12.10.11 17:02 Age: 145 days

Churches inaugurate accompaniment programme for victims of violence in Colombia


John Nduna, general secretary of the ACT Alliance, met with displaced people in Soacha during a visit to Colombia in November 2010. Photo: Sean Hawkey/ACT

Official statistics indicate the existence of three million people who were pushed away from their land and property in Colombia due to armed conflict that has taken place for years in the country. Human rights organizations claim, however, that the number of "displaced people" is actually close to 5 million people.


A new accompaniment programme, coordinated by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), supported by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other actors, both locally and globally, has been organized to address these human crises.


In December 2009, Colombia’s attorney general reported 2,520 cases of forced disappearance, out of a total of 35,665 crimes confessed by the paramilitary forces. A reported 2388 pits were found in the country and 2,091 bodies exhumed, of which only 796 were returned to families.


Guerrilla groups - FARC and ELN – also perpetrated massacres, indiscriminate attacks, evictions of farmers, torture and sexual violence. In the department of Arauca alone, there were 194 homicides in 2009.


Columbian president Juan Manuel Santos has shown interest in meeting the humanitarian crisis in regard to living victims of internal armed conflict. The government maintains an economic policy of opening the country to foreign investment. New armed groups - criminal gangs now called "BaCrim", constituted mostly by paramilitaries - are trying to control the territory and repel businesses linked to that policy.


The central aspect of the Programme of Ecumenical Accompaniment in Colombia (PEAC) is the option for nonviolence and seeks to support local and international efforts to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict in Colombia. The programme supports the restitution of land to "displaced people", the defense of human rights, seeking justice and peace building through dialogue, and it aims to encourage the presence of international ecumenical observers in specific areas for a period of three months each.


The PEAC was launched during the first meeting of the expanded International Reference Group with church leaders in Colombia, which took place in Bogotá, Colombia, October 6-7. In addition CLAI and the WCC, the international ecumenical organizations which were involved included: ACT Alliance, World Communion of Reformed Churches, Lutheran World Federation, Regional Ecumenical Centre for Advocacy and Service (CREAS), KAIROS Canada and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.


The Programme’s International Coordinator is Rev. Chris Ferguson of the United Church of Canada, a church which has extensive ecumenical experience and was one of the supporters of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), one of the models which inspire this initiative.



WCC member churches in Colombia


Read also: Bolstering ecumenical peace-building in Colombia