Candlelight vigils were held in Colombia and cities around world on July 6 under the slogan 'They are killing us' to demand an end to the political violence that has cost the lives of more than 125 social leaders in the South American country since January alone.
The protests coincidence with a particularly deadly week in Colombia in which seven social leaders were assassinated.
Political violence against social activists has risen in recent years despite the signing of a peace accord between the government and the leftist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to Colombia’s Ombudsman, more than 311 political murders have been registered since the accords were signed in November 2016.
This trend has escalated further since the June election of far-right presidential candidate Ivan Duque, with on average, one social leader being murdered each day since the election.
Vigils organised were held in Colombia's capital Bogota and Medellin, as well as more than 25 cities around the world including Sydney (pictured below), Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, London, New York, Rome and Buenos Aires.
In Sydney, United for Colombia is already organising another rally for August 4, 1pm at Bligh and Barney Reserve in The Rocks. They have also released the following sign-on statement. To add your name or organisation to the statement email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is with great sadness, indignation and powerlessness that we receive each day the terrible news regarding the ongoing assassination of our social leaders while the government remains silent.
We have grave concerns for the human rights situation in Colombia and grave doubts about the future of the peace accords and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). We are also troubled by the reestablishment and empowerment of paramilitary groups that have taken arms against our leaders, many of them guarantors of the process of land restitution, human rights protectors in their communities, and leaders of the Humane Colombia movement that supported the presidential candidate Gustavo Petro in the recent elections.
We, Colombians and supporters living in Australia, want to make an urgent call to the national and international community, to governments, to social, political and solidarity organisations in Latin America, Australia and the world, and to individuals interested in developments regarding Colombia’s peace process and the imminent violation of human rights in Colombia to strongly come out in support of the following:
1. We demand that the incoming government, headed by Iván Duque, respect the peace accords, and guarantee its continuity and implementation as well as the prolongation of the Special Jurisdiction of Peace as a mechanism of transitional justice, in line with the agreements reached between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples Army (FARC-EP) and the national government of outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos.
2. We ask that the incoming government of Iván Duque continue negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) in good faith and with a will for peace so that the accords come to fruition and an end can be put to so many years of civil war in Colombia.
3. We express our desire for peace, unity and reconciliation in a country that for decades has spilt blood and lived in misery. As Colombians living outside the country and supporters, we vehemently reject the systemic assassination of and threats against our social leaders and demand respect for life and freedom of expression, as stipulated in articles 11, 13, 16 and 20 of the Colombian Political Constitution.
We believe that dialogue and reconciliation for the purpose of coming up with mutual proposals and solutions, are the only manner in which to overcome the long social and armed conflict in Colombia that has left millions of victims, men and women in situations of forced displacement, disappeared, assassinated and exiled.
This is why a genuine and firm commitment on the part of the national government headed by incoming president Iván Duque is necessary.
4. We ask that the Colombian government act firmly to locate and put on trial those responsible for these actions. It is unacceptable that investigations are being reduced to conclusions that deemed them to be the result of “crimes of passion” or “common street violence” when it is evident that there is a clear pattern of assassinations of social, civic and popular leaders.
5. We ask that the international community, the United Nations and the International Criminal Court intervene in the human rights situation in Colombia. We demand transparency regarding the cases of massacres of populations and selective assassinations of more than 300 leaders in the past four years, and that the necessary action be taken to find and sentence those responsible for these types of actions.
Lastly, we call on Colombians living outside the country to remain united in their indignation and vehement rejection of violence. Colombia does not deserve a new civil war. Enough of so many deaths!
It is time for a Colombia where life, natural resources and freedom of expression are respected. It is time to leave indifference behind. It is time for solidarity, to work for our people and land. Being far away does not mean we care less, as this is above all an issue for humanity.