Violations of international humanitarian law in Colombia increased by an alarming 41% in 2014, according to a Red Cross report.
According to the humanitarian organization, 814 alleged breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) were reported in 2014, an increase of 258 from 2013.
In light of their increased figures, The Red Cross stressed that alleged progress in ongoing peace negotiations between the Colombian government and rebel group FARC has so far failed to positively impact the general population.
“While peace talks between FARC guerrillas and the government were progressing in Havana, the armed conflict and other forms of violence continued to challenge Colombians,” said the document.
What is international humanitarian law?
International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.
International Red Cross
“Threats, disappearances, sexual violence, and mines and unexploded ordnance continue to take their toll on civilians,” said Christoph Harnisch, head of the delegation in Colombia.
The Red Cross report measuring violations of humanitarian law stands in stark contrast with a recently released report on the conflict that claimed conflict-related violence had gone down 40%.
Apart from the FARC, a number of illegal armed groups are active in Colombia, ranging from smaller leftist rebel groups such as the ELN to neo-paramilitary groups like the Urabeños or crime syndicates like the Oficina de Envigado.
The harsh numbers
According to The Red Cross, in 2014 they documented 56 deaths of Colombian civilians protected by international humanitarian law, and 655 cases of threatened civilians who the humanitarian organization had to assist.
They also attended to 20 cases of mass displacement in the country, two more than in 2013.
However, what concerned the humanitarian organization most is the number of disappeared persons in Colombia.
The country has a long history of murder victims of illegal armed groups being carefully disappeared in order to prevent alarming homicide statistics.
However, a significant percentage of registered disappearances are due to children running away from home, people avoiding debt collection or parents disappearing to avoid paying child support.
The Red Cross reported that 100,316 people were registered as missing in 2014. The majority of these missing persons have been missing for years.
Some 23,500 missing persons have been found, but more than 4,200 were found dead and an alarming 72,544 continue to be disappeared. This is a 20% increase compared to 2012 when 60,137 Colombians were registered as missing.
Registered missing persons in Colombia
Last year alone, 10,798 Colombians went missing. A little more than 300 of them were found dead, 3,235 were found alive and 7,257 continue to be missing.
The End of Conflict
The ongoing negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government aim to put an end to a violent conflict that has spanned over 50 years.
According to Harnisch, a peace deal with the FARC does not necessarily mean an end to war or war-related crimes in the country, but the beginning of peace building.
“The long-awaited signing of a peace agreement, is therefore really a starting point. It is an opportunity to build a society in which people can once again live together in peace, after five decades of war. It is, however, also a path that will be forged with a multiplicity of meanings,” the Red Cross executive said.
“A number of humanitarian issues that concern the ICRC will remain outstanding after the peace agreement has been signed,” Harnisch said.
“It is important to remember, too, that international humanitarian law (IHL) will still apply after the war is over, regulating aspects such as the detention of people deprived of the liberty as a result of the conflict and the obligation of the parties to establish the facts in missing persons cases,” added the humanitarian organization chief.
If a final peace agreement between the government and the FARC is achieved, the international body will remain in force regulating, for example “the detention of persons at the root of the conflict and obligations of the parties in clarifying cases of disappearance. ”
Harnisch said that “this is where the end point, the hoped signing of an agreement, is in reality a starting point. It is an opportunity to construct a society that, through five decades of war, can coexist once again.”
The guerrillas are currently negotiating with the Colombian military to come to an agreement on an indefinite bilateral truce, which could come into effect before the warring parties sign peace.
But apart from this ceasefire, the FARC and the government also have to agree on who will take responsibility for the 7 million victims of the conflict and the punishment of FARC and military crimes.
If both pending points are agreed, the parties would proceed to the implementation of the agreement, meaning the 50-year-long war between the FARC and the state would be over.
Colombia; Situacion humanitaria (PDF / Spanish / Red Cross)
Detalles del informe del CICR sobre derecho humanitario en Colombia (El Espectador)
875 infracciones al DIH reportó Cicr en Colombia (El Nuevo Dia)
Persiste la crisis humanitaria: CICR (El Colombiano)
Colombia repunta en protección de los derechos humanos (El Tiempo)
Estadísticas del Puerto de Buenaventura (Legiscomex)