Colombia: It's not just about leaving home. It's about losing everything.
“Colombia has one of the largest numbers of internally displaced persons in the world. Death threats, fighting, killings of family members and the forced recruitment of minors have led to constant displacement in various parts of the country.” In this article, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger explains what the organization is doing for displaced persons in Colombia.
The ICRC has to do more than simply “express its concern regarding the fate of displaced persons”. Worldwide, the ICRC plays a leading role in helping people displaced by armed conflict, and is making major efforts to protect this particularly vulnerable group. During 2006, the organization helped over four million people, in 32 countr ies, often under very dangerous conditions.
Colombia has one of the largest numbers of internally displaced persons in the world. Death threats, fighting, killings of family members and the forced recruitment of minors have led to constant displacement in various parts of the country. As a result, millions of Colombians are exposed to extreme suffering and neglect, deprived of food, health-care, housing and education. This hits the most vulnerable groups particularly hard, especially women, children, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. The fact that over half the displaced population is under 18 is having a serious effect on the social and human development of the country.
Ten years ago, the ICRC started providing services for displaced persons in Colombia. Since 2003, the organization has been building up its cooperation with the Colombian Red Cross, enabling it to extend its presence and to help over a million displaced persons.
The ICRC recognizes the major efforts undertaken by the Colombian government to help the victims of the conflict, such as Law 387 of 1997 and its associated decrees. Successes include setting up a national system to care for displaced persons, defining various levels of care, creating a single displaced population register and allocating large sums of money. Nevertheless, there is a need to make further efforts if displaced persons are once again to exercise the rights that have been denied them.
As guardian of international humanitarian law, the ICRC will make every effort to ensure that bearers of arms respect the principles of distinction and proportionality, so that civilians no longer have to flee their homes. The presence of civilians must always be taken into account during the planning and execution of hostilities. International humanitarian law forbids parties to a conflict to force civilians to leave their homes. If, in absolutely exceptional cases, evacuation becomes necess ary for compelling military reasons, it must be temporary and carried out in such a way as to guarantee the safety and well-being of the people concerned. The ICRC emphasizes the need for stricter application of international humanitarian law by all arms bearers. This would both prevent or substantially reduce displacement and ensure a higher level of assistance and protection.
The ICRC will continue to help and protect displaced persons and to promote international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles to States, organized armed groups and civil society. However, what the civilian population needs is for all parties to conflicts to comply with the norms and rules of international humanitarian law.