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Colombia: civilians continue to pay a heavy price for the conflict

15-04-2009 News Release 09/77

Bogotá / Geneva (ICRC) – The armed conflict in Colombia continues to take a heavy toll on tens of thousands of civilians enduring death threats, direct attacks or the threat of forced recruitment, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned today.


In 2008, the ICRC provided over 73,000 displaced people with food and household items, a 10% increase over 2007. This increase is partly due to the fact that the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross have improved their ability to reach displaced families in the conflict-affected south-western state of Nariño. However, the number of families on the run has also increased because of the presence of new armed groups in certain parts of the country, which has led to more clashes over control of territory.

" Sadly, far too many civilians in Colombia continue to be targeted by weapon bearers, " said Christophe Beney, the head of the ICRC's Colombia delegation. " In 2008 the ICRC documented over 1,600 alleged violations of international humanitarian law, including 300 summary executions, 205 direct attacks against civilians, 289 disappearances and 83 instances of forced displacement. These statistics make it clear that the parties to the conflict are not doing enough to ensure that their fighters spare and protect civilians and those no longer participating in hostilities. "

In accordance with its standard working procedures, the ICRC has raised its concerns regarding these alleged violations of international humanitarian law confidentially with the parties to the conflict concerned, with a view to having such violations cease and preventing their recurrence.

In 2008, in order to save their lives, thousands of families in rural areas had no choice but to leave their homes and all their belongings behind and try to rebuild their lives elsewhere, often in city slums. Two of every three displaced people receiving ICRC help say they have been threatened with death, one of every ten with forced recruitment into an armed group.

" I left my farm two years ago, because I didn't want to cooperate with the armed group that controlled our village, " said Abelardo Antonio in Putumayo state. " Different armed groups pass through our village; some of them decide to stay overnight, and we are anxious and nervous, and I don't know what to do with my daughters, " said Ignacia María, who lives in a conflict-affected area in Nariño state.

It is also worrying that 50% of those receiving aid from the ICRC are children and adolescents, and that 20% of the families have only the mother as a breadwinner. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse when forced into displacement.

As the fighting between the armed forces and armed groups has shifted towards more remote mountain and jungle areas and towards the Pacific coast, indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been particularly hard hit. Many of them are ill prepared to resettle in urban areas, where ethnic minorities often face stigmatization. In 2008, 22% of the ICRC-assisted families belonged to ethnic minorit ies.

The ICRC has been working in Colombia since 1969. Its main objective is to enhance respect for international humanitarian law by all armed groups, in particular so that civilians will be better protected. It currently employs 377 staff in 14 offices across the country.

For further information, please contact:
  Christophe Beney, ICRC Bogotá, tel: +57 1 313 86 30
  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2458 or +41 79 217 32 24