Colombia Peace Week: Putting victims first in the road to reconciliation

In a country torn by conflict, CARITAS Colombia is working for lasting peace, and reparation for victims.

This week, the Catholic Church in Colombia is celebrating Semana por la Paz – Peace Week – in honour of the thousands of victims of the Colombian conflict.

The annual campaign, organised Caritas Colombia and widely supported by faith groups, promotes solidarity and awareness in Colombian society for the plight of the victims of the armed conflict, and to work for a comprehensive reparation plan for them. Thousands of groups, humanitarian organisations and individuals have come together with one message: that despite the years of war and violence, peace in Colombia is possible.

The legacy of Conflict

Over 40 years of internal armed conflict in Colombia has caused mass suffering for its citizens. More than 4 million people have been displaced, and as many as 30,000 have disappeared. Kidnappings, forced recruitment and a largely hidden epidemic of gender-based violence have been perpetrated, not only by guerrilla and paramilitary groups, but also by the state. But despite the scale of conflict, Colombia’s troubles have been largely overlooked by the world’s media, says Msgr Hector Fabio Henao, secretary general of Caritas Colombia. “Colombia shares the tragic situations of other countries such as the mass displacement in Congo, the devastation of landmines suffered in some Asian countries and the insecurity of Haiti and yet there is very little awareness about the seriousness of our situation,” he told Caritas reporters.

Peace is possible

What Caritas is calling for

To ensure a lasting and constructive peace, victims of Colombia’s conflict must have the right to:

  • Truth about the crimes committed against them and their families;
  • Justice leading to prosecution of the perpetrators of violence;
  • Reparation – including the return of stolen land and assets;
  • Non-repetition – the right to guarantee that the violations will never again take place.

The Catholic Church believes a lasting solution to Colombia’s internal armed conflict is possible.  But it’s vital to give voice to the thousands of victims, and to ensure they are at the foundation of the road to constructing peace. But there’s a long way to go, and the Colombian government is failing to meet the needs of the thousands of victims.

The judicial system is struggling to process 138,000 cases, and threats against victims and human rights groups still hinder their access to truth and justice.Meanwhile, little progress has been made to recover land and other assets illegally obtained by armed actors, or to provide an integral reparation programme with the active participation of victims.

Even so, campaigners refuse to give up hope. “Cooperation and support has an enormous impact on these communities,” says Msgr Hector Fabio Henao. “It helps them feel part of one family and that their suffering is no different from that of their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.”

Peace cannot be achieved by the absence of war alone; the deep-rooted causes of the conflict must be addressed to secure lasting peace and create the conditions for reconciliation.

This article was compiled with information originally published by Caritas .

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