Why Colombia is still living in the shadows of war

Why Colombia is still living in the shadows of war

Reducing violence in Colombia is crucial to consolidate a successful implementation of the peace process. From displacements, threats and intimidation, sexual violence and land seizures – the task ahead is monumental.

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María Alejandra Vanegas 

In spite of the advances in the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Colombia continues living in the shadows of war. Civil society is finding itself in the midst of disputes between armed groups such as criminal gangs, the ELN (the National Liberation Army) and dissidents from the FARC, which has been demonstrated in the figures of the RUV (Single Register of Victims). Throughout December 2017, around 56,000 people were affected by armed conflict according to the RUV.

The tool, which was created six years ago by the Victims’ Law, shows a fall in violent acts since the FARC and the government began negotiations in Havana. However, upon revising the figures more closely, it becomes clear that this improvement has been felt less in certain regions such as Nariño and Chocó.

The RUV shows that forced displacement was the issue that mostly affected Colombians throughout 2017.  This is followed by threats, loss of goods or property at the hands of armed groups, and offences against freedom and sexual identity. Here we identify some of the issues to be worked on throughout 2018.

There are still thousands of displaced people throughout the country

During the year of 2017, the RUV recorded 54 thousand cases of forced displacement, which represents 79% of all victims in the last year. The most affected regions are Chocó (with 9684 cases), Nariño (with 7776 cases), Norte de Santander (5512) and Antioquia (5904).

Even though more than 92 thousand cases were reported in 2016 (a little under double the cases reported in 2017), the figures regarding displacement are still worrying. The United Nations Refugee Agency had already warned in July of last year that despite the implementation of the peace agreement, Colombia is still the country with the most internally displaced people in the world.

The most recent occurrence relating to this issue was the displacement of more than 130 people after the massacre at Magui Payán on the 27th of November 2017. Shortly after in December, the UN demonstrated their concern over the potential escalation in suffering on the back of attempts at ‘social control’ by the guerrillas and armed groups at the margins of the law.

More than 12,000 people have been victims of threats and intimidations 

Among the regions most affected by threats and intimidations are Antioquia (with more than 2196 cases), Nariño (1977), Valle del Cauca (1424) and Chocó (847).

Leaders in Colombia have been subject to constant threats. According to the report ‘¡Agúzate, que nos están matando!’ by the NGO Somos Defensores, in July of 2017 more than 220 leaders were intimidated, and 63 were murdered – many of whom received warnings before their deaths. One case of particular importance was that of Bernardo Cuero, the 36th leader killed according to publication ¡Pacifista!’s meter.

Cuero, who carried out tasks as the leader of the working group for the victims of the Atlantic coast and who was additionally a prosecutor for the AFRODES (National Association of Afro-Descendants) was murdered on the 6th of June 2017 in Malambo. In the days following up to his death, the leader had reportedly received a package from the AFRODES headquarters in Cali. Inside was a small coffin with a paper cross and an inscription, presumably signed by the ACG (Gaitanistas of Colombia).

Another case that gained publicity throughout the year was that of José Jair Cortés, social leader from Tumaco murdered last October. Following his murder, the vice president Óscar Naranjo proclaimed that he was not the only leader in danger after the massacre of Tumaco. According to Naranjo, 15 other representatives from the board of the community council of Alto Mira had received threats.

In Colombia, sexual freedom and integrity remain under threat

205 cases of sexual violence in the context of armed conflict were reported by the RUV in 2017. However, the total amount of victims of sexual violence – related to the ongoing conflict or not – was more than 17,000 according to the Institute of Legal Medicine.

Even if the Victims Unit indicates there was a fall by around 50% compared with 2016, whether or not victims were caught up in armed conflict, sexual violence continues to rise. Last September, Legal Medicine warned of an 8.7% increase in comparison to the figures reported in 2016 (15,988).

The most recent report by the Oxfam Women’s’ Committee shows that more than 800,000 people were victims of sexual offences in the context of armed conflicts, however due to the lack of reporting worldwide figures are likely to be much higher. The information from this report coincides with the data provided by the ombudsman office for this year which claimed that every day they attend to at least one woman that has become a victim of sexual assault.

Moreover, Oxfam has emphasised that the main sexual aggressors in Colombia currently pertain to illegal armed groups.

Lands continue to be snatched away

Whilst the Office for the Restitution of Lands reassures that last year more than 110,000 hectares of land was returned to victims of the conflict, the figures from the Victims Unit showed 554 cases of losses of goods or property during 2017. Although a reduction has been registered since the year 2016 (1295 cases), the problem remains dormant.

Nariño heads the list of the regions most affected by land-grabs with 80 cases reported during 2017. The region with the second highest occurrence was Meta (63), followed by Cauca (53) and Antioquia (48).

Delinquents and armed groups have taken advantage of the post-conflict situation to carry out their land-grabs. It was only in September of 2017 when the government managed to take down a criminal gang dedicated to the theft of hectares of land that were due to be returned to victims. Through corruption, the capturers became creditors of more than 10 plots of land whose collective value exceeded 120 thousand million Colombian pesos.

The FARC demobilized, but the terrorism is not stopping

In 2017, 312 people were affected by attacks related to terrorism, among which was the case of the explosive detonated in the bathroom of the Andino shopping centre last June. 9 people were killed and 3 people were injured during the attack, and the authorities recognised the armed group Revolutionary Movement of the People (MRP) as responsible for the attack. Regardless, the group denied having any involvement.

The RUV indicates that the total number of victims of terrorism in 2017 fell by almost half of what it was in 2016. However, incidents such as the attacks on electric infrastructure in Cauca in September and November of last year that put more than 6000 people at risk demonstrate that Colombia is still not free from terrorism.

Children are still being taken prisoner by armed groups

The number of children that have been victims of forced recruitment of armed groups has decreased considerably since negotiations began, and according to the RUV there were 38 cases reported, but the UN continues to voice its concern over the phenomenon. In September 2017, the UN assured that great advances had taken place but also the continued presence of other armed groups such as the ELN and dissidents from the FARC continue to put the rights of minors in the country at risk.

María Alejandra Vanegas is a Colombian journalist and regular contributor to Pacifista!

This article was originally published by OpenDemocracy and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.

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