Churches seek to boost peacemaking in Colombia

Churches seek to boost peacemaking in Colombia

By agency reporter
26 Feb 2011

A half century of civil conflict fuelled by drug money and corporate hegemony has left Colombia with tens of thousands dead and the second largest population of displaced people (approximately 4 million) in the world.

It has also left a country and society aching for justice and peace.

Finding a peaceful alternative to this long-running conflict was the main motivation for the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to approve a statement calling for an increase in ecumenical peace-building already taking place in the country.

The statement argues that “indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, farmers, human rights defenders, journalists and church and community leaders seeking land restitution and justice” become victims of incalculable cases of killings, threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions by public officials and non-state actors which are some of the most painful consequences of the conflict in Colombia.

“It is important to see this document connected to our focus on peace and justice, especially as we prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation” that will take place in Kingston, Jamaica in May, said the moderator of the Central Committee, Rev Dr Walter Altmann from Brazil, reflecting on the context of the statement’s approval in the life of the WCC.

The intention of the statement is to bolster ongoing peace efforts there while it expresses “solidarity and prayers for the Colombian people, especially the families of those who were killed, disappeared or displaced and expresses deep appreciation to all who have already made Colombian peace initiatives a priority”.

Statements from the WCC Central Committee provide a formal way for the world churches' body to express itself with a common voice.

“Churches are not some kind of a lobby group advocating for one or another issue,” said the Rev Aaro Rytkönen, the director of advocacy for Finn Church Aid and a Central Committee member. “Churches are the body of Christ speaking together for a common concern.”

“When there is an issue which is being felt by one or another church on the grassroots level, there is a need for churches together to raise that issue up also on the global platform,” he added.

As an expression of ecumenical support to the Colombian churches, civil society organisations and ecumenical development agencies working in the country, the Colombia statement urges the Colombian government to continue the necessary normative and policy changes “to ensure the investigation, prosecution and punishment” of those responsible “for human rights violations against civilians”.

The document also includes a request to the government of the United States for “an immediate cessation of ‘Plan Colombia’” The Plan Colombia initiative has funnelled millions of dollars into Colombia during the past decade, most going to the military and police and drug eradication.

In order to increase the support to ecumenical peace-building initiatives already taking place in that country, the Central Committee encouraged the organisation of an International Consultation on Colombia together with the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) “in order to explore the possibility for an accompaniment programme and/or an Ecumenical Forum to support the churches and people in Colombia in their peace work”.

When outlining the issue for Central Committee members, reference was made to the 2010 report of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in which defenders of human rights in Colombia expressed deep concern over “the increased threats and stigmatisation of several categories of human rights defenders”.

The UNHCHR report presents cases of killings, threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual offences, break-ins into homes and offices, illegal surveillance by state intelligence services and information theft attributed to “members of illegal armed groups that emerged from the paramilitary demobilisation and guerrilla groups, in particular the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) as well as, in some cases, members of security forces”.

Addressing the international community, the statement appeals to governments “to assess the impact of trade provisions on human rights before they enter into a free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia and to adopt sustainable policies that give particular attention to the protection of farmers, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and trade-unionists, as their rights are being highly impacted by the presence of transnational corporations in the country”.

The full text of the statement can be found at: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=2267&rid=f_13758&mid=2856&aC=d3b10...

[Ekk/3]

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