Despite the four-decade long armed conflict that has affected every sector of Colombian society, Colombian citizens have remained firm and have made active strides towards peace. In 1997, 10 million Colombians – out of a total population of 45 million – registered in a symbolic vote favoring a negotiated settlement to war. This historic project was organized by non-governmental peace organizations, in particular the broad coalition, Redepaz. Redepaz and the Permanent Peace Assembly have joined with other organizations to form the umbrella peace group Liaison Committee. These groups strongly condemn the violence of all armed groups and urge the government to engage with them in serious negotiations. In 2000, Colombian peace groups convened a meeting of a broad sector of Colombian society and the international community in Costa Rica to support and shape the peace process.
In the absence of a larger, national peace process, civil society initiatives continue to search for ways to encourage the resolution of conflict in Colombia. Religious and non-governmental organizations are engaging in dialogues with local paramilitary and guerrilla forces, are developing alternatives to violence for youth, and advocating for increased social investment by the Colombian government and international agencies. As a result of these valiant efforts and their stance against violence, civil society leaders often face extreme threats and intimidation. It is necessary that national authorities, as well as the international community protect these groups and support civil society initiatives as the framework for a larger peace process.
USOC is committed to working closely with members of Colombian civil society, to promoting protection for them, and to ensuring that their proposals for peace and development be shard with the U.S. public and U.S. policy makers.