While the government and the FARC peace negotiators in Havana spent 2014 talking peace, the number of victims of forced displacement due to the armed conflict remained high, according to the annual report of the National Victims Unit.
To date, the National Victims Unit has registered 101,491 Colombians who were victimized by the 50-year-long conflict in 2014. Forced displacement is the principle form of victimization in the country, with 97,453 people affected. The Pacific coast and the state of Antioquia are the regions with most cases recorded.
The number documented by the state organization is high, but considerably lower than last year. In 2013, the NGO commissioned to monitor displacement reported a total of 228,526 cases – more than twice as many as this year so far.
The register of people displaced shows a sudden drop between 2012 and 2014. The figures haven’t been as low since 1985.
The number of people displaced yearly by Colombia’s armed conflict has been on the down curve since 2012. According to a joint report by the Colombian government and a local NGO released last June, the instances of displacement fell by 32% from 2012 to 2013.
However, different studies highlight a steadily concerning aspect the general statistics fail to capture. “Between November 2012 and June 2014, at least 305,624 people were displaced. This means that while the government is negotiating with the FARC in Havana, 15,400 people are displaced on the monthly basis in Colombia,” informs a study prepared by the UN agency OCHA.
Individual cases of mass displacement
Alarms have been raised over potential humanitarian crisis in and around the city of Buenaventura in the Pacific coast last month. More than 400 indigenous and Afro-Colombian families in the lower San Juan river basin have been forcefully displaced in the past weeks. The Pacific region has traditionally been among those most hit by the Colombian conflict.
According to a report by the Human Rights Watch from 2013, left-wing guerrillas operate in Buenaventura’s rural areas and have historically been a major cause of displacement in the area. Currently, however, the “violence and displacement in Buenaventura is mostly caused by powerful paramilitary “successor groups”—known as the Urabeños and the Empresa,” reads the study.
Nevertheless, throughout the year, many other regions in Colombian have witnessed mass displacement almost entirely attributed either to guerrillas themselves or military confrontations between the insurgents and the National Army.
Cases of displacement directly related to the guerrilla presence in the countryside haven been denounced by the ombudsmen and human rights activists from numerous states all throughout the year.
In March, the RCN Radio reported more displacement in Toribio, Cauca, where the FARC rebels carried over 600 attacks in the past four years. In May, more than 2,500 people were forced to abandon their houses due to regular clashes between the FARC and the paramilitaries in Choco. In November, the ombudsman of Casanare reported heightened guerrilla presence in municipalities on the border with Boyaca state, causing insecurity and displacement of a great many families in the region. In December, the authorities of the Norte de Santander state expressed their concern with number of displacements in local communities.
These randomly selected instances put general figures into perspective. Although there has been a considerable decrease in cases of displacement over the past two years, serious violence continues to undermine the security of civilian population in all parts of Colombia. Mass displacement caused by the guerrilla carries on, indifferent to the developments in Cuba.
Mass displacement in spite of the peace process
According to latest report prepared by the OCHA agency, Colombia’s largest guerrillas – the FARC and the ELN – are the two main actors generating mass displacement in Colombia. Following close behind are different far-right criminal groups formed after the demobilization of the paramilitaries in mid 2000s.
The number of displacements over the course of the peace process continues to be high. More than 15,000 people are believed to lose their houses every month in Colombia.
Between November 2012 and June this year, the government registered more than 1,000 military operations involving two or more belligerents. Displacement is the natural consequence of these clashes.
“While the Havana negotiations continue, every month there are around 61 military actions across the country,” claims the report. Additionally, it lists 491 attacks on productive infrastructure and 596 victims of mines explosions set up by the guerrillas.
Anti-personnel mines are one of many causes of forced displacement. Others include threats, assaults, assassinations, kidnappings and to a lesser extent, torture, bombings, evictions, forced recruitment and simply fear.
In the period analyzed by the UN report there were 24,530 homicides. It’s 1,200 every month and 40 every day.
“Although the causes of the homicides are different and not always related to the war, the states with the highest murder rates for 100,000 inhabitants overlap with the the states most affected by the armed conflict,” explained the report.
The general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, appealed to the government and the guerrilla to look for agreements that would allow for reduction of the conflict and its impact on civilian population.
“When I was the UN secretary in Colombia, displacements figures were double of what they are today. However, this form of violence persists. Between 2013 and 2014 there were 140 mass displacements. Now add to that all the individual cases…,” said Egeland.
The UN representative added that out of around 200,000 victims in 2013, 54% were poor before the displacement. In the aftermath of the incident, the number has risen to 97%.
“Curbing of the conflict is an urgent task. Both parties involved in the talks in Havana have to take concrete actions in the areas most affected by violence,” said Egeland with reference to the much speculated ceasefire proposal resurfacing in Havana.
Land restitution in spite of violence
Attached to the problem of internal displacement is the concept of land restitution – one of the flagship slogans accompanying the Havana peace process. So far, the results in that respect have been underwhelming.
In its report from 2014, Amnesty International explores how the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448), implemented in 2012, is failing the vast majority of people whose lands were stolen. Better part of the victims have been unable to return home as a result of ongoing threats of violence and the slowness of the process.
“Colombia has one of the highest levels of forced displacement in the world and it is patently clear that the authorities are not doing enough to ensure that stolen lands are effectively returned to their rightful occupants,” said Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher from Amnesty International.
A victims’ registry created as part of the Victims and Land Restitution Law faces a backlog waiting of requests to be evaluated. The law “has been hampered by a lack of financial resources and delays in the appointment of essential staff,” according the the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).
“Handing over a land title and sending people on their way is not enough. The Colombian authorities must speed up the bureaucratic processes and ensure physical and financial security for those returning. All those suspected of criminal responsibility for forced displacement must be brought to trial,” continued Pollack.
In an interview with the “El Espectador” newspaper, Ricardo Sabogal from the national restitution unit, claims that the fundamental challenge ahead of the government in the midst of the war is to establish how much land should be returned and to how many people. Sabogal believes the fierce critique from the Amnesty International is unfair.
“The problem in Colombian countryside is much more complex and of structural nature. Land restitution is only one of solutions to it… NGOs are not aware of the reality of the conflict in Colombia…We are working right in the middle of it, which makes everything harder,” said the director of the institution.
“More than 300,000 hectares of lands are being restituted. We are working hard, but there are new victims every day. If peace treaty is not signed, people will keep getting displaced and thrown out of their lands. But President Juan Manuel Santos is adamant about it – the restitution law is not up for negotiations,” concluded Sabogal.
Colombia is home to one of the world’s largest populations of displaced people. Half a century of war has uprooted a total of almost six million Colombians to date; a statistic which places the country second only to Syria with Nigeria at third, according to the latest data from the IDMC.
- Colombia’s restitution process failing those forced off their lands (Amnesty International)
- “Si no se firma la paz, seguira el desplazamiento” (El Espectador)
- Las FARC y el ELN dos principales actors generadores del desplazamiento en Colombia: ONU (El Colombiano)
- Registro Unico de Victimas (Red Nacional de Informacion)
- The crisis in Buenaventura (Human Rights Watch)
- “Un cese al fuego puede ayudarle al proceso de paz: Jan Egeland” (El Nuevo Dia)