In Colombia peace organisation PAX offers support to victims of the armed conflict and their families. In particular, we seek to increase the capacity of victims’ organisations from the Cesar, Cauca and Meta (Macarena) regions to push for the implementation of their rights. Furthermore, in the Cauca region PAX accompanies the reintegration of former (guerrilla) combatants from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, who – after the signing of the Peace Agreement – are expected to return to their communities of origin.
Over the past decades, the Colombian internal armed conflict has caused immense personal suffering. More than 200.000 persons were killed and many millions displaced from their homes. However, there has been little attention for the fate of the persons involved. One condition for sustainable peace lies in improving the situation of victims and their families, which involves humanitarian support, psychological assistance, access to justice and truth finding. Together with local lawyers, psychologists and social workers, PAX seeks to empower groups of rural victims by increasing their awareness, capabilities and mental wellbeing.
During the heydays of paramilitary violence (1996-2006), a great number of peasant communities from the Cesar region were affected, as their members were killed or were forcibly displaced from their lands. In Cesar, PAX gives judicial and psychological accompaniment to local victims’ associations that are integrated into the Asamblea Campesina del Cesar por la Restitución de Tierras (Cesar Peasant Assembly for Land Restitution). Specifically, this includes strengthening the organizational capacities of the victims and providing them with legal and psychological support in the proceedings of the Justice and Peace programme, but also creating enabling conditions for reconciliation between former paramilitary commanders and their victims. Most importantly, PAX strives to empower the victims of the violence to become protagonists in the struggle to achieve their rights to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition.
In the Cauca and Meta regions, PAX accompanies indigenous and campesino victims’ organisations that are active in areas characterised by their relative isolation and that have been severely affected by Colombia’s internal armed conflict. Until now, these organisations have only played a marginal role in the design and implementation of transitional justice policies and mechanisms. Through our work with these organisations, PAX aims to increase their abilities to engage with and encourage local and national authorities to generate inclusive processes of truth, justice, reparation and non-recurrence. To achieve this, PAX gives trainings in victims’ rights and awareness, organizational capacity and advocacy, as well as providing legal counselling and facilitating meetings between victims’ organisations, public officials and civil society actors.
After the signing of the Peace Agreement, the demobilisation process of former FARC combatants slowly got started in the first half of 2017. Many ex guerrillas have been recruited from indigenous or Afro-Colombian communities from Northern Cauca, where PAX over the past years carried out many of its activities. These several hundred young men and women will likely return to their places of origin, which will undoubtedly flare up old tensions and spark new conflicts, as the returning fighters will question the authority of traditional authorities and validity of collective community projects. Considering PAX’s previous experiences in work on the reintegration of former combatants (deserters of the FARC) in a context of regional ethnic autonomy (in the 2010-2013 period), we have been requested by a number of partner organizations to give technical and organisational support to face the above-mentioned new challenges of the implementation of the peace agreement. This includes dialogues with all relevant actors, as well as carrying out activities related to conflict mediation and reconciliation.