The following is from an interview conducted in 2017 with Olga Silva by PBI UK.
About Humanidad Vigente
Humanidad Vigente is a non-governmental organization that has been working to defend human rights in Colombia since 1996. Although the organization is located in Bogotá, we work in various regions of the country, especially those affected by the armed conflict. In its twenty one years of existence, Humanidad Vigente has contributed to the struggle against impunity, the defense and promotion of rights of children, adolescents, and women, and the defence of land and territory. We work with an integrated and interdisclipinary approach to the defense of human rights combining legal, political, psychosocial, and comms strategies. Our team is professional and committed, and closely connected to the current reality in Colombia.
About the current situation in Colombia
For over fifty years, Colombia has experienced armed conflict. This has led to great humanitarian problems for the civilian population, with more than eight million people internally displaced. With the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC, and the current peace talks with the ELN we currently find ourselves in a situation of hope. There is an opportunity for the Colombian people as long as the government carries out what was agreed in Havana and has genuine political will for peace. This will involve a series of transformations, both in political institutions and in the economic model.
The upcoming elections in 2018 are something of concern. Declarations have been made by political actors that go against the aims of the peace process. These declarations are mainly focused on the unwillingness to address land reform and political participation: two themes that are at the root of the armed conflict in Colombia.
Moreover, there is the issue of paramilitary groups that are moving into the zones that have been left by the FARC after their move to demobilization zones. The government refuses to recognize these groups and the consequences of this phenomenon, which is problematic as they pose yet another risk to communities, to the implementation of the peace process and to the work of human rights defenders.
About human rights defenders in Colombia
In recent months, Colombia has witnessed an increase in threats, attacks, and killings aimed at human rights defenders. According to official numbers, 156 human rights defenders have been killed between January 2016 and March 2017. According to civil society organizations, this number is even higher: they speak of a number of 175 murdered human rights defenders and social leaders. These statistics are worrying, because human rights defenders play an important role in the construction of the peace in Colombia.
The defense of human rights in Colombia is necessary and will remain necessary, until we have truly constructed peace. But peace is not a decree, it is not a document signed by two actors. Building peace in Colombia will require political will and transformations of the political and economic model. Until rights are guaranteed, until we have social justice, until we have resolved our armed conflicts, the work of human rights defenders will be of vital importance.
The work of PBI has been and still is very necessary, very useful, and very relevant, and it will remain relevant in the future. Protective accompaniment is not only persuasive in the field, it is also a way of generating international support for the work of human rights defenders.