Photos by Simon Murphy
Introduction by Billy Briggs

Colombia is a benighted land ravaged by civil war where paramilitaries and state security forces have committed atrocities with impunity for almost 50 years.

Indeed, Latin America’s longest running conflict has claimed up to 600,000 lives with the majority of killings perpetrated by the army, police and right wing paramilitary groups linked to the state.

Violence began during the mid-1960s when there was an uprising against the government by left wing guerrilla groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC and other groups claimed to be fighting for the rights of the poor and providing people with social justice through communism.

In the early 1980s, right-wing paramilitary groups, initially hired to protect drug cartels, took the civil war to a bloody new level while at the same time FARC became increasingly involved in the lucrative cocaine trade to fund its campaign.

At time of writing, peace talks are ongoing between the Colombian government and FARC in the Cuban capital, Havana, but fighting continues in rural parts of the struggling nation.

The main security threat today comes from criminal groups known locally as bacrims, comprising of ex-paramilitaries who in recent years became major players in drug trafficking and extortion. and the situation remains dire for millions of Colombians. Sexual violence – a crime perpetrated by all armed actors in the conflict including the state – is endemic and since 1985 more than 5.6m Colombians have been internally displaced.

To bear witness and document the current situation, Scottish photographer Simon Murphy recently visited Colombia where he met vulnerable Native American and Afro-Colombian communities who’ve been victims of gross human rights violations.

Indigenous people have paid a heavy price for many years and those who’ve suffered include the Embera tribe who inhabit the idyllic rainforest settlement of La Coquera.

Murphy’s photo essay provides a snapshot of their fragile existence.

Simon Murphy’s trip to Colombia was funded by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) which is the official aid charity of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

SCIAF works in 15 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, helping some of the poorest communities in the world to recover from hunger, poverty, war, natural disasters and disease.

This year the focus of SCIAF’S Lent campaign was Colombia where it is providing seeds, tools, livestock and training to vulnerable Native American and Afro-Colombian communities. SCIAF is also helping people to stand up for their human rights through education and support so they can reclaim land lost to them in war.

To make a donation to SCIAF’s work in Colombia and around the world, visit www.sciaf.org.uk or call 0141 354 5555.

For more details on Simon Murphy please visit – www.simonmurphyphotographer.com

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