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Lisa Haugaard’s Testimony Before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus

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Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing
"The Colombian Conflict: The Victims’ Search for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation in Colombia"  

LAWG invited four members of the Colombian Victims' Movement to the U.S. to speak directly with policymakers in Washington and New York. The delegation testified in front of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the House of Representatives. Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the LAWG, tesified with the group. Below is her testimony.

Honorable Members of Congress:

Many thanks to Representatives Lantos and Wolf, and the staff of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for giving this importance space to victims of the Colombian conflict, and to Representative McGovern for chairing this briefing and to Rep. Farr for his attention to these issues.

When a conflict appears to be ending, some members of the international community, who are understandably anxious for peace to be concluded, can be impatient. We want the loose ends tied up, we want to hear about reconciliation, about the cessation of violence, we want to hear how a society is moving on. Yet inadequate space for justice and for truth, even in cases where there are serious peace negotiations, can lead to continued violence, unreformed military structures and instability, or unresolved questions that trouble societies for decades. In countries like Chile and Argentina, for example, the search for an adequate measure of truth and justice persists more than twenty years after a period of severe human rights violations.

In Colombia, this search for truth and justice has barely begun. But it is an important moment indeed to be asking questions about how the search for truth and justice should take place. In the last two years the Colombian government has been negotiating with illegal paramilitary forces to convince them to lay down their arms. This is, of course, a laudable goal we all share. It is important for us to understand however, the unusually intense concerns that exist over the process — which are based not on abstract notions of justice but on a real fear that the violence will simply continue in new forms. Because the paramilitary forces openly claim to be fighting to support the Colombian state – not to oppose it like most insurgent forces—and because of the well-documented, pervasive links beween some members of the Colombian security forces and paramilitaries, there is considerable skepticism about exactly what has been negotiated between the Colombian government and paramilitary forces in a process perceived as very untransparent. What is occurring is at best the demobilization of part of one group, but not a peace process as generally understood. Meanwhile, the war with the guerrillas rages on, and hope of negotiations for a broader, just and lasting peace remain on the far horizon.

We’re not going to begin to propose solutions to all of Colombia’s troubles at this hearing. What the Congressional Human Rights Caucus is doing here however is very important, and if the Colombian government were to consistently and meaningfully do the same, it would bring Colombia one step closer to an eventual peace. And that is, to stop for a moment and listen to the voice of the victims. And even more importantly, to find the mechanisms and the political will to give them real decision-making space in questions of peace, truth, justice and reparations. Only with such participation can the real healing of a divided society begin.

We have here today not the full universe of victims – the Colombian conflict is too complex and brutal for any four people to represent – but important sectors harmed by all sides. The son of a renowned senator murdered by paramilitary forces; a representative of the relatives of the disappeared; the head of an association of army and police members captured by the guerrillas; and a union leader, in representation of so many union members who have been threatened, exiled and killed. Thank you for giving them the opportunity to be heard.