“Almost four years after the Agreement was signed, only a small percentage of its provisions have been fully implemented”
“Sadly, murdering human rights and environmental defenders has become normal in Colombia,” Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, (Andes director for the US-based advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), talking to Al Jazeera).
The bad news from Colombia – the killing is still going on…
And this despite the peace building work that continues with the main body (if not all) of the FARC guerrillas having laid down their arms with the signing of the (“fragile document” of the) 2016 peace agreement…
Both ex-guerrillas as well as community leaders and others who struggle for social justice in Iván Duque Márquez’s Colombia…
(Iván Duque, of the right-wing, conservative Democratic Centre Party is currently president of Colombia, in office since 7 August 2018 following a campaign of vocal opposition to the peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo, FARC–EP. The president’s term will end, hopefully, on August 7, 2022).
…continue to be murdered at will in an environment where the price of “peace” seems to be increasing.
While, at the same time…“Almost four years after the Agreement was signed, only a small percentage of its provisions have been fully implemented, according to research by the University of Note Dame Kroc Institute.” (Amnesty Report)
UN Verification Mission in Colombia
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the U.N. envoy for Colombia recently (25th September) updated on the work of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, saying:
“Unfortunately, some of the areas that suffered immensely during the conflict continue to be besieged by violence from other actors who continue attacking social leaders, human rights defenders, former combatants and entire communities…”
He also called for improved protection for former combatants who continue to be killed “in alarming numbers,” and he complained of rising violence and massacres by other groups that have cropped up since the 2016 peace accord.
The U.N. political mission in Colombia has verified 19 killings of former combatants from the country’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the three-month period ending September 25. These figures included Jorge Iván Ramos, a high-ranking former FARC commander, who became a FARC political party leader who was killed on August 28.
“The U.N. chief said Ramos was actively engaged in implementing the 2016 peace deal with the government, including working on a crop substitution program and the handover process for FARC assets.”
These killings bring the total number of former combatants killed so far this year to 50, including two women.
Grim details from the UN Report
…46. During the reporting period, the Mission verified 19 killings of former FARC-EP combatants (all men), of a total of 50 (2 women) in 2020. Since the signing of the Final Agreement, the Mission has verified a total 297 attacks against former FARC-EP members, including 224 killings (4 women), 20 disappearances and 53 attempted homicides (4 women).
- During the reporting period, 52 per cent of the former combatants killed were individuals that had been released from prison in accordance with the Final Agreement. The majority were living outside the former territorial areas for training and reintegration.
- The Mission verified the 16 July killing of four persons, including two family members of a former combatant, in Algeciras (Huila). In Frontino (Antioquia), illegal armed groups continue to threaten and force the displacement of communities and former combatants. In both cases, local authorities have stated that they cannot provide security guarantees for former combatants and their families.
- Former combatants residing outside former territorial areas for training and reintegration, including in new reintegration areas, continue to be at greater risk. In 2020, 30 per cent of the killings have been committed near new reintegration areas, which are located mostly in isolated rural regions characterized by limited State presence and where illegal armed groups and criminal organizations fight over illicit economies.
- …Killings of former combatants leave their family members exposed to security risks and economic hardship. In the National Reintegration Council, the parties are discussing possible measures to assist families of former combatants killed.
- …according to the Sub directorate, 1 former combatant was killed during the reporting period while awaiting the approval of protection measures, of a total of 19 since the signing of the Final Agreement. This highlights the need for adequate funding to respond to the more than 400 pending requests without further delay.
- To date, the Special Investigation Unit of the Office of the Attorney General has reported 31 convictions and 20 cases at trial stage linked to attacks against former combatants. Additionally, 4 more suspects, alleged to be intellectual authors, were captured during the reporting period, of a total of 15 since the signing of the Final Agreement. As stressed in previous reports, a focus on prosecuting intellectual authors is crucial to dismantling these criminal networks and fighting impunity.
- According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 42 incidents in which large numbers of civilians were killed have been registered in 2020, and a further 13 are under verification.
Among the victims are 19 children and 12 women. These crimes are being perpetrated mainly in areas with a weak State presence, high levels of poverty, illicit economies and disputes between illegal armed groups and criminal organizations.
On 15 August, eight people between 17 and 25 years old, including a woman, were also killed in Samaniego (Nariño). The Office of the Ombudsman had warned of the risks facing the municipality in an early warning in mid-2019. (Report of the Secretary-General, 25, September 2020)
Amnesty International Report
“Defenders of the land, territory and environment continue to carry out their vital work in Colombia in hostile contexts and at great risk. In the most lethal country in the world to carry out this work, the Colombian state has responded with a wide range of laws and institutions, but this has not been effective.” (Amnesty)
At roughly the same time (October 8th) Amnesty International also released its own Report – ‘WHY DO THEY WANT TO KILL US? / LACK OF SAFE SPACE TO DEFEND HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA’ – sadly showing that the situation has deteriorated further since the 2016 fragile peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and highlighting the continuing threats to and killings of rights and environmental activists in the country.
“For years, Colombia has been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for people who are defending human rights, territory, and natural resources,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director for Amnesty, said…
“Things have got even worse, particularly for those living in geographically strategic and natural resource-rich areas…”
Alongside Ivan Duque’s insipid support (if not outright opposition) for the changes needed to implement the peace process, Erika Guevara-Rosas pointed out that “defenders will continue to die until the government effectively addresses structural issues like the deep inequality and marginalisation suffered by communities, ownership and control of the land, substitution of illicit crops, and justice.”
Likewise Amnesty concludes: “This conclusion set out in this report is that the central problem in Colombia is the state’s lack of political will to effectively protect human rights defenders, especially those who defend the land, territory and environment.”
Other figures vary on the number of casualties suffered
The Bogota-based Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ) registered the killings of 223 human rights and community activists in 2020 so far.
The group has reported more than 1,000 activists have been killed since 2016. (“Official government statistics report 415 deaths since 2016”).
“The government is tearing the possibility for peace apart … they aren’t fulfilling their role of protecting their people…In this country, people are killed for speaking their mind.” Francia Marquez, the 2018 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work against illegal mining and a survivor of one attempted massacre told Al Jazeera…
Sadly, after a notoriously bloody civil war incorporating countless war-crimes (80% of which are now attributed to Colombia’s state forces)…“Reliable evidence obtained by Amnesty International makes it clear that the number of defenders killed and threatened continues to grow at an alarming rate in Colombia.”
The U.N. mission has verified 297 attacks on former FARC fighters, including 224 killings, 20 disappearances and 53 attempted homicides.
These deaths, including those of community leaders and the unsolved murders going on in parallel, can now be added to an estimated 220-260,000 deaths, an estimated 60,000 disappeared, 1,100 massacres carried out by state sponsored right-wing paramilitary death-squads, 10,000 opposition leaders and leading trade unionists assassinated and the 10,000 “false positives” – civilians killed by the Colombian military and “presented as FARC combatants for bonuses and promotions”, resulting from the lengthy civil war which also displaced between 6 and 8 million people.
“Peace” …with its cruel price in human lives
Carlos Ruiz Massieu pointed out:
“Despite continued attacks and stigmatisation against them, the vast majority of those who laid down their weapons remain engaged in the reintegration process, with nearly a third of them having received funding for productive projects through mechanisms created by the peace agreement,” he said. Adding that, “…land for the former combatants continues to be one of the most pressing matters for reintegration.”
The targeting of ex-guerrillas working to transition to the new situation in Colombia as well as community activists seeking to improve the condition of their communities… is nothing new…
…Not in a country where in 2010 more than 20 million Colombians, 45.5% of the population, lived below the poverty line and 16.6% suffered extreme poverty, and which still remains one of the most unequal in relation to the distribution of wealth in Latin America; a country where 1 million farmers exist without land, while 1% of all landowner of the large estates own 85% of the land (2019 figures from Libardo Anzola, Colombian economist, 2019).
The fact that it is being allowed to continue in keeping with the current right-wing regime of Iván Duque’s lukewarm support for a peace process that has tried to end 54 years of armed struggle, murder, mayhem and extra-judicial execution is of concern. To say nothing of President Duque’s tendency to bluster and threaten more violence.
Likewise, it appears that the radical changes needed (including “the creation and full functioning of the courts of transitional justice, land redistribution, crop substitution programmes and the protection of demobilized armed combatants”) to move the peace process forward have few friends now in the places of power:
“The structural causes of these risks are also shared by communities throughout Colombia: impunity for the actions of armed groups, criminal organizations and economic projects that seek to take advantage of the strategic location and the natural wealth of the areas where the communities live. Structural poverty and inequality in access to economic and social rights with respect to other regions of Colombia, especially urban areas. The stigmatization and lack of value put on the work of human rights defenders and the systematic impunity enjoyed by those who intimidate and kill them illustrate the structural problems they face in Colombia…” (from: Conclusions and Rcommendations, Amnesty Report)
Those listening…might be reminded of Úrsula Iguarán’s (the wife of José Arcadio Buendía in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’) reply to José Arcadio Segundo:
“When he recognized his great-grandmother’s voice he turned his head toward the door, tried to smile, and without knowing it repeated an old phrase of Úrsula’s.
“What did you expect?” he murmured. “Time passes.”
“That’s how it goes,” Úrsula said, “but not so much.”
“When she said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle.”
Watching the persistence of extreme poverty coexisting with enormous wealth in our 21st century world it would truly seem now that time is not passing…but that it is turning in a circle.
Other Concerns of the United Nation envoy for Colombia
And while concern at the targeting of the peace-building ex-guerrillas, community leaders and those that seek to challenge the ongoing dominance of a wealthy minority elite in Colombia looms large, that is not deny the many other deep-seated problems pressing sharply on the current situation in Colombia, exasperaterd, as we can imagine, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
These include the apparent lack of willingness to address the land problem, the impunity with which attacks on ethnic communities by “illegal armed groups over control of the production and trafficking of illicit crops and the illegal exploitation of natural resources” are ongoing and the violence against women and girls…
“Illegal armed groups and criminal organizations continue to use sexual violence as a means of intimidation and a tool for territorial and social control, targeting women and girls, in particular from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) population. During the reporting period, the Office of the Ombudsman issued 10 early warnings which included risks of sexual violence.”
… to name but a few:
Finally the UN Report calls for support for the work of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non-Repetition focusing on both victims and actors involved in the conflict and seeking to create a meaningful dialogue:
“Respecting the rights of victims to the truth and to effective reparations is a responsibility for those who took part in the conflict. I urge all actors who were involved in the conflict to fully and meaningfully contribute to the truth and acknowledge their responsibilities.
“The recent statement by former FARC-EP leaders asking forgiveness and pledging full contributions to truth is a positive step toward fulfilling the commitments to justice, truth and reconciliation required by the Final Agreement and expected by Colombian society.
“I trust that these declarations will be followed by other gestures from them and others willing to fulfil their part in this endeavour, and I encourage all actors to respect and support the work of the three components of the System.”
“In the end…”
…The New Testament’s Matthew 5:9 tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Whether that is true or not it is imperative to recognise there will be no peace without justice \ and no justice without a vision of what a human and a humane society can look like…
…One, for example, that Gabriel Garcia Marquez attempted to give voice to in his 1982 Speech:
“On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man”. I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”
Both questions and answers that seem to be more complicated than that of resourcing and engaging in an almost endless state of war as part of the current System’s “business-as-usual”, of course…
Something we continue to forget…
In July 2018, the soon-to-be ex-president of Colombia, Juan Manual Santos said “Peace is irreversible. There is no way back.”
On April 10, 1994, on the Anniversary of Emiliano Zapata’s assassination, Subcomandante Marcos wrote, from somewhere in the mountains of the Mexican southeast:
“An unjust peace made war. A death that is born.
An anguish made hope. A pain that smiles.
A silent shout. A personal present for a foreign future.
Everything for everyone, nothing for us. We,
the nameless, the always dead.”
(Votán-Zapata or Five Hundred Years of History’)
Lest we continue to forget…
Image: Marcha Contra la violencia. 6 de Marzo (2008). Bogotá Colombia
Some rights reserved / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Read the Report:
Report of the Secretary-General, 25, September 2020
Video: (Oct 15, 2020)
Areas in Colombia besieged by violence – Special Representative,
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, today (14 Oct) told the Security Council that ‘there have been historic and undeniable achievements’ in the implementation of the Colombia Peace Agreement, ‘but enormous challenges still remain.’
Amnesty Report (PDF)
Colombia: The long road to peace after the civil war | DW Documentary
The documentary charts the ongoing conflict between the FARC guerrillas and government, which is still fuelled by war and social inequality.
Two Short Videos
Al Jazeera on reintegration of FARC fighters
Why Colombia’s Peace Deal is Failing (Vice News, 9’35”)
Who are Colombia’s ELN, the National Liberation Army? (Al Jazeera, 6’07”)
Government-Backed Colombian Death Squads Wreak Havoc (1998, 19’52”)
Refugees tell stories of wildly indiscriminate killing sprees: “They cut people’s heads off. Many people were disembowelled. They are laying down the seeds of terror.”
Truth, Justice, and Reparation: The Gaze of the Indigenous Peoples of Antioquia
“The implementation of the Colombian Peace Agreement has allowed many ethnic groups in the country, such as the indigenous communities of the department of Antioquia, to meet and have a dialogue that helps reconstruct truth and write a shared historical memory that reflects the impact of the armed conflict on their lives, cultures and territory.”