Colombia’s conflict victims demand political representation and denounce repression

(Image: Norwegian Refugee Council)

More than a hundred victim organizations asked the government to comply with its obligation to grant political participation rights for Colombians living in conflict zones.

In an open letter, the groups called on the government to implement provisions of “Defendamos la Paz”, a social organization that consists of politicians, victims and the FARC. The provisions include increased political participation for victims, minority groups and congressional seats for representatives of 16 war-torn areas.

The peace agreement signed by the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos and former FARC guerrillas in 2016 guaranteed a series of basic political rights for residents living in conflict zones.

The current administration, led by President Ivan Duque and his far-right Democratic Center party, have fiercely opposed providing these rights and have even claimed that the seats for victim representatives were “seats for the FARC.”

The proposal to give victims congressional representation was denied by the Senate’s former president despite having been approved by Congress in 2017 and has been sitting on the desk of a State Council magistrate ever since.

Court denies congressional seats for Colombia’s conflict victims, for now

According to the letter signed by the organizations, the pressures to grant representatives from war-torn areas these seats can be revived if enough political will is generated.

Instead of being integrated into mainstream political institutions, community leaders said they feel they are being forcibly marginalized by the president and his party.

“We are excluded from the implementation of development plans,” the victims organizations said, adding that “we lack guarantees for free movement, free expression, and the right to association.

The victims warned that Duque’s re-introduction of a controversial civilian informant network is being abused to impose a certain social order rather than to report crime.

Duque to revive controversial civilian informant network

According to the victims rights activist, “people who are paid informants have been installed in rural communities.”

We see an urgent need to confront the culture of subjugation in the territories, of the imposition of a thought and a feeling encouraged by a political party and those who express themselves in it.

Victim organizations

Those who publicly advocate for their constituents often face death threats. Many dozens of victim representatives have been assassinated.

“We cannot denounce anything or they kill us,” Marta Aguirre, a victims rights leader from the south-central Huila province, told news radio station Contagio Radio.

We invite [civil society and those in politics] to confront this culture of hatred, death and denial with social, legal and political creativity.

Victim organizations

Since the beginning of the peace process, hundreds of community leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated, which has imposed terror in many parts of the country, especially among communities that insist on the implementation of the peace deal.

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