Colombia: Between the hope for peace and the reality of war
Colombia – a country of contrasts – is characterized by "pessoptimism", straddling the divide between optimism that peace is possible and pessimism that even peace would not stop the violence. This dilemma juxtaposes the bloody reality of conflict and other violence with the hope, which many citizens barely dare to entertain, of a new chance to put an end to an armed conflict that has lasted almost half a century.
Against the backdrop of the talks in Havana, which the ICRC welcomes as a unique opportunity to seek solutions that will at last end the suffering of victims, Colombia is seeing a rise in armed clashes and other violence.
Cuba is a long way from the depths of Colombia. The timid hopes raised by the talks on that distant Caribbean island are still far removed from that "other Colombia" referred to in our 2011 report. The victims living in those remote, marginalized regions, where most armed activity takes place, are not yet feeling any tangible results of the peace talks. On the contrary, far from the discussions about the future, many people have actually seen their situation worsen, while distant promises of a better life reach their ears.
This is one of consequences of negotiating while war continues to be waged. It is important to stress that the parties to the conflict have a duty to comply strictly with humanitarian rules, at all times and in all circumstances. The peace talks must set out mechanisms for settling the enormous debt to the conflict victims. Those mechanisms should compensate for the individual pain suffered by Colombians, who are demanding real solutions, recognition and reparation.
The cruel paradox Colombia faces is the certainty that a peace agreement that puts an end to an armed conflict dating back to the 1960s – which would undoubtedly be a landmark achievement – would not mean an immediate end to the violence in the country. Today, so-called criminal gangs are the cause of as many if not more deaths, threats, displacements and disappearances as the conflict that the Havana peace process is seeking to bring to an end.
This complex, dual reality highlights the need to take decisive action on two fronts: putting an end to the armed conflict and ensuring that it does not break out again, and tackling the phenomenon of organized violence. The latter also entails combating the discrimination against the victims of organized violence, who are driven from their homes but excluded from the State emergency assistance and reparation system for dubious reasoning from a humanitarian point of view.
The ICRC, which marks its 150th anniversary in 2013, has extensive experience in conflicts and peace processes worldwide. It reaffirms its ongoing willingness to contribute to the peace talks in Cuba through its work and support as a neutral intermediary and expert in humanitarian law. This includes playing an active role in the implementation of any humanitarian agreement reached by the parties, just as the organization has done in other conflicts. For instance, the ICRC routinely traces missing persons, clears areas contaminated by explosive devices, reunites families, transfers released detainees, and provides health care and sanitation in demobilization camps.
The ICRC will stand by the people – the "other Colombia" – offering help and protection wherever they are needed, for as long as the armed conflict and organized violence continue to claim victims.
After more than 40 years of continuous work in the country, our commitment to the people of Colombia will not cease with the signing of a peace agreement. It will only get stronger.
Head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia