Sara Vélez Gómez

Bogotá, Colombia


„I believe in peace in my country and that we can take advantage of the opportunity that the peace process has given to my generation. I want to do as much as I can to contribute to Colombia’s new path.“

On first steps

„Believe in yourself and act with empathy. Give all you have when taking these first steps.“


peace activist & law student

„I’m having dinner alone over there. Do you mind if I join your table?“ With these words Sara opened the door to one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had on my trip so far. It was a warm evening at the local music festival in Riohacha, the capital of La Guajira in Colombia’s northeast, when the 25-year-old told me her story.

„Soldiers with heavy weapons stood around the school to protect us.“

That was when Sara attended high school in Armenia, a city in the center of Colombia. As students from an American school in Colombia they were perfect targets for kidnappings of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). After she finished high school, Sara studied in France and Luxembourg. „There I realized for the first time, that being surrounded by military in everyday life was not normal in other countries. Everything felt so peaceful here in Europe. I wondered how it would be if Colombia could live in peace too“, she tells how a dream was born.

Background: The Colombian Conflict

Back in the 1960’s communism arrived in Colombia, made left-wing-militants stronger and led to the foundation of the FARC in 1964 – Colombia’s most famous guerrilla group, but certainly not the only one. It was by then when an asymmetric war began between the government, right-wing paramilitary groups, drug syndicates and the left-wing guerrillas of the FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army) to increase influence in territory. The scale of the suffering has been huge. More than 220.000 people died in the past fifty years, mostly civilians. Massive violations of human rights and terror attacks were reported. More than six million people were forced to leave their homes. That makes for the second largest population of internally displaced people in the world (Syria is number one). As peace negotiations of four years between the government and the FARC have been successful, a peace deal was signed on November 24th 2016. But the road to peace is long in Colombia, for there are still groups that haven’t agreed on the deal and Colombia’s people are divided – in those who said “yes” to the peace deal with the FARC and those who said “no”.

Sara continued her studies of law in the university of Bogotá and experienced this division front row. „Classmates and even teacher made devaluing comments on me being interested in the peace process, such as: ‚You´re going to put on your boots when you finish university‘.“ Means, she would go into the jungle, help the Guerillas and would be one of them soon anyway.

Defending human rights in Colombia can be dangerous

“Many leaders have been killed in the last year. However, I have not felt my life in danger. Acting from Bogotá gives me much more security than in the regions.“ Despite the risks, Sara wanted to do it though, come hell or high water. Agreeing on the peace deal with the FARC might seem the right thing to do for those who look at it from an outer perspective. In fact the story is much more complex and many Colombians don’t believe that this road will lead to peace eventually.

„Colombians are used to fifty years of conflict, many of them don’t believe in the peace process“, Sara states. Some conversations of my own with Colombians confirm that. Many „love“ the ex-president Alvaro Uribe, who was strictly against peace with the Guerillas and „hate“ the current one Juan Manuel Santos, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts in the peace process. When Colombians were asked to ratify the peace deal, not even 40 % went to vote. From these more than fifty percent said „no“ to peace. The backing could hardly be weaker, the country is divided. Sara still can’t discuss politics with her family.

Not quite a great environment for Sara’s longing for change.

„I want to contribute my passion for people and peace and my skills as a lawyer to the peace process. One big advantage is: in Colombia people listen rather to lawyers than to anybody else.“

How to follow a vision of peace when half of the country doesn’t believe in it?

„I just didn’t care what anyone else said, neither at university, nor amongst my friends or at home. My parents were scared, friendships faced a challenge. That was hard, but I tried to put all my attention on my own goals, such as meeting war-affected communities, understanding the conflict better and developing my law-skills in the right directions. That worked well for me.“

In September 2016, only fifteen days before the referendum was held, Sara got offered an opportunity. „Do you want to help us in the peace process?“ she was asked from a colleague from former research projects. Needless to mention what her answer was. „Suddenly, in November 2016, there was a peace agreement with little popularity, and what now? The government was not prepared and overwhelmed with this new situation. A lot of work had to be done, we started everything from scratch“, Sara draws the frame. „The first three months we worked without getting paid. I had another job to be financially able to do this and I was writing my master thesis. I usually worked until midnight and started at eight again.“

Sara is now traveling through Colombia’s prisons

„1345 ex-FARC-people who are sitting there submitted to a cooperation in the peace process – The Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia. I am one of twenty persons who are meeting and explaining them what kind of engagement is asked from them and build the connection to the Jurisdiction.“

A long road to peace, but first steps are taken

The poorest of Colombia’s people saw their perspective in joining the Guerillas, got a weapon and learned to kill. Many of them were recruited when they were kids. Now that the FARC have officially demobilized, giving them new perspectives plays a key role in the peace process. „It is hard work and one of the biggest challenges we face. I believe in change though. I believe in peace.“

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