CAFOD joins European peace delegation in Colombia

 CAFOD staff, politicians and Catholic aid agency leaders from around Europe are in Colombia this week to reinforce an international drive by the Catholic Church to bring peace to the conflict embittered country. Colombia is one of the most violent countries in the world. Decades of civil war have made two million people homeless and it has an average of 30,000 murders a year. The delegation from nine European countries includes Leeds MP John Battle and CAFOD's Head of Latin America Clare Dixon representing England and Wales. CAFOD is one of the leaders of a three-year campaign launched by Caritas Internationalis that seeks to highlight the forgotten conflict. Clare Dixon said: "We want to show politicians the real situation facing the people of Colombia. We'll be looking at some of the underlying causes of the conflict, such as the gap between rich and poor - Colombia has the second highest levels of inequality on the continent after Brazil. Poverty and violence have caused a crisis in Colombian society, a situation make worse by drug trafficking and corruption. "CAFOD is focusing its efforts over the next two years on advocacy work as well as continuing our long-term development work with communities. It is also supporting and encouraging the Church in Colombia to defend human rights and work towards peace and reconciliation. We have to show that with a concerted effort from all parties peace is possible." The visit is being hosted by the Colombian Bishops' Conference and Caritas Colombia. Church leaders working on peace initiatives often face death threats and attacks. The delegation will be visiting areas that experience high levels of violence and conflict. This is either because of army operations against the guerrillas, or because of fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries for control of mineral resources. The main victims of the conflict are the civilian population, especially the poor. The delegation will focus its attention on the effects of the conflict on civilians and the human rights situation - massacres and torture are among the abuses regularly committed, as well as the targeting of human rights defenders and trade unionists. They will also look at the current efforts to build peace through negotiation and demobilisation and the need to ensure justice, truth and reparation for the victims. A visit to the UK by a Colombian Bishop is expected in May.

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