The role of religious leaders amid the social crisis in Colombia

Almost a month and a half after the start of the protests in Colombia, originated by controversial tax reform, the violence in the country has not ceased.

To date, the growing denunciation of crimes and human rights violations has prompted the visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR. According to the IACHR, as of May 25, at least 9,623 protests had been held in 794 municipalities in Colombia. Of this, at least 1,038 demonstrations reportedly resulted in cases of death, disappearances, injuries, and sexual assaults as a result of the disproportionate and unlawful use of force.

In the midst of this situation, religious leaders have continually called for dialogue between different social actors. In the first weeks of May, around forty religious leaders of various denominations met with Colombian President Iván Duque in order to reach a pact for the youth and seek possible solutions to the conflict.

At the beginning of the crisis, the Catholic Church offered itself as a mediator between the National Unemployment Committee and the National Government. For their part, academia and the Catholic Church, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme – UNDP, have provided a  platform for dialogue among the young population, the age group that has led the protests.

Similarly, leaders of evangelical churches have expressed their support for young people. Especially in Cali, one of the epicenters of the acts of violence, leaders of different religions, although headed by evangelical Christian pastors, formed  “The Ecumenical Frontline”, aiming to address the human rights crisis, accompany young people by opening corridors of attention, always rejecting violence and denouncing the abuse of the security forces.

However, the active role played by the church in promoting peace does not exempt it from the consequences of social crisis. On the contrary, the role it plays in these processes places it in a vulnerable position and makes it a potential target of violence.

We can mention an incident that occurred on May 5, when authorities of the Claretian School of Bosa reported that the courtyard of the educational center was used as a place of military operations. Claretian missionaries reported the unauthorized landing of a helicopter and the abrupt entry of police forces into the institution.

The facilities, in addition to serving as an educational center, serve as a home for religious and elderly members of the Claretian community, so this type of action puts at risk the facilities and the integrity of those who live in it, not only by the actions of the security forces but also by the potential violent response of some groups of demonstrators, who may mistakenly interpret these facts as support of the missionaries to the violent and repressive actions of the security forces.

On the other hand, internal sources shared with OLIRE that, during the demonstrations, temples of the Church of God Ministerial of Jesus Christ International (Iglesia de Dios Ministerial de Jesucristo Internacional-IDMJI) were also vandalized in Popayan and Jamuní, Valle del Cauca. Protesters entered different IDMJI buildings without authorization, destroying some areas of the place to extract material (concrete, brick, metal from the bars), in other cases, protesters made paintings on the walls.

We hope that the visit made by the IACHR during June 8-10 will take into account the risks to which the Church and its members are subjected in the fulfillment of their social, peacemaking, and humanitarian mission so that; in addition of recognizing the resources they offer to overcome the social crisis; encourage civil society organizations and the government to reflect and apply special protection measures in favor of religious leaders in these contexts.

Image: EFE


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