On 13 November 2020, the Commission for the Clarification of the Truth (Truth Commission) held an event entitled “El Retorno de Nuestras Voces” (The Return of Our Voices) for the truth and the recognition of the rights of victims living in exile and those who have returned.
The Truth Commission a few years ago began to coordinate and carry out a series of events called “Encounters for the Truth” (Encuentros por la verdad). This was the Seventh encounter and it was held with victims of the Colombian conflict forced to live in exile. Over, 26,000 people connected virtually to this event, which serves to demonstrate the importance of the truth for Colombian victims living in exile.
From the beginning of its mandate the Truth Commission initiated a project designed to listen to the testimonies of Colombian victims in exile in 23 countries in America and Europe, in order to “dignify their stories and integrate them in the final report.”
In addition to this the Truth Commission established support groups of, and for, Colombian victims/survivors living in exile. They are made up of exiled Colombians, NGOs including ABColombia, academics and volunteers in around 23 countries in which exiled Colombians are living. These groups took part in this event sharing their extremely painful testimonies.
A piece of the truth of Colombia’s history has gone with each of the victims who were forced into exile to protect their lives.
Listen to the voices of victims from the Colombian conflict living in the UK and Ireland: Carta a Colombia (only in Spanish)
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2016 when the Peace Accord was signed there were 340,000 Colombian refugees living abroad and over 7.2 million forcibly internally displaced, this gives a snapshot of the magnitude of the situation.
It has been four years since the signing of the Peace Accord with the FARC-EP and the Truth Commission have documented during 2019 and 2020 1,027 testimonies in over 23 countries. This has been done in cooperation with different civil society organisations, across five regions: Europe, North America, the Andean region, Central America, and South America.
The Truth Commission report is due at the end of 2021, its main objective is to give a voice to each of the victims to recognise their rights and give them an explanation of the violent events that occured.
The UK and Irish group participated in the event on the 13 November 2020 with a video entitled “Muralla de Voces” (you can view this below) and “Carta a Colombia” ( An Open Letter to Colombia”), you a can listen to this in the video above. This letter includes the petitions of the Colombian community in the UK and Ireland, to the Colombian State.
The process of revealing the truth requires commitment from all the actors in a conflict. To know the truth is a central ask of the 9,057,952 million victims of the Colombian conflict.
The stories of victims in exile, what happened to them, the difficulties they face, the processes that they had to go through to be recognised as victims in exile, the cost of living away from family, friends and their country are not known. Most of them are human rights defenders, indigenous people, afro-Colombians, community leaders from political organisations and social movements, prosecutors, judges, businessmen, demobilised people and journalists.
Although in 2016 with the signing of the Peace Accord exiled victims started returning to Colombia, with the current violence many of them along with others, have returned to once again request asylum, in search of protection for themselves and their families.
The relationship of the victims living outside the country with the current situation in Colombia continues, they maintain their interest in contributing their piece of history to complete and clarify, “truth without borders”. In addition, many maintain a network of exiles who, still demand to know the truth about their missing relatives.
The Seventh Encounter for Truth heard heart rendering testimonies, listened to poems, music, videos and watched a variety of cultural expressions created by the victims to tell their stories, in order that what happened should not be forgotten and in an effort to prevent its repetition.
An example of this is the poem they read out which was dedicated to the untold number of social leaders killed as they worked to protect and defend the rights of others, courageously addressing human rights violations and violations of the rights of their communities:
To Peace and To Talking about it
By Barbara L. López Cardona
Sus vidas condenadas al sufrimiento, negociaciones al día, convenios firmados lo inaceptable por el bien común aceptado, aún así, la muerte agazapada escondida en las sombras de la inconciencia su certero golpe atina, líderes sociales, valientes que no huyeron sus palabras calando la piedra, sus ojos forzosamente cerrados antes de ver los frutos de su siembra, repica el campanario, invocación al rezo, lágrimas de impotencia emergen, la sangre tapiza los campos, la esperanza se tambalea, aún no cesó la horrible noche, sus cuerpos en el sepulcro sus anhelos en el pueblo, como semilla que crece en suelo fértil, el bien se empeña en germinar, las verdades se hacen fastidiosas y se entorpecen las palabras, en este mundo de contradicciones, de ambición, de impunidad, hay palabras que no se dicen, hay cosas que conviene callar, pero la voz no se intimida, y bien alto vuelve a hablar, en otra esquina en otro lugar, no olvidamos a las víctimas, a los sobrevivientes a los que se quedaron, a los que sin querer se marcharon, porque de todos se hace un país, la paz, el amor, la tolerancia, se sienten amenazadas cada que una vida se pierde, cada vez que se tiñe de rojo el sendero que cruzamos, la libertad tan unida a la esperanza, se ensombrece con la violencia desenfrenada y volvemos a caminar el camino incierto, honro a las almas penosamente asesinadas, me duelen todas las desapariciones y las victimas de casos más recientes, y aquellos seres de luz que añoraban respirar la paz supuestamente alcanzada, y que hoy son estadísticas que se archivan, y que ninguno hace nada.
Published in “Memorias Poeticas de la Diaspora Colombiana” 2019 Diaspora Woman
ABColombia was one of the supporters of the Truth Commission’s event and we sent the following message:
ABColombia supports the exiled community in the UK and Ireland who are calling, and working, for the Truth to be told about what happened and why in the Colombian conflict. ABColombia recognises and pays tribute to the courage with which Colombians in exile have pursued truth and justice for their loved ones. As well as, the pain and suffering they experienced in the conflict and as a result of having to go into exile, to live outside of their country, and away from family. We welcome and are honoured to work in partnership with the VII Encuentro por la Verdad (Seventh Encounter for Truth, organised by the Truth Commission). ABColombia strongly supports the work of the Truth Commission, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Search Unit for the Disappeared, their work will lay a strong foundation for building sustainable peace in Colombia.
Members of the UK Parliament and the British Embassy in Colombia also sent messages of support (Click on link to see what they said)
According to the Truth Commission, testimonies continue to be taken throughout the pandemic. These can be given individually or as a collective up to 30 June 2020.
Any Colombian victims living in the UK who would like their story documented by the Truth Commission should contact Peter Drury at the UK and Irish Group of the Truth Commission email: firstname.lastname@example.org