REDEPAZ – Colombia

Linked with our presentation of Ana Teresa Bernal – Colombia.

The National Network of Citizen Initiatives for Peace and Against War REDEPAZ:

Ana Teresa Bernal’s organization REDEPAZ is strengthening the peace movement in Colombia by bringing together peace organizations of youths, women, and indigenous groups to form a strong and cohesive voice. United, these organizations are setting a common agenda and creating their own solutions to Colombia’s problems instead of waiting for actors of the armed conflict to do so. For nearly four decades, Colombia has been in the throes of armed conflict, with guerilla groups, the army, paramilitary groups, and drug cartels waging war with each other. For young people, survival often means enlisting with armed groups, thereby swelling their ranks and ensuring the continuity of conflict. As frustration grows with the unceasing turmoil, growing numbers are favoring violent options, making it increasingly urgent for concentrated efforts to keep the focus on nonviolent resolutions. But citizen peace initiatives have been solitary, scattered, low-impact efforts, and civil society has been excluded from negotiations and general discussions on the conflict. REDEPAZ provides the critical missing piece in the search for peaceful solutions to Colombia’s problems: a vehicle to engage the citizen sector. It has facilitated crucial linkages allowing a mass movement demanding peace and resisting violence, and forcing politicians and armed groups to pay attention. It has held public referenda where children and adults have had a chance to officially vote for peace, compelling political parties to include the peace mandate in their agendas, stimulating negotiations between warring factions, and moving the corporate sector to take a stand against violence. REDEPAZ has enabled the citizen sector to establish its presence at the negotiation table.

To promote the culture of peace in concrete terms it has established peace territories – civic areas that declare themselves “at peace” and adopt measures to prevent the intrusion of violence from armed conflict. (Read this on changemakers).

In 1992, frustrated with the lack of progress being made towards achieving peace in Colombia and recognizing a lack of power and unification among Colombia’s various local peace initiatives, Ana Teresa decided to create an organization which would link these isolated efforts and strengthen their common voice for a non-violent resolution to the conflict. In 1993, just as then-President Cesar Gaviria launched his campaign for an all-out war on rebel groups, she brought REDEPAZ to life. REDEPAZ’s original activities concentrated on making the various peace organizations aware of each other’s work and bringing them together in a national convention. The network also elaborated and presented a bill to Congress in order to regulate and enforce the 22nd Article of the Constitution, which states that peace is a right of the population and an obligation of the state. REDEPAZ also created an annual event called the Week for Peace to reinforce their year-long efforts. In 1996, with the support of UNICEF, REDEPAZ created a National Children’s Referendum for Peace and Rights. 2.7 million children throughout the country received ballots in which they had to select what they felt were their most important rights. The overwhelming majority voted for the right to live and the right to peace. Following this referendum, Ana Teresa was able to convince the national government to allow an official adult referendum on peace to accompany local mayoral elections. 10 million Colombians turned out and voted for a peaceful resolution to Colombia’s internal conflict. This was the largest turnout ever for an election in Colombia. These mandates had a large impact on all parties involved in the conflict. Presidential candidates began for the first time to talk about their plans to fulfill the mandates. One of the two strongest guerilla groups, the ELN, also recognized the people’s mandate and entered into negotiations. Upon taking office in 1998, President Pastrana assumed the mandate as his priority task, and for the first time since 1990, began negotiations with the FARC, the other significant guerilla group. At this point there was also a general shift on the part of the business community towards support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Additionally REDEPAZ was successful in pushing the army to stop recruiting minors in to the armed forces.
Through REDEPAZ, Ana Teresa also promoted the creation of the National Congress for Peace. The Congress consists of representatives from government, local authorities, legislators, labor and trade unions, women’s groups and other civil society groups, including REDEPAZ. In June of 1999, this Congress elected Ana Teresa to represent civil society on the 20 member National Thematic Committee, which has been analyzing and coordinating public opinions in order to bring them to the negotiating table between the government and the FARC. Ten members of the committee are representatives of the FARC, the other nine members represent unions, universities, worker groups, the media, and the Federation of Governors and Mayors. As the only person elected to represent the voice of the broader citizen sector, Ana Teresa’s position on the committee has proved to be a key element in helping her achieve her goal of bringing the voice of Colombia’s unarmed and non-governmental sector to the negotiating table and dialogue process. Building from these previous accomplishments, REDEPAZ’s conglomeration of 51 working peace groups will continue to promote and strengthen the peace movement through a variety of other activities. Currently they are working on a campaign to stop the kidnappings and to liberate those who are currently being held as hostages. Another of their activities is to create a common agenda for a peaceful solution, which involves plans for negotiation and dialogue with the various actors of the war and encourages respect of the opinion of civil society and for international human rights standards. The agenda also includes pushing legislation which would definitively end the participation of minors in the army and promote social justice without immunity for human rights violators. Participants from the network are also working together to create a plan for the country to move forward, without waiting for the armed actors to come up with the answers. To further strengthen the movement, the network will continue to educate the public through peaceful demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience to support a peaceful solution to the conflict, fighting against the current trend of people approving violent solutions. (Read more on this page of Ashoka Fellow Profile).

links:

Task Force for Latin America and the Caribbean;

Preparing for Peace.

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