Colombian Church: murder of social activists threatens democracy

Representatives of the Catholic Church in Colombia are extremely alarmed about the ongoing murders of social activists and delays in the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, which they say threaten democracy in the country.

Peace and human rights are the main issues of focus at the Plenary Assembly of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, which takes place between 3 and 7 July and is attended by the country’s Catholic bishops and priests.

‘The murder of social leaders and human rights defenders is undoubtedly one of the main concerns in the country today, because it violates local democracy and citizen participation in a very strong way’, said Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao.

Bishops say that only 23 per cent of the peace agreement has so far been implemented. They believe the Catholic Church has a major role to play in Colombia’s peace process.

‘The Church has multiple challenges in the task of encouraging and stimulating scenarios of dialogue where the people themselves can participate and help. All of us who feel we are members of the Church must contribute to the reconciliation of Colombia’, said Father Darío Echeverri of the Commission of National Conciliation.

The Bishop of Cali, Juan Carlos Cárdenas, had a message of support for FARC peace negotiator Jesús Santrich, who was recently sworn into Congress after spending over a year in prison despite the lack of evidence. ‘Do not lose faith in the achievements following the signing of the peace agreement’, he said.

The Church’s warning over the peace process comes amid escalating violence against social activists and FARC former guerrillas. More than 700 people have been killed since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

The government of Iván Duque has faced criticism for the slow pace of the peace process and its failure to tackle endemic violence in many regions. Many Colombians will hope that the Church’s intervention encourages action on the part of the government, with Catholic voters forming a large part of its core support base.