Report: 2020 saw more violence and abuses in Colombia

In a new report, ICRC found that violence, killings and disappearances are on the rise in Colombia in a worrying trend.

Police officers patrolling a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bogota [File: Ivan Valencia/AP Photo]

Amid pressures from the pandemic and a decades-old conflict, Colombia faced a resurgence of violence last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found in a report released on Wednesday.

In the 13-page report, the ICRC said the country is currently facing at least five continuing conflicts with armed groups that affect the daily lives of Colombians.

The group recorded higher cases of disappearances, killings, and sexual attacks, as well as a rise in the number of people being killed or injured by explosive devices in 2020. The group also noted a rise in the number of attacks on healthcare workers and facilities.

The ICRC recorded higher cases of disappearances, killings, and sexual attacks, as well as a rise in the number of people being killed or injured by explosive devices in Colombia in 2020 [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

“In 2020, the consequences of the conflict saw an upsurge, especially compared with 2016,” Lorenzo Caraffi, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Colombia, said on Wednesday during a presentation of the report in Bogota.

“There is a tendency that demonstrates an upsurge in the conflict,” he said, “and unfortunately, it is the civilian population that is paying the price of this upsurge.”

According to the report, 389 people were killed by explosive devices in 2020, the highest since 2016. Most of the victims, according to ICRC, were civilians.

The Colombian government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leftist rebels in 2016, meant to end a conflict that killed more than 260,000 people and displaced millions.

But violence has been gradually increasing again.

Last month, the United Nations put out its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia and found that violence is “intensifying”, especially in remote parts of the country, and that killings of civilian human rights activists have been on the rise.

Former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) marching during a ‘Pilgrimage for Life and Peace’ protest demanding security guarantees and compliance with the peace agreements signed with the government, in Bogota, Colombia on November 1, 2020 [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

The ICRC report also noted that since 2016, “an alarming statistic” of 571 new cases of people missing because of the armed conflict – an average of one missing person every three days.

More than 120,000 people went missing in the country since the 1960s, and the ICRC, in addition to other groups, is engaged in efforts to locate individuals and bodies.

Caraffi called on civilians and armed groups to help government and international efforts to find missing people, which he said has been further hampered by coronavirus restrictions.

“We are making an appeal on armed groups to support international humanitarian law and protect those who are not participating or stopped participating in the hostilities,” he said.

The ICRC report also recorded 325 attacks against healthcare workers, facilities and vehicles in remote areas in 2020 – the highest number on record in 24 years.

Wearing a mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, a man sits on his front porch in Campohermoso, Colombia, March 18, 2021. According to the Health Ministry, Campohermoso is one of two municipalities in Colombia that has not had a single case of COVID-19 since the pandemic started one year ago [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

Like many countries, Colombia’s coronavirus vaccination campaign is off to a slow start amid difficulties in acquiring enough doses. But Colombia’s campaign is further complicated in the more remote areas where armed groups are operating.

“We have offered the authorities support to effectively reinforce the possibility for the people who want to access the vaccine, to be able to do so, especially in the remote areas,” Caraffi said at a news conference.

“[We are] assuring [them] that in areas where armed groups operate, people who want to be vaccinated can safely access vaccines,” he said.

The pandemic has so far infected more than 2.3 million Colombians and killed nearly 62,000 people. So far, 2.4 million people in Colombia have been vaccinated, less than 1 percent of the population, according to a tally by Our World in Data.

Source: Al Jazeera