For the first time in Colombia’s history, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will intervene to try to stem the ongoing urban violence plaguing Medellin‘s poorest suburbs. The NGO will seek a dialogue with members of criminal organizations involved in the bloody gang warfare.
ICRC spokesman Carlos Rios told Caracol Radio that the international NGO has met with local authorities and a consensus has been reached regarding a plan of action, which will focus on providing humanitarian aid to the Medellin inhabitants affected by the violence, particularly in the Comuna 13 area, whose San Javier suburb has seen some of the worst of the recent violence.
Rios said the first step will to be to hold a series of conferences in schools with teachers and students to discuss humanitarian principles and the consequences of violence. The ICRC will also provide health services, particularly in the field of sexual violence, which is an issue of concern in the area.
Attempts at dialogue with gang members will also be on the agenda.
“We will do everything possible to dialogue with all the armed actors present in the areas to share with them the humanitarian consequences that urban violence generates on the entire civilian population. We will also discuss the appropriate use of force with members of the police,” Rios said.
The ICRC will also visit police stations where the perpetrators involved in the violence are taken, to verify that conditions within the stations meet required standards.
“The ICRC has done investigations into urban violence in various cities around Colombia and now considers that because of the human rights violations occurring in Medellin, there is a obligation to intervene from a humanitarian perspective, framed within the principles of neutrality and independence,” Rios said.
The ICRC’s decision to intervene in the crisis follows calls from the community on Thursday for international intervention.
A Colombia Reports correspondent on the ground in the Comuna 13 area reports that locals have no faith that authorities will protect them from the constant shoot-outs between rival gangs. Moreover, attempts to quell violence are largely futile because when state forces manage to subdue a violent situation, the violence flares up elsewhere. The gunmen are essentially teenagers carrying out the commands of the criminal world’s big players.
At least four people have been reported killed in the violence over the last week, while according to the municipal ombudsman’s figures, gang warfare resulted in 503 deaths in the first trimester of 2010, a 54.8% increase on the same period in 2009.
Between January and June 2010, a reported 2,336 people have been displaced by urban violence in Medellin, compared to 771 in the same period in 2009.
Metro services to affected areas have intermittently been suspended due to violence and gun battles have destroyed power lines, depriving locals of an electricity supply.
Following a Security Council meeting last week, police commander General Oscar Naranjo announced that 800 extra police will be sent to secure the area, video cameras installed in problem areas, and security checkpoints set up at the entries to the Comuna 13.
According to El Tiempo, the violence plaguing Medellin is part of a battle for “sovereignty” of Comuna 13 – in which more than 140 gangs operate – and for control of the criminal world of drugs, prostitution, and gambling.
According to authorities, the proliferation of sophisticated arms available on the streets signals that various groups are backed by rival factions of the Office of Envigado’s drug lords Erick Vargas, alias “Sebastian” and Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” as well as criminal organizations such as “Los Urabaeños” and “Los Rastrojos.”
Comuna 13 has been the most heavily surveilled urban area in Colombia since former President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002.