Current campaign: San José Peace Community
A report from Keith about one of Woking Amnesty's current campaigns:
In November 2013 I attended a meeting at the Middle Temple on Neutrality in the Colombian Conflict: the Role of the Peace Communities as a representative of the Woking Amnesty group. We have adopted the San José Peace Community as one of the Prisoners of Conscience we are actively working on.
The Peace Community is located in the North of Colombia on fertile land that is part of the drug trail to the USA. In 1997 a number of farmers decided they had had enough of intimidation from the Government, the Paramilitaries and FARC, the Maoist rebel force. They declared themselves neutral in the face of this conflict and announced that they would not fight or bear arms and would not take sides in this conflict. The result was that all three forces accused them of favouring the other sides and they have faced intimidation from them all. About 200 people from the region have been murdered since 1997 out of a population for the Community of around 1500, 11 in the past year. The day before this meeting six members of the Community were disappeared, five of them children.
In declaring themselves neutral they demanded that armed forces should not enter their lands. They carefully documented aggression against them and opened a dialogue with the Government. On the way back from each dialogue their representatives were halted at roadblocks and intimidated or worse. In 2004 they recorded 530 assaults against them. They warned the Government in 2005 that they were in grave danger but the Government did nothing to protect them. Eight people were killed in the subsequent massacre including the community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra and three young children one under two who was hacked to pieces. The President blamed the Community for the massacre. They have taken their case to the Colombia Constitutional Court which found in their favour in July 2012 ordering the Government to implement protection measures for the community, retract dangerously stigmatising comments made by the former president Alvaro Uribe and carry out an inquiry into institutional corruption and immunity relating to the community. None of this has been done.
Two members of the Peace Community came over for this meeting and they spoke with passion and conviction in Spanish. It was a privilege to listen to them and although I cannot understand Spanish it was powerful to hear them speak against the Government and against the big corporations who they believe are behind the paramilitaries. Their land as well as being fertile has much mineral wealth. Fortunately there was an excellent interpreter. They are determined to continue with their policy of non-violence and appealed for help.
They did not ask for money. Instead they want us to write letters of protest to our representatives and the Colombian authorities. Peace Brigade International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation send people to monitor the situation and an international observer can be a powerful deterrent.
To find out more about the Community, visit their website at http://www.sos-sanjose.org/
Video slideshow of the Community: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoIVMDZoqSU