This past June 20 to 25, I had the opportunity to participate in a Human Rights Mission to Colombia organized by Fundación Lazos de Dignidad and the Coordination for Human Rights in the Americas.
Among the activities we carried out was the visit to political prisoners of the Sixth Pavilion in the Chiquinquirá prison, whom today are staging a hunger strike, alongside over 1,500 organized political prisoners in different jails throughout Colombia. They demand the fulfillment of Law 1820, or the Amnesty and Pardon Law. This law will allow them to be free again. However, the judges arbitrarily, by hate and revenge, refuse to apply the law.
The political prisoners are members of the FARC-EP that signed the Peace Accords with the Colombian government, whom last June handed in the the UN their remaining arms. Today, the only arm they wish to hold onto is their word. It is necessary to say that the FARC-EP wants to transform itself into a movement or legal political group, and from there it will continue to fight for a more just Colombia.
We visited the “Mariana Páez” and “Simón Trinidad” Concentration Zones located in Buenavista, of the Mesetas Municipality, in the Meta department located in the Colombian mountains. On one side there are the guerrillas, and on the other, a group of political prisoners that have been brought to this place in compliance with the Peace Accords. Both Concentration Zones are in the process and transition towards a definitive standardization.
I remember that we met with Cristian Delgado, member of the Human Rights Commission of Marcha Patriotica, who told us that “as a result of the peace talks and the signing of the final agreement between the national government and the FARC-EP, there has been a decrease in human rights violations in relation to the conflict”. Nevertheless, he expressed that “killings of social leaders and human rights defenders continue”.
One day before this meeting, union leader Mauricio Vélez López had been murdered in Cauca, Colombia, and so far this year more than 63 human rights defenders have been murdered. Cristian also told us that since its founding in 2012 to the present, 136 members of Marcha Patriótica have been murdered. He also pointed out that the conflict left more than 7 million internally displaced persons according to UNHCR figures.
Let us also remember that the report “¡Basta ya! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity” points out that the armed conflict left at least 220,000 people killed and 25,000 disappeared in the period between 1958 and 2012. 82% of the victims were civilians.
The School of the Americas
This is not the first time we visited Colombia. 10 years ago, in 2007, alongside Lisa Sullivan, Linda Panneta and Roy Bourgeois, we were in this country that has historically been the country to send more soldiers to the School of the Americas than any other country – a country that has committed the highest number of human rights violations on our continent. That year we tried to meet with the then Minister of Defense, the current president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to ask him to stop sending soldiers to the School of the Americas. We were not received.
A FOR report entitled “The Rise and Fall of False Positive Killings in Colombia: The Role of U.S. Military Assistance, 2000-2010” found a positive correlation between units and officers that received U.S. assistance and training, and the commission of extrajudicial killings. There were thousands of extrajudicial executions in Colombia before the beginning of the peace talks, including so-called “false positives” where civilians were killed, dressed in guerrilla uniforms and later declared “combat kills”.
I cannot forget the testimonies we heard then from members of the Colombia National Victims Movement. Among them, the testimony of Iván Cepeda who reported that his father Manuel had been killed in 1994 and that thousands of members of the Patriotic Union (UP) were exterminated during the peace talks between the government of Belisario Betancur and the FARC-EP.
We hope today that this story will not be repeated and that the Colombian government will ensure compliance with the Peace Accords and the safety of those who lay down their arms to move on towards a political struggle. It is time to free political prisoners in Colombia and give peace a chance.