Colombia’s conflict cost 220,000 lives since 1958

Colombia’s armed conflict cost the lives of some 220,000 Colombians since 1958, an extensive report on the violence released Wednesday said.

The report was the result of an investigation of the National Center for Historic Memory, a government-financed research group that found that 82% of all conflict-related deaths corresponded to civilians deaths. Only 18% of the war casualties corresponded to soldiers, policemen guerrillas or paramilitaries.

In fact, three of 10 Colombians who died since 1958, did so within the context of the political violence that has been ongoing relentlessly since the end of “La Violencia” in the 1950s, and the subsequent rise of guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

The main culprit of the deadly violence since 1981 have been paramilitary groups. The AUC and related right-wing death squads are held responsible for 38.4% of the assassinations that took place within the context of the armed conflict. Guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN are held responsible for 16.8% of the killings, while the security forces are behind 10.1% of the conflict-related deaths. A large number of deaths, 27.4%, were caused by unidentified armed groups.

According to the investigation, the paramilitaries were also the main culprit in the carrying out of massacres. The paramilitary groups, who took part in the war for a much shorter period of time than other actors, are held responsible for 1,166, 0r 58.8%, of massacres carried out after 1980. Another 20 massacres were caried out in operations carried out by paramilitaries and the military.

Guerrilla groups carried out 343 massacres and the security forces carried out 158, or 8%.

The most violent period of Colombia’s armed conflict was between 1985 and 2000 when the cocaine trade began helping fund guerrilla and paramilitary groups alike. By the year 2000 — by far the most violent year in Colombia’s recent history, 14,000 civilians died at the hands of one of the armed actors.

Since then, violence has dropped significantly, mostly because of territorial gains made by the military and the demobilization of the paramilitary AUC.

The investigators called on Colombia’s government to ask forgiveness to the victims of the conflict.

“We propose that the State take the lead. The State say they would not recognize anything until the crime is proven in the highest appeal. But if we are reconstructing what has happened and if we believe the victims, we must ask for forgiveness. This is a mechanism that facilitates the peace process.”

Gonzalo Sanchez, chief investigator of the Center for Historic Memory, in newspaper El Tiempo

If the government of Juan Manuel Santos successfully concludes peace talks with the FARC — ongoing since November last year, it will be the third in the past 25 years. A number of smaller guerrilla groups demobilized in 1991 and the paramilitary AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006. However, groups like the Urabeños — formed by the same paramilitaries during and after the demobilization — continue to exercise political violence, while the smaller ELN has also not yet agreed to peace talks.

MORE: ELN Refuses To Ban Kidnapping, Demands Unconditional Peace Talks
MORE: Neo-Paramilitaries Support And Want To Be Involved In Colombia’s Peace Talks


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