In a recently published article, Lilia Solano described the impact of Colombia’s armed conflict on its people. A long-time human rights activist, Solano reported that in the decades-long conflict, Colombia has seen 5 million people displaced, 60,000 declared as “missing,” thousands killed, and a million hectares of land snatched away from the rightful owners.
Solano works as director of the Justice and Life project in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. She is among the leadership of social movements in Colombia. Through this work she began to be engaged with the World Council of Churches (WCC) program for human rights advocacy.
Following a round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in November 2012, Solano reports that she sees human and environmental rights integral to the peace process.
She identifies the role played by ecumenical partners as important for achieving justice and peace in the region.
In a recent WCC consultation on peace and human security in Guatemala, Solano stressed that the peace process in Colombia is important for other countries in the region, explaining why.
“It is important to understand the structural causes of conflict in Colombia. This war is connected to similar situations in other countries of the region, triggered by the growth of poverty and struggles for land,” said Solano.
The occupation of the Colombian territory and manipulation of natural resources by the multinationals have resulted in a loss of sovereignty. The destruction of the environment remains a phenomenon that Solano calls both a symptom and a significant impact of the current unjust economic model.
She identified links between the government’s decisions and the paramilitary forces active in different areas of the Colombian territory.
“The presence of paramilitary forces in the country is part of a strategy imposed by the state in order to oppress those that are considered ‘inconvenient actors’ by the economic, political and military powers,” noted Solano.
Therefore, the persecution and elimination of members of workers’ unions, human rights organizations and social movements became inevitable.
“Even today, the paramilitary activity remains, most evidently in the areas where megaprojects by the multinationals are being implemented,” said Solano.
The agenda for peace negotiations between the government and the FARC rebels, both in Norway and Cuba, have included guarantees of comprehensive agricultural development. These were accompanied by proposals for the right to exercise political opposition, the end of armed conflict, a strategy for combating drug trafficking and a plan of compensation for the victims of violence.
Global advocacy for peace
Solano believes that the limited participation by civil society in this process shows that the Colombian government is not taking into consideration the realities of thousands of citizens, who experience the structural causes of the war on a daily basis.
“The dynamics of the peace process should be established by the social actors. We have the right to be part of this process. The civil society can help in building the basis for a lasting peace,” Solano added.
Solano stressed that the WCC and other international organizations can play a vital role in the Colombian peace process by supporting the civil society. She said that it is high time for such a support since the Colombian government is threatening to prosecute local organizations, which hope to claim a seat in the roundtable of peace talks.
“Therefore we demand that international organizations like the WCC, with its vast experience in peace talks internationally, accompany, endorse and support the victims of the conflict in Colombia,” she continued.
“The ecumenical partners can help to assure the Colombians that they have the opportunity to build the country that they envision,” said Solano.
In a situation where Colombian civil society urges a bilateral cease-fire, support from the international community can make a difference.
The WCC’s program executive for human rights and global advocacy, Christina Papazoglou, hopes that the peace talks in Cuba may lead both the Colombian government and the FARC rebels “to show good will and refrain from any actions that may jeopardize the continuation of the dialogue”.
She believes that “both sides have a responsibility towards the people of Colombia to exhaust all efforts in order to put an end to this conflict and bring peace and justice in the country,” she said.
Solano also spoke about the Program of Ecumenical Accompaniment in Colombia (PEAC), an initiative supported by the WCC and implemented by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and other regional ecumenical organizations. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), through the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, also sponsors an accompaniment program in Colombia.
She said, “There are many elements that can be drawn up from the WCC's experience in Palestine and Israel. However, implementing such an initiative in Colombia requires further considerations, such as high profile international support that can allow an organ such as the WCC to become a valid voice between the Colombian government and the civil society working for peace.”
The PEAC initiative is inspired by the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, and aims to support communities affected by the conflict in Colombia.
Marcelo Schneider works as WCC communication liaison for Latin America and is based in Porto Alegre, Brazil.