Colombia’s internal armed conflict continued to result in serious abuses by irregular armed groups in 2010, including guerrillas and successor groups to paramilitaries. Violence has displaced millions of Colombians internally, and displaces hundreds of thousands every year. Armed actors frequently threaten or attack human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders, trade unionists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, displaced persons’ leaders, and paramilitaries’ victims seeking land restitution or justice.
In August 2010 President Juan Manuel Santos replaced former President Alvaro Uribe, whose administration was racked by scandals over extrajudicial killings by the army, a highly questioned paramilitary demobilization process, and the national intelligence service’s illegal surveillance of human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians, and Supreme Court justices. President Santos has promoted legislation to restore land to displaced persons and compensate victims of abuses by state agents, publicly voiced respect for an independent judiciary, and denounced threats against human rights defenders. However, it remains to be seen whether his approach translates into concrete results in light of serious ongoing abuses.
What is the cost of truth for families immobilised by Colombia’s violent past? In 2005, Colombia started gathering evidence about the horrific violence being carried out by illegal paramilitias. A highly controversial justice and peace process allowed paramilitary leaders to hand in their weapons and give themselves up voluntarily in exchange for reduced sentences. Impunity documents the hearings in which paramilitaries describe atrocities they have committed in detail as the families of their victims listen and watch on projected screens. Through a series of these testimonies, footage of paramilitary crimes, and interviews with victims and experts, the brutal history of paramilitary violence comes to light. Yet due to serious irregularities in the justice and peace process, many families express their fear that they will never know the truth surrounding the deaths of their loved ones, and that the perpetrators will escape punishment. In an era where many countries are tempted to sacrifice justice in the name of “peace”, what happens in Colombia will resonate beyond its borders.
A Q&A discussion with filmmakers Juan José Lozano and Hollman Morris will take place at both screenings.
Human Rights Watch has documented the serious flaws in the original Justice and Peace program and engaged in extensive advocacy work to strengthen investigations and ensure accountability for paramilitary abuses. Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Colombia documented on-going and egregious abuses by armed groups made up largely of former members of the paramilitary organisations that had officially disbanded. http://www.hrw.org/americas/colombia
Channel 4’s documentary strand, ‘Unreported World’, investigates how Colombia’s indigenous people have been targeted in a string of massacres perpetrated by guerrillas, paramilitary groups and the security forces: The programme is available for a month on the Channel 4 ‘on demand’ service, 4OD: