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Friday, September 20, 2013

Professor Sandra Gómez sheds light on violence, human rights, and transitional justice in Colombia

Sandra's Talk6 (9.19.2013).JPGVisiting Professor Sandra Gómez Santamaría from the University of Antioquia, Colombia spoke with UMN faculty and graduate students regarding ongoing violence in Colombia and presented transitional justice and peace efforts. Professor Gómez is a leading figure in the UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership in the midst of a three-week visit to exchange human rights advocacy techniques and theory with local scholars and activists.

Listen to a recording of Sandra's talk here:
Sandra Gomez Talk (9.19.2013).WMA
Professor Gómez situated Colombia's current human rights situation in the context of a long tradition of violence, stemming back to land conflicts in the 1920's, liberal-conservative struggle and the resulting "La Violencia" of the 1950's, and systemic patterns of violence relating to drug trafficking in the 1980's and beyond. Gómez testifies that the armed conflict between state security forces (including the military and police), paramilitary (which commit serious human rights violations with State collusion) and guerrilla groups (including the FARC and ELN) took the greatest toll on civil society, particularly afro-descendants, women and girls in poverty, and rural communities. According to the Centro de Memoria Histórica, between January 1, 1958 and December 31, 2012 the armed conflict caused approximately 220,000 deaths. Forcibly displaced victims number about 5,700,000, or 15% of the country's population.
Professor Gómez explained that in the past several years transitional justice discourse and practices have been implemented in some legal scenarios. Two examples for exploring how this discourse has been displayed include the 2005 "Ley de Justicia y Paz" (Law for Justice and Peace) regarding DDR process of Paramilitary groups and the 2012 "Marco Juridico para la Paz" (Judicial Framework for Peace), which provided for some transitional justice mechanisms for facilitating peace negotiations with the FARC, which are taking place in La Habana.
However, human rights violations persist and paramilitary forces and corrupt government officials maintain linkages with violent and coercive private actors. Meanwhile, victim voices are drowned out and the human rights of people in vulnerable conditions face a wide array of threats, including forced disappearances, forced displacement, torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, child recruitment, antipersonnel landmines, and other indiscriminate weapons. Colombia therefore faces the difficult challenge of confronting its violent past while simultaneously dealing with ongoing violence.
Professor Gómez, too humble to formally "conclude" her presentation on these complex and ongoing issues, instead presented deep and thought provoking questions and ideas which quickly engaged the audience in conversation. Specifically, she refuted the idea of legal remedies as the only remedies to these systemic problems, identified the urgent need to challenge current structures of power, and highlighted the direct connection between abuse of civil and political rights and widespread neglect for economic, social, and cultural rights in the Colombian context.
Professor Gómez's presentation was part of the 2013-2013 Workshop on Genocide and Mass Violence Studies organized by the Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Department of Sociology. For more information about the workshop, click here.
By Claire Leslie