(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The report, “Territorial Violence in Colombia” demonstrates how the conflict grew worse in the countryside, in spite of the military deployments of the Duque administration. It recommends re-orienting the defense strategy to a human rights point of view.

President Iván Duque is leaving office with a grade for his term of “insufficient” in stopping or at least reducing the violence in Colombia. That was the argument of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in its report “Territorial Violence in Colombia: Recommendations for the New Administration”. Although the document does not mention the Duque administration directly, it was centered on the human rights situation, and on the totality of government actions in the last two years of his term.

The document has as its principal message for the President-Elect, Gustavo Petro, the duty to reformulate the government’s strategy to a focus on human rights in order to confront the armed groups and the criminal organizations, as well as to protect the affected populations. “The only thing we ask is that the government reach the communities, and that it have an effective strategy to protect them. This can’t just be a military strategy against the groups that is measured in kills and captures. The indicators have to be the well-being of the communities and the protection of their rights,” said Juliette de Rivero, the representative in Colombia of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, in an interview with this newspaper.

The report maintains that the military path has not been effective in combating the armed organizations. They, on the contrary, have mutated and have easily adjusted their leadership, continuing the violence, principally in the Pacific, the Caribbean Coast, and on the eastern border. Those are precisely the regions where the government has hardly any presence and where the multidimensional poverty is alarming, says the report.

In spite of the military deployments ordered during the Duque administration, the statistics are alarming, and they are increasing. The rate of homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants reached 26.85 in 2021, more than three points ahead of 2020. Besides that, the UN Office reproaches the stigmatization of social leaders, and reports that 562 social leaders have been murdered since 2016. There have been threats by the thousands.

Meanwhile, 327 former FARC combatants have been machine-gunned since the signing of the Peace Agreement. Just in 2021, nearly 74,000 people have been displaced and, according to the ICBF (Colombian Family Welfare Institute), there were 98 cases of forced recruitment of children and teenagers last year. In 2021 there were nearly 500 victims of explosives.

Looking at all this, the report also complains that the National Commission for Security Guarantees, created by the Peace Agreement to, among other things, adopt a plan of action to combat and dismantle illegal armed organizations, has met only 22 times in six years, while it was supposed to have met at least 72 times in that period. Because of that, the UN insisted that this Commission must get going, and be a place where civil society can meet to seek consensus.

Recommendations for the Gustavo Petro administration

The first is to reduce the presence of non-governmental armed groups until they are eliminated. To do that, the administration should adopt and implement a policy calling for the dismantling of armed groups, development of a strategy for their collective submission, implementation of a strategy for the protection of civilians, and perhaps more striking, give genuine consideration of a call to the populations being affected by the violence so that they seek the adoption of humanitarian agreements or peace plans with the nongovernmental armed groups.”

With regard to that, Juliette de Rivera told this paper that the Colombian government must combine strategies for the demilitarization of the countryside and for protecting human rights. “There is no one single way. You have to recognize the complexity of the armed actors in Colombia. The government has to decide on the most effective route, and we can help with that, so that they fully consider the country’s obligations for human rights, justice, participation, and no repetition,” she added.

The UN makes clear that although the Armed Forces must continue their actions against the armed groups, their central focus needs to be, “the protection of the civilian population from the violence of those groups, not just in the development of their operations, but also in the implementation of intelligence and information collection activities.”

Another one of the thrusts in the report, a thrust that has been reiterated in UN pronouncements about Colombia, is the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement. This time it’s centered on the territorial environment, especially in the development of the most important reforms, the implementation of the Development Programs with a Territorial Focus (PDET in Spanish) and the reactivation of the National Program for the Substitution of Illegal Plantings (PNIS in Spanish). The UN recalls that the Agreement “offers structural responses to the situation being suffered by the population in the countryside with the presence of nongovernmental armed groups.” Because of that, the recommendations are oriented toward guaranteeing land access and tenancy for the communities; alternatives for people connected to the drug economy; and the development of a decentralized plan to achieve peace in the countryside.

The third recommendation is also a call to action: “Consolidate the rule of law in the areas most affected by the violence and the internal armed conflict, strengthen the presence and the capacity of the institutions of the legal system and of the agencies of control in the countryside.” To accomplish that, the Office believes that local government must be strengthened, and a campaign should be developed to restore confidence in government agencies, using local organizations. Along that same line, there have to be measures taken to “ensure that there will be no activities of connivance between government officials and certain nongovernmental armed groups and criminal organizations, plus combating impunity,” the report points out.

In addition, the UN Human Rights Office emphasized the hearings held by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) where individuals admit responsibility for crimes committed in the armed conflict, but it stressed that more “opening up” by government institutions in admitting government responsibility in the violence would help to “consolidate the rule of law and strengthen confidence in government institutions,” according to the report.

The report, furthermore, recalls the recommendation by the Committee for the Elimination of every Form of Violence against Women (CEDAW) that Colombia facilitate women’s access to justice, especially indigenous women and female immigrants, and that it comply with the focus on gender and the chapter in the Peace Agreement related to ethnic groups. And it repeated its call for a call to the nongovernmental groups to respect human rights and International Humanitarian Law and listen to the calls for peace that are coming from the civilian population.

The greater the military presence the greater the violence

The report is emphatic in criticizing the fact that, even though the Future Zones strategy pushed by the Duque administration was trying the do an integrated intervention in the regions most affected by the violence, that policy was only reflected in the increase of the presence of the Armed Forces. As a result, the report says, “you can see a progressive increase in insecurity, and that has expanded into more territory, as well as the lack of guarantees for the human rights in those areas.” The violence increased. The Office demonstrated that those most affected were the peripheral territories, with limited government presence, and where the rate of multidimensional poverty was the highest. Besides that, it was where there was a greater presence of indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesino populations.

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