Colombia+20, EL ESPECTADOR, June 28, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Forced displacement left 8 million victims. Kidnapping left 50,770. Arbitrary arrests were directed at a supposed “internal enemy”, and the threats to leaders were the prelude to other crimes. Here are the figures about the war that the Truth Commission’s Final Report reveals.
The armed conflict left 450,666 dead between 1986 and 2016, concluded the Truth Commission in its Final Report delivered to the country this Tuesday. At the same time, more than 8 million people suffered forced displacement in the same period. Comparing a hundred data bases with the reports of thousands of victims all over the country permitted the 11 Commissioners to conclude: “The principal victims of the armed conflict in Colombia are ordinary civilians. Not combatants.”
In the chapter on human rights violations and violations of International Humanitarian Law, the Commission includes an analysis it did along with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Data Analysis Group on Human Rights Violations (HRDAG is the English acronym.). They compared 112 data bases from different entities to estimate how many victims were killed, forcibly disappeared, kidnapped, forcibly recruited, or forcibly displaced. At the same time, they looked for the patterns in which the war crimes were committed.
In addition, the Commission studied patterns of attacks, tortures, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, forced labor, extortion, indiscriminate attacks, attacks on protected property, confinement, and illegal eviction and land theft. These are some of their findings.
Besides concluding that 450,666 people lost their lives because of the armed conflict between 1985 and 2016, the Truth Commission placed the period between 1995 and 2004 as the most critical of the conflict, as almost half of the victims (45%) were harmed in those years. The statistics include the victims of massacres and selective murders, two forms of homicide that were prevalent during the conflict.
“Even though some massacres occurred previously, their extension at that time and their extension in the country’s geography led to the intensification of the armed conflict from the middle of the ‘90’s until the first years of the 21st century. It was part of a strategy of terror paralleled with the period of greatest expansion and territorial confrontation by the armed groups, and especially of the paramilitary organizations,” the Truth Commission concludes.
In the same way, the Final Report notes that for the victims of attempts on their lives that, “are really a failed or unsuccessful murder, many people were injured and even though some of them were unharmed, they suffered strong and long-lasting effects on their later lives.” The Commission stated also that, “The elimination of people that were considered ‘enemies’ was a widespread method of making war in Colombia,” and it cited the extermination of the Patriotic Union Party as an example of that.
The Final Report concluded: “The practice of forced disappearance has been associated in Colombia at the end of the ‘70’s and in the ‘80’s with the implementation of the Security Statute of the Julio César Turbay Avala administration (1978-1982), when forced disappearance began to be carried out as a counter-insurgency practice by members of the Armed Institutionality 136. In the ‘90’s, the paramilitary groups used the practice, and in the first decade of the 2000’s it was sometimes used massively. Starting in 1995, there was a sustained increase until it reached its highest level in 2002, and then decreased until 2006 when it increased again in 2007.”
In addition, the Truth Commission explained the effects that macabre practice had on the families of those who had disappeared. “The configuration of the impacts of forced disappearance is better understood along with its connection to other human rights violations. The relatives of a disappeared person not only have to confront the uncertainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones—where are they?—but also uncertainty about their condition or what they have had to suffer,” reads the Report.
Violations of personal liberty
The Commission documented three types of violations of personal liberty. On the one hand, the arbitrary arrests, “carried out by agents of the government through unfounded accusations of belonging to an illegal armed group, or the suspicion that they know something, or for the purpose of breaking down social organizations, terrifying their members, or interfering with social processes.” According to the conclusions of the Final Report, these were usual throughout the conflict and “the arrests were not supported by evidence, but rather were methods of criminalizing a sector of civil society, under the stigma of the ‘internal enemy’.”
In the second place, the Final Report speaks of kidnappings and extortions. The Commission explained the serious implications of that practice, which injured the 50,770 victims of kidnapping in the conflict. It was first and foremost the responsibility of the former guerrillas of the FARC. “The mercantilization and dehumanization of the victim by those responsible converts him/her into an object to be exchanged; their life will be exchanged for money or petitions, and if the objective is not achieved, the victim is killed. The payment of ransom doesn’t guarantee the life of the kidnapped person, states the Report.
“Torture can be explained not just as a means of obtaining information or confession, but also as a method of punishment, of reprisal or revenge, and even a means of discrimination,” the Truth Commission points out. In Colombia, according to the Final Report, torture was used in four situations: in arrests by the Armed Forces, frequently in states of emergency; in massacres and attacks on the civilian population and to teach a community a lesson; in extrajudicial executions and during kidnappings committed by the FARC, where the captives were subjected to humiliations, isolation, being chained, among other things.
The Commission found three critical periods for this particular crime: “1) from 1978 to 1982, when Security Statute 155 was in effect; 2) from 1985 to 1989, in the midst of the breakdown of the dialogs and peace talks, and escalation of military confrontation, and the heyday of the so-called “dirty war”, especially against the UP and other groups; and 3) after the middle of the decade of 1990 to 2005, with the process of expansion and territorial consolidation of paramilitary groups in several regions of the country, and the extension of kidnapping.”
In addition, The Commission concluded, “Sexual violence has been committed by different actors in the armed conflict, to differing extents and with different patterns of victimization. This kind of activity was committed almost entirely by men. Above all, it was directed against women in three kinds of situation: in contexts of being defenseless as a captive or an arrested person; in the scenario of territorial control in the communities; or in the context of military operations and massacres.”
The Final Report also referred to threats as a form of human rights violation. The document explains that, “Threats are, generally, the first in a series of violations. They are linked to forced displacement, exile, confinement, attacks and homicides, extorsions, forced labor, sexual violence, and torture. Some of their objectives are the imposition of domination over certain sectors of the population, maintaining territorial control through terror, breaking up organizations, stopping legal actions, and silencing complaints.”
Recruitment of children
The Commission was emphatic: “The recruitment of children and adolescents younger than 15 is a war crime prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That common and generalized practice has gone on for decades and persists today. It also happened within the Armed Forces at a one time (They incorporated persons younger than 18 at least until 1996, when it was legal) and there are records with reports, complaints, and testimonies about civil-military activities, or of infiltration and intelligence, and of military activities that involved children.
Children that were dragged into the war were forced into activities from direct combat to logistics tasks or guarding of captives. “Besides the strategy of recruiting young people, the lack of opportunities and of social protection has been part of the context that favors the permanence of recruitment of children up to the present,” states the Report.
Four types of forced labor have been observed in the Truth Commission’s investigation: “1) labor directed to maintenance or service of the armed actors and/or caring for their properties or the properties of third parties; 2) tasks for the existence, sustenance, and benefit of the armed actors: 3) construction and maintenance of infrastructure such as trails or roads; and 4) health care activities.” As the document explains, this had a greater impact on the campesinos and it specially affected women and children, and ethnic communities.
Indiscriminate attacks on protected property
The Final Report explains that, “the guerrillas especially employed explosive artifacts to attack military objectives, but also for direct attacks on people and on the property of civilians.” At the same time, that “the destruction of populated centers as part of strategies for destruction are the most violent of these practices; they were carried out mainly by the paramilitaries and the guerrillas. The attacks included other violations, such as massacres or forced disappearances.”
Displacement, confinement, and eviction
The Truth Commission verified that the crime with the most victims is displacement. “Flight turned into a degrading formula for saving lives, while losing belongings and, sometimes remaining motionless because that force also represented a coercion of personal liberty, one of the most precious rights of a human being,” states the Final Report. At the same time, limiting the movement of the civilian population in the midst of combat or other kinds of events in the conflict was also a generalized practice, especially between 1997 and 2005.
“It was during those years that the FARC-EP concentrated part of their armed forces in the area of deténte, during the peace talks between the Colombian government and the guerrillas in the administration of Andres Pastrana (1998-2002) and in the dispute over the territories where the paramilitaries groups exercised influence afterwards. In the same way, in that period, the AUC consolidated and expanded until 2005; the Armed Forces modernized their technology and also operationally for putting Plan Colombia into effect,” states the Final Report.
Finally, the Final Report referred to eviction and plunder. “The land, the countryside, and natural resources are spoils of war for networks composed of different armed actors, legal and illegal. They drove the rural communities away from their property, using methods that were violent, political, administrative, and judicial to facilitate the process of accumulation of land into a few hands, aggravating inequality and the agrarian problems,” concluded the Truth Commission. It also criticized the fact that there are no consolidated data bases with this information, and neither is it defined as a crime.