They Are Called Peace Processes for a Reason…

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It’s been awhile…. I had a wonderful vacation for a week of this month on the beach, which was much needed. I’ll post photos soon and update y’all on a little more of daily life, but for now, here’s an article I’m writing for the Seed website about a recent event in Mampujan…

The journey of peace and reconciliation is not a straight forward path towards a perfect goal. There are many different ways of shaping peace and reconciliation in communities impacted by armed conflict. Just as armed conflict has impacted so many different areas of society, so peace process must also be at play to support healing and rebuilding in each of these different areas. And sometimes, as took place in Mampuján on January 18, many of these different aspects come into play at the same time.

Mampuján is taking place in a unique process within Colombia. It is the only displaced community to have received a sentence under the Justice and Peace Law , which outlines various reparations, both individual and collective, and the responsibilities of each of the various parties involved to provide these reparations. On January 18, there was a follow-up hearing, the first of its kind to be held in a community of victims, to examine the steps being made towards these reparations. The judges responsible for the original sentence were present as well as each entity responsible for some aspect of reparations, from the department of social action to the person in charge of the national police force.

Therefore, one clear aspect of peace and reconciliation taking place was the legal process over material reparations. To date, the community has not received the physical reparations they have been promised, and the judges were very clearly on the side of the victims, grilling the entities for specific dates and threatening investigations if these dates are missed. While many of the dates still ended up being a vague “during the year 2012,” there were several clear instances of specific dates and promises that no one was really expecting, including a specific timeframe for individual reparations. If these are actually complied with, this will have sweeping ramifications for not only Mampuján, but for the rest of the over 5 million victims in Colombia, showing political will to actively rebuild the country by focusing on the segment of the population who have truly lost everything- the victims. However, there have been state promises in the past that have not materialized, including simple things like lunch for audience participants on Wednesday. So while the community is hopeful, many people are waiting for the promises to actually arrive before they celebrate.

Personal reconciliation must also take place for lasting peace. Most community members did not know until the night before the hearing that the paramilitary leaders who ordered the displacement of the community and massacres that took place in surrounding communities would be present during the hearing. These men were sentenced during the sentencing process and part of their responsibility is providing the means to build monuments in each of the impacted community. Therefore, they were given the opportunity to speak and they both pressed the need for forgiveness if Colombia is ever to move forward. Many community members had never before seen the men who are directly responsible for their current living conditions, and there was palatable tension in the air. However, people listened respectfully and the woman standing beside me leaned over to whisper in my ear that she had forgiven them a long time ago. Forgiveness has been a theme at the local church, and whether the para-leader’s speech was political or sincere, the fact the some people have made the decision to forgive and move forward without bitterness is important for the healing of the community and the individual members within.

In fact, another part of peace and reconciliation is community building and empowerment, as victims realize that they have agency and can impact the processes taking place around them. In Mampuján, the original hearing was scheduled to take place in a separate location, but community leaders lobbied together to demand the hearing take place in the centre of Mampuján, so everyone present would see the lack of progress of the reparations, evidenced in the dusty, pot-holed streets. The community is learning that they have an important role, not simply as victims, but as people who need to be listened to if this process is ever going to reach a satisfying completion. For example, two weeks before the hearing, the community received a number of tool kits as part of their reparations. However, there were not enough tools for everyone and the majority of the provided tools where more suitable for farmers who grow potatoes, not people who grow corn and yucca, which are the main crops here. The community was able to stand up during the hearing and explain that their needs are not being met by this type of reparation.

As well, before the audience, people worked together to clear the field and construct shelters out of palms. Women volunteered to cook and even kids got involved, carrying handfuls of dead grass away from the field. People also expressed that even if the hearing was not successful, there would still be actions they could take to demand their rights. Throughout the last few months, Mampuján has been learning about working together and seeing their actions as valuable- they are taking agency and developing a stronger sense of community spirit, and through that process working on repairing ruptured social fabric and changing their vision of themselves.

There are many challenges yet to face in the coming months, and still more questions than answers. Will promises be kept? How will an influx of money change Mampuján? How can sustainable structures be put in place that will continue to allow victims to be heard? However, the hearing was, on the whole, a positive experience that highlights the many facets of peace and reconciliation taking place in the community and potential ways to move forward that may serve as an example for the entire country as Colombia struggles towards a sustainable and lasting peace process.

4 comments on “They Are Called Peace Processes for a Reason…”

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