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ICC Note: A recent report, published by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, exposes the ongoing religious freedom violations in Colombia through a series of interview with various church leaders. Despite an anticipated peace agreement between the guerrilla group FARC-EP and Colombia’s government, the church leaders are not expecting significant change to take place. In regions where these illegally armed groups are present, Christians often face severe restrictions on their religious liberties and persecution, ranging from extortion to displacement.

03/01/2016 Colombia (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) – A new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) highlights ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief in Colombia, which are expected to continue despite this month’s anticipated peace agreement between the FARC-EP guerrilla group and the Colombian government.

During a recent fact-finding assignment to the country, CSW met with and interviewed church leaders from five regional departments (similar to provinces or states) where there is a strong presence of illegal armed groups. The church leaders, some of whom had been recently forcibly displaced, said that severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief imposed by left-leaning guerrilla groups including the FARC-EP and ELN remain in place. Neo-paramilitary groups, including the Urabeños, also continue to threaten church leaders who refuse to cooperate with them and target churches for extortion. A number of the church leaders reported having received threats from guerrillas and neo-paramilitary groups.

The church leaders told CSW that in the months leading up to the expected peace agreement both the ELN and the Urabeños have been aggressively moving into territories up to now controlled by the FARC-EP. CSW also saw evidence that local FARC-EP commanders are working closely with the ELN and in some cases appear to be handing over power, while some rank and file FARC-EP members are transferring over to the ELN and other illegal armed groups. Church leaders told CSW that they expect to see little improvement in their situation whether or not the peace agreement is signed. One indigenous Christian leader said, “The guerrillas are making peace but as I see it, the peace they are making is for over there, but it makes it more complicated here.”

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