Colombia: rights situation grim despite peace talks

Colombia's humanitarian situation remains severe in spite of ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the United Nations said in a report released Feb. 12. Raising concern over illegal armed groups not incuded in the dialogue, it found that the grim situation is likely to persist even if a peace deal is struck in the talks. The report, entitled "The Humanitarian Dimension in the Aftermath of a Peace Agreement: proposals for the international community in Colombia," was commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and supported by the Norwegian Centre for Peace-building (NOREF). At least 347,286 people were displaced in Colombia between November 2012, when the talks began, and September 2014, the report found. Nearly half of these displacements (48%) resulted from FARC or ELN actions, with 19% blamed on neo-paramilitary groups. The report also found that 62 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2014.

States the report: "The negotiations have taken place while the conflict has continued… [O]ther armed groups should be added to this scenario and are having serious effects on the civilian population…. [T]hese groups are responsible for a growing part of the humanitarian effects on the population." (Colombia Reports, Feb. 12)

A reckoning with past abuses has been a part of the peace process. Selected by the National University, the Catholic Church and the UN, a total of 60 victims of the armed conflict have taken part in the talks in Havana. The victims were able to directly confront leaders of the groups responsible for the violence with the details of their suffering. (DW, Feb. 14)

The FARC publcly vowed on Feb. 12 to immediately and indefinitely ban the recruitment of child soldiers. Until now, the FARC have formally only allowed the incorporation of recruits who are 15 and older. International humanitarian law dictates that no minor can take part in military activity. To comply with international law, the FARC pledged to "no longer incorporate, from today on, minors of 17 [or younger] in the guerilla ranks." (Colombia Reports, Feb. 14)

Colombia's official authorities are slowly moving to address the long list of crimes by state actors. The National Police force has opened an internal investigation into Brig-Gen. (ret) Fabio Alejandro Castañeda Mateus over his possible participation in the 1991 massacre of Nasa indigenous protesters at El Nilo,  Cauca. (El Espectador, Feb. 4)

Ex-congressman Julio Manzur Abdala testified before the Supreme Court of Justice on Feb. 4 over charges that he collaborated with paramilitary groups in his native Córdoba department—the latest case in the ongoing "para-politics" scandal. (El Espectador, Feb. 4)

Colombia’s second rebel group, the ELN, has released a Dutch citizen who had been kidnapped in Norte de Santander department in January, the Red Cross said Feb. 11. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 12) But days later, the government said three soliders were killed by an ELN-planted roadside bomb in Norte de Santander. The troops were supposedly on a humanitarian mission, bringing aid to a rural village. The army charged the "terrorist attack" violated international law. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 16)

Illegal armed groups remains active nearly throughout Colombia. Colombia Reports website mapped the databases of NGO Indepaz, showing which groups are active in which regions. Mapped groups include the FARC and ELN as well as neo-paramilitary groups such as the RastrojosUrabeños and Aguilas Negras. (Colombia Reports, Feb. 16)

The Colombian government now officially dubs the neo-paramilitaries "bacrim," or criminal bands; the NOREF report perfers the term "post-demobilization armed groups" (GAPD).