Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Peace Is More than Silencing Guns: Human Rights and Colombia’s Peace Process

By: Virginia M. Bouvier, Lisa Haugaard and Moira Birss 

Peace is more than just silencing guns. That was the upshot when Colombian human rights defenders gathered at USIP recently to discuss the ongoing peace process between the FARC guerrillas and Colombia’s government and how the talks can advance justice in the aftermath of a deal. Days later, in a development unrelated to the gathering, the Colombian government took a step in that direction.

Read more here at the USIP website.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"No Justice? No Peace!" The Women Absent from Colombia's Peace Talks

This article originally appeared on The Women's International Perspective on May 3, 2013.

• Yolanda Becerra presenting in the November 2012
Women's Court in the city of Barracabermeja.
Photo credit: Lina Mucha.
“No Justice? No Peace!” Never has this chant, which I have heard so often at anti-war rallies, felt so real to me as during the last few months observing the ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas. The talks began in October of last year in Oslo, Norway and have continued in Havana ever since. “No Justice? No Peace!” Never has this belief been more real to women peace activists in Colombia, who, despite the fact that not a single woman is at the negotiating table in Havana, are insisting on justice for achieving real and lasting peace in Colombia. Women peace activists in Colombia are putting their demands for peace into action through grassroots justice initiatives.

Colombia’s nearly five decades of internal armed conflict has wreaked havoc on the country, resulting in countless deaths and leading to the internal displacement of between 4.9 and 5.5 million Colombians – over 10 percent of the country’s population. But even the little-known fact that Colombia’s internally displaced population rivals that of Sudan has received more attention than the ways this conflict has affected women. According to a comprehensive survey carried out in 2010 by national and international organizations, six women an hour were victims of sexual violence between 2001 and 2009.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Colombia's mining boom overshadowed by human rights violations

It's been quite a while since I posted here.... Let's just say that PBI has kept me quite busy. One of the things keeping me so busy was a report on the human rights implications of Colombia's mining boom (PDF), published last week. Below is some good media coverage of the report, with several quotes from yours truly, on the English-language news site Colombia Reports. I have an idea or two for original new blog posts, so stay tuned! -Moira

Colombia's mining boom overshadowed by human rights violations: NGO

The apparent success of Colombia's mining boom is being overshadowed by human rights violations and mass displacement from mining areas, international human right organization Peace Brigades International (PBI) said Monday.

"80% of the human rights violations that have occurred in Colombia in the last ten years were committed in mining and energy-producing regions, and 87% of Colombia’s displaced population originate from these places," a report by the organization published last week said.

According to PBI spokesperson Moira Birss, mining activities are frequently accompanied by a disregard of the constitutional rights of minorities and threats and attacks on leaders of these communities.

"Community leaders who oppose mining projects, or the organizations that accompany those leaders and communities, have at times been targeted with threats and even attacks in what would appear to be a result of their opposition, as was the case with the priest who was killed in Marmato," said Birss, referring to an area where mining company Gran Colombia Gold and the local community are at odds over who has the rights to mine for gold.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Protecting their mother: Afro-Colombians fight to reclaim their land from palm oil

Upodate: a version of this blog was published on August 30 on the Women's International Perspective.

Palm Oil plantation next to Camelias.
Photo by Charlotte Kesl

The first thing I notice after disembarking from the canoe that carried me across the Curbaradó River and scrambling up the bank are palm oil trees. Their rows of short, stout trunks topped by long green fronds stretch as far as my eye can see. I am visiting the Curbaradó River basin, located in Northwest Colombia near the Panama border, precisely because of the bitter struggle between afro-descendant farming communities and the palm oil companies that had taken over the land after the communities were violently displaced, yet I am taken aback by the overwhelming presence of palm oil trees, destined to become ingredients in cosmetics and snack foods

I soon turn my gaze to the military checkpoint a few meters from the river bank. I also know to expect this, and after years traveling in Colombia’s conflict zones, it doesn’t faze me much. My companions and I are waved through their gate made of guadua, a bamboo relative. The soldiers are part of the perimetral protection that Colombia’s Constitutional Court ordered last year as part of a process to restore the land to its “ancestral” inhabitants—those displaced afro-descendant farmers.  

A few more meters down the path I see a white flag suspended on a very long wooden pole. Shortly after, we approach a sign just behind a line of barbed wire fencing announcing the Humanitarian Zone of Camelias. We enter through the gate, passing between two houses suspended a few feet above the ground. I later learn, after hearing some gruesome snakebite tales, that the height protects from snakes, as well as from flooding during the rainy season.

Interviewing Cristobal.
Photo by Charlotte Kesl

After finding the house where we’ll be staying and guarding our groceries from all the tropical bugs in clear plastic tubs, I sit down to talk with Cristóbal Reyes. His baggy dark blue oxford shirt doesn’t hide his slight frame, and he regularly checks his watch to see if it’s time for us to leave to accompany him part of the way back to his home in Nueva Esperanza (New Hope), in the neighboring Jiguamiandó River basin. He doesn’t hesitate, however, when I ask him to tell me about the violence that led to the displacement of all the Afro-descendant and mestizo campesinos – small-scale farmers—in Curbaradó and Jiguamiandó river basins, starting in 1996.