The government’s peace accord with the former FARC rebels presents a historic opportunity to work towards the construction of a democratic Colombia that addresses the wrongs of the past and charts a new course toward equality, justice, and prosperity. At the heart of this process are human rights defenders and civil society organizations, who play a vital role in addressing the underlying economic and social root causes of violence and holding stakeholders accountable to the commitments of the accords.

Speakers at the Colombia Peace Forum event on February 14, 2018.

Despite progress in the accords’ implementation, ensuring human right defenders have the ability to play this critical role remains uncertain. The peace process is being jeopardized by the expansion of organized criminal groups and the remaining ELN armed rebels into territories previously controlled by the FARC. The recent wave of attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders remains a critical challenge to security.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) hosted the leading Colombian human rights defenders. They discussed the challenges they face in their communities and the role they play in engaging regional institutions, local authorities and diverse social sectors to secure lasting peace in Colombia. This year’s speakers were the winners of the 2017 Colombia National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights granted by the international community and organized by the Swedish humanitarian agency Diakonia. 

USIP, LAWGEF and WOLA served as jurors for the 2017 prize and will co-sponsor the event. Review the conversation on Twitter with #ColombiaPeaceForum.


Carla Koppell
Vice President, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, U.S. Institute of Peace

Steve Hege, Moderator
Senior Program Officer, U.S. Institute of Peace
Juror, National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights

Enrique Chimonja
Winner, Defender of the Year, Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz

Angélica Ortiz
Winner, Social Collective Process of the Year, Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuú

Iván Madero Vergel
Winner, Collective Process of the Year, NGO Level, Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CREDHOS)

Socorro Acero Bautista
Winner, Recognition of “Lifetime” Defender
Comité Permanente por la defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Colombia (CPDH)

Gimena Sánchez, Commentator
Director for the Andes, Washington Office on Latin America
Juror, National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights

Lisa Haugaard, Commentator
Executive Director, Latin American Working Group
Juror, National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights

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