Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, finished his historic state visit to the UK by meeting Colombian women from across London who are working for peace, and renewing his commitment to find a peaceful solution to end over 50 years of war in Colombia.
President Santos met the women, many of whom were forced to flee the conflict, at a community event organised by the Colombian embassy as part of his three-day state visit to the UK.
The women are all members of the ‘Truth, Memory and Reconciliation Commission of Women of the Colombian Diaspora’ (TMRC); an initiative supported by Conciliation Resources. The initiative brings together women to share their stories and memories, and to claim a voice in Colombia’s peace process. Helga Flamtermesky is Conciliation Resources’ Colombia Programme Associate:
The stories of Colombia’s migrant community need to be included in the country’s peace process. This event was an important opportunity for the women to get their voices heard, and we are delighted that President Santos recognised and acknowledged their struggles and their hopes for peace.
We want to participate in building Colombia’s future, we want to ‘stop being mothers and daughters of war, to become mothers, daughters and grandmothers of peace’.
During the event, President Santos spoke of his determination to continue working for peace in Colombia, and the importance of putting the victims, both in Colombia and around the world, at the heart of the peace process. He said that listening to the testimonies of victims of the conflict gave him the courage to continue working for peace.
For the women, sharing these testimonies is also an important part of the healing process. Lawyer Marta Hinestroza is a member of the TMRC and was granted asylum in the UK in 2002 after fleeing Colombia because of death threats from paramilitaries. She says:
On a psychological level, the TMRC has been really enriching for all of us because it involves remembering, which is healing. We remember those painful episodes in our lives in order to have a present that looks to the future, to build a better future.
At the event, the women of the TMRC all wore white and held white Colombian flowers as a sign of peace. They presented President Santos with a collection of their own poems – stories of migration and their hopes for peace in Colombia. Marta continues:
This meeting with the President is the beginning of something. The Colombian government now know that we exist, that we are decided, that we are able to do things – we can now express ourselves.