The Chimera of Genuine Neutrality

Peace Community in Displacement: Among dreams, a new wish

Displaced WomanThe following is excerpted from EXODO: Boletin sobre desplazamiento interno en Colombia, Julio-Agosto 1997, No. 5, a bilingual publication sponsored by GAD, Grupo de Apoyo a Organizaciones de Desplazados (Support Group for Displaced Organizations), a coalition of 12 Colombian non-governmental organizations.

On March 23, tired of war, seeking to remember their dead, searching still for the disappeared and those buried in common graves built by paramilitaries along the road, and honoring those forcibly exiled, the town of San Jose de Apartado and its 28 neighborhoods declared itself a Community of Peace.

The proposal for a Community of Peace, inspired by the Diocese of Apartado and supported by Justicia y Paz and CINEP, is an attempt to respond to the cries of the community who suffer systematic violations of their human rights by the Armed Forces and their paramilitary groups as well as violations of international humanitarian law by insurgent groups.

The proposal seeks to promote "an experience of autonomy and alternative community development based on international human rights law while confronting the dynamics of the war taking place in the region. We cannot allow the war to destroy what is left of the social fabric in the region," commented a church member when describing the spirit of the proposal.

Uraba is the epicenter of an internal armed conflict that appears to be heading toward a "war of positions": in other words, the territorial control garnered by an armed actor implicates the civilian population in the war, allowing the adversary or "enemy" to convert civilians into military targets. Therefore, when territorial and ideological control are perfectly determined and delineated, the possibilities for neutrality remain uncertain and civilians are defenseless. Thus, the proposal for a Community of Peace acquires a deep meaning in the face of war and the possibilities for social opposition.

The outlook may not be very promising, but even so, the 140 families currently living in San Jose de Apartado are still resisting. Already, the NGO Justicia y Paz has filed four complaints with the President and several of his ministers, but the paramilitary checkpoint remains in place. Members of the Ministry of the Interior have verified the complaints, but nothing has happened. When the Presidential Counselor on Human Rights contacts the local military battalion, the answer is always the same: "There are no paramilitaries in the area." The Social Solidarity Network has given some supplies, but the situation remains the same: hunger, housing shortages for the newly displaced, unsanitary conditions, Yellow Fever and serious cases of trauma. Thirty-five people have been killed since March 23: 33 by paramilitary groups and 2 by guerrillas. The dead were not killed in combat, but were all civilians.