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Press release

7 September 2017

Christian Aid Welcomes Pope Francis’ message of peace as he visits Colombia

  • Three-month ceasefire is a welcome move towards a negotiated end to the conflict.

  • With 7 million internally displaced people, Colombia has the largest internally displaced population in the world.

  • To stop displacements, those responsible must be prosecuted.

Today, Christian Aid welcomed Pope Francis’ message of peace during his trip to Colombia, which is set to help consolidate the Latin American country following decades of conflict.

The Pope’s visit comes shortly after the Colombian government and insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced that a 3-month bilateral ceasefire would come into effect on 1st October. This ceasefire is a welcome move towards a negotiated end to the conflict, says Christian Aid.

More than 7 million people have been forced from their homes during Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict, seeking safety from unlawful killings, massacres, sexual violence and forced disappearances. Today, Colombia has the largest displaced population in the world.

Christian Aid and its partner organisations have been helping to build peace in Colombia since the peace process began in 2012.

Thomas Mortensen, Christian Aid’s Country Manager for Colombia, said: “It is fantastic to welcome Pope Francis to Colombia, for him to show solidarity and hope to the millions of people forced far from their homes and loved ones in Colombia. We hope that his visit can make society more sensitive to the immense suffering of the millions of people who have fled their homes.

“Very few people know that Colombia has the world’s highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and that these 7 million people are suffering tremendously, because being displaced affects all aspects of life, including communities, rights and education. We need to make the humanitarian crisis known to the outside world and act collectively, so that these people can return to their land, and be properly compensated, and gain access to their rights.

“To stop displacements, we also need to ensure that those responsible for the displacements are prosecuted, including the less visible criminals like politicians, businesspeople and public servants who have collaborated with paramilitaries.”

Conflict has raged between state forces, paramilitaries and the guerrilla groups – mainly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and ELN – and despite the signing of a peace agreement in late 2016 between the Colombian Government and FARC to end the conflict, violence has continued. Indeed, 51 human rights defenders and community leaders have been assassinated between January and June this year, according to organisation Somos Defensores, and thousands of people newly displaced.

The level of forced displacements has gone down from its peak around 10-12 years ago, when paramilitaries exercised extensive political, economic and social controlled throughout the country.  However, displacements are now increasing again. 

Thomas Mortensen added: “We also hope that the Pope’s visit will help build the necessary political will to dismantle paramilitary groups in Colombia. The Government has made promises to dismantle those groups that continue to spread fear throughout the Colombian population, but no substantial results have been seen so far.

“When the peace agreement is implemented, the Government must comply with the promise to put the victim´s rights to truth, justice, reparation and guarantee of none-repetition at the centre of the peace process.” 

Christian Aid has been working with displaced communities in Colombia for 20 years with a number of local partner organisations, including the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace Commission, The Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers' Collective, CCAJAR and Corambiente.

ENDS


Notes to Editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.

3. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter.

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk