Increasing the visibility of all conflict victims in Colombia
Thousands of Colombians are suffering as a consequence of the armed conflict – often in silence. By recognizing them as victims, the ICRC is able to improve the assistance and protection activities it carries out on their behalf. Recognition likewise makes it easier for them to access the services offered by the Colombian government. Foreword to the 2009 Annual Report on Colombia by Christophe Beney, head of delegation in Bogotá.
- What is the impact of the Colombian armed conflict on the population? – Introduction to the 2009 Annual Report
An unseen war – photo collection on Flickr
In recent years, fighting has become less intense around densely populated areas of the country and in some regions living conditions have improved. For certain rural communities, however, it is a different story. Thousands still encounter the harsh consequences of the armed conflict in their day-to-day lives – yet they remain anonymous. Many live in the villages of Antioquia, Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Córdoba, Guaviare, Huila, Meta, Nariño, Putumayo, Tolima and the Catatumbo region.
Though invisible, the victims of the conflict are many:
Rural inhabitants unable to move freely in and out of their villages because of the fighting;
Families mourning the death of a relative or enduring years of agony due to the disappearance of a loved one;
Victims of weapon contamination, whether they have suffered death, mutilation or psychological trauma;
Members of medical teams threatened, attacked or prosecuted, simply for doing their job;
Men, women and children suffering abuse – often sexual – in silence;
Civilians fleeing their homes to escape fighting or threats, leaving almost everything behind;
Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities who, among the thousands of civilians exposed to the armed clashes, find themselves especially affected;
Hostages and members of the police and armed forces deprived of their freedom, and their relatives back home, clinging to the hope that one day they will be reunited with their loved ones;
People detained in connection with the armed conflict, in overcrowded prisons.
The humanitarian principles that guide the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement give each of us the individual responsibility to raise awareness of all conflict victims in Colombia. By acknowledging their plight, we are able to improve our prevention, protection and assistance activities for those not, or no longer, participating in the hostilities. Equally, the victims will be able to access the services offered by the Colombian government in accordance with national legislation.
The humanitarian operation run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombia is one of its largest in the world. During 2009, the ICRC continued to work alongside the Colombian Red C ross on a range of programmes and projects designed to meet the most pressing needs of the victims in an impartial and independent manner. The organization focuses on around 20 areas of the country where access is particularly difficult and needs are greatest.
To be able to reach the victims, the ICRC holds regular dialogue with all armed groups, regardless of the label given to them. In order to ensure this exchange is constructive, with the sole aim of enhancing the protection of the victims of the conflict and the provision of aid, the ICRC must not only act in a neutral and independent manner, but must also be seen to be doing so. The same rule applies to its main partner, the Colombian Red Cross, with which the organization carries out part of its humanitarian work.
The ICRC always makes its own decisions and takes direct action using its own staff and financial resources, entirely independently of the State. It does, however, coordinate with government bodies, such as Acción Social, when bringing aid to the internally displaced, in order to ensure tasks are not duplicated.
The government has a responsibility and an obligation to assist and protect its citizens. However, during armed conflict there is a risk of " humanitarian " activities being instrumentalized and used for political or military ends. Such a move would distort the principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality, would potentially put civilians in danger, and would undermine the work of humanitarian actors, such as the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross. For all these reasons, the specific mandate entrusted to the ICRC, and its founding principles, must be preserved.
The ICRC believes that humanitarian action must remain strictly humanitarian. Only in this way is the organization able to be neutral, independent and impartial, and be perceived and recognized as such by all parties to the armed conflict. Neutrali ty is not easy: no-one is neutral by nature or by simple self-declaration. It is a quality that the parties themselves must recognize in the ICRC, through the way the organization acts and communicates. In Colombia, as in any other context where armed conflict has an impact on the civilian population, the ICRC will continue to bring aid to those in need, in its capacity as a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization.
Head of Delegation in Colombia
International Committee of the Red Cross