A binational delegation of Presbyterians has spent the last week traveling in Colombia to carry out an evaluation of the Accompaniment Program for Peace that just passed its tenth anniversary in November, 2014. This is a shared ministry of human rights presence held jointly between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Iglesia Presibteriana de Colombia and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.
The trip took on an added urgency on January 11, 2015 when the paramilitary group "Aguilas Negras" published death threats against a diverse group of human rights promoters, including several colleagues within the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. Pastor Jairo Barriga, one of those named in the threat that he received directly by email, suggested that "in its own way, this is a clear sign that our accompaniment work has been evaluated and found to be effective by those whose interests are threatened by the possibility of an end to the armed conflict."
Ruling Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly of the PC(USA) and current Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, summarized the message that came through over and over again as the delegation met with partners in each of the three Presbyteries of the Colombian church. "It's simple," Ufford-Chase said. "In order to achieve a durable peace and not just an end to the conflict, the U.S. and Colombian Governments must commit to the protection of Human Rights and a just distribution of resources that will allow all Colombians to envision a future for themselves and their children."
The binational delegation included Ruling and Teaching Elders from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) and the Presbyterian Church (USA):
- Jairo Barriga (National Diaconía Committee, Barranquilla, Colombia)
- Barbara Clawson (Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, National Committee)
- Linda Eastwood (Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, National Committee)
- Luis Fernando Sanmiguel (National Diaconía Committee, Bogota, Colombia)
- Sarah Henken (Regional Coordinator for Andean Region, World Missions, PCUSA)
- Diego Higuita (General Secretary, Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia, Barranquilla)
- Milton Mejía (Coordinator of the Faith, Economy, Ecology and Society Program, CLAI, Barranquilla)
- Rick Ufford-Chase (Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Executive Director)
- Shannan Vance-Ocampo (Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, National Committee)
- Valdir Xavier de França (Area Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, PCUSA World Mission)
- Germán Zárate (National Coordinator of Diaconía, IPC - Barranquilla, Colombia)
As the delegation came to an end, Linda Eastwood reflected on the group's meetings with government officials, "Though we have met with several people within the Colombian Government and the U.S. Embassy who clearly are personally committed to the protection of human rights in this country, we have seen little evidence that the Colombian Government is prepared to prosecute, or even investigate, those who are threatening human rights promoters in Colombia."
Human Rights monitors in Barranquilla have documented that there were credible threats against at least 109 people in the month of January alone. One Human Rights promoter named in an earlier threat than the one naming Presbyterian leaders was killed in Bogotá on January 20. "Though we are taking these threats very seriously, we will not be intimidated," said Germán Zárate.
Rick Ufford-Chase concurred. "It is time to pressure our own government to live up to the commitments embedded in the Labor Action Plan that accompanies the US/Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the Leahy Amendment as it governs our continued military aid to Colombia. It is an offense that our own government is not using their significant power to demand a concerted effort by the Colombian Government to investigate and prosecute these threats and acts of intimidation along with their connection to new paramilitary groups that have reconfigured themselves as criminal gangs. It is our great concern that the continued culture of impunity makes a lasting, durable peace impossible, its greatest victims being the people of Colombia who have little voice in the larger political arena. It is our prophetic task to continue to prioritize their voices and access to basic human rights."
In the final meeting of the delegation to evaluate their experience together and plan next steps, Shannan Vance-Ocampo and Milton Mejía offered a word of hope and challenge. "It is obvious that our ten-year partnership in the Presbyterian Peace Accompaniment Program has not come to an end. We must redouble our commitment to one another and to this work."