the severe impacts suffered by the population within the context of the armed conflict, members of CREDHOS and allied organizations such as the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life and Territory (AGUAWIL) and the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishermen of Santander (Fedepesán) continue to be exposed to alarmingly high levels of risk. It is essential that these serious allegations are investigated and clarified to ensure true guarantees of non-repetition in one of the regions most affected by the armed conflict.
Continue reading DEATH THREATS PERSIST AGAINST ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN MAGDALENA MEDIO