Diana CASTILLO - New challenges in Colombia

 

Diana Castillo

The partnership we have with the Colombian organisation FEDES (Fundación Educación y Desarrollo) goes way back: we began providing them with financial help nearly twenty years ago! Recently, we have had the pleasure of welcoming Diana Castillo, Director of FEDES, to Lyon. She shared her views with us on current human rights issues in Colombia.

Do you think that the social and political situation in Colombia is changing?

Diana Castillo: The situation is changing, that’s for sure. A lot of the issues that have been brought to peoples’ attention by social movements and NGOs have been taken into account in plans for local development and national policies. It’s actually resulted in concrete policies being put into place.
It has not always yielded the results that we hoped for, but at least there’s a dialogue going on. The actions of human rights defenders are no longer stigmatised by the state as they have been in the past. Now there is consultation and exchange.

That doesn’t mean that human rights violations no longer happen in Colombia, however. They do, and we must continue to speak out about them; but we must also keep in mind the new opportunities there are to influence things, both in the government and society at large.

In your opinion, what are the main difficulties that human rights defenders in Colombia are confronted with today?

DC: Being a human rights defender is a risky business in a country in which democracy hasn’t yet taken root. But without their commitment, democracy couldn’t grow and profit from what society has to offer. Human rights defenders have a dilemma because in carrying out their work so that one day people can take advantage of their rights, they make themselves vulnerable – and potentially, their family and friends too. Thankfully, there are more and more human rights defenders who are getting involved in these issues, so they’re less isolated.

Though progress has been made we must keep up the fight for human rights defenders, so that their activities are considered legitimate in an open and democratic society.

What are the projects that FEDES hopes to put into place in 2013?

DC: Historically, FEDES has been concerned with the people who are the hardest hit in social, political and armed conflicts. We have set up projects to reinforce communities and supported them and their activism. In a similar vein, we are keeping a close eye on multinational mining corporations and their activities in various areas of the country. This is an important topic because mining is at the heart of the government’s economic policy.

We’ve participated in a number of regional forums and have been in touch with communities that won’t benefit from the wealth generated by mining activities. The issues that these communities face are many. They are:

  • threatened to make them leave their land,
  • seeing their standards of living drop because of pollution,
  • suffering major health problems…

So FEDES is seeking to work on two levels this year:

  • strengthening local communities so that they can face the threats against them
  • making links with other organisations to strengthen our voice in political debate.

It’s about developing activism on the local and regional level, where priority is given to peoples’ lives and respect for nature, not to profits from the mining industry. We are already seeing little successes. We hope that these successes will act as examples so that in Colombia, and in other countries, people see that profits must not come before protecting people.

 

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