PBI-Colombia and CREDHOS, 25 years of accompaniment and defending human rights
The first PBI team arrived in Bogota in October 1994 and by January 1995 PBI had established a presence in Barrancabermeja in the Magdalena Medio region after an invitation by CREDHOS, the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights.
The book Unarmed Bodyguards notes, “In the Magdalena Medio, PBI faced its first serious challenge only a few months after installing a team.”
On April 9, 1995, two PBI volunteers accompanied a delegation, which included CREDHOS, to investigate recent abuses in rural areas of Sabana de Torres.
The book tells the story: “As evening approached, the group received a false report of a massacre, urging them to travel immediately to a nearby area of considerable paramilitary activity. Suspicious of its veracity, the delegation did not respond.”
After a subsequent investigation, police sources confirmed that paramilitary organizations had planned to ambush the delegation.
“PBI chapters around the world communicated their concern to their own governments and their embassies in Colombia.”
This spurred representatives from three European embassies in Colombia to meet with civilian and military officials where they expressed their support for PBI.
“This high-level intervention made it clear to local authorities and, presumably, through internal military channels, to the paramilitary groups that had allegedly planned the ambush, the potential political consequences of attacking PBI.”
“In May 1995, only a month after the ambush scare, CREDHOS published a report naming the armed forces as a major violator of human rights in the Magdalena Medio region. Immediately, its staff began to notice suspicious vehicles following them, and its office receive numerous telephone threats.”
“Up to this point, PBI’s accompaniment [of CREDHOS] had been sporadic. CREDHOS now asked for a constant presence in its office.”
“[On June 30] an unknown man lingered outside the office all day. When a PBI volunteer approached and asked him what he was doing there, the man refused to answer and left. [Then] a man identifying himself as a journalist telephoned, asking for PBI. When a PBI volunteer took the telephone, the man asked how long he planned to stay in the office. It seemed clear to PBI that someone was verifying whether the office was accompanied.”
PBI’s accompaniment then became continuous and soon after the suspicious men disappeared from the neighbourhood and the harassment declined significantly.
CREDHOS had had armed escorts from the DAS (the Colombian security service agency) since 1994. That’s because prior to 1993 six CREDHOS activists had been assassinated and most of the surviving directorate had fled into exile.
Not long after PBI arrived in Barrancabermeja CREDHOS made the decision to dispense with the protection from the DAS. CREDHOS member Osiris Bayter has explained, “The psychological tension of having an armed man at your side is unbearable, especially when you believe that it is not weapons that save lives.”
PBI-Canada is honoured to be hosting a visit to Canada this November by CREDHOS President Iván Madero, alongside Julia Figueroa and Andrea Nocove from CCALCP.
Iván joined the CREDHOS Board of Directors in 1993, had to live in exile in Spain beginning in January 2001 as right-wing paramilitary forces entered Barrancabermeja, and returned to Colombia in 2010 and became the president of CREDHOS.
To see a 2-minute PBI video with English subtitles of Iván talking about the significance of PBI accompaniment, please click here.
Photo: PBI’s Hannah Matthews with Iván Madero and Andrés Ortiz from CREDHOS.