Truth Commission of Colombia: Executive Summary

Whilst acknowledging that it is impossible to establish the exact number of deaths due to the armed conflict in Colombia the Truth Commission states that there were approximately 450,000 fatalities due to the armed conflict, occurring between 1985 and 2018. Approximately 80% of these deaths were civilians who had nothing to do with the armed conflict. Those most responsible for these deaths were paramilitary groups (45%), guerrillas (27%), state agents (12%).

Horrendous war crimes and crimes against humanity were carried out in the conflict. These included:

  • Forced disappearance: over 110,000 people, the perpetrators were paramilitaries (52%), FARC-EP (24%) and state agents (8%).
  • Kidnapping: at least 50,000 people were victims of kidnapping, often in subhuman conditions, for long periods and with devastating consequences on the physical and mental health of the victims and their families. Perpetrated by FARC-EP (40%), paramilitary groups (24%), the ELN (19%).
  • Forced displacement: at least 8 million people were forced off their land since 1985, with the highest peak in 2002, with a daily average of 2,000 displaced persons.
  • Recruitment children and young people for war: over 30,000. Responsible: FARC-EP in 75%, paramilitary groups 13% and the ELN in 9%.
  • Sexual violence converted women’s bodies into spoils of war. This modality of violence particularly affected Afro and indigenous women, but also men and the LGBTIQ+ population.

Two homicide modalities the Commission considered deserve special attention:

  • massacres 4,237 between 1958 and 2021 with half of these committed by paramilitary groups
  • extrajudicial executions, known as “false positives”, committed entirely by State agents, often in alliance with paramilitary organisations and estimated by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) at 6,402 for the period 2002-2008, but estimated at 8,208 for the entire period 1958-2016.

The Commission highlights that the main victims were the civilian population, wherein farmers and ethnic populations indigenous, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero people. They suffered disproportionately in the conflict.

After listening to more than 30,000 victims from different regions and sectors of the country, studying more than 1,000 reports submitted by groups and organisations, and analysing in depth the testimonies and the vast amount of information available, the Commission presents the results of its work in ten volumes and a “call for a great peace”.

Five main questions guided the Truth Commission’s work:

  • What happened throughout this armed confrontation of more than six decades?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What accountability was there?
  • What have been the impacts of this war and how have the victims been able to face its consequences, rebuild their lives, resist, and contribute to the search for peace?
  • What are the main recommendations to try to overcome the war once and for all and build a peaceful society?

Truth Commission’s Recommendations

The Commission makes a series of proposals in the different volumes, especially in the findings and recommendations, aimed at resolving the conditions that have made the confrontation and its persistence possible, and at laying the foundations for an equitable society, guaranteeing basic needs, giving effect to fundamental rights, and resolving inevitable differences and tensions without violence.

Accept the reality and gravity of what happened and assume the respective responsibilities of the armed actors, the State, civilians, and the different institutions.

Recognise that war is definitely not the way forward. To take arms out of politics. Put life and its dignity and quality before any other project and interest.

To solve the problem of drug trafficking in depth, changing the approach and strategies to confront it. Recognise that peace in Colombia is only possible if it is territorial and, therefore, guarantee the participation of the regions, rethink rural-urban relations and dignify the peasantry.

To decisively fight impunity and corruption.

Change the conception and structure of security, moving towards a human security, eliminating the practice of the internal enemy, putting the Armed Forces at the service of peace and the Police at the service of coexistence and citizens.

Strengthening democracy by enforcing the 1991 constitution and effectively implementing the Final Peace Agreement, negotiating with the ELN, and subduing organised criminal groups, are some of the most important recommendations, whose implementation will only be possible with a solid commitment from society and the State, especially from the next governments.

Truth Commission’s Legacy

The legacy of the Commission consists of an extensive testimonial and documentary archive, multiple databases as well as the methodologies and audiovisual and artistic products that resulted from the broad process of social dialogue promoted during the Commission’s mandate.