Peace in Colombia Hangs by a Thread

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Author: Antonio Saadipour Sellés

The signing of the historic 2016 peace accords laid the foundation to address the corrosive inequality and brutal violence that plunged Colombia into the longest-running civil conflict in the Western Hemisphere. But that was then, and this is now. Today, peace in Colombia falters and violence against the country’s social leaders and ethnic minorities is gradually returning to pre-accord levels. 

Massive nationwide protests last year⁠—sparked by a proposed tax reforms and heightened by acute inequality and police brutality⁠—were met with gross human rights violations by the Colombian National Police, leaving 44 people dead at the hands of Colombian security forces and hundreds more severely wounded. To this day, no member of the police has been convicted in a criminal court for abuses committed during the 2021 national protests.  

This year is off to a tragic start as the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de estudios para el desarrollo y la paz, INDEPAZ) recorded a total of 51 social leaders and 14 ex-combatants killed and 33 massacres so far in 2022. Yet during a February 2022 bilateral press conference, the U.S. government lauded the Colombian police’s efforts and pledged $8 million more in aid to the country’s security forces. While the Biden Administration said the aid was intended to support human rights training for the police, it sent exactly the wrong message.

In early March, Senator Menendez introduced the United States-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act of 2022, which outlines “a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Colombia relations focused on expanding engagement on issues of inclusive economic growth, anti-corruption, international security, environmental protection, and refugees and migration.” Despite the description, the bill fails to strategically support peace accord implementation and human rights, and one of its central elements is to propose that the U.S. government name Colombia a major non-NATO ally. The disconnect between the violence perpetrated against Colombian civil society and the response from the U.S. government was widened later in March when President Biden met with President Duque in the White House. While the White House released a joint statement that did briefly address peace accord implementation and human rights, in his public presentation President Biden mainly celebrated Colombia’s support for Ukraine and its efforts to assist Venezuelan migrants. He then announced he would designate Colombia as a major non-NATO ally, granting the Colombian government certain benefits with respect to security and defense. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders, and in 2020, it was named the most dangerous for environmental defenders. That did not merit a mention.

To urge the Biden Administration to rethink its approach to Colombia, LAWG, along with other organizations, sent a letter to Secretary of State Blinken calling for a focus on peace accord implementation, racial justice, comprehensive police reform, and protection of human rights defenders and social leaders. We also just joined our colleague WOLA in hosting the former winners of Colombia’s national human rights prize, including Afrodes president Marino Córdoba Berrío, ethnic commissioner for the Truth Commission Leyner Palacios Asprilla, Daniela Stefania Rodríguez of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, and indigenous leader and member of the Guardia Indígena Mario Baicue Escue. The prize is sponsored by Diakonia and Act Alliance Sweden. Together, we brought these human rights stars to meet with the White House, State Department, and Congress. As Marino Córdoba said during his visit, “Duque received a country filled with hope and now is delivering a country at war, with displacement, massacres, and assassinations, a country that seems to have lost the dream of ending the conflict. The next government must accelerate towards peace.”