Whilst the eyes of the world have been on Colombian cities and the repressive use of violence by the police against the social protesters there has been a growing humanitarian crisis in the rural areas.
The Fundación Ideas para la Paz (Ideas for Peace Foundation-FIP) reports an increase in the number of victims of massacres in Colombia. It states that, the first four months of 2021, they have recorded the highest number of victims of massacres since before the signing of the Peace Accord. Whilst during the same four months of 2021 there has been 48% reduction in combats between the Security Forces and illegal armed groups – mainly with the ELN guerrilla. Since the signing of the Peace Accord combats had been increasing, they were up by 65% in 2020 compared to the year before the signing of the Peace Accord.
The Colombian state has consistently stated that the killings of leaders and massacres are related to the presence of illicit crops, suggesting that it is as a result of criminal activities. However, the regions where the massacres are occurring are not always those where there is the presence of illicit crops. This link that the government insists exists, between killings and illicit crops, is one that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) also disproved in their exhaustive investigation into the killings of former combatants.
In the first four months of 2021, the homicide rates increased nationally by 15% the first rise since the signing of the Peace Accord and in the PDET* areas by 19% when compared to the same period in 2020. It should be noted that in 2020, the homicide rate increased by 36% in the PDET areas when compared to the previous year. The seriousness of this is further highlighted when you consider that whilst the homicide was increasing in the PDET areas in 2020, at the national level it was decreasing – by 12%. The lack of integrated implementation and the slowness of implementation of the Peace Accord is exacerbating violence in the rural areas.
Forced displacement and confinements
Forced displacements and confinements have continued at an alarming rate as a consequence of armed confrontations and direct threats, as well as, attacks against the population, with FIP recording, 23,500 forced displacements and 20,000 confinements in the first three months of 2021 an increase of 80% and 132% respectively when compared with the same period of time in 2020.
On 14 June 2021, some of the communities in Choco were once again subjected to armed strike. Transport was paralyzed due to the announcement of an armed strike by the ELN. The neo-paramilitary group the AUC engaged in armed actions on the route that communicates the municipality of Istmina to Quibdó. Due to these events, the communities of Medio, Bajo and Litoral de San Juan have been once again confined by armed confrontations between these groups which has led to a shortage of food and fuel.
Church and Indigenous leaders call for dialogue
Following visits to the regions of Choco and Antioquia during 2021, the Episcopal Conference of Colombia (Bogotá), representatives of the Catholic Church and indigenous leaders of Antioquia denounced the serious humanitarian situation experienced by the indigenous communities. In a visit they undertook in March 2021 to La Isla and Turriquitadó Llano, they found that both the guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) and the paramilitaries namely the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), in their territorial disputes committed serious violations of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and violations of human rights of the local population. The ELN had planted antipersonnel mines in houses and schools of indigenous villages forcing the communities to displace and the AGC had forced the community Turriquitadó Alto to go to Turriquitadó Llano, carrying one of their injured combatants. Both these actions are a violation of IHL.
“Indigenous Peoples do not deserve this. We are confined due to antipersonnel mines and combats. Our survival depends on being able to go to the river to fish and to harvest the crops from our lands, the [antipersonnel] mines don’t allow us to do this” says Amelicia Santa Cruz, representative of the Indigenous Organisation of Antioquia. (unofficial translation)
In a recent public statement the Catholic dioceses of Quibdó and Apartadó, the Greater Community Council of the integrated Peasant Farmer Organisations of the Atrato (Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la Organización Campesina Integral del Atrato -Cocomacia), the Cabildo Mayor de Murindó (Indigenous leaders of Murindo) and the Regional Coordination of the Pacific (Coordinación Regional del Pacífico) highlighted how the paramilitary group the AGC move around freely in the area and how the Security Forces operate in collusion with this paramilitary group.
It is of great concern that the AGC move freely in the territory and act in collusion with members of the Security Forces. This situation has been a constant in recent years and has become very visible throughout the Atrato river basin, in such a way that the civilian population, which requires the protection of the Security Forces, feels insecure and distrustful due to the fear generated by the alliance between state agents and illegal armed actors. (unofficial translation)
The Bishop of Quibdó, Monsignor Juan Carlos Barreto, has been urging dialogue between the government and the armed actors highlighting that the war which is currently being waged in the territories of Antioquia, the Pacific Coast and other regions of the country, “will plunge peasants, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities into a spiral of endless violence.” The Bishop went on to say
‘[w]e believe in the power of dialogue: we are ready to accompany it. We have made a call to the conscience of the illegal armed groups to sit down and talk, to solve the armed conflict peacefully. Because this war is going to leave many dead: the Army, the Police, the combatants, but above all the civilian population, ” he warned, if these calls for alert are ignored,” in five years we could be living in all-out war ”. (unofficial translation)
*PDET areas are the municipalities most affected by the conflict, that are allocated in the Peace Accord, special ‘Development Plans with a Territorial Approach’