By Sergio Gómez Maseri, EL TIEMPO, January 11, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

That’s what was revealed by a report from the NGO. Poverty and limited access to justice are Colombia’s other blemishes.

The violence and the abuses committed by the armed groups like the ELN in Colombia increased to such a point during 2023 that it reached levels only seen in the years before the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC in 2016.

That, in general, is the central conclusion in the annual report delivered by the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), delivered this Thursday in the report’s chapter on Colombia.

According to the report, President Gustavo Petro’s strategy of “total peace”, in spite of its wording, has not succeeded in reducing those levels.

“The 2016 Peace Agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government put an end to a conflict that had lasted for five decades. It brought an initial reduction of the violence. However, the violence took new forms and the abuses by the armed groups increased in many remote areas and reached levels similar to those that existed immediately before the peace process. Nearly a year and a half after President Gustavo Petro took power, his strategy of ‘total peace’ has not been able to reduce the abuses of the civilian population by the armed groups,” states the report.

According to Human Rights Watch, besides the violence unleashed by the armed groups, the high levels of poverty, especially among indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and the limited access to the justice system, also continue to be very serious human rights problems in the country.

In its report, HRW states that in Colombia numerous criminal groups are continuing to operate, financing themselves with drug trafficking and illegal mining, and they continue to commit serious abuses against the civilian population.

“In 2023, the reports of kidnapping and recruitment of children increased. The Armed Forces and the legal authorities have not protected the population effectively and have not guaranteed sufficient access to justice or made significant progress in dismantling the armed groups. The fear of landmines, the threats by the armed groups, and the possibility of being hit by crossfire prevented 64,000 people, the majority being indigenous people, from leaving their communities between January and October, a situation known as ‘confinement’,” states the report, which also mentions a few of the most notable cases.

The report also states that for the first six months of the year, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OACNUDH) reported at least 52 massacres and, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, 150 murders of human rights defenders and social leaders were documented between January and November of last year.

Likewise, they registered the forced massive displacement of more than 56,000 people, including Afro-Colombian and Awá indigenous people in Nariño, all victims of the confrontations between the dissidents.

Abuses committed by the Colombian Armed Forces

Regarding the abuses committed by the Colombian Armed Forces, the U.N. emphasized that very slight progress had been made in those investigations.

Among those, one that’s going forward is the one where 11 people were killed in Remanso—Putumayo—during an Army operation, and another one against the Police for abuses committed during the demonstration of 2019 and 2021.

Next, HRW states that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) has made significant progress in the investigation and judging of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It emphasized the charges against the highest commanders of the FARC and several Army officers.

HRW also stressed as “a positive decision” the list of women that President Petro selected for the position of Attorney General.

Robberies and serious abuses of migrants in the Darién

The report dedicates another segment to the situation of the migrants and highlights in particular the precarious situation they are experiencing in the Darién Gap.

“In 2023, hundreds of thousands of migrants and people seeking asylum crossed the Darién Gap from Colombia to Panamá. The majority were trying to reach the United States. The number of people that are crossing the Darién continues to increase, mostly driven by the continual migration of Venezuelans. During the several days walk through the Darién, migrants and people of all nationalities who are seeking asylum are frequently victims of robberies and serious abuses, including sexual assaults. People that cross the Darién can count on hardly any security or access to justice and they receive very little humanitarian assistance,“ states the report.

Sexual violence is extensive in Colombia

The report also emphasizes how violence based on sex, often carried out by armed groups, is very extensive In Colombia.

According to Human Rights Watch, “the lack of training on that subject, and the deficient implementation of treatment protocols interfere with timely access to medical services and create obstacles for women and girls that seek medical attention and access to justice after they are attacked. Those responsible for gender-based crimes are rarely prosecuted.”

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