The ICRC in Colombia

15-02-2012 Overview

Colombia is the largest ICRC operation in the Americas. The ICRC's work in Colombia involves protecting civilians, assisting displaced persons and conflict-affected communities, helping people affected by weapons contamination, supporting families of the missing, visiting detainees, promoting international humanitarian law (IHL), and cooperating with the Colombian Red Cross and other Movement members active in Colombia.

The ICRC has been in Colombia for over 40 years and has a dozen offices dealing with the consequences of the armed conflict (one of the longest in the world), and other situations of violence. The operational focus is on 25 remote rural areas where the situation of civilians remains dire.

The ICRC assists IDPs in both urban and rural zones, in partnership with the Colombian Red Cross. It has boosted its efforts along the Pacific coast and in south-western areas, as well as in Antioquia, where major displacement occurs. IDPs and residents receive aid, and the ICRC runs agronomy projects to increase self-sufficiency and prevent displacement. The ICRC also works to improve infrastructure, by renovating schools, health centres, aqueducts and sanitation systems and it urges the authorities to step up their assistance to IDP's in urban centres.

To facilitate access to medical services in rural areas, the ICRC negotiates with weapon bearers to ensure that local medical teams can work safely. If necessary it accompanies them or sends its own personnel.

Explosive remnants of war

The ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross are working to minimize civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war and to support conflict victims. The ICRC supports the health authorities’ efforts to improve the care provided to victims.  

As well as death threats, civilians risk forced displacement and disappearance, sexual violence and summary execution, The ICRC records detailed allegations of these breaches of IHL and discusses them directly and in confidence with the security forces as well as the armed groups, urging them to end such practices. The ICRC provides people under death threat with emergency assistance and enables them to move to safer areas. It helps families of people killed in connection with the conflict to pay for their funerals. Rape victims are referred for medical and psychological care.

With ICRC support, State entities and family associations are working on clarifying the fate of an estimated 45,000 people missing as a result of conflict, and on supporting families. The ICRC provides psychological assistance and has enabled Colombian forensic specialists to attend professional conferences.

Access to detainees

The ICRC regularly visits people detained in relation to the conflict and maintains a confidential and constructive dialogue with the authorities in charge regarding material conditions of detention and treatment. In recent years, the ICRC has also sought to improve access to decent health care and has supported the re-establishment of family links. It also provides technical advice regarding infrastructure, in particular regarding water and sanitation.

ICRC access to people detained by armed groups remains unsatisfactory. However, a group detained by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) was allowed to receive Red Cross messages. In the past few years, the ICRC has facilitated the release of civilians and army/police officers.

The ICRC places great emphasis on the promotion of IHL and legal constraints on the use of force. This includes supporting the authorities in ratifying and implementing IHL treaties and raising awareness among weapon bearers of the humanitarian consequences of the conflict and the importance of respecting civilians and humanitarian workers.  


An ICRC team travels by canoe up the river Ispí to visit the municipality of Roberto Payan (Nariño). The ICRC helps the resident population affected by the conflict through agricultural and basic sanitation projects. 

An ICRC team travels by canoe up the river Ispí to visit the municipality of Roberto Payan (Nariño). The ICRC helps the resident population affected by the conflict through agricultural and basic sanitation projects.
© CICR / B. Heger

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