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Colombia Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with Victims 2016

Christian Aid Country Manager for Colombia, Thomas Mortensen, attends an event of remembrance for victims of conflict in Colombia, and writes about the ongoing peace process.

In Colombia, which has suffered from more than 50 years of internal armed conflict, the 9th of April is a symbolic day. It is a day of solidarity with victims and hope that a negotiated end to the internal armed conflict will be reached soon.

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Thomas Mortensen carries a balloon bearing the name of a victim of the conflict in Colombia

It was on 9th of April in 1948 that the liberal presidential candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, was murdered, which triggered chaotic and extremely violent protests, known as the Bogotazo.

Mara Luz (Deputy Head of Region) and Thomas Mortensen (Country Manager) joined our partners, the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace and Dipaz, in a religious ceremony to commemorate Victim’s Day and pray for peace.

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It was an emotional ceremony and it took place at the exact location where the many bodies were buried during the Bogotazo, now the Centre for Historic Memory, Peace and Reconciliation.

The key political message by the religious leaders was that the re-armament of paramilitary groups is the major threat to reaching a peace agreement with the two insurgents, the FARC and the ELN, which recently announced it will also initiate formal peace talks with the Government.

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Democracy vs violence

On one hand, the insurgents fear that they will be killed by paramilitaries if they demobilise and become a political movement, which is their stated intention. One can agree or disagree with the insurgents’ Marxist ideology but clearly it is better that they pursue their political aims with democratic means rather than with violence.

However, the genocide of the left wing political movement, Union Patriotica in the late 80s and early 90s, is a reminder that dark forces in society are willing to use violence to prevent the political left-wing from gaining political power in what is still very much a cold war military doctrine of the internal enemy. Union Patriotica was affiliated with insurgents, mainly the FARC, in its initial phase but later distanced itself them. At least 3500 (other sources indicate it was more than 5000) militants from Union Patriotica were killed, including two Presidential candidates, by paramilitaries, armed forces and drug dealers. 

On the other hand, unless the paramilitary groups are dismantled there will no real peace.

Historically, the vast majority of serious human rights violations have been carried out by the paramilitaries.

Out of the cases of killings and forced disappearances where the author is known from 2002 to 2010 the figures are as follows: 55.7% paramilitaries, 18.7% state agents and 25.6% guerrilla, according to Comision Colombiana de Juristas.

However, the victims of the insurgents have generally been stronger in making their voices heard, because many of them belong to the middle and upper classes, while most of the victims of the paramilitaries are more marginalised and from rural areas, with a far weaker public voice.

Today, the paramilitaries and criminal gangs are responsible for the vast majority of serious human rights violations.

The trouble is that, according to a statement made by Danilo Rueda from the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in a public hearing a few days ago, armed paramilitaries in uniforms are able to move freely around in large groups in several parts of the country despite the strong presence of armed forces.

There were also denouncements in the public hearing of collaboration between paramilitaries, armed forces and regional political and economic forces.

Quotes from the day

'The success or failure of the peace process will depend on the extent to which society accomplishes to ensure justice for victims. It has to be justice in a broad sense, which includes social justice and the redistribution of land.' - Abilio Peña, Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace.

'In Colombia, paramilitarism is closely connected with social injustice. The origins of paramilitarism lie with the armed forced, with politicians and with businesspeople. The recognition of this historical fact is a prerequisite to disarticulate paramilitary groups' - Abilio Peña, Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace.

'We want them back alive, alive they took them away from us'. These emotional words come from Janeth Bautista, a leading human right activist who recently presented recommendations to the negotiating parties in Havana on the important issue of forced disappearances. She represented CCCEEU, Coordinacion Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, which is a CA partner. Janeth's sister was a victim of forced disappearance carried out by the military 30 years ago.

Thomas Mortensen: 'Janeth refers to the many victims of forced disappearances. Current estimates talks of 45.000 forced disappearances but that number could go up as more investigations are carried out to find the remains of those victims and reveal the truth about what happened to them. Hopefully, state authorities will soon start collaborating more with victims organisation so that these important investigations can be carried out.'

Carmensa Gomez, a mother of a young man killed by the military in an extrajudicial killing: 'We cannot simply forget our loved ones who were murdered. We want peace with dignity'

Carmensa's son was kidnapped on 23 August 2008 and killed two days later hundreds of kilometres from Soacha where he lived. Carmensa is a leader of a group called Mothers of Soacha and she said she refused to be silenced by threats and intimidations from people who don’t want her to speak up. She proudly referred to herself and the other Mothers of Soacha as peace builders.   

Hope for the future

Despite the rise of attacks against human right defenders over the last five years and the recent wave of human rights defenders and social leaders killings, our partners are hopeful that a peace agreement will be reached with insurgents and that the Government will take the necessary steps to dismantle paramilitary groups.

Although the situation is highly complex with separate peace talks with two different dogmatic insurgents, which are deliberately opposed by economic and political sectors belonging to the extreme right, combined with the re-armament of paramilitary groups, our partners always say that unless civil society is hopeful and engage in the process, Colombia will not see peace.

Related content:

VIDEO: Thomas Mortensen describes how Christian Aid partners along with victims of conflict in Colombia have played an integral role in the peace talks in Havana, including putting a human face and seeking justice for those subjected to sexual violence.

VIDEO: Thomas talks about how hopeful he and Christian Aid partners are about the current peace talks, and how inequality can really start to be addressed in Colombia once peace has been agreed.

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