Colombia: people held by armed groups

18-04-2012 Feature

The ICRC facilitates the release of people held by armed groups by acting as a neutral intermediary and coordinating the logistics of release operations. It also offers psychological support to their families. Extract from Colombia report 2011.


© ICRC / C. von Toggenburg

The situation of people held by armed groups is a source of concern for the ICRC, whether they are civilians or members of the police and armed forces. Through its ongoing dialogue with the parties to the conflict, the ICRC tries to ascertain what has happened to them, passes on news from their loved ones when possible, and participates in release operations while also providing psychological support to their families.

Although the ICRC still does not have regular access to people being held by armed groups, it has on several occasions succeeded in putting them in touch with their families thanks to Red Cross messages, which it delivers to the leaders of armed groups in the course of their confidential dialogue.

The ICRC participates directly in release operations as a neutral intermediary between parties, provided that all parties request its involvement. It facilitates the coordination of all the logistical and security arrangements for the release. In many cases, the ICRC conducts these operations itself, using its own vehicles, at the armed group’s request. In other cases, the ICRC coordinates with other agencies and receives logistical support from governments and organizations invited to take part by the parties.

 The ICRC’s humanitarian response

In February 2011, the ICRC facilitated the release of five members of the police and armed forces and two civilians held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP). They were handed over to a team made up of members of the organization Colombians for Peace and delegates from the ICRC, with the logistical support of the Brazilian government, which supplied the aircraft and crew that made this operation possible. The releases took place in the departments of Caquetá, Cauca, Meta and Tolima. 

The ICRC also facilitated the release of a civilian held by the National Liberation Army in Chocó department, using a helicopter that it chartered for the operation. Similarly, the ICRC was involved in bringing about the release of a minor in Arauca department.

Over the course of 2011, the ICRC started offering psychological support to the families of the hostages due for release. The aim of this work is to prepare and support the families in the lead-up to the release and to deal with the emotional shock of being reunited with their loved ones. This support is also available after the release for the former hostages and their families if they wish. The ICRC shared the results of its visits to the families and former hostages with the Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for monitoring the reintegration of members of the police and armed forces in such cases.

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