USF’s University Ministry has launched “The Observatory,” a project created to follow the work of and media reaction to Colombia’s “Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition.”
The Commission began its work on Nov. 1, and USF students, with the Associate Director for Immersion Luis “Kique” Bazan, will be tracking its progress and will produce a monthly report to be shared with the USF community and media outlets.
The Truth Commision was created through a 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and will operate for three years. The purpose of the Commission is to help victims of the violence heal from their traumas through setting up hearings for as many cases as possible. It operates externally from the country’s judicial system and cannot convict individuals, but rather serves to clarify the truth.
“USF is a place where we can really explore our passion, if we are really passionate about it,” Bazan said. “If we are not passionate about it, then we expect other people to do it. With ‘The Observatory,’ that’s what’s going on — [this is] a group of students that wanted to be involved.”
Over the course of 50 years, over 200,000 Colombians were killed in the country’s civil war, with millions more displaced. The decades of violence affected countless lives through incomprehensible violence, forced displacement, kidnappings, sexual violence, disappearances and other human rights violations.
Students at Pontificia Universidad de Javeriana de Bogotá have been tracking the Truth Commission, and according to Assistant Director for Immersion Mauricio Diaz De Leon, USF students in “The Observatory” will work alongside the students from Bogotá. There is a chance that USF students will be taking a trip down to Colombia in May 2019 in order to share their findings from the research and receive feedback from the students in Bogotá.
“What Kique wanted to start was to hire three students that would look at what [the students in Colombia] would produce,” Diaz De Leon said. “But also get a student who would look at the news sources from the community and the cities and then interpret those.”
“It’s a social justice issue in itself, and we see a lot of world issues in which we say, ‘Oh, wow, this good thing happened,’” sophomore international studies major Kerent Benjumea said. “But how good was it, really? How did it really affect people?”
Benjumea first heard about the ministry’s project at an Arrupe Immersion meeting in spring 2018, and she felt it was a fitting opportunity. She hopes to go into human rights in the future, but she said she also has personal connection to the conflict: her grandparents and her uncles were killed in Colombia during the civil war.
“It’s really relevant to my life,” Benjumea said. “Just hearing about it I felt I had a perspective I wanted to share, and this was also another way to learn more about what’s going on.”
Bazan said he has never met a Colombian who has not been affected by the violence.
“We want to keep the government accountable,” Bazan said. “We have to be in places where we are [here] for others. We are doing this because it’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
For more information regarding The Observatory, email Luis Bazan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hayley Burcher contributed to the reporting of this story.