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).
The Atrato River starts in the Plateado Hills of the western mountain range in Antioquia. This river, which crosses the departments of Chocó and Antioquia before flowing into the Gulf of Urabá, is one of the region’s most abundant rivers and an irrefutable source of life. It is also one of the areas hardest hit by the armed conflict. In particular, the Bajo Atrato, and the Urabá subregion have registered around 429,820 victims of forced displacement, dispossession, and selective murders, among other serious human rights violations.
The actions of the banana, palm oil, and mining industries, tied to armed actors, have contributed to a dispossession of ethnic communities from their lands amid grave state omissions relative to protection guarantees. Dispossession suffered by the communities of the Bajo Atrato has a common denominator, a violation of their ancestral rights and environmental impacts on their lands. Additionally, there has been violence against men and women land claimant leaders, like Mario Castaño, murdered five years ago, on 26 November 2017, on his farm in the Larga and Tumaradó river basins (Bajo Atrato).
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 . 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,  international entities  and civil society organizations,  have sent 57 open letters  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 , sexual violence, and forced displacement , 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”.  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. According to the human rights defender, recently chosen to be High Commissioner for Peace, 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.
 Comisión de Justicia y Paz: CartaAbierta 2 Salud, alimentación, agua URGENTE y respuesta a ACUERDO HUMANITARIO GLOBALCOVID19, 9 April 2020.
 El Tiempo: Iglesia pide al Estado actuar ante crisis humanitaria en Chocó y Antioquia, 19 November 2021.
 UN News: El llamado al alto el fuego mundial para ayudar a contener el coronavirus empieza a tener repercusión, 23 March 2020.
 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.
 Indepaz: Informe de Masacres en Colombia durante el 2020 y 2021, 29 November 2021.
 El Espectador: En Colombia ha aumentado un 213% el desplazamiento forzado, 27 October 2021.
 El País: Danilo Rueda: Un defensor de derechos humanos será el comisionado para la Paz de Colombia, 26 July 2022.
Operations Genesis and Cacarica: In the face of terror, a resistance story
The Bajo Atrato region, in northeastern Colombian, has been particularly hard hit by violence and the armed conflict. According to the Victims Unit, the registry for this area includes close to 429,820 victims of forced displacement, dispossession, selective murders, and other victimizing acts. One of the cruelest events that marked forever the history of the Atrato River’s Afro-Colombian communities occurred in the Cacarica river basin. Between the 24 and 27 of February 1997, Operation Genesis was executed. It was an offensive led by General Rito Alejo del Río, then commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade, in coordination with the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Elmer Cárdenas Bloc) paramilitary group, and under the pretext of taking back control from the FARC-EP guerrillas. In parallel and through joint operations with Military Troops, the paramilitary group called the Peasant Self-defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU), initiated Operation Cacarica, crossing the Atrato River until they invaded the Salaquí, Truandó, and Perancho river basins.
“Land of Joy” or So Bia Drua, in Embera, are the words used by the Indigenous communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Humanitarian and Ecological Reservation to refer to their territory, located in the municipality of Carmen del Darién, department of Chocó.
The reservation has two separate plots of land and is home to eight Ember Indigenous communities. The first lot is inhabited by the communities of Alto Guayabal (125 families with 365 individuals), Bidόkera Ancadía (26 families with 90 individuals), and Jaibía Coredocito (24 families with 75 individuals). The second is inhabited by the Dearadé (18 families with 59 individuals), Ibudó (25 families with 107 individuals), Padadó (12 families with 43 individuals), Chansodo (31 families with 128 individuals), and Urada (60 families with 230 individuals).
The reservation’s main bodies of water are the Ancadía, Jiguamiandó, Urada, and Tamboral rivers, all of which are tributaries of the Atrato River which flows through the department of Chocó in the Pacific region of Colombia. The rivers are an important source of livelihood for the communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Reservation, as they fish and use the fresh water for their daily activities.
The communities of the Urada-Jiguamiandó Reservation have a close and harmonic relationship with the natural world that surrounds them, collecting the medicinal plants they need to cure illnesses, fishing in the river, and taking care of their surroundings, which they have kept free of pollution.
In reality, the Indigenous communities are the only protectors of the land and environment. Even though they coexist in harmony with their natural surroundings, there are other interests in their territory that continue to prevent them from living in peace on their ancestral lands.
The threats faced by the Embera people, victims of numerous human rights violations in the context of the armed conflict, also include mining megaprojects. The communities—who have opposed the extractive projects for decades—know that mining will damage the aquifers, pollute the soil, water, and air, in addition to destroying the biodiversity. As a result of all this, there is a serious risk of displacement and cultural uprooting.
The communities who live in So Bia Drua are represented by the Embera Major Council – CAMERUJ. Argemiro Bailarín is a member of the Major Council, the Indigenous authority and an emblematic leader from the Uradá-Jiguaminadó Reservation.
Argemiro is well known for his defense of the territory, peace, and the protection of their culture and cosmovision. In November 2021, for the fifth anniversary of the signature of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP, the Embera leader participated in the radio program “Voces de la Tierra.” During the program the Indigenous leader highlighted that the communities continue to experience violence due to the armed conflict, while living amid the actions of large-scale mining and agribusiness projects, which see their territory as a business opportunity.
With support from the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP), since March 2020 the communities of Jiguamiandó, along with many others from different areas of Colombia, have been calling for a Global Humanitarian Agreement, which signifies a ceasefire amid an intensification of the conflict and an increase in combat operations. To date, there has been no government response to the 42 letters sent by over 150 communities.
Read more about the threats experienced by the Embera people, who defend their sacred mountain from mega-mining and their right to live in peace on their ancestral territory: “The Embera Defending Their Sacred Territory.”
1“Voces de la Tierra” led by the journalist Laura Casielles, in collaboration with Peace Brigades International, is a spot of the online radio program “Carne Cruda,” where defenders, social and Indigenous leaders talk about their reality from the territory.
2Somos Génesis: CartAbierta 42 – Parar la guerra, afirmar la Vida y la justicia socio ambiental, 4 January 2022.