Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Colombia – peace, human rights and ecumenical accompaniment

Photograph: William Fernando Martinez/AP: The Guardian
A new round of peace talks begin this week in Oslo between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. Officially peace has already come and under law the government treats armed activity as criminality. In practice many areas remain on a military footing and groups on both sides use violence to control land and business interests. Colombia is still the world’s largest source of cocaine.

Colombia has the greatest levels of poverty and inequality of any country in Latin America. There is a new Victims and Land Restitution Law so that small farmers can apply for the return of lands that they have lost to elites during the war. However in effect much power is in the hands of local military factions. Restitution of stolen land would require the blessing of whatever faction holds sway in the area otherwise the consequences could be life-threatening. More than 25 land rights leaders have been killed since August 2010. In an article in the Guardian yesterday, Victor Salas, a municipal official in the town of Corinto who deals with complaints about human rights abuses, comments that he very rarely gets a complaint about rebel abuses although Farc dominate the area. “Around here you have to know how to live” he says “If you want to stay, you keep your head down”.

In situations such as this the Churches’ commitment to justice is tested. It is encouraging therefore that local and international churches are seeking to rise to the challenge, helping local people achieve restitution and begin to reassert some control in their communities. An Ecumenical Accompaniment programme has recently started, inspired in part by the programme operating in Israel and Palestine co-ordinated by the World Council of Churches. The Methodist Church Colombia is supporting the Latin American Council of Churches in managing this programme in conjunction with international partners. It will place international monitors in affected communities in order to support local people in taking steps to realise their rights. Find out more here and do consider supporting this programme.

Do consider writing to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Draw the Minister's attention to the role of international human rights monitors in Colombia. Ask the Minister to use his influence to ensure that the Colombian Government guarantees protection for Land Reclamants and their human rights defenders in keeping with International Law and Colombia’s Human Rights Obligations.