From the 20th to the 25th of June, I had the opportunity to participate in a Human Rights Mission to Colombia organized by the Lazos de Dignidad Foundation and the American Coordinator for the Rights of Peoples.
Among the activities that we carried out was the visit to the political prisoners in the Chiquinquirá prison, which today, as I write these lines, are carrying out hunger strikes with more than 1500 political prisoners who are in permanent mobilization in different Prisons throughout Colombia.
They demand for Law 1820 (the Amnesty and Pardon Law) to be complied with. This law would allow them to be free again. However, it seems that judges driven by hatred and revenge arbitrarily don’t want to enforce it.
These political prisoners are members of the FARC-EP, the organization that has signed a Peace Agreement with the Colombian government and in June of this year have handed over their all of their weapons to the United Nations. Today the only weapon they want to have is the word.
It is necessary to say that the FARC-EP wants to transform into a legal political movement or party and from there they will continue to fight for a Colombia with social justice.
We visited the "Mariana Paez" and "Simon Trinidad" Transitional Zones where part of the FARC-EP troops are grouped. In the first place, there are guerrillas and in the second, a group of political prisoners who have been brought there in compliance with the Peace Agreement. Both Zones are in progress of construction and in transition towards definitive normalization.
I also want to highlight that we met with Cristian Delgado, a member of the Human Rights Commission of the Marcha Patriótica social movement, who told us that "as a result of the peace process and the signing of the final agreement between the national government and the FARC-EP, there has been a decrease in human rights violations in relation to the conflict", however, "killings of social leaders and human rights defenders are still occurring".
One day before this meeting, union leader Mauricio Vélez López had been assassinated in Cauca, a region un southwestern Colombia; and so far this year more than 63 human rights defenders have been killed. He also said that since the foundation of Marcha Patriótica in 2012 up to this date, 136 of his peer activists have been killed.
He also pointed out that the conflict left more than 7 million internally displaced persons according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
It is also important to recall that the “¡Basta ya! Colombia: Memorias de guerra y dignidad” report, noted that the armed conflict in Colombia has left at least 220,000 people killed and 25,000 disappeared in the period between 1958 and 2012. 82% of the victims were civilians.
The School of the Americas
This is not the first time we have visited Colombia; 10 years ago, in 2007, along with Lisa Sullivan, Linda Panneta and Roy Bourgeois, we visited this country, which has historically been number one in sending soldiers to the School of the Americas and where more violations of human rights are committed within the continent.
Back then we tried to meet with the then Minister of Defense who is the current president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to ask him to stop sending soldiers to the School of the Americas. He did not welcome us.
A report by titled "False Positives in Colombia and the Role of US Military Assistance 2000 - 2010" by FOR and the Colombia-Europe-United State Coordination (CCEEUU) found a correlation between extrajudicial executions and units and officers who received US assistance and training.
There have thousands of extrajudicial executions in Colombia; before the beginning of the peace talks, the so-called "false positives" where civilians who were killed and then presented as guerrillas that were "killed in combat".
I cannot fail to remember the testimonies we heard back then from the members of the Victims of State Crimes Movement (MOVICE, for its acronym in Spanish), among them, that of Iván Cepeda, who reported that his father Manuel had been murdered in 1994 and that thousands of Patriotic Union (UP) militants were exterminated during the peace talks between the government of Belisario Betancur and the FARC-EP in the 80s decade.
We hope for this story to not be repeated and for the Colombian government to ensure compliance with the Peace Agreement and the security of those who lay down their arms in order for them to have guarantees in their future political struggle.
It is time to free political prisoners in Colombia and give peace a chance.