Colombia: free from fear
20 August 2013

A workshop about historical memory, held in Cúcuta, Colombia. You would become ‘blind’ if you forgot everything that happened – forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. (Holmes Villegas/JRS)
Her unspeakably painful experience left a deep mark on Concepción’s life, to the point that, in her own words, she has freed herself from fear.
Cúcuta, 20 August 2013  – "I would like peace, peace forever, no more war, no more killings". For Concepción*, peace essentially means justice and reconciliation and is her deepest wish and hope.

Concepción's story reflects that of many other Colombians, who have been forced to move from place to place to survive, because they live in territory contested by armed groups whose unrelenting activities have become more degrading than ever.

Concepción, a farmer, lived in the area around the Catatumbo river in Norte de Santander in northeast Colombia. Suddenly she and her family found themselves caught up in the violence. Constant threats and persecution forced them to leave their home and to go to the city of Cúcuta, on the border with Venezuela. But the worst was yet to come: Concepción's son 'disappeared' on his way to work on a farm.

In her search for the truth, Concepción found herself face to face with her son's killers, in proceedings created by the 2005 Justice and Peace Law. When she asked insistently for her son's body, a paramilitary commander owned to responsibility for his murder but said his body had been thrown into the river and was impossible to find.

This unspeakably painful experience left a deep mark on Concepción's life, to the point that, in her own words, she has "freed herself from fear". She is not afraid to uncover the truth and persevere for justice. Although she understands Colombia's transitional justice process clearly, Concepción feels this is not the kind of justice she wants. No compensation or reparation can bring back her son and her dreams.

But her wounds are healing. For seven years, Concepción and other women in her community have been meeting once a week. Through attentive and respectful listening, mutual support and prayer, they try to heal each other's wounds of war.

Aware of their rights, the women work to prevent tragedies like theirs from happening again. Part of their time together consists of driving around the streets of their community, searching for other women who have not yet embarked on the path to reconciliation, to join their shared longing and work for peace.

*Not her real name

Oscar Javier Calderón Barragán, coordinator of the JRS project in Cúcuta