The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday that it’s main challenges in Colombia for 2016 are locating and identifying missing persons, landmine clearance programs, a years-long humanitarian crisis in prisons and humanitarian crises caused by armed groups not engaged in peace talks.
The ICRC has been actively involved in dangerous landmine clearing programs, the logistics of ongoing peace talks with FARC rebels and and the search, identification and surrender of the tens of thousands who went missing during the conflict.
The FARC is expected to demobilize this year. However, with paramilitary successor groups having taken over the title of primary human rights violator and the smaller ELN rebel group unable to formalize talks with the government, a FARC demobilization will not mean an end to conflict and the humanitarian crises that come with armed conflict.
A FARC demobilization would drastically improve the conditions necessary for landmine clearing. The guerrillas are already helping the military and the Red Cross to locate and neutralize unexploded devices.
Challenge #1: Accelerate location and identification of unidentified conflict victims
Official numbers on disappeared people vary widely, depending on the government entity. According to the Victims Registry, more than 45,000 Colombians have disappeared within the context of the armed conflict. However, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office, more than 79,000 are disappeared.
One of the challenges lie in identifying who went missing because of the conflict and who went missing for other reasons like family issues.
“For five consecutive months, the ICRC has worked with the government, the FARC-EP, the corresponding state institutions and the families of victims to be able to materialize these seaches. For this, we call on all parties to accelerate this deal” on disappeared victims of war, the ICRC said.
Challenge #2: Demining Colombia will take years
According to the ICRC, nobody has an idea of how many landmines and other explosive devices are currently scattered across Colombia. The military, the FARC and the Red Cross have been working on pilot projects that seek the dismantling of these devices. This could be decades, said the ICRC.
The problem of landmines, banned by the Geneva convention but used by both guerrillas and narcos, goes beyond the thousands of Colombians how have lost their lives or limbs.
“Thousands of families live with problematic issues that are not made visible before the public opinion and has equally serious humanitarian consequences,” said the Red Cross, adding that among these issues are “the limited access to crops and fertile lands, the death of livestock and other animals [the families] depend on to survive, as well as school desertion because children have to walk dangerous paths to go to school. The result, as observed by the ICRC, is communities who end up isolated, suffer hunger and live in fear every day,” said the humanitarian organization.
Challenge #3: Humanitarian crisis in prisons is unsustainable
According to the Red Cross, a years-long humanitarian inside Colombia’s prisons continue in spite of numerous government promises to tackle overcrowding and inmates’ access to healthcare.
The main issue is overcrowding, which, according to the ICRC, stands at 55%, meaning that there are 43,000 too many prisoners for the current system.
The administration of Juan Manuel Santos promised to construct several “super prisons” to curb with this problem, but it is uncertain whether these prisons were ever built.
“From a humanitarian perspective, this situation is unsustainable. Because of our experience visiting prisons across the world for more than a 100 years, we know that the solutions require time, resources and, more than anything, political will. Nevertheless, the necessities of the inmate population can not wait any longer and giving them an answer is priority,” the Red Cross said.
Challenge #4: Armed violence, beyond the conflict
According to the Red Cross, violence imposed by armed groups not formally involved in the armed conflict, like paramilitary successor groups and urban militias, continues to haunt people both in Colombia’s cities and countryside.
These groups have been guilty of forced displacement, forced disappearance, rape and any violent activity aiming to secure territorial control.
“In this new geography of violence, which includes armed groups and gangs, the territorial control directly victimizes the population that does not participate in the fighting. Beyond an eventual signing of peace to end the armed conflict, this problem appears a long-term challenge.
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