Between 2016 and 20th May 2019, 837 social leaders were murdered. This year has been the worst, with one leader murdered practically every day. Displacement in rural communities is also increasing, driven out by the war. They want to hide the reality but this is it and it is getting worse.
Juanjo Andrés Cuervo
Despite the 1991 Constitution recognising the rights of indigenous communities in Colombia, the reality has been totally different. “There are still disappearances, they are living in terror and social leaders are being murdered”, claims Danilo Rueda.
He is the National Coordinator of the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace, an NGO that has spent more than 29 years exposing human rights violations in the rural zones of Colombia. He was in England at the invitation of ABColombia, PBI UK, the Colombian Caravana and the UCL Institute of the Americas’
Battling in the face of exploitation by the state and private businesses, he receives constant death threats, but he categorically rejects the possibility of giving up. “The most important thing is eradicating violence, threats are part of life”, Danilo Rueda explains.
With clear and concise discourse, this social communicator and journalist was recently in London and spoke to The Prisma about human rights violations suffered by indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and rural communities, social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia.
According to a report in the Institute for Peace and Development Studies (Indepaz), between 2016 and 20th May 2019, 837 murders were committed. This year has been the worst, one leader murdered practically every day.
According to the We Are Defenders Program 2018 (Programa Somos Defensores), it was a disastrous year in matters of Human Rights as there was “a total of 805 assaults and within that, 155 murders” of human rights defenders and social leaders.
In the eyes of the We Are Defenders Program, this year, has “been recorded as the most violent for people defending Human Rights, compared to 2017, the increase in assaults was 43.7%”.
The causes are different, but among the main ones are “the rearrangement of armed groups in the territories following the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC and the demobilisation of this guerrilla organisation.”
To the former can be added that in 2019 there have been 11,000 forced displacements. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 145,000 Colombians abandoned their homes fleeing from the war in 2018. This figure represents an increase in the same reports from 2017: 139,000 displaced people.
In spite of the former, the Colombian Government, headed by Iván Duque, does not accept this reality and has given real demonstrations of its interest in protecting the lives of defenders, leaders, activists, members and ex-combatants of the FARC.
However, although Danilo recognises that the solution “is never short-term”, he displays optimism about the future in Colombia.
You have spent more than 30 years working to defend Human Rights in Colombia. Has the situation for indigenous people changed in all this time?
There was recognition of their rights in the 1991 Constitution and a strengthening of organisational processes.
However, they have continued to happen and disappearances that they expected would not happen after the peace agreement. To this is added the Government’s aspirations to limit the right to prior consultation and free consent, because several of these territories have wealth in their subsoil that interests the private business sector.
You have received numerous death threats for defending Human Rights in Colombia. Have you sometimes felt the need to abandon this fight?
No, we are loyal to life and this is a part of life, we are not suicidal, but we also believe that the culture of death and exercising power through violence are the reasons behind a right-wing state and society.
How can one fight against governmental bodies?
You have to strengthen yourself to recognise the situation, it is a problem that has deep roots in the regions with collusion from the military and police and also powerful business sectors that behave in a criminal way.
Do you think that this problem has a short-term solution?
Nothing is short-term, the most important thing is to start and recognise that the problem should resolve itself through state policies, not government policies.
There are petty interests that are hidden behind this government that are hampering a different society in Colombia.
Since the transition in government from Álvaro Uribe to Iván Duque Martínez, has anything changed in the political and social situations of the country?
The Government has generated an unease in various subjects, and the social problems for communities that live in rural Afro-Colombian and indigenous zones is extremely serious. Not just because of the violence, but because the economic model and type of democracy keeps being exclusionary. Therefore, avoiding the possibility of inclusion in which basic rights are contemplated that out to have been resolved through the peace agreement.
For indigenous people, the earth is essential in their lives and an integral part of their culture, what is the situation like for a person who has been displaced?
They are the living dead because they have been driven out in a violent manner and they cannot make decisions without facing armed pressure. They are terrorised, while their social leaders are murdered.
Do they receive any kind of support from other nations to try to solve this problem?
The Government is undertaking the majority of the help, and this help has a lot of bureaucratisation and is ineffective at solving the humanitarian crisis and posing a return initiative for the displaced population.
Is the magnitude of what is happening in Colombia understood on a global level?
People understand that today, people are experiencing a restriction of rights stemming from lies and that there has been a development of violence in Colombia.
There is a sector in the Colombian political class that is indolent to the problems of life in this country. Furthermore, people have become aware that they cannot carry out any kind of foreign investment in any country without solving the problems of armed violence.
What do you think of the United Kingdom having received the Colombian President? Bearing in mind the Human Rights violations that the citizens are suffering.
These are powerful international relations. Beyond political interests, the important thing is knowing what type of society we want to build for the world to be able to face issues such as climate change or famine, and eliminate criminal business groups and armed violence in society.
Despite Gustavo Petro finding himself among the favourites to govern the country, finally the Right won again. Why does the Left never win in Colombia, not even during the continent’s heyday?
There is an inherited stigmatisation and violence against liberal ideas. Following the 1991 Constitution, a Right-wing State was established, but it has been prevented from carrying it out with the lies and absence of open political debates, manipulation of the media and violence.
How will the alliance between Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump affect the continent?
We are taking a step backwards from liberal rights with respect to how we had advanced with previous governments. On the other hand, it is opening up a new civic awareness and a dispute that is gaining ground in judicial states and social mobilisation.
What future is awaiting Colombia?
The country is changing, if it manages to protect rights to life and freedom of expression, we will build another democracy in Colombia.
People are demonstrating against fracking or in favour of protecting the animal welfare movement, regrettably with many human costs for their members and social leaders.
Also, through special peace jurisdiction many truths that are unknown to the country are going to be revealed, of state crimes that will implicated members of the security forces and business sectors that have previously been untouchable.
This will open the eyes of many parts of society who will realise that the problem is the structure of exclusion from democracy that impedes people from expressing their political opinions without fear of being killed for them.
(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: email@example.com)