Official statistics indicate the existence of three million people who were pushed away from their land and property in Colombia due to armed conflict that has taken place for years in the country.
Human rights organisations claim, however, that the number of "displaced people" is actually close to five million.
A new monitoring programme, supported by the World Council of Churches and other actors, has been organised to address these human crises.
In December 2009, Colombia’s Attorney General reported 2,520 cases of forced disappearance, out of a total of 35,665 crimes confessed by the paramilitary forces. A reported 2388 pits were found in the country and 2,091 bodies exhumed, of which only 796 were returned to families.
The major guerrilla groups – FARC and ELN – also perpetrated massacres, indiscriminate attacks, evictions of farmers, torture and sexual violence. In the department of Arauca alone, there were 194 homicides in 2009.
Columbian president Juan Manuel Santos has shown interest in meeting the humanitarian crisis in regard to living victims of internal armed conflict. The government maintains an economic policy of opening the country to foreign investment. New armed groups - criminal gangs now called "BaCrim", constituted mostly by paramilitaries - are trying to control the territory and repel businesses linked to that policy.
The central aspect of the monitoring programme is the option for nonviolence and seeks to support local and international efforts to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict in Colombia. The programme supports the restitution of land to "displaced people", the defence of human rights, seeking justice and peace building through dialogue, and it aims to encourage the presence of international ecumenical observers in specific areas for a period of three months each.
The project has the support of the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and ACT Alliance. It is coordinated by the Rev Chris Ferguson of the United Church of Canada, a church which has extensive ecumenical experience and was one of the inventors of the international monitoring in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
The meeting was the first of the Expanded International Reference Group with church leaders in Colombia. The international ecumenical organisations which were involved included: the World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance, World Communion of Reformed Churches, Lutheran World Federation, Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), Regional Ecumenical Centre for Advocacy and Service (CREAS), KAIROS Canada and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.