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Colombia: Humanitarian situation and ICRC activities

28-04-2014

The hope of being able to turn the page and leave behind a conflict spanning five decades contrasted with the reality facing the victims of armed violence. The departments experiencing most difficulties were - se in the south and west of the country and Antioquia and Norte de Santander.

Thousands of Colombians endured the grim reality of armed violence in 2013. The ICRC helped 235,000 of them improve their living conditions. Click on the video links for a glimpse of what life is like for some of them.

  

Colombia, as it was and as it will be

by Jordi Raich, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia

Colombia has made significant progress on the path to ending the internal armed conflict between guerrilla groups and the government, and the question millions of Colombians are asking today is not whether there will be peace, whether the half century of conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the government will ever end; the question now echoing through the forests, mountains, towns and villages of Colombia is whether peace will finally come in 2014 or whether they will have to wait until 2015. It is a bitter sweet question which raises a multitude of hopes and concerns.

There are long-nurtured hopes of a better life for today's and tomorrow's generations, a peaceful life without war and with dignity and opportunities, in which the Colombia characterized by innovation, investment, 5 per cent growth and just 9 per cent unemployment extends to the remotest villages and the poorest city slums.

There are also concerns that linger on, because the wait for the end of the conflict is not a time of peace but a time of war, as the conflict continues unabated and the disappearances, displacements, murders, threats and sexual assaults continue to mount up day by day. Official figures put this tragic inventory of victims at over six million since 1984.

Because hopes for peace are tempered by the reality of war, the ICRC continues to remind the parties to the conflict of their obligation to strictly comply with the principles and rules of international humanitarian law (IHL). It also urges them to consider establishing humanitarian agreements, which the ICRC can help to draft and implement. This would have an immediate impact on the living conditions of the civilian population, giving a sense of reality and imminence to the peace talks, which for many people are little more than vague and distant promises.

There are concerns because the peace agreement that is eventually made is sure to be just the end of the beginning. It will be followed by the beginning of the end, a long and complex process, as with any peace agreement anywhere in the world, to repair and reconcile a society fragmented and traumatized by decades of war. It will be crucial to ensure that all processes and agreements are inclusive and creative, establish mechanisms truly capable of bringing the conflict to an end and adopt measures to provide material and moral reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. It will also be important for the international community to stand by Colombia and the Colombian people as they negotiate this difficult path. The ICRC is willing, at the request of the parties involved, to contribute to this process, as a neutral intermediary and expert in IHL with extensive experience in the implementation of peace agreements in other countries, by tracing missing persons, promoting reintegration, clearing areas contaminated by explosive devices and helping displaced persons return home.

There are concerns because a successful peace agreement with the guerrilla groups would not mean an end to the armed violence caused by other groups, the so-called criminal gangs whose activity has a humanitarian impact comparable to that of the armed conflict. The cruel paradox facing Colombia is that the most immediate consequence of a peace agreement with the FARC-EP and the ELN is likely to be an increase in the area of activity and acts of violence of such gangs. The inclusion in the State assistance system of displaced people driven from their homes by these groups was an important achievement in 2013, a long-awaited first step in ending the discrimination suffered by these victims. However, assistance is never the solution, and a comprehensive approach is required to put an end to the serious consequences of this type of armed violence and protect the achievements and commitments arising from the peace talks.

This report presents the Colombia in which millions of Colombians live, the Colombia in which the women and men of the ICRC work. It is not an easy place to live or work; it is a Colombia facing a multitude of challenges and inhabited by people struggling with courage and determination to pull through. We invite you to read these pages with consideration, humility and hope.

On paper, 2014 might seem to be just another year in which concerns outweigh hopes, but human emotions, made of sensitive stuff, defy consultancy reports, graphs and percentages. Adversity teaches us to measure happiness and sadness in moments, to adapt to what life brings as water to a recipient and to cling on to the hope of a better life however slight and remote it may seem. It is clear to all that 2014 will be a year of crucial importance for Colombia in many respects. It will be a year of transition towards something better, something that everyone is hoping for, but is also concerned about because it has yet to take shape.