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BREAKING NEWS: Colombia Mennonite Churches call for prayer and action


April 7, 2010
-Deborah Froese with files from Rebecca Bartel and Jenny Dillon

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Colombia's Mennonite churches are calling on congregations in Canada and the U.S. to join the cry for justice, peace and healing in Colombia during the Days of Prayer and Action for Peace on April 18 and 19 under the theme, Face the Displaced.

According to the Colombian Commission for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), Colombia is now home to 4,915,579 internally displaced persons (IDPs). This is the largest registered number of IDPs, now surpassing Sudan, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

A potential trade deal between Canada and Colombia may exacerbate violence around land rights and add to this already massive displacement of Colombians. In response, Mennonite Church Canada is inviting individuals and congregations to support a call to prayer and action for peace in Colombia issued by Rebecca Bartel, Mennonite Church Canada Associate and Mennonite Central Committee worker in Colombia on behalf of Colombia Mennonites.

On Wednesday, March 10, Bill C-23 calling for a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia was put forth as Parliament’s first order of business by the Honourable Peter Van Loan, Minister of International Trade, and the Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Veteran's Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture).

On March 31, the Canadian Labour Congress reported that he Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement continues to be one of the federal government’s top priorities.  Humanitarians in and supportive of Colombia stated that the process leading up to Bill C-23 has not included proper impact assessments among marginalized groups in society, such as indigenous and afro-Colombian people groups.
Despite Colombian Government affirmations that paramilitary structures have been dismantled and that democratic security policies have made the country safer, partner organizations with Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Central Committee have documented continuing human rights abuses in many territories throughout the country where paramilitary continue to operate. 

Bartel reported that in September of 2009, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, visited Colombia. Sekaggya declared that “patterns of harassment and persecution against human rights defenders, and often their families, continue to exist in Colombia. Some of these violations are allegedly to be attributed to guerrillas, new illegal armed groups and paramilitary groups which human rights defenders say have not been dismantled… according to several sources, law enforcement authorities have committed violations against human rights defenders too, or have shown complaisance with violations committed by private actors against defenders... I am in particular deeply concerned about the widespread phenomenon of threats from unknown authors against human rights defenders and their families.”

“This is not an environment which is conducive to healthy foreign investment, nor is it an environment in which Colombians will benefit from greater Canadian exports competing in local markets in unfair economic conditions,” Bartel wrote in an email advisory. “People of faith all over the world are calling for international trade and investment systems that respect and promote the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God, ensure the well-being and development of people in all nations as children of God, foster gender and racial equity before a God who loves and values each of us equally, and lead to environmental sustainability, for which we are charged as stewards of God's creation.” 

Pray for the people of Colombia and take action for them by raising your concerns about Bill C-23 and its potential impact.  See for sample letters to send to Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, and for your MP.

For more information from Mennonite Central Committee about Days of Prayer and Action for Peace, see