For more than fifty years Colombia has been ravaged by an armed conflict that has impacted the lives of millions of people. Despite a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas, there has been an alarming increase in attacks against human rights defenders. CAFOD’s Laura Ouseley meets Liney Contreras, one the women who is speaking out.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a teacher” says Liney. “But that all changed. After the attack I wanted to be more dead than alive. My dreams went out the window.”
Liney Contreras, from Colombia, is telling me about the moment her life changed forever when she was just 16 years old. She was in Medellin to register for university, walking with two friends when a car bomb went off. “I lost my right arm and broke my leg in the explosion. I spent 6 months in hospital.”
Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao, Director of Caritas Colombia, is a long-standing partner of CAFOD. For years he has been close to efforts by the Catholic Church to negotiate peace with all parties involved in the conflict in Colombia.
Here he reflects on the news that the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla have signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement; the first time both parties have agreed to put down their arms in over 50 years of conflict.
News that the Colombian Government and FARC guerrillas have agreed a bilateral ceasefire could herald a fresh start for a country that has witnessed the longest-running internal conflict in the western hemisphere.
Carmenza Alvarez is a human rights defender in Colombia and works for an organisation supported by CAFOD and Caritas, Women’s Initiative for Peace. The role is a dangerous one, in 2014 alone 614 human rights defenders were attacked and 55 killed.
For International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March, Carmenza discusses inequality and being trapped in the middle of a fifty-year conflict. She recently spent time in Europe as part of a joint CAFOD, Caritas Colombia, ABColombia and EC project, which sought to help protect human rights defenders in Colombia, with a particular focus on land restitution claimants, women and minority groups.
“In 1991 I was working in a restaurant. It was in an area frequented by the left-wing revolutionary group, FARC. My son was at school and studying. When he finished for the day, a group would come for him and supposedly take him to play football.