Colombia: Planting seeds of hope amid conflict and COVID-19

30 November marked the fourth anniversary of the approval of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC-EP) by the Colombian Congress. Four years later the country still has a long way to go, as violence continues in several departments and those working in peacebuilding find themselves increasingly targeted by armed actors. Add to this the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the picture is one of serious concern.

CSW spoke to Pablo Moreno, Rector of the Unibautista Baptist Seminary in Cali and Director of the Colombian Council of Evangelical Churches Peace Commission (CEDECOL).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Colombia much like the rest of the world. There have been months of upheaval in the worlds of academia, work and religion. Periods of lockdown have shifted many areas of human life into the virtual realm, altering the physical meetings and face-to-face encounters we had become accustomed to.

In the midst of this, violence has increased in Colombia. Illegal armed groups occupying territories abandoned by the FARC-EP are fighting among themselves for control over drug trafficking routes. At the same time these groups are used to frighten the population to make them leave their homes so that they can build illegal mines, expropriate land, and expand their social dominance in a way that benefits them.

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Colombia: Plantando semillas de esperanza en medio de conflicto y el COVID-19

El 30 de noviembre se cumple el cuarto aniversario de la aprobación del histórico acuerdo de paz, entre el gobierno colombiano y las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en el congreso colombiano. Después de cuatro años, la paz sigue siendo un tema pendiente, ya que la violencia continúa y ha empeorado en varias regiones y quienes trabajan en la construcción de la paz, se encuentran cada vez más en la mira de los actores armados que actúan en la ilegalidad. Agregue a esto los efectos de la pandemia del COVID-19 y el panorama se vuelve de gran preocupación.

CSW habló con Pablo Moreno, Rector del Seminario Bautista de Cali (Unibautista) y Director de la Comisión de Paz del Consejo Colombiano de Iglesias Evangélicas (CEDECOL).

“La pandemia del COVID19 ha afectado a Colombia como todo el mundo, han sido meses de anormalidad académica, laboral y religiosa. Períodos de confinamiento han alterado el desarrollo histórico de los encuentros presenciales y ha producido un incremento de la virtualidad en todas las áreas de la vida humana.

En medio de esta situación, se ha incrementado la violencia en Colombia, grupos armados que ocuparon territorios dejados por las FARC se pelean entre sí el control del negocio del tráfico de drogas, al mismo tiempo estos grupos son usados para atemorizar a la población para que abandonen sus territorios y así puedan desarrollar la minería ilegal, la apropiación de la tierra y la expansión del dominio social en su favor.

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The cost of backtracking: delays in Colombia’s peace process risk a return to violence

In November 2016 a revised peace agreement was signed between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–Army of the People (FARC-EP). The deal was considered a big win by many, bringing an end to a conflict which spanned over five decades and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

This celebration has been considered both “justified and premature.” In the following years parts of Colombia have enjoyed a somewhat fragile peace, but recent developments have raised concerns that this peace could shatter altogether.

Government foot-dragging

Particularly concerning is the current government’s approach to the 2016 agreement. Since his election in June 2018, the President Iván Duque Márquez-led administration has consistently slowed down the process of implementation.

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Central African Republic: is justice being sacrificed for the illusion of peace?

On 21 May, over 26 people were killed and dozens injured when an armed group attacked two villages in the north west of the Central African Republic (CAR). The attacks were reported by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, which confirmed that twelve people were killed in Koundjili village and 14 in Djoumjoum village. 

Whilst reports of violent and devastating attacks on civilians in CAR are not new, these attacks represent a new challenge for the recently re-constituted government following the latest peace agreement between the government and armed groups.

The alleged perpetrator of the attacks on the two villages is the rebel group known as 3R (Return, Reclamation and Reconciliation). The group was formerly part of the Seleka alliance that took over the country following a coup in March 2013.  The alliance was subsequently disbanded, but armed groups fragmented and seized territories outside of the capital, Bangui.

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Long read: Eritreans wonder why their president is “making peace with everyone but the Eritrean people”

On the morning of 17 September, Eritrean security operatives arrested former Minister of Finance Berhane Abrehe in Asmara.  According to local reports, 73 year old Mr Abrehe was out having breakfast with his son when he was approached by security agents and instructed to accompany them.

The arrest followed the publication and launch of a two-volume book authored by Mr Abrehe entitled ‘Eritra Hageray’ (Eritrea My Country) in Washington DC. The book is described on the cover as presenting an Eritrean plan on how to end dictatorship and prevent it from happening again. The book received endorsements from several former Eritrean officials in exile, and were accompanied by an audio clip in which Mr Abrehe called, among other things, for the convening of the National Assembly and challenged President Afwerki to a public debate.

Mr Abrehe is currently in an unknown location.  He has been unwell for some time, and there are legitimate concerns for his wellbeing.  Mr Abrehe’s wife, Almaz Habtemariam, has been detained since early 2018, in reprisal for one of their four children fleeing the country.  Both he and his wife are veterans of the liberation struggle.

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