WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas


21 Sep 2021 | Press Release

WOLA Human Rights Awards Honor Ethnic Working Group of Colombia’s Truth Commission; Rep. Barbara Lee, and Fundación Mi Sangre

Washington, D.C.—Tomorrow, in a virtual ceremony, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) will present its prestigious Human Rights Awards to three recipients whose work epitomizes the defense of human rights, peace, and social justice in the Americas: the Ethnic Working Group of Colombia’s Truth Commission, Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), and Fundación Mi Sangre in Colombia. At a moment when, across the Americas, civil society movements are standing up for a more just and equitable future, and standing up against abuses of power, this year’s honorees are staunchly dedicated to advancing peace and social justice across the Americas.

“Our honorees this year exemplify dedication to building a more just future for our hemisphere, one that’s rooted in human rights,” said WOLA President Carolina Jiménez Sandoval. “They are leading the fight for change in places like Colombia, transforming the story of violence and repression into a story of collective power and visions for peace. Our honorees inspire us with their focus on intersectional work and their emphasis on upholding the rights of traditionally excluded and marginalized groups.” 

Colombia’s Truth Commission is a cornerstone achievement of the country’s historic 2016 accords, which ended Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict. Despite immense personal danger and risk, the Truth Commission’s Ethnic Working Group is now uncovering the truth behind what Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities endured during the 52-year conflict. Commission members Leyner Palacios Asprilla and Patricia Tobón will accept the award on behalf of the Truth Commission’s Ethnic Working Group.

(Hear Palacios tell his story in the first episode of Rebuilding Peace, a documentary podcast released as part of WOLA’s #ConLíderesHayPaz campaign. Support the work and protect the lives of Colombian activists like Palacios by joining the #ConLíderesHayPaz campaign.)

“It is an honor to receive this recognition, as WOLA plays an irreplaceable role in supporting human rights work in Colombia,” said Palacios. “Through our efforts to document the disproportionate impact of Colombia’s conflict on Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities, and through our official recommendations on consolidating peace that we expect will be released in November, our hope is to create a path forward for redress and healing for all Colombians.” 

“The Truth Commission is carrying out a historic effort in documenting the impact of Colombia’s conflict on the civilian population, including the disproportionate impact on ethnic communities,” said Tobón. “We’ve found that 17 major ethnic territories, where Black and Indigenous communities are based, are today the epicenter of the armed conflict. Reflecting on the recommendations and findings contained within the Truth Commission’s upcoming report will be crucial for Colombia to fully reckon with the causes and the impact of the conflict, and to ensure that there is not a return to violence.”  

WOLA is honoring Rep. Barbara Lee for her career of bold and pioneering leadership promoting peace, social justice and human rights throughout the Americas. As a member and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, she has pushed for U.S. policies on Colombia that center development and uphold the rights of Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities, rather than overemphasizing funding to Colombia’s armed forces. Her at-times lone dissenting votes for peace—including her vote against the war in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, and her vote against the invasion of Iraq in 2002—has made her an international role model and inspired generations of anti-war activists.

“Whether it is fighting for rights of people who have been displaced, supporting peace in Colombia, or helping to open a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, WOLA has been there, making an impact and helping people across this hemisphere claim their rights,” said Rep. Lee. “Tomorrow night, let’s recommit ourselves to the cause of human rights, because when we fight, we win.” 

WOLA is honoring Fundación Mi Sangre for its commitment and leadership in lifting up new generations that are committed to a culture of peace in Colombia. Since 2006, Fundación Mi Sangre has been training a new generation of young activists and leaders who are working together to build peace and communities of care across Colombia. Co-founder and musician Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez, known professionally as Juanes, and co-founder/director Catalina Cock Duque will accept the award on behalf of Fundación Mi Sangre.

“Thank you WOLA for this acknowledgement and for your work to defend peace and human rights in Colombia,” said Juanes. “At Fundación Mi Sangre, we believe in the transformative power of young people. That’s why we build up their leadership, their capacity; we connect them to a national network of leaders; we accompany their initiatives and we recognize that they are not the future but the present of our country.”

“We are honored to receive this recognition from the Washington Office on Latin America. Just as WOLA does, we also believe that it’s possible to build peace in Colombia,” said director Catalina Cock Duque. “We believe that peace is built by each individual. And that’s why, in our projects and programs, we promote strengthening the skills for life, leadership, and social entrepreneurship, to build a country that respects life in all forms.”

Attendees at the virtual 2021 WOLA Human Rights Awards Ceremony and Benefit Gala include Members of Congress, policymakers, and other prominent leaders in the non-profit, media, and the business sector. The Emcee of the 2021 ceremony is musician and artist Gina Chavez. (Learn more about other special guests at the ceremony here). 

Since 2006, WOLA’s annual Human Rights Award has recognized organizations or individuals who exemplify a commitment to WOLA’s vision of the future, where human rights and social justice are the foundation for public policy. Previous honorees include Rep. Veronica Esobar (D-Texas), Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro, Commissioner Iván Velásquez Gómez of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet. Learn more about past honorees here.