Human rights in Colombia examined

By Rhia Perkins

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fight for human rights abroad? Two members of Peace Brigades International were on campus recently to share their experiences on that topic.

Canadians Stephen Law and Evelyn Jones spoke on Fri., Jan. 28 about the time they recently spent in Colombia with Peace Brigades International, a group which accompanies unarmed civilians considered defenders of human rights. The group acts mostly in areas of the world where these people are often persecuted or attacked, or where working towards peace leads to exile or assassination.

"[Many] groups say they’ve been able to continue their work [because of PBI]" said Jones.

Friday’s presentation, which included a video and slide show, explained the different projects that the group undertook in Colombia. Members accompanied human rights leaders to meetings with the government and paramilitary groups, displaced people living in shelters in the cities, and groups returning to their homes many years later, or to "peace towns," which are communities dedicated to staying neutral and helping neither the government or the paramilitaries.

This accompaniment serves mainly as a deterrent against attack, as the Colombian government is less likely to attack or assassinate a citizen if an international witness is there.

This became evident in March 1999, when paramilitaries issued death threats against internationalists working in the Urubá region.

"We had to be conscious of our movements," said Jones. "It gave us a better understanding of how the Colombians were working with fear on a daily basis."

In April, the PBI workers left the region due to the increasing danger, and shortly after their departure, some of the people they had protected were killed.

The presentation showed graphic evidence of the difficult situation in Colombia, and asked students to help to whatever extent they could, whether financially, by lobbying in Canada, or by donating directly to the group.

"There’s been such a decrease in [government] funding that PBI is almost entirely funded by personal donations," said Jones.

Students attending were supportive of the project.

"I think it’s important for the university to support such presentations," said President of the French, Italian, and Spanish Club Katherine Rouelle. "Only through education can we foster understanding and promote change. I only regret that there weren’t more people there."

PBI currently has projects in East Timor, Mexico and Colombia. For more information, please call (416) 324-9757 or visit

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