Author: Allison Lopez
A delegation of victims of Colombia’s internal armed conflict were brought to the United States in July 2014 by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) to discuss the rights of victims and their proposals for achieving a just and lasting peace. Their stirring words come just before the discussion on victims’ rights opened in August 2014 at the negotiating table in Havana, Cuba. The delegation consisted of Luis Fernando Arias, president of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), José Antequera Guzmán, co-founder of Sons and Daughters of Memory and Against Impunity and son of slain political activist José Antequera, and Clara Rojas, newly-elected representative in Colombia’s National Congress, who had been kidnapped and held captive for years by the FARC guerrillas. At an event sponsored by our organizations and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the panelists discussed their peace proposals for the ongoing peace talks in Havana.
As part of a three-part series, we bring to you the third installment featuring Clara Rojas. Click here for part I featuring Luis Fernando Arias and here for part II featuring José Antequera Guzmán. This is what Clara had to say:
Skip to the 54:40 minute mark.
My name is Clara Rojas and I am a recently elected member of Colombia’s Congress, representing Bogotá as a member of the Liberal Party. I want to thank you for allowing me to participate in this discussion via video message to discuss with you my views on the ongoing peace talks in Havana. As many of you know, I was kidnapped and held hostage by the FARC for six years. This experience has allowed me to understand that it is very important for the peace process to move forward so we can finally achieve a stable and lasting peace in Colombia. We have made it very far; this is the first time in Colombia’s history that peace talks with the FARC have progressed as far as they have. Out of the five discussion points in the negotiators’ agenda, four have already been discussed. Of course, the signing of a peace accord does not mean that the conflict will be solved from one day to the next. What will really help us achieve peace is both the FARC’s and the government’s conviction to uphold that treaty.
What do I expect from the peace process? Well, I hope that all victims are given the opportunity to participate and for their voices to be part the national dialogue. I also hope that the victims of the conflict will be well represented by a delegation that includes victims of both sides. It is extremely important that there be parity between the victims of the FARC and victims of the government so that we can work on a process of reconciliation. What we have seen in victims’ workshops is that these victims need to be heard, they need to be understood; they need to be dignified; they need their historical memory to be saved. Most importantly, they needed to be guaranteed that they will not be victimized again.
Other countries have successfully achieved peace after experiencing bloody civil wars: Spain has done it and so have El Salvador, Guatemala, and South Africa. We must use their experiences so we too can be successful in our endeavors. I have no doubt that with the help and support of the international community we will be able to and can achieve a lasting peace.
On Sunday, July 20, President Santos said that we are the Congress of Peace and I agree with the President because I believe that a stable peace must come by granting all Colombians access to education, accessible healthcare, and work. These are the reforms that we must advocate for in Congress. But in order for us to be able to provide these resources to all Colombian citizens we need the help of the international community. If they really want to help us achieve peace then we need the international community to support us and provide us with the necessary resources so that once the peace accords are signed and approved through a national referendum, we can implement these legislative reforms.
Victims are also crucial actors who can help this peace process move forward. We have the opportunity to participate in this peace process. However, we need the support of society so that we will be treated with dignity and respect. It is an incredible sacrifice to try to overcome the pain we have endured but it is important that we work together to achieve a stable and lasting peace.
Without a doubt, some mechanisms of justice must be implemented so that people do not feel that all there will be impunity for armed actors. We must work on this over the upcoming weeks and months and reform the judicial system so that specific parameters of transitional justice become a priority.
I am positive that this peace process can move forward and succeed. Of course it does not just depend on the government, or on the victims, or on civil society. We also need to engage armed groups like the FARC and the ELN so that one day in the near future they will be able to put down their weapons and be active members of society. When that happens we will finally be able to go down the path of reconstruction and reconciliation together.