Colombia: Challenges of armed conflict and violence

Our current concerns

If we could take an X-ray of Colombia that summarizes 2018, the result would be a map of regions darkened by armed conflict and violence.

There is still a long way to go before we can talk about overcoming so many years of pain.

During 2018, our teams in the field observed the harsh humanitarian consequences of the combination of violations of humanitarian norms and the absence of the State in many areas of Colombia that have been affected by the violence.

The situation significantly deteriorated on the Pacific coast and in large parts of the east and south of the country where regular abuses committed against the civilian population by all the armed groups are proliferating.

Amid the reorganization of armed groups, the violence that the country dreamed of leaving behind after the signing of the Peace Agreement of 2016 with the FARC-EP has increased.

Two facts are a sad reminder of this trend: in 2018, the Unit for the Victims Assistance and Reparation recorded a substantial increase in mass displacements, and the number of victims of anti-personnel mines and explosive devices tripled.

This trend is compounded by a shameful list of abuses that seem to be far from over: targeted killings, threats, disappearances, sexual violence, use of minors by all arm bearers, disrespect for health workers, among other things.

Last year alone, we helped more than 170 families cover the funeral expenses of their loved ones who died in the conflict. While we will continue to support and guide victims to the best of our abilities, the State must act diligently to put an end to this ceaseless course of violence.

Isolated from the public debate, for Colombians who still live amid violence, the promises of a better life seem very distant. That is why it is so important that the State has an integral presence, beyond its troops, in the regions where it is most needed. Arm bearers, for their part, must ensure that their members respect civilians and keep them out of hostile situations.

On the other hand, in 2018, we recorded abuses committed by gangs who exert social control and perpetrate various forms of armed violence in urban neighborhoods and their peripheries. Buenaventura, Tumaco, Quibdó, Medellín, Cali, and Cúcuta are six cities in which we are working tirelessly and are witnessing the impact of the coexistence of 'old' wars and new armed groups.

As a humanitarian organization, we remain committed to the victims, but our case-by-case support will never be enough. To keep hope from fading away, the entire country must reject persistent violations of humanitarian norms.

Download report Humanitarian Challenges 2019

Isolated from the public debate, for Colombians
who still live amid violence,
the promises of a better life seem very distant.

That is why it is so important that the State has
an integral presence, beyond its troops,
in the regions where it is most needed.


80,000 questions: The missing 

Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in November 2016, we have documented one new case of disappearance linked to the conflict and armed violence every four days.

This enabled us to confirm that all arm bearers present in the country are still using enforced disappearances as part of their tactics. Our data represent only a small part of what is happening across the national territory and, therefore, cannot be interpreted as exact figures. However, they do confirm that enforced disappearances are not a phenomenon of the past, but a terrible and unjustifiable reality of everyday life.

In 2018, we monitored more than 2,500 cases of disappearances and obtained information on the fate of 216 of these people.

However, these efforts are just a drop in the ocean: The National Centre for Historical Memory estimates that there are more than 80,000 people missing as a result of the conflict. This gap between these results and the magnitude of the problem makes it clear that the search for missing people remains Colombia's longest-standing challenge.

We will probably never be able to say exactly how many Colombians have disappeared. Hundreds of families live under threat or in conditions that limit – or completely rule out – the possibility of seeking help from relevant state institutions.

The truth is that most cases remain unresolved while new evidence surfaces every day. Unfortunately, time is against us in the search, which is aggravated by the lack of political will for this issue to receive the importance it requires. Meanwhile, families suffer from the indifference of a society that seems to have turned its back on them.


The challenge of migrating with dignity

Migrants arriving in Colombia become part of the vulnerable population affected by conflict and violence.


Crisis in the prison system

Given the lack of structural changes in Colombian prisons, in 2017 we began to draw public attention to the prison crisis facing the country. Unfortunately, in 2019, we have to acknowledge that not enough progress has been made.

Overcrowding, poor access to health care, few re-socialization projects and the deplorable conditions of many prisons are just the tip of the iceberg.

We will continue working hand in hand with the authorities to promote a penitentiary policy that helps to ensure that the rights of prisoners are respected. However, without a clear political will and as long as disproportionate punitive stances remain, it will be difficult for the country to achieve a coherent and effective regulatory and institutional framework.

More reasons why our work matters

In 2018, our humanitarian work had an impact on the lives of 186,000 people. These are the results of one year’s work, frequently carried out in conjunction with the Colombian Red Cross.

124,000 migrants

and inhabitants of host communities received humanitarian aid and better access to health care, water, hygiene and education.

28,000 people

affected by conflict and violence enjoy better sanitary conditions, access to water and infrastructure.

6,200 people

living in areas affected by explosive devices learned how to mitigate the risk of accidents and to prepare contingency plans.

6,880 victims

received food, money or agricultural supplies to cope with emergencies.

2,500 relatives of missing persons

continued their search with our financial support and guidance.

216 cases

in which information was obtained on the whereabouts of missing persons, thanks to our support. Out of which, 49 were found alive.

4,100 prisoners

benefited from our work in prisons, such as monitoring and improvement of infrastructure, water and health care.

1,700 people

including migrants, relatives of the disappeared and survivors of sexual violence received psychological and psychosocial care.

840 people with disabilities

saw improvements in their conditions thanks to our physical rehabilitation programmes.