• Colombia: Still a long way from home | Debora Barros

    04 Oct 2013

    Like the Wayuu, the Tule people of Colombia also deal with discrimination and violation of human rights, an experience shared by many indigenous people. Photo: B. Heger, UNHCR

    When rebel forces killed the women in my community, our lives changed forever.

    In my culture, as an indigenous Wayuu in Colombia, women are sacred. We are the ones who transmit our language, traditions and lineage to future generations. To kill a mother is to kill the culture and the life of a community.

    As a child, I grew up without fear. I played in the desert with my cousins without any feeling of danger. It was a wonderful time. I became a happy, smart and organized woman and was chosen by my community to study law at university. When I came back during vacation, I would explain western music and traditions to the members of my community.

    But on 18 April 2004, rebels came and attacked my village. They raped, beheaded and killed the women by making grenades explode in their faces. It is too horrible to speak about. When we return to our destroyed village, we cry as if it had happened yesterday. Nine years later, we still don't know why this happened.

    But the 102 families in community have remained strong and united. With help in advocating for our rights from organizations like UNDP, we have convinced mayors to include victims' rights in their policies and laws. And we now have the tools and the knowledge to help other victims. My organization, called Wayuumunsurat, which means 'Women Weaving Peace, ' in La Guajira, Colombia, speaks out against domestic violence, sexual violence and human rights abuses. We have also published a book on sexual violence, a subject that it is considered taboo to discuss in my culture.

    I now feel empowered and confident to speak about victims' rights. And my community is always behind me. I have been authorized to speak on the behalf of the 102 families who have lost their homes to return to their communities. Whatever decisions we take, we consult everyone in the community. Though we now live together in neighbouring Venuezuela, we all hope to go home within the next year. We must keep our culture and traditions alive.

    Talk to us: How can we help women become more involved in the peace process?


About the author
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Debora Barros, attorney and Ombudsman for Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, speaks out against human rights violations toward indigenous minorities in Colombia.

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