Some of the bravest heroes in Colombia aren’t packing weapons about the country
In a country where the rich and powerful too frequently kill opponents with no fear of consequences, it takes a special kind of courage to protect the threatened.
That is especially true when those doing the protecting don’t carry weapons; They serve as potential witnesses to discourage professional assassins.
Peace Brigades International is doing just that: Protecting some of the campesino leaders fighting for land stolen from some four million displaced Colombians during a near half-century of internal conflict.
I had the privilege of meeting two of them a few days ago while visiting Buenaventura, a key international port on the Pacific Coast.
They were two women, both European, members of Peace Brigades International’s campaign to protect human rights and peace advocates from a long-running campaign of threats and assassinations.
They talked about their work protecting people like Ivan Cepeda, a crusading congressman whose exposes linking some of Colombia’s most powerful to paramilitaries have resulted in serious threats to his life.
They mentioned as well their campaign in Curbaradó and Jiguamiandó, in the north Pacific department of Choco, where community leaders and members of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission are at extreme risk. Unarmed Peace Brigades International members are accompanying both campesino leaders and church organization members.
As noted in my previous post Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo acknowledged leaders of displaced Colombians in this area are in an especially difficult situation these days as the battle for stolen land is in a critical stage.
(It seemed fitting that one of the Peace Brigades International volunteers was found reading Gandhi’s autobiography when our coincidental encounter occurred.)
The Colombian government’s efforts to protect refugee advocates leave a lot of room for improvement.
The assassination of more than 70 community leaders has pretty much been with impunity. There’s record of only one conviction.
The risks that exist for community leaders exist as well for human rights advocates.
Human Rights Watch lamented the “chronic lack of accountability for human rights abuses,” in the Colombia chapter of its 2012 annual report released earlier this month.
“While justice authorities have made notable progress in some areas, impunity remains the norm, and there have been very limited results in holding accountable those with high-level responsibility for atrocities.”
Apparently, some of the bravest heroes in Colombia aren’t those packing weapons about the country.
It can be inspiring to learn how some Colombians and non-Colombians are working to replace Colombia’s cycle of threats and violence with one of sacrifice and security.
For more information about Peace Brigades International in Colombia, follow this link. (Available in English and Spanish.)