1. Colombia has been witnessing a protracted internal armed conflict for more than half a century. Violence has caused the death of thousands of people, while more than four million have been internally displaced and continue to be displaced. Indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, farmers, human rights defenders, journalists, trade-unionists, and church and community leaders seeking land restitution and justice often become victims of enforced disappearances and killings. Serious human rights violations and abuses by the army and different armed groups, such as the guerrillas and successor groups to paramilitaries, have continued throughout 2010.
2. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Navanethem Pillay, in her 2010 report on the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia expressed deep concern over the increased threats and stigmatization of several categories of human right defenders by public officials and non- State actors. She pointed to 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 directed against human rights defenders. These have been attributed to members of illegal armed groups that emerged from the paramilitary demobilization 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.
3. In August 2010 President Juan Manuel Santos succeeded President Alvaro Uribe, whose administration was marked by extensive human rights violations, including the victimization of opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges and journalists. The new administration has taken some positive steps on the legislative level with regard to land restitution and compensation to victims of abuses by state agents. President Santos has publicly denounced abuses and threats against human rights defenders and highlighted the need for an independent judiciary and respect for the rule of law. Although these are positive steps, they are not sufficient enough to respond in an efficient way to the ongoing abuses. The new administration has to prove in a much more concrete way its decisiveness and will to tackle the crisis and reach a peaceful solution to the armed conflict that has ravaged the social fabric of Colombian society.
4. The Latin America Regional Group meeting of the WCC and the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), held in Bogota, Colombia in 2009, called for increased international ecumenical accompaniment. Colombia was also a focus of the WCC’s United Nation’s Advocacy Week in 2009. The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) which met on 23-26 February 2010 in Bossey, Switzerland, issued a minute on the situation in Colombia. The WCC has a long history of accompaniment with the Colombian people in their struggle for an end to the armed conflict as “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has fallen in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey” (Isaiah 59: 14-15). The WCC has been engaged in programmes promoting peace with justice and reconciliation; human rights; and addressing the question of widespread impunity. In its minute, the Executive Committee reiterated WCC’s solidarity and prayers for the Colombian people, but at the same time it called for the development of accompaniment programmes to support the churches and people in Colombia in their peace and reconciliation efforts.
5. Furthermore, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC in its meeting at St. Vlash Monastery in Durres, Albania, 2-8 October 2010, recommended that a programme for ecumenical accompaniment in Colombia be established. Responding to this call, the WCC organized in December 2010 in Geneva a Consultation on Colombia where representatives from Colombian churches, CLAI and ecumenical organizations in Europe and North America participated and reflected on possible responses to the Colombian crisis. The Consultation acknowledged the importance of a Biblical and theological perspective: the solidarity of God with those who suffer. It discussed the possibility of launching an accompaniment program whose long-term goals would be to protect social leaders and their organizations and communities, strengthen the capacities of various groups for advocacy, reduce fears in their communities, especially those “returning”, and empowering victims. The consultation also proposed the creation of an Ecumenical Forum on Colombia made up of churches, ecumenical groups, and local civil-society organisations. It was decided that an International Consultation with national, regional and international ecumenical partners be organized in Colombia in 2011, in order to discuss more specific action plans and appropriate steps to be taken in the near future together with CLAI.
The WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 16-22 February 2011, therefore:
1. Calls upon all parties to the conflict in Colombia to fully abide by international human rights law and international humanitarian law, respecting the life, integrity and property of the civilian population;
2. Urges the Colombian government to continue the necessary normative and policy changes(or advances) and take specific measures to ensure the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those State and non-State actors responsible for human rights violations against civilians;
3. Commends the work of the Colombian churches and civil society organizations in their efforts to promote peace in Colombia and highlights the need to put an end to the conflict through supporting and promoting platforms for peaceful dialogues and political negotiations while promoting a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the disarming of the paramilitary and the restoration of the rule of law;
4. Reaffirms its expressions of 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;
5. 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;
6. Reiterates the request to the government of the United States of America for an immediate cessation of “Plan Colombia”, and for foreign assistance to Colombia to be redirected from military to humanitarian purposes and for a renewed emphasis on strengthening respect for human rights in the country;
7. Requests the WCC to take necessary steps to organise together with CLAI an International Consultation in Colombia with the participation of churches, ecumenical development agencies, national, regional and international ecumenical organisations and local civil society representatives 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.