WCC UNITED NATIONS ADVOCACY WEEK
New York City,
14-19 November 2004
Violence has besieged this nation for decades. Every day, many are being killed or "disappeared" in the midst of the continuing social and political turmoil. A relatively new feature is the targeting of Christian leaders and laypersons. A tragic example was the murder of more than a hundred persons (including at least 40 children) who had sought shelter in a church in Bellavista during a military confrontation in May 2002.
Churches and the broader civil society in Colombia have for many years opposed the military escalation, engaged in massive non-violent protests and in actions for a peaceful, negotiated solution. Many have paid with their lives, and many others have been driven into exile by threats on theown and their families’ lives. The number of people forcibly displaced from their communities is now over two million – five percent of the total population – and nearly one-fourth of these were displaced in 2001 alone. Most of those displaced by the violence and the consequences of the implementation of "Plan Colombia" and the Andean Regional Initiative are Indigenous people and Afro-Colombians; and as is so often the case in civil conflicts, women and children are the most seriously affected.
For the Colombian churches and other civil society organizations, the root of the conflict does not lie in drug-trafficking or in the violence of the armed guerrilla movements (though these too are being held to account), but in the long history of social injustice, the concentration of economic and political power in a few hands,in the competition for control of potentially rich oil fields, and in a social structure built on the pillars of exclusion, inequality and impunity.
Only in October 2004, after years of efforts to achieve a negotiated solution to the violence, the government of President Alvaro Uribe decided to continue peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) although immediately after his election, Uriba declared a state of emergency, and dramatically increased the size of the country' armed forces in order to defeat the guerrilla groups.
These developments come in the context of "Plan Colombia" and the Andean Regional Initiative, that are backed financially, militarily and politically by the USA. The WCC Central Committee sharply condemned this military-based strategy when it met in Potsdam (February 2001), calling on the churches and the WCC to intensify their ecumenical efforts in support of a negotiated peace.
In response to this challenge, the WCC, in cooperation with other ecumenical partners, developed a strategy to strengthen the prophetic role of churches in Colombia. Representatives of the Colombian churches have gone to the UN Commission on Human Rights over the past three years to present the situation, and have met different UN agencies and offices. WC staff have visited the country on several occasions, and participated in various human rights events, meeting with relevant actors from the churches, like the Commission for Conciliation and the ecumenical network, as well as with government officials. A special advocacy plan drafted with partners like the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), the National Council of Churches in the USA, Church World Service, Christian Aid and Lutheran World Relief is an effort to effectively coordinate the work done by the churches.
WCC UN Advocacy Week Session
9:30 – 10:30 am Tuesday, November 15, 2004
Colombia has been living in war for more than forty years. In the last decade, this has also meant thousands of deaths every year within the civilian population. Besides confrontation between the military and the guerrilla groups, the paramilitary and drug trafficking have made the sitaution more complex.
The session will try to identify new trends in the conflict, including recent proposals like the "Alternatividad penal" law to disarm the paramilitary, the impact of " Plan Colombia" and the Andean Regional Initiative - strongly supported by the United States -, as well as the work of churches and ecumenical organizations in different areas. Particular emphasis will be given to the advocacy work towards the European Union and the United States.
Two resource persons from different coordinations in Colombia will help us in our reflection. One from the Commission for Conciliation, a Commission started at the initiative of the Roman Catholic Cardinal, which is working at the high political level, and the other one from the Ecumenical Network and doing important grassroots work, especially with internally displaced people in Colombia.
Statement from the WCC Central Committee 2002
ACT statement on Colombia from 2004
Minute on Colombia from the Central Committee January 2001
The United States of America has approved and is implementing its "Plan Colombia". This plan, that includes the provision of additional military equipment and action in Colombian territory was denounced by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) at its Assembly in Barranquilla, Colombia (14-19 January 2001). This plan has also been denounced in the "Letter of the Excluded" prepared by non-governmental organizations in Latin America and sent to the United Nations last year.
The Latin American churches consider that this plan is adding more violence to the already critical situation in Colombia and there is a serious danger of expansion of the conflict into other Latin American countries. In fact, the neighboring countries are already deploying military forces on their borders with Colombia. As a consequence of this, the number of refugees and displaced people has grown dramatically. In the year 2000, 38,000 people were killed. Thousands more have disappeared, been maimed or displaced from their homes. The Afro-Colombian communities and Indigenous Peoples have been particularly affected.
The churches in Colombia are in dialogue with sister churches in other parts of the world, including the churches in the USA, in order to inform them about the situation and develop joint actions of advocacy and solidarity. The General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA recently led a delegation to Colombia to assess the expansion of violence and seek ways to be supportive of the churches in Colombia and the region.
Convinced that military aid does not help the cause of peace, the Central Committee joins with the CLAI Assembly in opposing this Plan. It expresses its solidarity with the Colombian people, especially the families of those killed, maimed, disappeared or displaced, and with the Colombian churches in their work to support peace. It urges the staff of the Council to intensify its efforts in support of a negotiated peace to end the decades-long violence in Colombia.
Implications for US churches and the world report 2002
Project Ploughshares website with links to other organizations working on Colombia
September 3, 2002 WCC press release