The CEDECOL Peace Commission has helped facilitate conversations between rebel groups and the Colombian government during peace negotiations. Additionally, the Peace Commission has been vital in passing along information about the peacemaking process to local communities and churches affected by the negotiations, as well as promoting peace in discussions with congregations and pastoral associations.
Previously, the Peace Commission had been actively involved with communication between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebel group and the Colombian government. As 2017 progresses, the Peace Commission continues its work by aiding the Colombian government’s negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army). Another topic of concern for the Peace Commission is political advocacy for victims of human rights violations suffered during armed conflicts.
Nonetheless, this important work is not always easy to carry out. Sometimes statements in peace negotiations appear to contradict local assumptions. It can also be difficult to maintain a clear and firm position regarding support for the peace process and to understand the differences that have arisen around it. When vocal opposition arises from radical positions on the topic, discussions about peace can become much more complicated. These issues only make the Peace Commission more necessary, however, as there is an ongoing need for facilitating discussion and encouraging mutual listening and open communication among all parties involved.
A Peace Commission participant who assisted in the presentation of peace proposals to the Colombian government and FARC rebels commented on the situation:
“This was an edifying experience because we were able to unveil a face of the churches that has sometimes been hidden by the media. In these spaces, the history of the Commission, its commitment to the victims of the conflict and its contributions during this period of negotiations were made public. It was also important to know and listen to the opinions, reflections, and dreams of the actors in this process who have been requested to accompany the churches, and to acknowledge the hard work done and the great challenges that are ahead.”
Another testimony comes from a Peace Commission worker involved in discussions with detained FARC and ELN soldiers:
“It was an interesting dialogue process, especially to understand the timing of the ELN process with the government and the perspectives of church participation. Although the formal beginning of the talks between the two parties was uncertain at that time, it was useful for the representatives of the ELN to know this broad ecclesial sector and its work, and for us as ecclesial representatives it was useful to listen to the perspectives that the ELN has in the framework of the negotiations.
For us it was also shocking to enter the court of maximum security where FARC members are held. Many of them were very young people who held political leadership. The FARC prisoners expressed great gratitude for our visit and for encouraging them to continue the road to peace building.”