Human rights defenders presented with awards in Colombia
“I’ve been fighting my whole life. But I’m not tired!” These are the words of Maria Ligia Chaverra, who has been presented with Diakonia’s and the Church of Sweden International Mission and Diaconia’s Human Rights Award in 2018. The situation for human rights defenders in Colombia is extremely critical. This year as many as 127 people lost their lives in the struggle for human rights. Today, when human rights defenders are threatened and killed on a daily basis in Colombia, the annual award is more important than ever.
For the past seven years, Diakonia and the Church of Sweden International Mission and Diaconia have presented an award to draw attention to and support people who defend and stand up for human rights.
Human rights defenders from all over Latin America came together for this year’s Human Rights Award ceremony. The atmosphere was filled with joy but had an element of gravity at the same time. Several of the participants live under constant death threats.
The annual Human Rights Award is presented in four different categories: Human Rights Defender of the Year, Joint Initiative of the Year, Organisation of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award.
The award for “Human Rights Defender of the Year” went to German Graciano Posso from the organisation Comunidad de Paz de San Jose de Apartado. Despite constant threats, German has managed to organize and mobilise over 500 people in a peace project to designate his village a protected zone, without the presence of weapons.
“I’d like to thank everyone fighting for those who’ve never had access to their rights. This award is important because we must never give up hope of peace being a possibility,” said German when he received the award.
Life without violence
Junta de Gobierno de la Comunidad Negra/Afrodescendiente de Alto Mira y Frontera received the “Joint Initiative of the Year” award for its defence of human rights and the right to live a life without violence in the turbulent region of Tumaco, Nariño. The organization has also worked hard to stop the production of drugs in the region and create new, legal alternatives for generating income.
“Our struggle has not been easy. There have been serious violations of human rights in our region. And they continue to take place. I want to dedicate this award to all our colleagues who are no longer with us,” said Doris Valencia from the organization when she received the award.
Responsibility for the environment
The organization Movimiento Rios Vivos Antioquia received the “Organization of the Year” award for its work for environmentally related rights. A large part of their efforts are focused on demanding responsibility from multinational mining companies regarding human rights and environmental legislation.
“This is recognition and proof of the courage that the people where we work have. Of the rivers and mountains that are screaming that nature and human life must be respected. We don’t have another planet. We have to protect the one we have,” said Isabel Cristina Zuleta when she was presented the award on behalf of the organization.
Maria Ligia Chaverra was awarded the prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award” for her indefatigable struggle for human rights. Several inhabitants in her home village have been subjected to threats, sexual violence and forced eviction, with some even being murdered. Despite this, she has never given up hope of peaceful methods for reconciliation and justice. She has constantly reported the human rights violations that her people have been subjected to.
“I feel incredibly honoured to have been presented with this award. I’ve fought for a whole lifetime, but I’m not tired! We need to remember that we’re stronger together, and we must never give up and say that we lost,” said Maria Ligia when she was presented with the award, receiving standing ovations for her words.
Since the peace agreement between the Farc guerrilla and the government was signed in 2016, the general level of violence has decreased in Colombia. But murders and attacks aimed at human rights defenders increased sharply when areas that FARC had under control were abandoned and paramilitary and criminal groups re-established power. Drawing attention to the situation of human rights defenders and highlighting the importance of their work is therefore crucial to ensuring real, sustainable peace in Colombia,” according to Diakonia’s Secretary General Georg Andrén, and Eva Ekelund, Policy Director for the Church of Sweden International Mission and Diaconia.
“Today, we’re celebrating. We’re honouring the human rights defenders and their fantastic work. At the same time, it’s incredibly sad that such an award is still necessary. In Colombia, as in so many other places around the world, safety and security is threatened for those seeking justice. I’m so incredibly impressed by the courage and drive displayed by these people. They inspire us. We at Diakonia will always support people defending their rights,” said Georg Andrén after the awards ceremony.
“Human rights defenders have very strong stories, and it’s important that they’re heard – that we really absorb them and recount them to others. They aren’t anecdotes but parts of the fabric we’re weaving together to better understand where we come from and where we’re heading,” he concluded.
“We’re extremely proud to be able to present these awards but at the same time, I wish that we didn’t need to,” says Eva Ekelund, Deputy Head of Department and Policy Director for the Church of Sweden International Work.
“We wish that the Colombian government would shoulder its responsibility and defend human rights. The situation in Colombia today is such that we could build peace together. We want the Colombian organizations to know that they can count on us and on our support.”