By Vatican News
Responding to a new “Report on the situation of violence against social leaders and ex-combatants in the south-east of Colombia”, the director of the Colombian Bishops’ National Secretariat for Pastoral Ministry, Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao Gaviria warned about the urgency of “coming out of the state of indifference to the threats faced by social leaders.”
Monsignor Henao reiterated the Church’s concern for “the increase in violence and threats” against social leaders documented in the report, which was published on the website of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia (Conferencia Episcopal de Colombia, CEC). The report shows that situations of violence, including even murders of social leaders and former combatants, has worsened during the first four months of 2020. During that period, eight former FARC combatants and three female social and indigenous leaders have been murdered in the departments of Meta and Vichada.
Areas of concern
The criminalization of social protest is one of the main concerns highlighted in the report. The document denounces the excessive use of force by public security forces against demonstrators. The report also reveals “situations of high vulnerability of the indigenous population of the Amazon at risk of ethnocide, due to the lack of efficient health services and recognition of their territories, in addition to direct attacks against the collective rights to territory, autonomy as peoples, and security.” Insecurity and armed conflict in various regions have likewise been a cause of concern.
In proposing a path forward, the report says, “As a Church, we recognize that reconciliation cannot be reduced to an exclusive exercise of forgiveness and the individual search for peace, but on the contrary, it implies the progressive advancement of peace for all the actors who participate in the life of these territories and social justice”.
The call is echoed by Monsignor Henao, who in his statement called for authorities and for all of civil society to recognize the threats experienced by social leaders. He also drew attention to the needs of the indigenous peoples, who face situations of abandonment and vulnerability, not only on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also because of “the pressures, violence, and intimidation they receive from different sectors” of society.
The full text of the “Report on the situation of violence against social leaders and ex-combatants in the south-east of Colombia” (in Spanish) can be found on the website of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, or by following this link.