WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
10 Sep 2013 | Video

Afrodescendant Catholic Leaders Present on Peace, Humanitarian and Displacement Issues

Since October 2012, the Colombian government has been engaged in negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to find an end to the country’s half century-long internal armed conflict. Yet while the ongoing talks are encouraging, violence continues to displace thousands every year generating a humanitarian and protection crisis. Please join us for a discussion with three Catholic leaders as they describe the displacement crises in their regions, paying special attention to how the conflict has affected Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and outlining what steps can be taken to ensure that the final peace agreement protects Colombia’s most marginalized communities.

The three panelists—Father Sterlin Londoño of the Diocese of Quibdó, Sister Zoila Cueto of the Diocese of Buenaventura, and Sister Lucero Machado of the La Playa Educational Institute in Nariño—come from the country’s Pacific coast, which witnessed over a third of all new displacements in Colombia in 2012 as legal and illegal armed groups vied for control over the resource-rich region.

Father Sterlin, an afrosacerdote (afrodescendant priest), will describe how displacement has continued as Colombia’s landmark land restitution process pushes forward. The USAID-funded process confronts massive challenges issuing land titles along the Pacific coast, where state presence is regularly superseded by paramilitary and guerrilla control. Father Sterlin’s home department of Chocó bears much of the continued conflict as state, FARC, and paramilitary forces battle for control of territory.

Sister Lucero, rector of the Education Institute La Playa, will share her experiences shedding light on mass poverty and displacement in the southern department of Nariño. Largely isolated from the rest of the country, this department bordering Ecuador has suffered from a large FARC presence. Sister Lucero’s home municipality of Tumaco saw one of the highest rates of displacement in 2011, second to only Sister Zoila’s home of Buenaventura.

Sister Zoila is director of the conflict database of the Diocese of Buenaventura and has witnessed the skyrocketing displacement crisis in this port city. As major shipping and development companies enjoy the benefits of newly-minted trade agreements—including one with the United States—the period from 2009-2011 saw the number of displaced persons more than quintuple to 18,000. Numerous reports confirm that mass displacement has continued into this year as large building projects, as well as the paramilitary-driven violence in the region, displace thousands from their homes.

WOLA Senior Associate Gimena Sánchez will moderate the discussion. Ms. Sánchez directs WOLA’s human rights work in Colombia and is an expert on internal displacement. Prior to working at WOLA, she was Senior Research Analyst at the Brookings Institution-Johns Hopkins/SAIS Project on Internal Displacement, supporting the work of the Representative of the U.N. Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, Francis M. Deng.