Human Rights Observatory Reports
Every other month the Arrupe Observatory publishes a report in which we condense and contextualize the news regarding the Colombian Peace Process and other Human Rights relevant news. The Observatory also publishes statements, letters, and commemorations. You can read and download all our publications below.
Voices on the Ground
Arrupe Observatory Meeting with Activists, Journalists, and Academics in Colombia.
In the past months, the Arrupe Observatory for Human Rights at the University of San Francisco has been meeting with activists, journalists, and academics in Colombia to better understand the Peace process and the diverse perspectives that encompass it.
Gearóid works with social organizations in Colombia, researching and writing books that analyze the armed conflict, examining the economic interests at stake in different regions of the country. In particular, mining, African palm, oil, water among others.
On October 18, 1998 in the Machuca district, municipality of Segovia, Antioquia, a tragedy occurred that opened the door to question the destruction and lack of responsibility that oil companies have for environmental and social damages in Colombia. Gearóid O Loingsigh, an Irish journalist and author of the book with the same name of the corregimiento, decided to inquire and investigate the true events of that early October, going beyond the misrepresentation and ambiguity that the local media reported.
- Somos Defensores: A space of protection conformed by non-governmental human rights organizations Asociación MINGA, Benposta Nación de Muchachos and the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), which seeks to develop a comprehensive proposal to prevent aggressions and protect the lives of people at risk because of their work as human rights defenders, when they protect the interests of social groups and communities affected by violence in Colombia.
- Machuca: The text examines the events that occurred in the Machuca Corregimiento through an exhaustive investigation. It is a work of memory that allows readers to immerse themselves in the political, social and territorial dynamics surrounding violence in the Northeast Antioquia. This research is a great effort that reveals the various factors that were conjugated at that time in the region. It looks at what happened in Machuca in context and understands that in that region there was not only the presence of the ELN, there were also paramilitaries, state forces, and oil companies.
We followed news of the Colombian peace process from 2018 to 2020.
The Arrupe Observatory of the University of San Francisco expresses its concern at the continued situation facing the Central American University in Managua (UCA), Through a statement, last Monday, September 9, our sister institution in Nicaragua said patrols and riot police -using canine technique- kept the Jesuit University campus surrounded. Fr José Idiáquez SJ said that the University has been constantly besieged by police forces as part of the repressive measures of the current Government of Nicaragua against student protests.
It is important to mention that since 2018, the Inter-American Commission of Humans Rights (IACHR) said that the repression response to the protests by the Government of Nicaragua has resulted in a serious Human Rights crisis. In such a way that the Commission emphatically concluded that “the State of Nicaragua violated the rights to life, personal integrity, health, personal freedom, assembly, freedom of expression and access to justice.” Therefore, the IACHR expressed its special concern. for the murders, possible extrajudicial executions, ill-treatment, possible acts of torture and arbitrary detentions committed against the mostly young population of the country.
The USF Arrupe Observatory for Human Rights calls for dialogue, reconciliation and unrestricted respect for the Human Rights of the Nicaraguan people, maintaining the dignity of each person as a guiding principle. From The University of San Francisco in the United States, we stand in solidarity with the University Community of UCA Managua and its President, Fr. José Idiáquez, SJ, supporting his fight for truth and the search for justice and peace, and invite our community locally and abroad to do the same.
Learn more about the Nicaragua situation in our resources
A Fragile Peace with and Uncertainty in the Future.
FARC Political Party.
The month of July has been characterized by uncertainty in the future of the peace process with FARC. The divisions between leaders of this organization leave many doubts with what’s to come in the implementation of the agreements. An interview with Rodrigo Londono alias ‘Timochenko’ reveals there’s no unity between the heads of the negotiations, as he doesn’t know where Seuxis Pausias Hernández, alias ‘Jesús Santrich’, or Luciano Marín Arango, alias ‘Iván Márquez’ are right now.
He argues they both left the country, have missed the meetings, the hearings of the JEP and ‘Santrich’ isn’t responding to the Supreme Court of Justice. The behavior of both members is condemned by the FARC party and has disappointed supporters of the peace process inside and out the FARC organization.
As a reconciliation gesture, the FARC party voiced its support for the candidacy of Luis Eladio Perez (aspiring to be Nariño’s governor). Perez, who was kidnapped by the FARC for seven years, is now running for governor and his captors are offering their support in his campaign. This is the first time the FARC have publicly supported a victim of the conflict and this gesture has moved the nation. Perez’ reaction was equally surprising as he expressed, he would gladly accept their support since he doesn’t want to remain ‘their prisoner’ by being wrapped up in hate towards them.
President Duque received a visit from a delegation of the UN Security Council and asked them to continue assisting the implementation of the peace process since their support has been crucial for the verification of the agreements. The UN agreed to continue helping with the task for one more year and affirmed they were eager to contribute with a peace process that has been exemplary worldwide. The tensions between the Venezuelan government and President Ivan Duque increased once again due to the political asylum President Chavez offered to both ‘Santrich’ and ‘Ivan Marquez’. In response to his actions, Duque affirmed Venezuela is a sanctuary for terrorists and drug dealers.
In an act of solidarity with social leaders, Colombians took the streets and marched during July 27. The massive manifestation had an unexpected outcome when President Duque decided to join the marches, but was booed by the crowds and forced to leave. These solemn spaces where respect for life is claimed should be an example of inclusion and tolerance.
Critics towards the peace process.
Critics towards the peace process continue and politicians like former President Andres Pastrana, have expressed, the agreements elaborated during Santos administration have been a failure. In an interview with “El Espectador” Pastrana mentioned the increment in cocaine plantations, the disappearance of FARC leaders and the lack of justice as the main problems in the current peace process.
The polarization of Colombian society regarding the agreements has been constant. It has been evidenced that former presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana wished to be the protagonists of an agreement between the government and the FARC as they’ve both expressed, they could’ve done a better peace process. The pronouncements that come in a critical moment for the peace process are somewhat impertinent, since the divisions in the country become more evident when the public opinion makes it known, that former leaders think negatively of what was agreed upon. The nostalgia of not having reached an agreement with the FARC by Uribe and Pastrana must be overcome so Colombia can move on to what really matters, successful implementation of the peace process.
Last year, the Arrupe Initiative embarked on a new project: the Arrupe Observatory for Human Rights, aimed at monitoring the peace process in Colombia. The observatory tracks and analyzes the work of the Truth Commission as well as the reaction of key social actors and concise it in monthly reports, We monitor the Colombian and international media and social networks, sporadic opinion columns, and communications during important events. All this, with the aim of supporting the peace process and showing there are allies in the international community, who care about Colombia.
The Arrupe Observatory’s journey has been interesting and exciting; despite having emerged as a small project, the observatory has achieved international recognition and is now considered a key supporter of the Colombian peace process. The first success in achieving visibility was the visit of one of the most important advisors to the truth commission of the peace process in Colombia, Dr. Manuel Ramiro Muñoz. During his visit, Dr. Muñoz established connections with different areas of the University to determine how USF could contribute to the peace process and gave several talks to instruct the academic community about the situation in Colombia.
From Dr. Muñoz’s visit, we learned the peace process is now fragile and needs support. However, his visit paved the way for an event that could impact the implementation of the peace agreements positively. We are proud to announce that at the beginning of October USF will have the honor of hosting the Colombian Truth Commission for the Peace Process, an organism that keeps the memory alive and cultivates reconciliation in the Colombian society. The Truth Commission is formed by prominent Colombian figures, who are eager to share their knowledge with USF’s community and are excited to learn about different perspectives and opinions that could contribute to Colombia's situation.
At USF we are proud to say that we are changing the world from here, that is why we extend an invitation to everyone to actively take part in the activities we are planning with the Truth Commission, coming together and sharing our viewpoints and perspectives, so we can impact Colombia’s situation in a positive way, and stand in solidarity with those fighting to make the world a better place.
Bearing Witness: Survivors come forward.
June was yet another turbulent month in the course of the Colombian peace process. The assassination of the social leader María del Pilar Hurtado, marked the 65th murder of social leaders since President Duque started his administration. The tragic incident was recorded and made public through the news and social media, which made possible for many Colombians to watch the suffering in the aftermath of the event. The painful video shows one of Hurtado’s sons crying and screaming after his mother was shot in front of him, the events shook the country and the government was pressured to take action and find the responsible for this crime.
Even though the video awakened the consciousness of many Colombians, regarding the reality of the conflict in rural areas, it sparked debate and polemic due to the exposure of the pain of a child and some argued it was insensitive to share this content.
As it can be appreciated, there is a “continuum” of violence directed to social leaders in Colombia. The murders of social leaders remains a constant and is always a trending topic in the news every month.
Another aspect that has propagated a large news display and that continues to be highly discussed in the media is the Santrich case. Since Santrich was freed, captured and then freed again in May, media outlets in the country have been very attentive to his next steps. In the last days of June, Santrich surprised the country again when he left the country without informing the authorities. It was uncertain at the time if Santrich would show up to his judicial appointment with the Supreme Court of Justice in July 9, but yesterday it was reported Santrich did not go. Due to his absence, the Constitutional Court issued an arrest warrant against him.
Even though there were important obstacles for the peace process during June as shown with the previous news, in the last days of the month, the Truth Commission held an important event for the recognition of the victims. Given that June is pride month worldwide, the Truth Commission decided to organize its first forum for trans victims that experienced sexual violence during the conflict, titled “my body tells the truth”.
During the forum, anthropologists, sociologists, investigators, NGO representatives, members of the international community and transwomen had a safe space where they could talk about sexual crimes in war. At the beginning of the meeting, Francisco de Roux, Representative of the Truth Commission, thanked the victims who attended, for being courageous and for their willingness to share their story.
Thirty survivors, who were part of afro descent, indigenous and peasant communities, shared their stories with the audience. Their testimonies recounted traumatic consequences after the attacks like STDS, unwanted pregnancies and psychological problems. The victims made their voices heard to keep the memory alive and prevent these crimes from repeating.
Hope in Solidarity.
The months of April and May were characterized by ups and downs and instability in the peace process. There were advances and setbacks due to important interlinking events that impacted the course of post-peace agreement dynamics.
Although there’s still uncertainty about the JEP´s future, Congress debates about the president's objections continued in April. Despite the fact that the congress voted for the JEP to remain untouched, it was decided that the constitutional court should evaluate the president's objections and the congressional votes to determine if the JEP is going to continue operating under the same statutes from its conception.
Perhaps one of the most outstanding events during the course of the peace process happened on May 15 when Nestor Humberto Martinez, the attorney general of the nation, decided to resign. The prosecutor's position was staggering since last year when his name was implicated in the Odebrecht case; nevertheless, his resignation came months after, accusing the JEP of being anti-democratic, and citing that as his justification for leaving his post. The public opinion and the Colombian people have questioned the reasoning behind his decision since he’s implicated in different investigations. Despite his resignation reflecting instability in Colombian politics, Martinez was an opponent of the peace process; in this regard, a new attorney general could represent a new window of opportunity and hope for the JEP and the peace accords.
Last year after signing the peace agreements, Jesus Santrich, the former commander of the FARC, was accused of illegal drug trafficking during 2016 and the US requested his extradition. During May, Santrich was freed, recaptured and then freed again, which reflects tensions between the different governmental powers and institutions regarding his extradition. However, Santrich is now finally free and able to take his seat in the Colombian congress. This situation has continued to be used by opponents of the peace process and affect the public view.
Hope in Solidarity.
Finally, one of the most symbolic events in the course of the peace process occurred on May 21, when Senator José Obdulio Gaviria from the centro democratico (opponents of the peace agreements led by Alvaro Uribe) had a stroke while entering the plenary of the first commission of the Senate. The Senator was immediately assisted by Julian Gallo, a former member of the FARC, and then helped by Partido de la U’s Senator Roy Barreras, whose party is in favor of the peace agreements. This incident, which required an immediate reaction, reflects that it is possible to build a country without violence where opposite sides assist each other and agree in essential matters. This simple act of solidarity across the political spectrum, brings a glimpse of hope in an unstable peace process, as it evidences that Colombia is being reconstructed by actors who were able to surpass their differences in a vital situation.
USF Stands for the Colombian Peace.
Advisor to the Truth Commission in Colombia, Dr. Manuel Ramiro Muñoz, visited the University of San Francisco, for a week of talks with faculty, staff and students, in the hopes of creating lasting relations between USF and the Institute of Intercultural Studies of Javeriana Cali, standing in solidarity with the Colombian people in their process towards peace.
Dr. Muñoz’ visit was crowned by a campus-wide event Peace in Colombia: Challenges and Opportunities hosted by CELASA where, after talking in depth about the peace process in Colombia and the current political climate, Muñoz extended an invitation to USF students and faculty to “welcome those who had to flee the conflict, listen to them and look for their testimony” Dr. Muñoz urged “it is a potent and needed voice in the peace process and for the truth commission”. He finished with a call to action for students saying “Small things done with purpose can transform the reality, a small group of students being witness to the Colombian peace issues, give hope that other realities are possible.”
The Arrupe Observatory, who hosted Dr. Muñoz throughout the week, had the opportunity to delve into the topic of Human Rights and the peace process with the visiting scholar who stressed on the importance of international attention on the conflict, reassuring that “it is important to build networks between the universities and us [the people in Colombia]. Accompany us and be a witness. When you do so, people, especially from indigenous communities, realize that they are not alone, which is a big motivator, even bigger sometimes than money. Use your spotlight to shed light to the conflict.”
Faculty and students also had the opportunity for conversations with Dr. Muñoz, who visited two classes from the International and Multicultural program at the School of Education, where he shared with the graduate students his experience running the Institute of Intercultural Studies remarking “As academics we have to remember to be in contact with the people, with reality. Sometimes we want to apply theories to some situations, but if we don’t take a step to listen to what people are saying on the ground, the theory is useless.
Conversations about further collaborations between the Institute of Intercultural Studies, and the truth commission in Colombia with USF have been set in motion, and the Arrupe Observatory has taken on the role of mediating such conversations. For further information about Dr. Muñoz’ visit and ways to be involved within the Colombian peace process, please contact Luis Enrique Bazan.
An uncertain future for Peace.
The month of March has been characterized by increasing tensions on different issues of the peace process. An aspect that’s worrisome for the future of the agreements, is the lack of financial resources destined for its implementation. Recently, Ivan Duque’s government has decided to reduce the financing for the peace process, which leaves an immense uncertainty for the planned projects stipulated in the agreements. This budget cut sends the message that slowly but firmly, the little remaining oxygen of the peace process (that is already very fragile) is being removed.
Another aspect that has increased tensions over the peace agreement is the current situation in Venezuela. The proclamation of Juan Guaido as the president of the Venezuelan nation has generated a big controversy. Some countries have supported Guaido’s actions and have acknowledged they recognize him as a president. Donald Trump has openly expressed his support to Guaido and affirmed that he would support the Venezuelan’s transition to a democratic government on the required terms, even if this means pressuring Nicola’s Maduro, the current Venezuela president more vehemently.
Mike Pence, United States Vice-President visited Colombia during the last days of February to discuss this situation and said that the US government is contemplating every option against Maduro. The message behind this declaration is that even if a more forceful approach is required it isn’t discarded. While Colombia is recovering from a long-lasting armed internal conflict, the current government is having meetings to discuss different strategies to out rule the president of a neighboring nation. This can be harmful to the peace process with the FARC because it reflects that the government agrees with using forceful approaches to address an international affair. The repercussions of this vision internally can put at risk the compliance of the agreements.
Rethinking the past
On the other hand, the recent appointment of Ruben Dario Acevedo as the Director of the Historic Memory center was unexpected and controversial. The historian has been known for being a "denialist" of the armed conflict in Colombia; he agrees with a political current of thought that states there wasn’t an armed conflict in the country, instead of a terrorist group that perpetuated attacks against the nation. This current of thought was most popular during Alvaro Uribe’s presidency (2002-2010), which was characterized by a democratic security and militarist approach to defeating the FARC. Putting Ruben Dario Acevedo in one of the symbolically most important institutions for peace in the country increases tensions. This strengthens the message that, in certain instances, the past continues to govern and a warmongering approach is present in key spaces for the peace agreements.
During February and March, the Special Justice for Peace organism had important advances and setbacks. During February, Pastor Alape a FARC commander gave testimonies to the JEP about kidnappings and disappearances. This contributes to the reconstruction of truth and brings the JEP closer to achieving reconciliation and reparation of the victims. Another positive aspect developed by the JEP is the gender approach, that’s currently being promoted by Patricia Linares, the first ever women to be in charge of this entity. Unfortunately, the JEP also suffered fundamental setbacks recently due to President Duque’s uncertainty of objecting the statutory law of this organism. If this aspect remains to be unclear, the peace process may be delayed, the victims and the judicial processes run the risk of being left in limbo and the perpetrators are left in impunity longer.
Arrupe Observatory Honors the Bogotazo.
In Colombia, bipartisanship has been a notable source of violence. Today, April 9th, USF’s Arrupe Observatory wants to commemorate 71 years of the Bogotazo, when the clash of conservative and liberal parties in Colombia left Bogotá in flames. Violence was sparked by the murder of the liberal presidential candidate, Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, and led to the resurgence of urban violence in the capital, laying the road to an unsustainable struggle of bipartisanship in years to come, which came to be known as the years of la Violencia.
The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) later emerged as a result of the lack of representation for other voices that were neither liberal nor conservative, and the FARC lasted around 60 years in this struggle of having their voices heard. Today, Colombia has the privilege of saying that the peace accords ended a conflict that originated due to a bipartisan division. It is important to commemorate a day that unleashed excessive violence and be able to acknowledge that today this is a distant memory and not a reality.
The Observatory is certain that Colombia deserves a better future, in which the structural causes at the root of violence and wars are dismantled. We commemorate this day with the purpose of keeping the memory alive to prevent the repetition of these tragedies that emerged due to a division of thought. The Observatory believes in a country where the difference of opinion is not a cause of violence, but instead, a reason to achieve a more inclusive and humane society, that embraces the diversity of opinions and helps build a better future for all Colombians.
Colombia Peace Process Main Protagonists.
When the USF’s Human Rights Observatory started its press analysis and media search around peace dialogues in Colombia, it was evident that the ELN was not an important protagonist in the news about peace in the country. Since the new president Ivan Duque took office, uncertainty with regards to a peaceful future in Colombia has governed the nation. Without clear policies and with harsh pronouncements about the armed groups continuing their operations, the new administration in Colombia disregarded the conversation table established with the ELN. The media had been stagnant due to the lack of new facts or events about the fate of the dialogues that began with the guerrilla group.
This, however, changed dramatically on January 17, 2019, when the ELN guerrilla group became the main actor in the country's news. Unfortunately, this did not happen due to an advance in the negotiating table, but because of the attack, they perpetrated on the Police School General Santander that left around 21 dead and 60 injured. After this, newspapers, radio and television were flooded with images and stories about the car bomb that exploded in the Police school. The country was polarized again and the news about this situation focused on how this attack caused a step backward in the attempts to negotiate peace with the ELN and at the same time endangered the agreement already established with the FARC.
The media expressed how these events evidenced that Iván Duque’s government, which did not impel the negotiations until now, would possibly end them and concentrate on hardening the repression to the guerrilla leaders. At the same time, news revealed how tension was building between Norway and Colombia due to the protocols that were established in the negotiations were broken.
The press wasn’t the only agent revolutionized around the facts: academics and columnists also made several pronouncements about the meaning and consequences of this attack in the context of the peace process and at the end it was easy to conclude that the actors most harmed after the attack “were the people that fought to achieve peace in the country”.
Social Leaders in Danger.
Another very relevant topic that also arose in Colombia’s press during January was the security of Social Leaders in the country. Before the start of 2019, there was already a toll of 400 social leaders that had been murdered since the beginning of the peace dialogues with FARC, which was not being discussed in the media; now, several press outlets are releasing news about this concerning situation. The Observatory intuits that these pronouncements and the awakening of the media about this topic may be linked to the current moment that the country is living after the ELN attack. Both this peak in violence and the murders of social leaders are factors that put at risk the already vulnerable and incomplete peace that Colombia has after the signing of agreements with the FARC.
I hope you are well. I want to share the following since I am part of the Arrupe Observatory at the University of San Francisco, which monitors the peace process in Colombia: https://myusf.usfca.edu/arrupe/observatory
As an observatory of the peace process in Colombia, we see with concern the increase in violence due to the events that took place on January 17, and the death of more than 400 social leaders since the beginning of the peace talks, and we want to extend our condolences to the victims and relatives of these events.
Even so, the Arrupe Observatory of USF believes that peace is still a possible goal, evidenced by all the advances that have been seen since the implementation of the agreements with the FARC in 2016. The dream of a Colombian society in peace is more strong that this episode of violence.
We would like our voices to have an echo in Colombia and for our message to be heard by the country and the government. That Colombians know that in San Francisco there is a support group that is betting on a negotiated solution to the conflict. And that those who feel isolated in the defense of peace know that they have this space that welcomes them and is interested in making their voices resonate.
We hope that Colombia continues to bet on peace.
The Arrupe Observatory at the University of San Francisco.
Luis Enrique Bazán, Mariana Plazas Jácome, Kerent Benjumea, Maria Nieves Autrey Noriega, y Laura Rocio Vesga Villalba
The Colombian Peace Process
The Commission of Peace was enacted in 1994 as a way to facilitate the inclusion of civil actors in peace efforts, recruit international cooperation, and direct dialogues with armed groups.
The importance of this peace process is that it in itself is rooted in social justice by attempting to incorporate former Guerilla members into society once again and discontinue the cycle of violence that has affected Colombia for over 50 years. This process is also unique as being one of the most participatory peace processes in history where both parties acknowledged peace would not be attained militarily. While this framework could be used to end armed conflict in other parts of the world, it is vital for us to track its successes and failures.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS FROM USF’S HUMAN RIGHTS OBSERVATORY
• Media outlets haven’t say much about the Truth Commission and the peace process. We have also noticed that the few news that comes up are distorted by the traditional media outlets. This news are usually shaped to fit their own interests, so we are working with the Javeriana Universities to get direct access to the narratives of communities from the different regions. Our contacts: Manuel Ramiro (Javeriana Cali) & Aida Quiñones (Javeriana Bogota)
• Land displacement and land rights are key issues for the conflict.
• The “Ejercito de Liberación Nacional” (ELN) is having a parallel peace process with the government, but they are a guerrilla that are not well known outside Colombia. It is important to learn more about them because their process with the government is also very important for the country.
• Coercion has become an important tool for peace negotiations. President Duque threatened with ending the peace talks, but he continued the conversations after the ELN kidnapped members of the police and military.
• There is also growing suspicion that the Colombian government is looking to aid the US against Venezuela, and the internal stability is key to proceed with a military action outside Colombia.
We put together the following list of resources that provide a context to the conflict at hand: