The conflict in Colombia killed over 200,000 people between 1958-2013. To help those affected, and begin to bridge historic divides, the Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation is advising the Colombian Truth Commission on the best tools for collecting, documenting and sharing the stories of the conflict’s survivors – an integral step to ensuring lasting peace in the country.
Despite being one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, for more than six decades Colombia was afflicted by a long-standing armed struggle between the government, guerrillas and paramilitaries, resulting in a wide spectrum of human rights violations, including forced disappearances, kidnappings, forced displacement and sexual and gender-based violence. From 2012 to 2016, the Government of Colombia (GoC) held peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was the largest leftist guerrilla group in the country. Following strong pressure from victims’ groups and associations, the parties to the negotiation eventually agreed to address the victims’ claims as a central element to the terms of any possible settlement. A final peace agreement was completed on August 24, 2016.
Since 2016, the GIJTR has been working with Colombian victims’ groups and, later, the Truth Commission – which formally began on November 29, 2018 – to address a range of identified needs in the country, including accounting for victims of enforced disappearance, analyzing the mechanisms proposed in the peace agreement, and assessing whether the mechanisms adequately addressed victims’ needs related to truth, justice, and reconciliation.
Through this project, “Supporting Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Colombia,” the GIJTR has led initiatives that facilitate effective communication between victims and the Truth Commission, including exchanges and technical capacity-building trainings for civil society organizations working on forced disappearances to develop skills in forensic techniques; roundtables with state institutions and local and regional archival specialists to develop technical recommendations to strengthen the effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms’ access to state archives; and sponsoring capacity-building workshop for communities to develop truth-telling initiatives that support the country’s truth, justice and reconciliation endeavors.
Support civil society organizations in collecting and preserving the stories of marginalized communities
Bolster the capacities of CSOs and communities to design locally-led and culturally appropriate materials and activities to raise awareness about the Truth Commission and the Search Unit, to engage communities in collective truth-telling, to encourage intergenerational dialogue for non-repetition of human rights abuses, and to strengthen archival techniques to develop both oral archives and digital repositories.
Facilitate effective participation of civil society organizations in transitional justice mechanisms
Support the non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms (the Truth Commission and the Search Unit) and the CSOs working with them by ensuring that CSO documentation meets the standards of, and is useful to, the transitional justice mechanisms.
Connect Colombian civil society organizations with similar groups in other Latin American countries
Enhance the capacity of local CSOs in the areas of acknowledgement, reconciliation, non-repetition and enforced disappearance by providing opportunities for exchange of experiences with other Latin American CSOs.
Improve the coordination of the Search Unit and regional CSOs to advance initiatives for the investigation, search, recovery, and identifications of the missing and disappeared in Colombia
Strengthen the technical capacities and forensics understanding of CSOs working in outlying regions of Colombia to advocate on behalf of families of the disappeared and to monitor initiatives undertaken for search, recovery and identification of victims.
Leading with the Local
“ I think of a woman I met in the Wayúu territory, who survived a brutal massacre. She escaped a mass killing by jumping over bodies and hiding in bushes… She had grabbed hold of her daughters while doing so and managed to save them too. But it was very hard for her to start speaking about this. Through knitting the mochila testimony bags in our program, she gradually became able to share her experience. Surrounded by others – a small group of 10-20 people like her – she, little by little, got relief. Later, through our program, she was able to meet with the Truth Commission on her first trip to Bogota. ”
Darío Colmenares Millán
Creating Channels of Trust
To promote healing, awareness and accountability, the GIJTR supported seven truth-telling projects in marginalized communities, projects that have been shared and replicated throughout Colombia.