Photo: Flavia Carpio, Unsplash

Human rights defenders bring important perspectives to Colombian peace process


Human rights activists bring attention to stories about violence that are otherwise silenced and steer protests for political change. But this can also reinvigorate conflicts with elites. A new doctoral thesis from the School of Global Studies analyses the perspectives of the human rights movement on the current peace process in Colombia.

The Colombian government and the former guerrilla group FARC-EP envisioned to make history when they sealed the 2016 Peace Agreement. The beginning of the peace process ended one of the longest standing armed confrontations in human history and also promised far-reaching reforms to tackle the structural causes of protracted violence in the country. But this promise has been eclipsed by political polarization in Colombia, serious setbacks in the implementation process, and a surge of atrocities against human rights defenders and community leaders.

Portrait image of Richard Georgi, dark combed back, blue eyes, smiling.
Richard Georgi defended his doctoral thesis on 14 January, 2022.
Photo: Johan Wingborg

Richard Georgi’s thesis Political Imaginaries amidst a Peace Deferred. The Politics of Human Rights Activism in the 2016 Colombian Peace Process aims to provide a deeper understanding of a peace process that, on the surface, seems full of contradictions.

“Human rights activists represent a key oppositional voice in Colombia that has tirelessly mobilized for the transformative agenda of the 2016 Peace Agreement. Yet, research has, so far, only engaged little with their evaluation of a peace process that is at risk of dying down even before it has been fully born,” says Richard Georgi.

Georgi’s thesis builds on over fifty in-depth interviews with human rights defenders, six months of fieldwork in different regions of Colombia, and the analysis of close to one thousand documents published by Colombian human rights organizations throughout the peace process.

His conclusions include that human rights activism is profoundly political when it brings attention to stories about violence that otherwise may be silenced. In this way, argues Georgi, the human rights activists help to deconstruct existing discourses that legitimize political orders during armed conflict.

“As one example, I discuss how communities, which declare themselves as remaining ‘neutral’ in the armed conflict, break the logic of ‘us’-against ‘them’ that dominates discourses of war and armed conflict. I also lift examples of how activists, who work on cases of enforced disappearances and try to identify bodies in mass graves, work to recuperate a memory of violence that questions the tale of a heroic military struggle against guerrilla terrorists,” says Richard Georgi.

His research also shows that many human rights activists in Colombia believe that the 2016 Peace Agreement unsettled a narrative where the sole reason for conflict and ravaging violence lies with the “terrorist threat” posed by left-wing guerrillas. Instead of acknowledging the Peace Agreement’s recognition of structural causes and shared historical guilt, elites and societal sectors in Colombia have politically benefitted from an ever-more authoritarian political order forged in violence and legitimized by the struggle against ‘internal enemies’.

“Listening to the testimonies of those who have become a target for defending the process at the forefront helps to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities and conundrums that have shaken the post-accord scenario, not only in Colombia but in many countries around the globe,” says Richard Georgi.

TEXT: Linda Genborg

More information

Richard Georgi successfully defended his doctoral thesis at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg on 14 January, 2022.

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