Displacement victims from throughout Colombia convened on Bogota for a protest in front of European Union headquarters Wednesday.
Protesters petitioned European NGOs to withhold funds from Colombia until the state has provided better treatment to the victims of its armed conflict.
“I don’t understand why the government is acting this way against the victims of the conflict,” said Pedro Nel, a protester and displaced person, “and they are not doing anything to the criminals who are sitting calmly at the table in Havana while we are here shouldering the burden.”
“If there is not justice we will not be able to achieve peace,” said Nel. “There are those reinstated with homes, protection, while we who lost our family members have nothing.”
The protesters incidicated they will continue demonstrations in front of the European Union until the organization receives their petition. Organizers see calling for international pressure as a desperation effort to gain the attention of the Colombian government.
Colombia has between 4.9 and 5.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), more than any other country in the world. The problem stems from a half decade of civil conflict, where illegal armed groups, constantly fighting with one another and the government, have pushed rural populations off their lands to secure resources, expand drug trafficking operations and silence opposition.
The Victims Law, passed early during the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, has restored land rights to some victims of the conflict. But implementation of the law has been slow and ineffective, and displacements continue throughout Colombia, whether at the hands of right and left-wing militias, or through the expansion of large-scale mining operations in vulnerable parts of the country.
On Wednesday, the Colombian government signed a preliminary agreement with commanders from the FARC rebel group, in what both sides are calling an important step toward an ultimate peace agreement.
The next agenda point will set the terms of a cease fire. Addressing the human rights and victim crises left by 50-year conflict is the 5th agenda point out of six scheduled so far for ongoing peace talks taking place in Havana, Cuba.
Dozens of European NGOs form part of a large international development network active in Colombia. These groups are often by called on by protesters unable to gain leverage with the Colombian government, the perception being that the state will be more willing to act in the face of international pressure.