Colombia: all victims deserve timely care and support

13-04-2011 Operational Update

Report on ICRC activities in Colombia in 2010 – Thousands of people in rural and urban areas of Colombia in 2010 faced displacement, threats, murder, uncertainty about the fate of missing relatives and lack of access to basic services. The annual report on ICRC activities in Colombia describes the main issues of humanitarian concern that affected the population, as well as specific actions taken to mitigate them.

During 2010, people living in various regions of the country suffered the consequences of armed conflict and other forms of violence.

The rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) continued to be violated by the different parties to the conflict. ICRC delegates documented murders, threats, seizure of civilian objects and displacement. People living in Pacific Coast communities were especially affected by displacement.

Moreover, in several of the regions where the ICRC works, it saw how the formation of new armed groups meant new restrictions on movement for the inhabitants, affecting their economic and social lives.

In most places far from urban areas, the armed conflict intensified, and there was a structural lack of basic services such as health care, education, water and sanitation. In 2010, violence increased the vulnerability of communities that were already experiencing significant poverty.

The ICRC is also concerned about the harm caused to subsistence agriculture by the fumigation of illicit crops.

Lastly, the ICRC warns that the armed conflict is not the only form of violence that creates victims or that has serious consequences for Colombian civilians today. The consequences of so-called "other situations of violence" are also very significant and pose a big challenge in terms of the humanitarian response that needs to be provided.


Humanitarian response


During 2010, the ICRC's work benefited 700,000 people, some 180,000 of whom received direct assistance.

The data presented in the report reflect the situation in the 20 areas in which the ICRC is present. They should not, therefore, be construed as depicting the situation throughout Colombia.

Issues affecting the civilian population

In 2010, the ICRC recorded 768 instances of alleged violations of IHL and other basic rules protecting people in situations of violence. It also continued to give priority to confidential dialogue as a way of addressing these alleged violations and reminding the parties to the conflict of their obligation to protect and respect those not, or no longer, participating in the hostilities.

In humanitarian terms, the most important consequences of these alleged violations were as follows:


The phenomenon of displacement in Colombia is one of the most worrisome in the world. In places of refuge, displaced people have to confront not only the fear and trauma of being uprooted, but also economic hardships and difficulties in accessing basic services. They are among the country's most impoverished and vulnerable people.

  • The ICRC provided counselling to some 91,000 people.
  • Almost 38,000 displaced people received emergency humanitarian aid.
  • The ICRC dealt with 35 cases of massive displacement.


The disappearance of people is an issue that has affected the Colombian population for years. The relatives of missing persons, who suffer, sometimes for decades, from uncertainty regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones, are also categorized as victims.

  • The ICRC documented 92 new disappearance cases in Colombia.
  • It handed over to the authorities the mortal remains of two people and acted as an intermediary in other handovers.
  • It supported and counselled 37 families in the search and identification process.
  • It provided psychological support and helped to develop the legal framework and strengthen forensic capacity.
  • It supported the approval of the Ley de Homenaje on missing persons and the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Murder of and attacks on persons protected by international humanitarian law

In 2010 there continued to be murders of, attacks on and threats made against civilians and other persons entitled under IHL to special protection against the risks posed by combat or military operations. The ICRC recorded:

  • 79 civilian deaths;
  • 16 attacks on civilians, leaving them wounded;
  • 93 threats.

As a result of financial assistance provided by the ICRC:

  • 254 people who had received threats were able to move to safety;
  • 777 people who had received threats got emergency humanitarian aid;
  • 191 families of people who had died as a result of the conflict were able to pay their funeral expenses.

Seizure of civilian objects

Just as it protects the civilian population, IHL also protects civilian objects, be they private or public. In 2010, belligerents in some instances used schools, sports fields, community centres, health posts and homes as part of their combat strategy, seriously endangering the civilian population by turning civilian objects into military objectives.

  • The ICRC recorded 110 incidents involving seizure of private or public civilian objects.

Weapon contamination

Weapon contamination increases the vulnerability of Colombia's rural and urban residents. Explosive devices and unexploded munitions not only cause death and injury to the inhabitants of areas with limited access to health-care services, but also make it difficult to perform daily activities.

  • More than 11,000 inhabitants took part in 275 workshops on safe behaviour, in which they learned to identify the best places to walk.
  • One thousand people were trained to provide community first aid.
  • A total of 434 victims were aided; of that number, 247 had been wounded by improvised explosive devices and 187 by explosive remnants of war.
  • Economic assistance was provided to 1,052 victims.
  • A total of 235 prostheses, 204 crutches, 48 wheelchairs and a large number of canes and walkers were distributed.
  • Almost 30,000 patients with disabilities were treated at rehabilitation centres.

Sexual violence

Victims of sexual violence have difficulties in accessing the medical care and psychological support that can prevent the trauma they have suffered from having repercussions on their physical and mental health. In many places, victims do not know where to turn. To make matters worse, rape victims are often fearful of talking about what has happened to them or reporting the crime.

  • A total of 172 victims of sexual violence received medical and psychological care.
  • In 88 cases, emergency humanitarian assistance was provided.

Lack of basic services

Communities living in areas affected by the armed conflict not only suffer from the effects of the hostilities, but are also struggling to survive in precarious circumstances characterized by a lack of basic infrastructure.

  • Twenty-nine infrastructure projects were carried out, benefiting 111 communities.
  • A total of 1,381 residents and 5,500 displaced people received drinking water through water-supply and water-quality improvement projects.
  • Some 20,000 residents benefited from the renovation of seven health posts.
  • Fifteen educational projects benefited over 1,700 children.

Limited access to health-care services

Difficulties in accessing health care are another daily hardship for children, women, older people and other adults living in the remote areas where most armed clashes take place. Many communities live far away from the nearest medical facility, and travelling is impossible because of high transportation costs, the presence of armed groups and weapon contamination.

  • A total of 170,000 people were treated by mobile health units.
  • The ICRC paid the costs of travel, accommodation, medical care and medicines for 1,300 residents and the displaced population.
  • Some 3,000 patients received help in accessing the national health-care system.
  • More than 1,000 participants from 266 communities attended community first-aid courses taught jointly with the Colombian Red Cross.

Offences against medical teams

Under IHL and Colombian law, medical teams are composed of doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives and other professionals who aid, transport and evacuate the wounded and sick in situations of armed conflict. These workers must be respected and protected in all circumstances. Such protection also extends to medical facilities and vehicles. If even one doctor is forced to give up his or her work because of threats, whole communities will be left without access to health care.

  • A total of 31 offences against medical teams and 34 incidents that prevented medical work from being carried out were recorded.
  • Some 1,200 doctors in rural areas received training in protecting medical teams and in the importance of caring for all wounded and sick people without distinction.
  • Eighty-nine health facilities were identified with the respective emblem, giving 500,000 people safe access to health care.

Recruitment of minors

Children are particularly vulnerable in rural areas affected by the presence of armed groups. Difficulties in accessing education, deserted schools and a lack of job opportunities increase the risk and pave the way for recruitment of minors. Child recruitment is a serious problem, aggravated by the difficulty of obtaining accurate data and information.

  • Forty-two new cases were documented in 2010.
  • The issue was discussed directly with the armed groups.

People deprived of their liberty

The ICRC works to alleviate the pain and suffering of people deprived of their liberty and to ensure that they are treated in compliance with the rules of IHL and other basic principles protecting people.

People in the hands of armed groups

  • The ICRC facilitated the release of two civilians and two members of the security forces.
  • The sending of Red Cross messages helped family members to stay in contact with one another.

People in detention centres

  • The ICRC strives to ensure that people in detention centres are treated in accordance with humanitarian principles.
  • The ICRC conducted 153 visits to 86 detention facilities, registered 1,105 new detainees and continued monitoring 3,319 cases.
  • The ICRC presented 16 confidential written representations to the authorities on behalf of some 70,000 people.
  • Transportation costs were covered for the families of 2,000 detainees.
  • Thirty-five Red Cross messages were distributed between detainees and their relatives.
  • The ICRC expressed its concern about incidents involving health-care workers who had been deprived of liberty in connection with the performance of their duties.
  • The ICRC also holds ongoing dialogue with the authorities, weapon bearers and civil society.

In 2011, the ICRC will continue to promote the implementation of IHL and to aid and protect victims with the greatest needs in the 20 areas of Colombia on which the organization focuses.

In order to expand its programme coverage, the ICRC relies on the Colombian Red Cross as a strategic partner. In 2011, both organizations will also implement projects in urban areas.



Usme region, Bogota. The ICRC supports a displaced indigenous family.
© ICRC / B. Heger / co-e-02159


Quibdó prison, Choco state. An ICRC delegate visits a detainee.
© ICRC / C. von Toggenburg / co-e-01019


Arauca state. The ICRC supports a medical mission during which people are provided with primary health and dental care.
© Revista Semana / L. D. Peláez


Bogota, shelter for displaced people. Three mine victims whose treatment is financed by the ICRC.
© ICRC / B. Heger/ co-e-02181


Bajo Grande. The ICRC provides a first aid course to people from Embera, so that they can provide care during emergencies, in the absence of medical staff.
© ICRC / M. C. Rivera


San Miguel, El Retorno, Guaviare state. School cafeteria built by the ICRC.
© ICRC / M. Merley


San José del Guaviare, checkpoint near Chuapal. The ICRC maintains contact with members of the Colombian army.
© ICRC / C. von Toggenburg/ co-e-01140


Guaviare state, San José del Guaviare. An ICRC delegate speaks with members of FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) while they peruse ICRC brochures, during a dissemination session on international humanitarian law (IHL).
© ICRC / B. Mosquera/ co-e-01956


Florencia Airport, Caquetá. The ICRC facilitates the liberation of Sergeant Pablo Moncayo Emilio, who had been detained by an armed group for more than 12 years.
© Terra Colombia / D. F. Rincón