Peace process has not ended 52-year conflict
Government ‘denying’ killings are political
A British organisation that played a key role in Colombia’s peace process has urged the Bogota government to do more to protect community activists threatened by right-wing paramilitaries.
An agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas concluded in Cuba last year and brought to an end a con ict that stretched back to the 1960s and left 200,000 people dead.
Justice for Colombia (JFC), established by British trade unions 15 years ago, used its experience of campaigning for peace in Northern Ireland to play an important role in negotiations, organising delegations of unionists and nationalists who participated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
But more than 100 community and human rights activists were murdered last year by right-wing paramilitaries since the peace agreement was concluded, and 42 more have been killed this year. The paramilitaries are seeking control of areas once held by FARC.
“These are extremely worrying developments,” said Hasan Dodwell of JFC. “There is an intensification of violence by paramilitary groups, which are reported to be moving into rural communities where they have previously had no presence.
“The Colombian government is denying the political nature of the killings. This casts doubt on their willingness under the peace agreement to protect community activists by tackling the paramilitaries.
“This is a grave situation. Protection has to be ensured by the Colombian government for all those who are politically active.”
A JFC delegation was the first international group to meet FARC’s negotiating team at the start of the six-year peace process that last year was derailed when a referendum failed to ratify it. It was ratified in December following revisions.
One of the delegates, Brian Campfield, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said: “The peace message we took to Cuba was a powerful one as the delegates included previously bitter opponents and demonstrated that conflicts that were considered intractable had real potential for being resolved with the right conditions and political leadership.
“The peace agreement was a major achievement. But rati cation doesn’t end matters. FARC has disarmed and the communities in their areas of in uence are vulnerable to murderous activity by right-wing paramilitary groupings.
“The government must ensure that demobilised insurgents are safe as well as trade union, human rights and land rights activists. The murders of community activists highlights much more needs to be done.”
The British government has condemned the killings. The Colombian government did not respond to Big Issue North’s requests for comment.