ABColombia Winter Newsletter

After a year marked by a global pandemic and the 4th anniversary of the signature of the Peace Agreement (24 November 2020), ABColombia reflects on the advances and the challenges of building a sustainable and meaningful peace in Colombia. The pandemic has exacerbated some of Colombia’s obstacles to peace. Human Rights Defenders continue to be attacked and killed, while legal and illegal mining activities continue to impact indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, especially ABColombia partners in Choco, La Guajira and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. On a positive note, however, the work achieved by the Truth Commission has managed to continue, namely its recent inclusion of the voices of “Colombia Fuera de Colombia” (Colombians living in exile due to the conflict). As 2020 draws to a close, ABColombia shares with you the latest developments of this unprecedented year.  All of us at ABColombia also wish for you a peaceful Christmas and a new year in which a sustainable and just peace in Colombia begins to be realised. 

24 November 2020 marked the 4th anniversary of the implementation of the Peace Accord, signed between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). The early successes and key achievements of the Accord need to be recognised. However, the last couple of years have seen challenges to its implementation; ABColombia reflects here on the state of the implementation of the Accord to date (24/11/20). 

Human Rights Defenders and community leaders (HRDs) continue to be met with extreme violence. Beneath the alarming statistics of those killed are dedicated individuals and collectives, peacefully struggling to defend human and environmental rights. On Human Rights Day 2020, ABColombia paid tribute to the immense courage, expertise and determination of Colombian HRDs killed this year in Putumayo (11/12/20).

On 7 December 2020members of the House of Lords raised questions of concern regarding the Colombian Government and the Peace Process with UK Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth at the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). Baroness Jean Coussins inquired about the Colombian War Crimes Tribunal and the attempts by the Duque Government to undermine it, while Baroness Christine Blower asked about efforts by the state to entrap the former FARC combatant Sandrich. Additionally, Lord Alderdice questioned the endemic violence against HRDs, and Baroness Anelay asked about media freedom and the safety of journalists, highlighting the courage of those like the journalist Jineth Bedoya. There were many more questions you can listen to the video here

Over the year, ABColombia has engaged in an exchange of letters with Carbones de Cerrejón (Cerrejón), one of the largest open pit coal mines in the world, jointly owned by multinational giants BHP, Anglo American and Glencore. ABColombia, exchanged a series of letters with Cerrejon in which we expressed profound concernregarding Cerrejon’s lack of compliance with Court orders. A complaint was also submitted by ABColombia partner organisation, the Lawyers Group of Jose Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR), to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David R. Boyd; the UN expert has since called for a halt to mining at Cerrejón’s controversial site nearest to the  Indigenous Community of Provincial (28/09/20). 

UN Special Rapporteur David Boyd provided a video statement for the virtual event held by ABColombia and its member organisations CAFOD, Christian Aid and others; you can hear what he had to say here. In October, ABColombia and its member organisations, together with others, hosted an event Digging Deep: Mining in Colombia & the Urgent Need for UN Binding Treaty, on the ongoing struggle to hold transnational corporations and other businesses accountable for human rights abuses, along with environmental and corporate misconduct. The event paid particular attention to the case of the Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira. The recording (in English) is available, by clicking on the picture in the article.

The failure of companies to comply with Court orders despite Indigenous Peoples winning the legal action remains a significant issue. On 5 November 2020 the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, spoke at the ABColombia event, ‘How Mining Companies Nullify the Actions of Indigenous Peoples’. Also speaking at this event was Rosa Mateus from Cajar Lawyers group, who acts for several of the communities around the Cerrejón coal mine, along with Misael Soccoras, Ipuana Wayuu Indigenous Leader, and Jenny Ortiz from CINEP (the national Jesuit Research and Popular Education Centre), discussing the topic of  Ethnocide and Ecocide in La Guajira

The UK needs legislation to impose a duty to prevent human rights abuses, as well as an offence of “failure to prevent” human rights abuses; this is necessary for all companies, including parent companies. ABColombia called on its UK readers to write to their MP for legislation to be adopted  (24/09/20). 

In September, ABColombia and other INGOs expressed serious concerns about the killing of Colombian citizen, Javier Ordóñez, during his arrest,  along with the police abuses and excessive use of firearms during the protests that took place in reaction to this serious incident (21/09/20).

Colombian Civil Society groups and organisations (CSOs) have had considerable difficulty in getting President Duque and his government to engage in dialogue. Due to stigmatisation, Indigenous “Minga” faced increased risks for those participating in October 2020. Further concerns for their safety were raised in light of recent history of indiscriminate use of firearms by the national police and the anti-riot squad (ESMAD). ABColombia therefore made a call on the Colombian Government, along with other INGOs (9/10/10). 

Following various failed attempts to be heard, indigenous, afro-Colombian and peasant farmers called on the President of Colombia to dialogue; Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and Peasant Farmers call on President of Colombia to Dialogue (16/10/20).

International and Colombian civil society organisations, including ABColombia, issued a joint statement expressing their profound concerns regarding the threat to judicial independence in Colombia (02/11/2020), after a series of recent actions taken by the Colombian Government party and President of the Republic, Ivan Duque. 

On 13 November 2020, along with other NGOs, exiled Colombians, academics and volunteers, ABColombia took part in the Truth Commission’s 7th Encounter for Truth, entitled “El Retorno de Nuestras Voces” (The Return of Our Voices). For the first time since its creation, the Truth Commission heard the testimonies of victims of the Colombian conflict who are living in exile (“Colombia fuera de Colombia”), in the form of heart rendering testimonies, poems, music, videos and a variety of cultural expressions created by the victims to share their extremely painful stories. 

Find this video made for the 7th Encounter, in which Colombian refugees from the conflict living in the UK and Ireland share their experiences; along with a video explaining the process of documenting such painful testimonies for the Truth Commission, (both in Spanish). 

This event marked a significant move in the search for Truth and for the voices forced out of Colombia by violence to be heard. In response to the event, UK parliamentarians and the UK Embassy in Colombia expressed their support for Colombia’s Truth Commission, underlining the importance of the VII Encuentro por la Verdad (7th Encounter for Truth) in uncovering the truth for victims in exile and contributing to sustainable peace.