“The students, they gave me the opportunity to be heard, to be understood, and in a way rearmed my struggle and give me a new energy”
In the fall of 2007 the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College welcomed 2007 Oak Fellow Nancy Sanchez of Colombia.
Nancy has been involved for nearly two decades in human rights work in Putumayo, one of the most conflictive areas of Colombia torn between several fronts of the guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and paramilitary forces.
She works tirelessly to document and denounce political violence, and for the development of an autonomous community. She also collaborates with local civic and peace initiatives and organizations, and supports the networks of women, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians.
Nancy’s work has been recognized by Amnesty International; she is also a recipient of the Letellier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies in recognition of the critical role her work has played not only in Colombia but in U.S. policy debates.
“The students, they gave me the opportunity to be heard, to be understood, and in a way rearmed my struggle and give me a new energy,” Sánchez said.
During her Colby fellowship, she wanted her students to understand that Plan Colombia, a U.S.-funded plan to combat drug tracking as well as internal conflict, “was an excuse to intervene in the internal armed conflict in Colombia.” From her Oak teaching, she still remembers reading the comment “you rock!” in a student evaluation and holding a big celebration, Fiesta Colombiana, complete with Colombian musicians from Boston and Colombian food that Sánchez and her students prepared. Sharing a picture of her Colby hoodie via Skype, she said, “They gave me a beautiful gift that I keep by my side.”
The decades-long internal conflict was still ongoing when she returned to Colombia. “Between 2008 and 2012, I got many challenges in my work of human rights,” she said. “I managed this situation but it was so hard to come back to Colombia.”
She was part of the Minga Association, a human rights collective. In 2012 she worked at the Andean Parliament—the region’s “European Union.” The same year, she attended the Women Peacemakers Program at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice in San Diego, Calif., where her life story was collected in a publication. Now she’s working as the coordinator of the Alliance of Women Weavers of Life of Putumayo—a coalition of women’s organizations across 13 municipalities of Putumayo, Colombia. In 2011 she said they had over 40 women’s organizations, but now it’s more than 80, with almost 1,200 women leaders. “I think now it’s the biggest network of women’s organization in Colombia, recognized by the government.” After the 2016 peace agreement, the situation improved, but some challenges are still remaining, Sánchez said. In 2019 at least 120 leaders have been killed in different parts of the country while defending their land against multinational mining and oil companies. “In three years more than three hundred leaders have been killed,” she said. “Now we have two indigenous women threatened by armed actors because they defend their territories against some multinational oil company.”
In 2019 she helped submit Putumayo’s rst report to the truth commission, documenting 25 cases of sexual violence in just one of the villages that was taken by the paramilitary before the agreement. “We have more villages with hundreds of cases of sexual violence. We have now documented that for the truth commission and the special justice for the peace,” she said. Now the women are speaking up about what has happened to them—forced disappearances, massacres, systematic sexual violence.
“We are really happy for peace,” she said, “but the post conflict is really complex.”