Two human rights defenders from conflict-ridden northwest Colombia visited London last month on an important mission: To raise awareness and gain support for their peace community which continues to live in the midst of a brutal armed conflict, despite the ongoing peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.
Fresh from Brussels Jesús Emilio Tuberquia and Arley Tuberquia, two representatives of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, were in London between 15 and 19 November on a hectic schedule. They met with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, MPs in Westminster, The Law Society, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Corporate Responsibility, the APPG for Human Rights, seven different NGOs and a Fairtrade company. They also gave seven interviews, spoke at two evening events and all this in just five days. And their tour has not finished yet. After London they travelled directly to Geneva to continue their mission without a break, and then onto Spain.
The intensity of the peace community’s members’ European tour reflects the gravity of the situation at home. On Monday 18 November, while they were in London, six people were abducted by paramilitaries from a settlement in Colombia where members of the community live. The peace community denounced the crime, which was subsequently reported by the local news when five minors who were in the abducted group were handed over to a humanitarian commission.
Jesus Emilio denounced these abductions in person when he spoke at Middle Temple on Tuesday evening. The panel event ‘Neutrality in the Colombian Conflict: The Role of Peace Communities’ was chaired by Sir Henry Brooke, founding member of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, and speeches were also given by Kirsty Brimelow of the Bar Human Rights Committee and PBI’s Gwen Burnyeat. After the speeches, Jesús Emilio and Arley, on behalf of the Peace Community, received the 2013 ‘Tomorrow’s Peace Builders Prize’ from Peace Direct. PBI UK also presented them with a letter of recognition of their work (see below).
The San José de Apartadó Peace Community was established in 1997 and during the following 17 years 261 members have been murdered. Those responsible include paramilitaries, the government army and the FARC guerrilla, and now the peace community is denouncing an increase of paramilitary presence in their region with the complicity of the Colombian armed forces.
These two Colombian human rights defenders were received respectfully, the audience participated with great interest and concern, and the event was fully booked. Upon receiving the award Jesús Emilio said: "Once again sincere thanks for this recognition of the human rights work that we do. Words can’t express the depth of love and the strength of feeling that this instils in us, because it really brings home to us that this is work that helps us to reach what the whole of humanity is striving for; which is peace."
Jesús Emilio and Arley have asked the international community not to get distracted by the peace talks happening in Havana, because their situation on the ground in Colombia remains heavily threatened.