BOGOTA – In Colombia there were at least 987 violations of international human rights law (IHRL) in 2019, according to a tally presented on Wednesday by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that reveals a resurgence of violence in the last three years despite the peace pact signed by the government and the country’s largest leftist guerrilla organization in 2016.
The report prepared by the ICRC on the continuing violations of IHRL points up the difficulties the organization has in getting into rural communities and engaging in dialogue with armed groups.
“The humanitarian situation has deteriorated for civilians. Over the last year, our teams noted 987 violations of international humanitarian law and other humanitarian rules,” Christoph Harnisch, the head of the ICRC in Colombia, said at a press conference.
“The majority were serious incidents such as threats, murders, acts of sexual violence and recruitment of children. Civilians are still suffering from the worst consequences of armed conflict and violence. In many cases, victims say nothing about what is happening because they are afraid of reprisals,” he added. “Life without fear is overdue in Colombia.”
The scenario is complex because of the extreme poverty, unsatisfied needs and disputes among armed groups in Colombian provinces such as Choco, Nariño, Arauca and Cordoba.
The resurgence in armed acts shows that the promises of peace still have not materialized in the country’s most vulnerable regions where there has been no comprehensive consolidation of the presence of state institutions and where the arrival of migrants presents new challenges, the report said.
Of the 987 IHRL violations learned of firsthand by the 13 ICRC offices in Colombia, 77 percent were threats, murders, acts of sexual violence and the recruitment of minors by armed groups.
The figures, the ICRC said, show that the abuses committed during the internal war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, which was ended with the 2016 peace pact, have not decreased and have a particular character in each region of the country, the ICRC said.
In 2019, the ICRC registered 352 victims of explosive devices and antipersonnel mines, including 159 civilians, figures that concern the organization because these devices destroy families and have a permanent effect on the lives of victims who survive.
The “disappearing” of people remains a significant problem and an immense challenge in Colombia, with the ICRC documenting 93 cases in 2019 and the problem continuing to be a problems of the “present” and not of the “past,” according to Harnisch.
According to the ongoing tally, more than 83,000 people have been disappeared since the violence in Colombia began decades ago, and it shows no sign of letting up.
The report says that although information was available on 913 of the 2,158 missing people the ICRC is seeking, only 116 cases were able to be resolved.
Because of the fear of reprisals by armed groups against the civilian population and the authorities’ inability to fully protect these people, the ICRC has found it difficult to engage in dialogue with the population about humanitarian principles.
“The scenario that we are seeing today is more complicated than last year. Armed groups are more fragmented and the conflict is developing in new and different ways in each area. These circumstances make it difficult to pursue our dialogue with all armed groups in order to promote the respect of humanitarian standards and protect civilians,” Harnisch added.
Although last year, mass displacements of people diminished, there were still a reported 25,303 people who were displaced, compared to 27,780 in 2018, this figure representing a marked rise from the 13,809 registered in 2016.
The provinces with the most such victims were Nariño, Choco, Cordoba, Valle del Cauca and Norte de Santander.
Harnisch said that despite ongoing efforts by the Colombian government, health care personnel and health infrastructure are often targeted by the armed groups, with 281 such incidents documented in 2019.
These attacks place at risk the ability of humanitarian entities to save lives, the report said.