What is the impact of the Colombian armed conflict on the population?

22-04-2010 Report

Civilians in conflict-affected areas of Colombia continue to be at risk of murder, attack, kidnapping and forced recruitment. Many are forced to flee, leaving everything behind. Those who stay are also vulnerable; they face problems such as restricted access to health care or water. The ICRC strives to provide protection and assistance to those affected by the conflict, including the displaced and victims of weapon contamination. Introduction to the 2009 Annual Report on Colombia.


  See also:

  •   ©CICR/C. von Toggenburg / v-p-co-e-01050    
    An ICRC delegate visiting detainees at Quibdó prison, in Choco region.    
      ©CICR/C. von Toggenburg    
    A delivery of medicines at a primary health care facility in Roberto Payán municipality, in Nariño region.    
      ©CICR/C. von Toggenburg / co-e-00831    
    A physiotherapist readjusting a mine victim's prosthesis at Cali teaching hospital. 


      An unseen war – photo collection on Flickr


 What is the impact of the Colombian armed conflict on the population?  


Armed clashes in rural areas are putting local communities in constant danger and exposing them to violations of international humanitarian law. These include: murder of and/or attacks on persons protected by international humanitarian law; forced disappearances; sexual violence; hostage-taking; forced recruitment; physical and/or psychological abuse; and forced displacement.

The lives of local inhabitants are also affected by the parties'failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians, by stigmatization, by pressure to collaborate with direct repercussions for civilians, by the seizure of private or public civilian objects, and by weapon contamination.

Such violations are driving people from their homes, and they are losing everything in the process. There is no doubt that limiting the number of violations of international humanitarian law can help to ensure that fewer people feel the vital need to flee to safety.

In addition, the armed conflict makes access to basic services difficult for the civilian population, including health care, education, water and sanitation, especially in remote areas. This situation is further complicated by the repercussions of the economic crisis and a drop in State investment.

The movements of communities living in remote areas are becoming increasingly constrained by limitations placed upon them by the parties to the conflict. Furthermore, their access to basic necessities is restricted, harming the already fragile financial position of these families.

Over and above insisting on the importance of applying humanitarian law, it is essential that political leaders and armed groups involved in the conflict take all the necessary precautions to protect those not, or no longer, participating in the hostilities.


 What is the ICRC doing to protect and assist those affected by the armed conflict?  

The ICRC is in a unique position; its mandate, strong presence in conflict zones, neutrality and working methods enable it to hold confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict in order to ensure greater respect for international humanitarian law.

The ICRC seeks to establish and maintain a relationship of trust both with the police and government armed forces, and with armed opposition groups, in order to obtain reliable security guarantees ensuring that its staff can safely reach the victims of the armed conflict. It is essential that the organization be seen as neutral by all parties to the conflict, something that it can achieve by bringing effective aid to affected communities – aid that will ultimately be perceived by the parties as important for the victims.

 What does customary international humanitarian law say?  


 Rule 55.  The parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need, which is impartial in character and conducted without any adverse distinction, subject to their right of control.  

When violations of international humanitarian law occur, the ICRC does not publicly denounce these events; rather, it documents the cases and shares them exclusively and on a confidential basis with the persons who are presumed to be responsible in order to prevent such cases from recurring. The ICRC does not make public pronouncements regarding the behaviour of the police, government armed forces or armed opposition groups; rather, it discusses the allegations of abuses committed by these actors with them directly, provided that it has obtained the express consent of the victim or his or her relatives to do so.

The ICRC provides protection and assistance through its proximity to victims in the areas most affected by the armed conflict, where, for various reasons, government bodies or relief organizations have a limited presence. Having access to these areas is essential in order for the ICRC to understand the needs of all the victims and provide a comprehensive response. ICRC multidisciplinary teams work in remote areas of the country in order to respond to the victims'most pressing needs for protection and assistance. This approach enables communities to stabilize their finances, through income-generating projects, and to have better access to basic services such as health care, education, water and sanitation, thanks to small-scale infrastructure projects.

The ICRC is continuing to promote joint operations with the Colombian Red Cross, involving individual assistance to displaced people, care and treatment for victims of weapon contamination, and other activities that seek to address the effects of armed conflict on civilians or of natural disasters in conflict zones.

During the second half of 2009, impetus wa s given to strengthening cooperation between the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross, with an emphasis on the local, operational and volunteer level, from where the initial response to any type of emergency arises.