Colombia Catholic Bishops Decry Human Rights Abuses: People Are Living in Anguish, 'Forgotten By All'

Colombian Army Gen. Mario Montoya (L) examines a cocaine pack confiscated by troops near Puerto Asis, Putumayo province, in this February 12, 2001 file photo.
Colombian Army Gen. Mario Montoya (L) examines a cocaine pack confiscated by troops near Puerto Asis, Putumayo province, in this February 12, 2001 file photo. | (Photo: REUTERS/Eliana Aponte/Files)

The Assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Colombia has decried the human rights abuses continuing to take place in the country, where Christians are sometimes killed for offering a different way of life than joining drug trafficking groups.

"The situation is very delicate, and we as Bishops are the voice of those who have no voice, so we need to highlight that we are not living in human conditions in this area. We are forgotten by all, we have no protection, people live in anguish and without hope," said His Exc. Mgr. Julio Hernando García Peláez, Bishop of Istmina-Tado, according to Fides News Agency.

The region of Chocò was highlighted as a particular concern, where drug traffickers often prevent the presence of the services of the state. Mgr. Garcia added that security forces in the area also bare a good deal of responsibility for the violence, and claimed that some security members use civilians "to protect themselves from the fire of illegal armed groups, and innocent people die in these deadly clashes."

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His Exc. Mgr. Juan Carlos Barreto, Bishop of Quibdó added: "We have no policies for legitimate and authorized agricultural production," and denounced the constant violation of human rights in the region.

Communications director Emily Fuentes of persecution watchdog group Open Doors told The Christian Post in an email on Wednesday that Christians in such areas in Colombia offer a different way of life to people, and are often punished for it.

"Christians who play prominent roles in social or public life (especially pastors and evangelist) face opposition because they are often seen as a threat. When more people turn to Christ in these areas, instead of joining these illegal groups, these groups begin to lose their footing (and this is why they see these Christians as a threat). Christians have faced kidnappings, violent attacks and many have been killed for their Christians activities," Fuentes told CP.

In June, Colombia was ranked among Open Door's top 10 list of countries where Christians face the most violent attacks for their faith.

Human Rights Watch also points out that internal armed conflict in the predominantly Roman Catholic country continues to result in "serious abuses." It added that human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, and IDP leaders face death threats and other abuses.

While the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos has reportedly condemned such attacks, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

HRW added that more than 5 million Colombians have been internally displaced, and more than 150,000 continue to flee their homes each year due to the violence, making it the world's second largest population of internally displaced persons.

The conflicts have largely been between the Colombian government and guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army. The government's human rights Ombudsman's Office has expressed alarm over the forced recruitment of children from indigenous communities, allegedly by the FARC.

The government's National Center for Historical Memory has said that close to 220,000 lives have been lost in internal armed conflicts since 1958, 81.5 percent of whom were civilians.

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