More than just advocacy for Colombia

Carson Smith

By Carson Smith, a Young Adult Volunteer in New York City who previously served in the region of Urabá in Colombia. He is a member at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan where he studied public policy and transitional justice.

On Friday, May 24th, Nidiria Ruiz Medina found a note pinned to her front door: “A bullet for Nidiria Ruiz,” it said. These threats are becoming increasingly common for human rights defenders in Colombia. Nidiria is an educator and organizer who works with rural women to transform conflict and defend territorial rights. Less than a week later, she was in New York City sharing her story—and the story of other social leaders—with member-states of the United Nations Security Council.

Nidiria was part of a delegation to the U.N. hosted by the World Council of Churches and DiPaz, an interchurch organization promoting peace in Colombia. She was joined by Lutheran Bishop Atahualpa Hernandez and Presbyterian Pastor Milton Mejia—a familiar face to accompaniers that have visited the Reformed University in Barranquilla.

Photographs of assassinated social leaders from a protest against violence in July 2018. (Carson Smith)

Now over two years later, key promises from the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC remain unfulfilled. The government has tried to unilaterally change vital parts of the agreement while a power vacuum in the countryside has left activists with very little protection against violent actors. At the same time, the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have failed to renew peace talks. All three delegates stressed the importance of creating pressure within the international community so that the Colombian government might change its current trajectory.

One thing I learned as a Young Adult Volunteer in Colombia is that many in the country are not simply waiting on the government to implement an official peace: they are working here and now to realize a peace rooted in justice that centers the voices of those marginalized by the conflict. Some U.N. member-states voiced mutual support for this vision last week in meetings with DiPaz. Going forward, their backing remains vital as the Security Council plans future visits to Colombia and votes to renew the peacekeeping team’s mandate this summer.

Even with this support, however, other issues continue to mount. Recently, the Colombian military flirted with a return to the “body count” administration of warfare which led to gross human rights violations in the 2000s. This was a cause for concern among the delegation as well.

What does the future of peace in Colombia look like as possibilities from the accords begin to fray? Right now, it’s not clear. What is certain, however, is the importance of continuing to support a far-reaching, justice-minded vision of peace. More than a negotiating tactic or policy platform, supporting this vision offers goes beyond a single conflict. It offers a chance for all of us collectively to listen, learn, and grow so that we might support life wherever someone is threatened by the bullet.