Colombia vs Sudan and Congo

Saturday, December 04, 2010

by Sean Hawkey

ACT Alliance General Secretary John Nduna has spent a week in Colombia and says ACT must strengthen its global advocacy against human rights abuses there.

As well as visiting projects and partners with members of the ACT forum in Colombia Mr Nduna met with the Vice-President of the Republic of Colombia and other political figures to discuss the situation of forced displacement, human rights abuses and land tenure.

Reflecting on his visit Mr Nduna compared Colombia to Sudan, which is the only country in the world with more displaced people than Colombia. The most conservative figures show there are more than three million Colombians who have been displaced forcibly by massacres, murder, torture, rape and death threats, all of which are used systematically. Mr Nduna visited several projects for the forcibly displaced in areas such as Soacha and heard many testimonies.

Mr Nduna said “the displaced people here cannot return to their homes and land for fear of their lives. There is no security for human rights defenders, and there is almost total impunity for human rights abusers. And, worse still, the systematic crimes that force people to displace are still being perpetrated, there seems to be no end to the suffering of people here”.

Mr Nduna challenged the Vice-President Mr Angelino Garzón on what the government aims to do about existing displaced people, and to stop more displacement but the government position was not made clear.

The existence of many illegal armed groups in Colombia, says Mr Nduna, is comparable to the chaotic situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many of the armed groups in both the DRC and Colombia are paramilitary groups, private armies doing the will of big private interests, often to take control of natural resources that belong to others, and often with the effective acquiescence of state bodies and state forces.

These groups are unaccountable to the public and they are responsible for widespread crimes against humanity. Nduna says that “we recognise that bringing such big interests under control cannot be an easy task, at all, and I have to empathise with the government, but I am convinced that a clear government position and decisive action on paramilitary groups are essential for peace and prosperity in Colombia”.

"I have seen many conflicts around the world and I have also seen the paths that lead to peace. They have all had to include an end to the violence. Defence of the defenders of human rights is fundamental to the process. Impunity for criminal activity has to cease which means there need to be judicial investigations of human rights violations, including investigations of the “big fish” – those people responsible for massive and systematic crimes".

“While we expect to be contributing to the response to the massive flooding here, we recognise that there are deeper and long-term problems in the country that cause terrible suffering to millions of Colombians. ACT is committed to justice and peace in Colombia and along with others in the international community, we offer our support to these processes”.

ACT members in Colombia are carefully monitoring evidence of human rights abuse in the country and along with churches around the world are currently planning a programme of accompaniment, bringing in people from churches around the world to accompany people and communities who are receiving death threats.