EL TIEMPO, March 24, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In its report “Humanitarian Goals for 2022”, the International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR) in Colombia, pointed out that last year the civilian population had to face “the worst consequences of the armed conflict and the violence.”

In 2021, the CICR documented 884 alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law (DIH) and other humanitarian norms. Of those, 59% were murders, threats, arbitrary deprivations of liberty, utilization of explosive artifacts with indiscriminate effects, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatments, boys, girls, and adolescents joining the armed actors, sexual violence, and other serious acts.

In its annual review, the organization also stated that it had taken part in the liberation of 27 individuals found to have been in the power of armed groups. Besides that, the report mentions that problems, such as the effects of explosive artifacts, massive displacement, and the confinement of communities have reached the highest levels in the last five years.

In the same manner, the CICR mentioned in its report that, in Colombia, there exist six internal armed conflicts and other situations of violence that restrict the lives of thousands of people with fear and pressure, which creates new challenges for humanitarian action in the country.

“The indicators of humanitarian consequences are evidence of the hard reality that the communities have to live with in different territories. These statistics are painful, and yet, they don’t begin to reflect the terror, the uncertainty, and the desperation that thousands of people are experiencing because of the armed conflicts in Colombia. Last year, the violence against the civilian population got worse in several regions of the country and this has created indescribable suffering,” stated Lorenzo Caraffi, chief of the CICR delegation in Colombia, during the presentation of the report.

In this document, the humanitarian organization shares its conclusions about the main challenges that Colombian society is confronting with the permanence of multiple armed conflicts and the violence that is affecting the civilian population directly.

The danger from the use of explosive artifacts

In 2021, the CICR registered 486 victims of explosive artifacts, the highest number in the last five years. The accidents took place in 14 departments: Norte de Santander, Cauca, Chocó, Antioquia, and Arauca were the most affected. Those are where 76% of the victims were concentrated, according to the report.

Besides that, 53% of the victims of this phenomenon were civilians, and in different territories, the communities lost their means of subsistence because they had to restrict their mobility, or they had to abandon their homes because of the presence of explosive artifacts, says the organization.

The drama of displacement and the disappearances

In the view of the organization, the deterioration of the humanitarian situation is also evidenced by the increase of displacement and the confinement of populations because of the armed conflicts and the violence.

“In 2021, the number of people affected by confinement, massive displacement, and the explosive artifacts increased considerably, reaching the highest level in the last five years. We are concerned about the tendency to increase that we have seen, with the number of victims and the worsening of the different challenges. In 2022 the panorama could be even more complicated than it was last year,” said Caraffi.

Last year, according to monitoring statistics on alleged events of massive displacement and confinement, 52,880 people were displaced in massive displacements in 11 departments. That represented an increase of 148% compared to 2020. The Colombian Pacific areas were harmed the most by this problem. In Nariño, Chocó, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca, there was a 71% increase in mass displacement events, according to the document.

In the same way, the CICR pointed out that individual displacement had affected nearly 80,000 people, who had to leave their homes for fear of what might happen, or they had to do it because they had received direct threats from the armed actors.

Eighty percent of the cases were reported in Antioquia, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Valle del Cauca, Chocó, Bolívar, Cauca, and Córdoba.

Added to these situations is the persistence of disappearances of people. Last year CICR documented that every two days, on average, there was a new case of a disappearance related to the armed conflicts and the violence, with a total of 168 documented cases. Even though those cases took place in 13 different departments, the highest number of cases were reported in Chocó, Nariño, Arauca, Norte de Santander, Antioquia, and Cauca.

Health care was also at risk in 2021

There were also effects on the Medical Mission and other forms of health assistance that were also part of the complicated humanitarian panorama reflected in the report. Last year the National Board of Medical Missions registered 553 attacks on health care personnel, installations, and vehicles. This figure is higher than any such figure reported in the last 25 years.

According to the official report, the attacks were perpetrated by armed actors in only 20% of the cases. Nevertheless, “CICR is aware that, in the context of the armed conflict, many events are not reported, because the people affected are afraid,” the report points out.

2021 was also a complicated year for the development of humanitarian employment. The resurgence of the armed conflicts and the violence has generated new challenges to assisting the victims, and for protection of the civilian population, the CICR indicated.

The outlook for prisons and jails, migration, and the use of force in the country

Last year CICR, in collaboration with the National Institute for Penitentiaries and Prisons (Inpec), facilitated communication between incarcerated individuals and their families, providing 14,678 phone calls as a service.

However, according to the report, during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, women were the sector of the prison population that was the most affected at the moment of maintaining contact with family members, especially with their children. Because of that, the Committee insisted on the importance of “analyzing alternatives to prison as an option to rationalize the use of incarceration.”

Furthermore, the CICR noted that migrants who wanted to reside in Colombia had been required to face social and institutional barriers to receiving attention and assistance in exercising their rights.

In the situations that place the migrants at risk, according to the review, one of them is their siting in departments affected by the armed conflict. It’s because that turns them into potential victims because of ignorance of the context, and rejection, xenophobia, and stigmatization.

Besides that, the CICR pointed out that in 2021, maintaining public order in urban and rural areas was a challenge for the Armed Forces, because the increase in social mobilizations tested their capacity to respond respectfully to international norms on the use of force.

CICR also emphasized that there needs to be an attitude of dialog and understanding in the face of the allegations of use of excessive force in responding by government agents.

The government’s response should include “the improvement of the operational doctrine, training, and systems for supervision and control of the use of force by officials in charge of law enforcement,” stated the report.

Calls by CICR to take action to protect international human rights

CICR indicated that last year 543,000 people benefited from their humanitarian work. In addition, it reported that it is working hard to maintain proximity to the communities, and to sustain bilateral and confidential dialog with all of the armed actors with the most important message: respect for International Humanitarian Law and other humanitarian regulations.

Faced with the armed conflicts in this country, CICR exhorted the government to prioritize attention to victims and communities affected by these and other kinds of violence. In addition, it reminded the Armed Forces and the armed actors that they have a “strict obligation to respect International Human Rights Law (DIH),” as well as to take measures to protect the civilians and public places such as hospitals, schools, football fields, and other public and private structures.

With regard to the disappearance of people, CICR asked that the armed actors take the measures necessary to prevent it, “including appropriate management of human remains, and that they transmit them to agencies dedicated to search, furnishing useful information that would help to explain the whereabouts of people who have disappeared,” stated the report.

Finally, the agency called on the armed actors to cease their attacks on the Medical Mission and other kinds of health services, “because those attacks affect health workers, as well as the communities and the patients, who frequently have no access to health services,” the report indicated.

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