WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

POSTPONED: Webinar—Colombia’s Defiant Peace Communities: Non-Violent Self-Protection Strategies When Armed Groups Fail to Respect Civilians

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. EST Thursday, 26 March 2020

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)


In 2016, Colombia and former guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a historic peace agreement that ended five decades of internal armed conflict. This agreementwhich was unique in that it integrated the recommendations and rights of victims, women, Afro-Colombian, and Indigenous peopleshas had some success in reducing violence in the country and demobilizing hundreds of former combatants. However, it has also seen a surge of new security challenges, namely the targeting and killing of hundreds of social leaders in some of Colombia’s most remote and conflict-ridden regions. These leaders are often critical to the implementation of peace in their communities, and President Iván Duque’s administration has failed to provide for their protection. 

In the face of these security challenges and the lack of protection from the Colombian government, the international community should seek to pressure the Duque administration to protect social leaders, while also supporting alternative, peaceful, and non-violent strategies for protection. 

This online forum will explore one of those strategies: the creation of peace communities. In April 1997, one of the first such communities was formed in San José de Apartadó. Rural leaders came together to implement international humanitarian law and the principle of distinction for non-combatants in their community, designating the area free of all armed groups, including legal public security forces. Leaders also established rules that asked community members to disengage from violence, and also began to form communal projects. 

The peace community has faced challenges: it has registered at least three massacres and had more than 300 of its members killed. Authorities and armed groups have frequently interpreted San José de Apartadó’s declared neutrality as an affront, accusing residents of collaborating with various actors in the conflict. 

The online forum will examine how the lessons from peace communities like San José de Apartadó can serve as a model for citizen protection mechanisms. The discussion will cover how the U.S. Congress and the international community can support these communities and push for more effective protection of social leaders and civilians caught in conflicts worldwide.


Event Details:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. EST


Join the Webinar



Congressman Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)

U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District


Representative of San José de Apartadó 

A Colombian human rights defender speaking for the local community



Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli

Director for the Andes, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)



Karin Ryan

Senior Adviser for Human Rights, the Carter Center