Colombia: Defending Rights Amid Persecution

by Alix Lozano

Colombia - Antioquia regionIn July, CPT joined local partner organization CAHUCOPANA* to participate in the first ever Miguel Angel González Gutiérrez Training Institute for grassroots community leaders.  The Institute, named for a  young man assassinated in Northeastern Antioquia, was dedicated to strengthening human rights protection.  

Participants deepened their understanding and analysis of 1) Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law; 2) Victims’ Rights to Truth, Justice and Reparations; 3) Historical Memory; and 4) Land and Territorial Rights – issues that CAHUCOPANA has been working on for eight years in Northeastern Antioquia.  CPT’s workshop addressed the role of foreign interventions and transnational business interests in dispossessing peasants, indigenous communities and Afro-Colombians of land and territory.

Holding the training in Medellín, the capital of Antioquia, offered CAHUCOPANA members an important view into the political realities of the region.   They also forged alliances with other organizations working towards common goals, which birthed a new educational project in collaboration with LATEPAZ.

An association of leaders working for peace, LATEPAZ is run mostly by female heads of household who were displaced by violence from the Urabá region and fled to Medellín.  Just weeks before the Institute, a leader and founder of LATEPAZ, Ana Fabricia Córdoba, was murdered on a bus by a man who ran away after shooting her in the head.

Many neighborhoods in Medellín came under paramilitary control starting in 2002.  This has led to the violent deaths of many men and women who were simply defending their right to a dignified life.

Between July 2010 and April 2011, acts of aggression against individual human rights defenders numbered 206 registered cases including 34 assassinations.  During that same period, 127 social or human rights organizations experienced some type of aggression that put their members’ lives and safety at risk.  The violence prevented them from carrying out their legitimate work of defending human rights.  These numbers do not include the violent deaths of women in Northeastern Antioquia whose life stories rip the hearts of those who hear them.

Despite numerous reports and complaints filed in these cases, official negligence in protecting people’s lives remains the reality in Colombia.  Hopefully more training institutes like this one for community leaders who can build consciousness and sensitivity to the sacredness of life will help shift that reality towards one that protects the lives of all people. 

Reservist Alix Lozano from Colombia serves with CPT’s Colombia team.