Colombia is one of the top twenty countries globally most impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. The Government moved quickly in March 2019 to lockdown the country in order to combat this virus. However, it did this without considering the impact that this kind of lockdown would generate on the poorest, and those living in areas where multinational mining companies have diverted community rivers to benefit their extractive activities.
Measures taken to address this pandemic were also taken advantage of by illegal armed groups vying for, and consolidating their control, of strategic areas and areas rich in natural resources through brutal violence. As a result, there was an increase in massacres in Colombia in 2020 of approximately 54% compared to the same period in 2019 according to Indepaz.
According to the Ministry of Defence, compared to the last year of the peace negotiations (October 2015 to September 2016) the number of victims of massacres in Colombia quadrupled in 2020 (October 2019-Sept 2020) and combats increased in the same timeframe by 65%.
According to CERAC (Resource Centre for the Analysis of conflicts), whilst homicides generally fell in Colombia, political violence grew as did the number of deaths of human rights defenders, political activists and community leaders by 36% in 2020 compared to 2019. The current situation in Colombia has served to bring back memories of the period of violence that covered the entire country in the 1990s. The Colombian people thought these violent episodes had ended with the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord.
INDEPAZ reports that in 2020 the number of massacres increased, affecting 23 of the 32 departments in Colombia and making it the most violent year since 2013. There were 91 massacres, in which 381 people were killed. These massacres are believed to have been carried out not only by illegal armed groups such as the ELN or neo-paramilitaries, but also by small militia structures of dissidents of the FARC, or drug cartels. The indigenous population has been worst affected, for example, on 15 December 2020, the Nasa Indigenous community in Northern Cauca reported 66 of its members killed during 2020. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, “sadly, violence has been normalized in Colombia after decades of armed conflict, and no one should accept that”.
According to INDEPAZ massacres occur because of the weak or non-existent presence of the state in many rural areas since the signing of the peace Accord. This has allowed illegal armed groups to send a message of terror. Those territories have become trophies, fought over by illegal armed groups who terrorise local populations
The lack of state presence is a key element in areas where there are high levels of violence. However, the militarisation of these territories is not the answer in fact, areas that have been highly militarised have seen an increase in homicides. What is needed in these areas are strong state Institutions and provision of basic services, drinking water, health, schools, local infrastructure etc. in order to build human security.
The Peace Accord created 16 regional areas made up of 170 municipalities which had suffered disproportionately from the conflict and where additional resources were to be targeted, to address the issue of weak state presence and institutions. These are known as Rural Development Plans with a Territorial Approach (PDET). The development plans for these areas were formulated with high levels of community participation, including indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. It is essential to move forward with the full implementation of the PDET plans to address violence in the rural areas and increase measures for human security. addressed in a sustainable way and the hopes of those who participated in the consultations are to be fulfilled.
Michel Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “I call on the Colombian authorities to take stronger and much more effective action to protect the population from this appalling and pervasive violence,” she added. “It is the State’s duty to be present throughout the country, implementing a whole range of comprehensive public policies, not only to clamp down on those responsible for the violence, but also to provide basic services and safeguard the fundamental rights of the population”.