The Church's Role in Peacebuilding in Colombia
Guiding principles of the Church in Colombia
The Colombian Conference of Bishops (Conferencia Episcopal de Colombia – CEC) insists that a true peace to the armed conflict must honor memory and truth, justice and reparation, and must be reached through a process that respects life and the dignity of each person. The Church decries violence and militarization as a desecration of the human person and a threat to the human community. The Catholic Church in Colombia advocates for full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
The Church has always advocated for negotiated rather than military victory over the guerrillas and the paramilitaries and argues that lasting peace cannot be achieved through an imposed agreement from above. Rather, the process of negotiation must involve the entire Colombian society through dialogue and reconciliation. Moreover, a just peace must address the underlying social and economic inequities fueling the conflict. Poor and marginalized groups such as Afro-Colombians, the indigenous people, women and youth must gain full participation in Colombian society. Many of the Church’s social ministries are dedicated to the poor and marginalized who bear the brunt of the violence.
In its efforts towards peace, the Colombian Conference of Bishops has issued various principles that are indispensable in any peace-building process. Agreements achieved should have broad input, and their compliance ought to be subject to the vigilance of all.
Means of action
The Catholic Church has played various roles in formal and informal mediation and negotiation processes. She has been active both behind the scenes and publicly in peace negotiations. The CEC has played the role of mediator, facilitator, and observer, and, in one instance, as representative of the government during formal negotiation processes. Various commissions of bishops have participated in the national dialogues and negotiations and have identified lessons learned and best practices.
They have played prominent roles in the following agreements:
• The 1989 Accord between the National Government, the Political Parties, the M-19 and the Catholic Church in the capacity of a moral and spiritual guide for the process, found at http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/colombia/keytext-accord.php
• The 1998 Vienna Preliminary Agreement in Madrid
• The 2002 Los Pozos Accord
• The 2003 Santa Fé De Ralito Accord to contribute to peace in Colombia, found at http://www.c-r.org/our-work/accord/colombia/santafederalito-accord.php
• 2006-2008 Exploratory peace talks between the Colombian Government and the ELN.
The National Conciliation Commission, the Colombian Bishops’ Commission for Peace, and local and regional clergy facilitated negotiation processes and humanitarian agreements between the armed parties and the government on the national, regional and local levels.
The National Conciliation Commission created by the CEC is an autonomous and independent entity seeking peaceful solutions to Colombia’s armed conflict. The Commission plays a significant role in accompanying the formal peace processes and in promoting respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.
The Church holds these dialogues locally and regionally. Clergy facilitate the talks and thereby create space and possibility for encounter between the warring factions. By building trust and establishing dialogue, these processes attempt to defend life and dignity of the civilian population by allowing leaders of the Church to intervene in conflicts and confrontations. Pastoral dialogues have resolved situations of blocked roads, the liberation of kidnapping victims, threats of violence, and displacement of communities. While these dialogues are not without their debate, pastoral dialogues allow the prophetic voice of the Church to emerge and creatively imagine alternatives and possibilities in situations where the civilian population is at risk.
The CEC has also worked in association with the Colombian NGO REDEPAZ to assist many communities in conflict zones to establish and maintain “Peace Communities.” Peace communities and “communities of resistance” are communities that attempt to distance themselves from all armed actors and form a community built on peace, dignity, equality and justice for all. Local dioceses have often encouraged these communities and supported their quest to remain on their land and become catalysts for peace. The leadership of the local Catholic Church and the diocese helped create one of the first “zones of peace” in Mogotes, Colombia.
For more information see Landon Hancock and Christopher Mitchell, eds., Zones of Peace (Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2007).