Colombia: ICRC calls for special agreements to be adopted as part of negotiations with armed groups

Colombia: ICRC calls for special agreements to be adopted as part of negotiations with armed groups

Bogotá (ICRC) – As a result of Colombia’s eight ongoing armed conflicts, in 2023 thousands of civilians went missing, were displaced, suffered sexual violence, or were wounded by explosive weapons or confined to their homes because of the risks of crossfire, anti-personnel mines and threats from armed groups. In addition, many young children and teenagers were involved with armed groups.
News release 03 April 2024 Colombia

Despite the ongoing efforts to find a negotiated end to the armed conflicts, the humanitarian situation in Colombia continues to cause concern. Last year, territorial disputes between armed actors intensified, which changed the situation in several parts of the country and created new humanitarian challenges.

"The Colombian state and armed groups must place humanitarian concerns at the heart of their peace talks. Special agreements could be struck during these negotiations that would help relieve the suffering of people affected by these armed conflicts and strengthen the obligations that the parties to the conflicts have under international humanitarian law (IHL). These obligations must be upheld whether peace talks are taking place or not," said Lorenzo Caraffi, the head of the delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombia, during a presentation of the Humanitarian Report 2024.

These agreements could focus on specific issues, such as impartial humanitarian organizations' access to affected people; missing people; unidentified bodies; the recruitment, use and direct participation of young children and teenagers in hostilities; the use, presence and abandonment of explosive weapons; people deprived of their liberty; and the safeguarding of health services.

These special agreements should also contain positive, concrete measures that are based on existing provisions of IHL and aim to protect those affected by the armed conflicts, in particular the civilian population.

Humanitarian Report 2024

According to official figures, at least 145,000 people had to move individually in 2023, a year-on-year increase of 18 per cent. In some departments, the increase was even higher. In the department of Bolívar, for example, the number hit 94 per cent; in Cauca and Putumayo, the figure rose to over 50 per cent.

In addition, although mass displacement of the population dropped by 13 per cent, the figure still remains high, with around 50,000 people having fled their homes. The problem hit some departments particularly hard. Putumayo saw the biggest increase, with the number of people affected skyrocketing by more than 1,000 per cent. Nariño was also hit hard, accounting for 52 per cent of all displaced people in the country.

"There are whole communities that cannot move around freely in their own backyard. Fear and anguish continue to govern these people's lives. For civilians, respect for IHL is not a difficult concept to grasp; on the contrary, it has real meaning for them. Respect for IHL mitigates the barbarity of war and can mean real relief for people in the midst of the uncertainty and pain generated by the violence," said Caraffi.

Territorial disputes between armed groups and the presence of explosive devices led to the confinement of around 47,000 people, a 19 per cent increase nationwide compared with 2022. The situation continued to be critical in the department of Chocó, which accounted for 44 per cent of the confined population. There was also a significant increase in other departments. For example, the number of people confined in Cauca more than doubled, and in Antioquia the number rose eleven-fold compared with 2022.

Last year, the ICRC recorded 380 direct victims of different types of explosive devices, such as anti-personnel mines, launched explosives and controlled detonation devices. The majority of the victims were civilians. Although this is a year-on-year drop of 27 per cent, weapon contamination has actually spread to new areas of the country: of the 73 municipalities that recorded incidents involving explosive weapons last year, 55 per cent had not recorded any in 2022.

The direct victims are not the only ones to suffer the consequences of this scourge: the families of those affected, and the communities displaced or confined because of the constant danger that these weapons put them in, also suffer.

Disappearance remains a worrying issue. In 2023, the ICRC recorded 222 cases of people who had gone missing as a direct result of armed conflict and violence that year. This is not the actual number of cases; the total number of people missing is likely to be significantly higher.

The Humanitarian Report also sets out the statistics on violent acts committed against health-care services in 2023. The National Medical Mission Board recorded 511 violent acts, of which 27 per cent were related to the armed conflicts. These were serious attacks, as a result of which several communities were unable to access health-care services. In addition, nine people were killed, the highest figure for the last five years. Five of the people killed were traditional healers.

The figures above show the complexity of the situation and the scale of the suffering. It is crucial for the ICRC to be present in the areas most affected by the armed conflicts and other violence so as to understand the harsh reality facing the people who live there and to do everything possible to relieve their suffering. Last year, the ICRC's neutral and impartial humanitarian work helped nearly 150,000 people.

About the ICRC
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a neutral, impartial and independent organization with an exclusively humanitarian mandate that stems from the Geneva Conventions of 1949. It helps people around the world affected by armed conflict and other violence, doing everything it can to protect their lives and dignity and to relieve their suffering, often alongside its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners.

Media Contacts:
Lorena Hoyos, ICRC, Bogotá, Tel: +57 310 221 8133,
Laura Santamaría, ICRC, Bogotá, Tel: +57 311 491 0789,