Colombia: murder and death threats

18-04-2012 Feature

Murder and threats are used to intimidate people. This often drives individuals and communities to flee their homes. In addition to civilians, the wounded and those no longer taking part in hostilities also fall victim to this scourge. Extract from Colombia report 2011.


© ICRC / B. Heger

People living in areas where parties to the conflict are based, or where fighting and military operations take place, are the most exposed susceptible to violations of international humanitarian law, such as murder and threats.

When fighting breaks out, the parties to the conflict sometimes make no distinction between civilians and fighters. In 2011, the ICRC knew about witnessed dozens of cases of civilians killed in this way. Civilians also often become direct murder victims because they are caught in the crossfire. Many such incidents occured because fighters failed to take the necessary precautions to avoid civilian losses or to check whether they weare really attacking a military target.

In addition to civilians, others protected by international humanitarian law were also victims of murder and threats. These included fighters who were no longer taking part in hostilities, i.e. those who were wounded, captured or had surrendered.

Armed actors also use threats and murder to selectively target the population living in territory they wish to control. When civilians were stigmatized as belonging to the other side, this also led to countless threats and deaths.

In most cases, when a family member was murdered or threats were made against civilians, there were other consequences, such as individuals, entire families and communities fleeing their homes. The repercussions were therefore cumulative and lasting for those affected.

Victims' voices

The whole town knew they wanted to kill me, except for me

© ICRC / E. Tovar

"They came to my home and destroyed my belongings, throwing things everywhere, breaking down the door. They even stole the money I had earned from selling my homemade tamales. It's a good thing I wasn't at home or they would have killed me there and then. They threatened me because I lived next door to a member of an armed group. The whole town knew they wanted to kill me, except for me. They came after me because I had sold food to the other side. But that's how I earn a living. People come and buy my food. What am I supposed to do? Refuse to sell to them? Because of this, I had to flee the town. I try to get by with my son, but it's very hard leaving your home behind."

A victim of death threats who had to flee her home.


The ICRC's humanitarian response

Through its confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict, the ICRC strives to promote respect for the lives, well-being and dignity of civilians and all those protected under international humanitarian law.

Wherever possible, it approaches the parties concerning violations, documents those cases and monitors them closely in conjunction with the alleged perpetrators, thereby endeavouring to change their behaviour. The ICRC only documents cases of which it has first-hand knowledge and where it can help, even though the official murder toll in the country is much higher. In 2011, the ICRC was aware of 52 civilian deaths tied to violations of international humanitarian law. It also helped 139 families with the funeral costs for their loved ones killed as a result of the conflict.

The ICRC strives to mitigate the impact of the violence and reduce the risk of mistreatment and threats for the most vulnerable civilians. In 2011, 684 people whose lives were threatened received financial assistance to relocate somewhere safer.



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