World Council of Churches

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

Statement on violence in Colombia

02 September 2002

Adopted by the Central Committee, Geneva, 2 September 2002.

The "Violence in Colombia" has besieged this nation for decades. After a period of comparative calm, the violence has intensified dramatically in the past few years, with an average of twenty persons per day - three children among them - being killed or "disappeared" in the midst of the continuing social and political turmoil. A relatively new feature is the targeting of Christian leaders and laypersons. A tragic example was the murder of more than a hundred persons (including at least 40 children) who had sought shelter in a church in Bellavista during a military confrontation in May 2002.

Once again, the violence in Colombia knows no limits; the plight of its people is reminiscent of the words of the Psalmist,

My mouth is dry as a potsherd and my tongue sticks to my jaw; I am laid low in the dust of death. The huntsmen are all about me, a band of ruffians rings me round and they have hacked off my hands and my feet… Lord, do not abandon me! Come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the evil ones!(Psalm 22)

Churches and the broader civil society in Colombia have for many years opposed the military escalation, engaged in massive non-violent protests and in actions for a peaceful, negotiated solution. Many have paid with their lives and many others have been driven into exile by threats on their and their families' lives. The number of people forcibly displaced from their communities is now over two million - five percent of the total population - nearly one-fourth of these displaced in 2001 alone. Most of those displaced by the violence and the consequences of the implementation of Plan Colombia are indigenous people and Afro-Colombians; and as is so often the case in civil conflicts, women and children are the most seriously affected.

For the Colombian churches and other civil society organizations, the root of the conflict does not lie in drug-trafficking or in the violence of the armed guerrilla movements (though these too are held to account), but in the long history of social injustice, the concentration of economic and political power in a few hands, competition for control of potentially rich oil fields, and a social structure built on the pillars of exclusion, inequality and impunity.

After years of efforts to achieve a negotiated solution to the violence, early this year the government discontinued its peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and ceased to respect the demilitarized zones. New elections brought Alvaro Uribe Veles to power, and shortly after his inauguration in August 2002, the new government declared a state of emergency, and said that it would double the size of the country's armed forces, and begin negotiations with the paramilitary forces.

These developments come in the context of "Plan Colombia" that is backed financially, militarily and politically by the USA. The Central Committee sharply condemned this military-based strategy when it met in Potsdam (February 2001), calling on the churches and the WCC to intensify their ecumenical efforts in support of a negotiated peace. "Plan Colombia" has subsequently been transformed into the "Andean Initiative" with military actions in different countries in the region.

In response, the WCC, in cooperation with the Lutheran World Federation, hosted an Ecumenical Forum on Colombia at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, in which representatives from Colombian churches and civil society, the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), and European churches and partner agencies met to develop a strategy for responding to the war in Colombia. It too called for a strengthening of international ecumenical action and an emphasis on working for peace in the framework of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).

In the light of this tragic situation and the threat it poses to the entire Latin American continent, and in the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, 26 August - September 3, 2002,

Reiterates its expressions of solidarity and prayers for the Colombian people, especially the families and friends of those killed, maimed, disappeared or displaced, and with the Colombian churches in their courageous and sacrificial witness and work for peace;

Calls upon all political, military and religious leaders in Colombia to spare no effort in pursuing a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the disarming of the paramilitary and the restoration of the rule of law;

Calls upon all the armed opposition movements to respect the rules of engagement applicable in situations of armed conflict, to desist from all actions that endanger the civilian population, and to seek a return to good-faith negotiations for peace;

Denounces once again "Plan Colombia" and all strategies based on the preemptive use of military force;

Urges the Government of Colombia to rescind all emergency measures, to guarantee full respect of the human rights of its citizens, and to respect fully those provisions of international rule of law applicable in times of civil conflict, especially including the protection of civilian populations in areas of armed conflict;

Calls insistently upon the Government of the United States of America to withdraw all its military forces, including military and other related advisors, from Colombia and from its other installations in the Latin American region without delay;

Urges all governments in the region to take all possible actions to encourage a peaceful resolution of the civil conflict in Colombia and to respect the rights of those forced to flee the violence in Colombia and to attend to their humanitarian needs;

Expresses appreciation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for the work done through her Office in Colombia, and to Human Rights NGOs and church-related organizations for their efforts to protect and assist victims and to develop peacebuilding programs;

Draws once again to the attention of the member churches and related agencies the urgent situation in Colombia, expressing deep appreciation to those who have already made it a priority, and calling for prayers and actions of concrete solidarity with the churches, victims, and the endangered population in areas of armed conflict;

Calls especially upon the churches in the United States to press their government for an immediate cessation of their role in "Plan Colombia," and for foreign assistance to Colombia to be redirected from military to humanitarian purposes and for a renewed emphasis on strengthening respect for human rights in that country; and

Calls upon the staff of the Council to continue and strengthen its efforts to support peace and reconciliation initiatives in cooperation with the Colombian churches, CLAI, and other church and ecumenical partners around the world.