The long-running conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) had a major impact on the lives of everyday citizens who became caught up in the fighting. Many became the victim of atrocities by one side or the other or were simply caught in the crossfire of a conflict which raged for half a century. In the face of such violence, efforts both local and international made significant progress in limiting the impact of the armed conflict on civilians. In 1987, the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) began working to protect human rights in the city of Barrancabermeja. After beginning to investigate human rights violations and the murder of a local politician, many CREDHOS staff were killed in 1991 and 1992. A few years later, PBI established an office in Barrancabermeja and began accompanying CREDHOS activities.1 Almost immediately, they were forced to activate their Emergency Response Network, which summoned the attention of several European states. By protecting groups that are campaigning for an end to the conflict, PBI helped to amplify the message of peace in Colombia while also helping to shrink the ‘impunity space’ in which people involved in the conflict could harm civilians.2
In 1996, the village of San Jose de Apartado and the surrounding area became embroiled in the ongoing armed conflict. In response, the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace (one of the oldest Colombian human rights NGOs) organised a series of workshops that culminated with the formation of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó on 23 March 1997.3 The Community pledged not to participate in the conflict and served as a model for many other areas that were affected by the violence. While the Peace Communities have suffered many attacks over the years, they helped to reduce the impact of the armed conflict on innocent civilians. PBI has provided protective accompaniment to the Peace Community since 1997. Although an armed conflict was neither prevented nor ended, the efforts helped to reduce the impact of the fighting on the Colombian population.