World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Ecumenical Cooperation Forum with Colombia

25 September 2001

Report of meeting held in Geneva, 25-26 September 2001.

On 25 and 26 September 2001, we met as a delegation of Colombian Churches and civil society, and representatives from international ecumenical organizations and European cooperation agencies. The meeting was convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and was held in the Ecumenical Center in Geneva. Continuing the long-standing process of support, the objectives of the "Ecumenical Cooperation Forum with Colombia" were to exchange information about the current situation in Colombia and the role of the churches in the prevailing circumstances. Another objective was to strengthen international support for the peace process in Colombia, a process in which the churches are involved. The Forum also considered meetings with diplomatic missions to the United Nations and international Human Rights NGOs. We began our meeting with a service in which we pondered the words of Isaiah (Isa. 62: 6-7) where the prophet invites us to stand sentinel, to pray, raise our voice and work for reconciliation.

Throughout the meeting, we participants from other countries were challenged by the delegation's profound testimony of hope and its conviction that the violent conflict in Colombian society can be overcome through talks and political negotiations. This is based on the belief that the root of the conflict lies not, as has so often been said, in drug-trafficking but in the historical social injustice that has seen economic and political power concentrated in too few hands. From our standpoint of faith, we also recognize that sin has taken hold in Colombian institutions, in the country's laws and in many social and individual practices. We believe that Colombian society is built on pillars of exclusion, impunity and deep-rooted inequalities that must be remedied if there is to be lasting peace.
(Mic 2: 1-2).

We value the efforts made in civil society to reinforce and give voice to the aspirations and experience of peace and to have a greater say in decision-making. We particularly stress the fact that the churches, too, have been part of those efforts, putting forward their identity and mission as communities of faith to help build peace processes, providing training themselves and promoting the training of their leaders in various theological and pastoral areas including dignity and human rights.

The churches' commitment has found especial expression in caring for displaced men and women, whose situation is one of the worst after-effects of the conflict. This commitment has shown the enormous potential of the Christian communities and of local congregations as places of healing and hope.

We share the clear rejection of the Plan Colombia because it serves to heighten armed conflict in the country. Indeed, the prophetic denunciation made by several actors in civil society of the escalating armed conflict, increasing numbers of displaced persons, the deteriorating human rights situation, the extension of the conflict to the region through the Andean initiative, and its environmental impact through crop-dusting, today adds up to a picture that bears out the previous statement. We therefore welcome the European Parliament's rejection of the Plan Colombia and its recommendations for European aid to obey different criteria.

After agreeing with this diagnosis, the Forum went on to draw up some proposals and strategies for future work and cooperation.

From the standpoint of our faith and pastoral practice, we affirmed that peace is built with:

  • social justice and by ensuring the dignity of all individuals as God's creatures;
  • the participation of all segments of society in seeking reconciliation based on truth;
  • a legal system that combats impunity and ensures necessary reparation;
  • the non-violent settlement of disputes; and
  • the responsible stewardship of creation.

On this foundation, the following strategic areas and priorities were identified as starting points for strengthening valuable action already being taken at various levels.

1. Locally

Support for displaced persons. This includes attending to the material and spiritual needs of displaced people and also to organization, education and the development of community projects for them.

Skills and other training. Such training includes human rights, social leadership, mediation and dispute settlement, Bible and theological training and so on.

Exploring and expressing experience. It is hoped that through strengthening local experience, a culture of peace can be created. Special attention will be paid to work with indigenous people, women and Afro-Colombians, women and children affected by violence.

Strengthening spirituality. Through prayer and the celebrating of faith, an attempt will be made to give symbolic and practical expression to the churches' call for peace.

2. Nationally

Coordinating efforts. Support for the Commission on Human Rights and Peace (CEDECOL) in seeking common platforms and for wider ecumenical initiatives that include other sectors of civil society.

Arranging action to support displaced persons. Seeking machinery that could influence Government policies relating to the displaced population. Strengthening the pastoral ministry of the churches in their work with displaced people.

Strengthening processes of communication. Developing effective tools for communication to facilitate exchanges among the various parts of the nation and between society as a whole and the international community.

3. Regionally

Setting up an Andean forum. Supporting efforts to build an ecumenical meeting place in the Andean region where the challenges raised by the Plan Colombia and the Andean Initiative could be addressed. Link this process to existing regional networks in civil society.

4. Internationally

International ecumenical presence in Colombia. Such a presence would seek to protect and reinforce the initiatives of the churches and civil society. It would make itself felt through delegations that express brotherly love among local congregations and also convey the facts of the Colombian situation in their various churches.

Defense. Here the emphasis would be on strengthening existing international instruments for the protection of human rights (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, observers, recommendations of the Commission on Human Rights, and so on); joint action by leaders of agencies, international ecumenical organizations and NGOs in approaching intergovernmental organizations and foreign governments.

Strengthening international ecumenical action. It is proposed that the work of the churches for peace in Colombia fall within the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV). Within that framework, it is recommended that there be closer coordination between the WCC, the LWF and the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), other councils of churches, sister churches and ecumenical agencies.

Follow-up. A group of four people is being set up, comprising the WCC, the LWF, the agencies and the Colombian delegation, to provide follow-up to this meeting and draft practical proposals for implementing the recommendations in close cooperation with other ecumenical efforts. Within six months, there will be an assessment made of how implementation is progressing and possibly a similar meeting will be convened a year from now to continue the process.

We consider that this Forum has made a significant contribution to peace-building in Colombia. As a result of this Forum, the conciliating role of the churches has been given a higher profile and the efforts of the churches and society as a whole in Colombia have been given greater expression in working with the European churches, agencies and international ecumenical organizations. It has also helped to reinforce the commitment of the international ecumenical community in
 seeking peace with justice in Colombia. We pray for God's guidance and wisdom in working for peace in Colombia and the world. May He grant us the gift of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Rev. Milton Mejia               Lic. Marta Palma       Peter Prove                Rev. Karl Appl
For the Colombian            WCC                          LWF                           European ecumenical
delegation                                                                                           agencies/churches