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Colombia: humanitarian situation remains of concern

01-02-2006 Press Briefing

The ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl, says the position of those affected by the ongoing violence in Colombia remains serious. He was speaking at a press briefing in Geneva after returning from a recent visit to the country where he held talks with parties to the conflict and visited several ICRC programmes.

© ICRC / Boris Heger / co-e-00137  
Cocorna village. An ICRC delegate registers displaced people prior to a distribution of relief. 
© ICRC / Carlos Rios / co-e-00024 
Cuiti village, Department of Chocó. The organization regularly negotiates medical access to isolated communities and accompanies Colombian medical teams to these areas.
© ICRC / Boris Heger / co-e-00117 
Quibdo, Anayancy prison. In private, an inmate describes his everyday life to an ICRC delegate. 

During the press briefing, Pierre Krähenbühl said it was important to remember that Colombia had undergone a period of armed conflict that had now lasted four decades.

" There is not a single person in Colombia that has not in one way or another been affected by the levels of violence in the country, " he said.

In one village he visited, he said the population took some time to explain the level of violence directed at them in the form of extortion, kidnapping and forced displacement and the element of day to day fear they experienced.

At the same time, he said the country had demonstrated impressive internal initiatives to respond to the humanitarian and social needs thrown up by the conflict.

Mr Krähenbühl also explained that Colombia was in the middle of a complex period with the ongoing demobilization of so-called " self-defence " groups and a process of dialogue between the government and the armed opposition group, the ELN (National Liberation Army). Negotiations between the authorities and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) are more elusive, he said.


 The displaced  

The ICRC's director of operations said that one of the most worrying aspects of the violence in Colombia continued to be the numbers displaced by the conflict. Official government figures put them at 1.8 million though other estimates are higher. 

He said that people are often forced to leave their homes to liv e as best they can in poverty belts surrounding the big cities facing major challenges of social integration.

The ICRC's focus in collaboration with the authorities and with other humanitarian organizations such as the World Food Programme is on the short-term needs of the displaced – i.e. within the first three months of displacement. The main requirements are for food, shelter and access to medical care. The ICRC foresees assisting up to 45,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) in this way during the current year but stands ready to help more if need be.

Mr Krähenbühl also said it was worrying that more people had been forced to flee in January 2006 than in the comparative period last year. Recently 1,600 indigenous people were forced to leave their homes in the department of Cauca, in the south-west of the country, following an upsurge of fighting. Read ICRC news.  

Although the ICRC and its partners are able to fulfil the needs of recent IDPs, the director of operations said there remained significant problems for the medium to long-term displaced. He said this was a point that the ICRC regularly raised in talks with the authorities as one which needed to be addressed with a greater sense of priority.

He said action was also needed to prevent new displacements. Recent binding judgements made by the country's Constitutional Court have seen the government increase the budget allocated to the problem but Mr Krähenbühl said that it remained to be seen how this would translate into concrete measures and a long-term response by the authorities. 

As well as its actions on behalf of IDPs, Mr Krähenbühl also stressed ICRC operations on behalf of the wider civilian population, especially in facilitating access to medical attention. The organi zation regularly negotiates medical access to isolated communities and accompanies Colombian medical teams to these areas. Read story .



The ICRC continues to visit those detained by the Colombian authorities in connection with the violence, while efforts to visit those held by armed opposition groups continue.

Mr Krähenbühl said overcrowding in prisons remained a serious concern.

 The missing  

The ICRC makes regular approaches to armed opposition groups to try to ascertain the fate of those missing in the conflict. It strives to ensure that the issue remains high on the political agenda and on the agenda of any future negotiations to resolve the violence.

The organization is currently dealing with 3,600 individually documented cases of missing persons based on testimonies of family members.

Mr Krähenbühl said that the ICRC stands ready to act as a facilitator and intermediary in any release of hostages or of police officers and soldiers held by armed groups. However, he said he had little indication that negotiations on this question had made progress.

The ICRC currently has around 280 staff in Colombia and an allocated 2006 budget of CHF 24.6 million ($19.2 million/€15.8 million) to enable it to respond to the needs of those touched by the violence.

The organization has identified priority zones where it concentrates its operations and Mr Krähenbühl emphasized the high quality of the dialogue that the ICRC enjoys with all actors involv ed in the conflict.