Thursday, 26 June 2008

human rights and composting in Casanare

My week long trip to Casanare with the organisation we accompany kicked off with a human rights workshop in Yopal, the state capital, organised by the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz (APSCP). The APSCP, a platform of social organisations, is itself part of a coalition with three other human rights organisations, which in 2006 launched a 'National Action plan for Human Rights and Humanitarian Rights' (Plan Nacional de Accion en Derechos Humanos y Derecho Humanitario - PNADHDIH). Working with foreign government agencies and the Colombian government Human Rights Commission (Consejo Nacional de Derechos Humanos - CNDH), the PNADHDIH is apparently following a Peruvian model which focuses not just on human rights abuses but issues such as gender equality and multiculturism.

One of the functions of the APSCP has been touring Colombia's states giving human rights workshops on the PNADHDIH to local community leaders. As the organisation we acccompany is the one with the most community contacts in Casanare, they were asked to call together local rural council leaders. Casanare was one of the last regions to be visited by them. Unlike the organisation we accompany who always travel the 8-10 hours by bus to the region, the APSCP pair flew in for the day from Bogota.

In the morning they gave their human rights presentation whilst recognising the limitations of this in an environment where those who denounce human rights abuses are routinely intimidated, attacked and assasinated by paramilitaries and the army. In the afternoon the 
 local leaders discussed in groups the human rights situation in their areas and fed back the familiar pattern of displacement, intimidation, assasinations, environmental degradation and widespread immunity enjoyed by the army and armed groups. The day was an almost unique chance for regional leaders to gather given the lack of security and large geographical area of Casanare. Although most had a long journey back to their communities and so left in the afternoon some stayed on for a few games of pool in the evening.

As well as human rights work the organisation we accompany also does agricultural training and the following days were spent accompanying them in a project involving a survey of local farms and teaching organic composting techniques. This involved mixing manure with chopped sugar cane, banana plant husks and wood, a chance for all, no matter what age, to get stuck in and get smelly and dirty - in a few months they will follow up to check on the progress of the composting project. The farmland in that particular area isn't that fertile due to largescale deforestation and soil erosion.

It was then back to Yopal for the second of Espacio's workshops on our pen-pal scheme. It was a good chance for those signing up to the scheme to learn something about UK culture and living conditions and dispel any media-influenced preconceptions they may have, as well as the protection element of the scheme. What struck me about those attending both this and the human rights workshop was the willingness of some to talk about their lives and communities to me, a stranger. Perhaps this was because they hadn't had the secure spaces to do so previously.

One guy told me how he had been kidnapped by paramilitaries a few years ago after being falsely accused of guerilla links by an informer, was tortured for a month, which involved having his hands tied, being hung from beams and told he would be executed the next day, before being released with permanent disability. He has since been unable to work, and although registered disabled and entitled to help has only received a carton of provisions worth around 50,ooo pesos (16GBP) - he said most of such assistence goes to family and friends of those doing the handing out. A displaced farmer with two young children told me he works irregularly on short term contracts, for the local council or on local farms. At 7GBP a day the council pays better than the farmers who pay the minimum wage of 4.50GBP.

The trip back was delayed by a massive hold-up on route when an articulated lorry got stuck in the mud, blocking all traffic for hours - this is a common occurence in the rainy season. Fortunately we had just started the trip and so decided to spend another night enjoying more of the hospitality of local farmers in the hills - the bus driver wasn't so friendly but we eventually managed to recover some of the cost of the full journey we had paid.

 I read in the paper today that the first land has been handed back to displaced farmers under the 2005 Justicia y Paz law. This was after the 95 families had spent 13 years spent in homelessness on being forcibly removed by paramilitaries.

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