May 31, 2000
In response to an anonymous angry telephone phone call to Colombia Vive received on May 18, we felt it was time to remind people of who we are and what we do. It is sad to know that some people intend to portray us as part of the violence instead of considering the possibility that we are working for peace. We, however, will continue to believe that there are many more peace loving Colombians than those who want to add to the already extremely polarized situation.
Colombia Vive is an all-volunteer organization of Colombians and U.S. citizens who support peace and human rights in Colombia. Like all human rights organizations we reject any and all violence as a response to the problems in Colombia. We are in no way associated with any of the violent actors in Colombia: the guerrillas, the paramilitaries or the military.
We are supportive of civilian institutions working for peace: nongovernmental organizations, including human rights and community organizations in Colombia, in the U.S. and international organizations. We also are supportive of organizations within the Colombian government working for peace: the human rights offices of both the Fiscalía (Attorney General's Office) and of the Procuraduría (Prosecutor General's Office), the Ombudsman's Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), the High Commissioner for Peace, and all efforts by the Colombian government to work for peace. We support the many courageous members of the Colombian Judiciary working to restore the rule of law, one of the biggest necessities in Colombia.
Since 1988 when Colombia Vive was founded there have been an average of 10 political murders in Colombia every single day. In addition, every two days a person is "disappeared" and every day several people are kidnapped. Every hour at least six families are forced to abandon their land and become part of the 1.6 million displaced Colombians, forced to live in absolute poverty on the outskirts of the cities. Since 1988 the entities responsible for committing the violence have shifted somewhat. The guerrillas continue to commit about 20% of the political murders, but the army now commits only 2% of the murders. The paramilitary death squads, which are well documented to have direct and indirect support from the military, now commit 78% of the political murders, and cause most of the displacement. The guerrillas are responsible for about half of the kidnappings in Colombia (and by their example encourage more kidnappings) and for some of the displacement.
In light of these terrible statistics, it is impossible for human rights groups to denounce every single act of violence. However, for different reasons, some events do attract more attention. Last year we decided to hold a memorial service for three U. S. citizens killed in Colombia by the FARC as they traveled to support the U'wa indigenous tribe. We held the memorial service because the killing of three international supporters of the U'wa strikes at the heart of the kind of work we do as human rights activists. Our only power is to bring international solidarity to the people of Colombia. We held the memorial not just for three U.S. citizens, but also for the people they were trying to help, and for the many Colombians who have been killed.
One week ago we read about the horrific murder of a woman in Colombia with a new device, a necklace bomb. This murder shocked people around the world, and raised fears that the violence in Colombia would increase even more. It is morally necessary to condemn this murder, no matter who committed it. At this moment, the Colombian government is saying the FARC did not commit this murder, and the woman's family says it was not the FARC. However, until this murder is investigated, we simply will not know, just as we do not know who killed Jaime Garzón, who killed Professor Henao, who killed Elsa Alvarado and so many others. We must continue to denounce atrocities against civilians, and violations of international humanitarian law against combatants as well.
We feel that escalating the war in Colombia will not solve any problems and will instead bring more suffering. It is frightening to consider what will happen if all the armed actors increase their violence against the civilian population even more. The Colombian government denies that there is a civil war. Whatever we call the war that is raging, the over 35,000 people killed since 1988, the 1.6 million people displaced and every person living in fear today demand that we work towards a peaceful resolution to this conflict as soon as possible.
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