Charting A New Human Rights Discourse ‘from the Territories’: Social Movements and Peace in Cauca, Colombia

by Patricia M. Rodríguez

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Peace with social justice has been elusive in Colombia, despite the series of laws and the latest peace negotiations to end the armed conflict that started in the 1960s. Instead of accepting top-down state-led legislation as the final word, grassroots movements in Cauca came together locally, regionally, and nationally to demand adherence to a minimal set of policies that brought human rights, peace, and social justice to the foreground of politics. What might civil society-centered debates over these policies and legislation mean in terms of challenging more mainstream human rights approaches and asymmetries of power in Colombia? This work draws on field research and secondary research to bring light to how solidarity-based communities and groups think about and construct alternative notions of territorial ordering and socio-economic rights. Civil society-led proposals center on demands for a “particular sort of state” to confront their dispossession (Bebbington et al. 2015, 265). At the local level, civil society-based territorial governance approaches that stress “flexible authority structures” (and not rigid rules that abide by state-led equations regarding multiculturalism, justice and territoriality) in the negotiation over territorial ordering can be a big part of the strategy of building conviviality, or coalitions. They also provide the basis on which to propose broader demands related to human rights on the ground, in a context of continued violence.

About the Author

Patricia M. Rodríguez is an Associate Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. Her research interests include ethnic, peasant, and worker mobilizations in Latin America and the possibilities and challenges of cohesive interethnic alliance-building, and its consequences for democracy, social justice, human rights, and the environment. She is working on a book manuscript that explores the quest for ‘peace in the territories’ and the ways in which alternative economic, territorial, and socio-political proposals challenge dominant actors and forces to create space for a more dignified life in the so called post-conflict period. She has recently published an article on the civic strike in Buenaventura, Colombia, ‘The People Don’t Give up Dammit’ (Dollars and Sense, November/December 2017).


Peace; Social Movements and Law; Colombia; Territorial Governance; Coalitions


Project & Publications Type: Rapoport Center Working Paper Series