Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Colombia: Release of persons deprived of freedom

04-07-2001 Operational Update




 Executive summary  

  • An agreement was signed between the Colombian government and the FARC on 2 June with a view to releasing a certain number of captured combatants from both sides. At the request of the two parties, the ICRC has been facilitating this ongoing release process by providing, as neutral intermediary, organizational, logistical and humanitarian support.

  • This complex operation has led to the release of 14 FARC combatants and 359 police/military personnel as at 30 June. The ICRC ensured transport of released detainees from the sites of liberation to their place of reception to meet their relatives. 





An agreement was reached on 2 June 2001, between the Colombian Government and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces ( Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), the largest guerilla faction in the country, to mutually release combatants captured in relation to the conflict, placing a priority for those detained with health problems. The agreement was a result of long negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian authorities concerned. This release is a step in the peace negotiations between both parties which resumed in Februar y 2001 following three months of suspension. In this framework, the FARC have engaged themselves to free unilaterally an important number of detained members of the armed forces following the initial simultaneous exchange.

In order to facilitate the actual release process, both parties requested the ICRC's involvement to provide, as neutral intermediary, organizational, logistical and humanitarian support for the operation. Throughout the process, the ICRC worked closely with the High Commissioner for Peace, Camilo Gomez, and the FARC directorate. More recently, the ICRC Head of Delegation met with the High Commissioner for Peace and some members of the FARC in the Zona de Despeje on 22 June, in order to finalize the details concerning the release operation of more than 300 military and police personnel.

On the occasion of these recent high level contacts with the FARC, the ICRC again sought to be granted access to persons they still detain who were not included in this release agreement, in order to regularly assess their treatment and conditions of detention.




The release operation started on 5 June and was carried out in different stages. On 30 June, the liberation process had led to the release of 14 FARC combatants and 359 police and military personnel. 

 First stage  


The operation was initiated 5 June in South Tolima through the liberation of a critically ill Colonel of the Police Forces, as well as the three other police officers of his unit who had also been captured with him. All four individuals were released and handed over to an ICRC team and the High Commissioner for Peace, before being transported to Cali by helicopter - chartered by the ICRC and properly identified with the red cross emblem.

 Second stage  


On June 16, 17 and 18, the ICRC carried out an extensive operation from different sites across Colombia, in order to facilitate the release of 11 FARC combatants and 51 members of the police and the army. Diplomats from countries involved in supporting the peace process between the two factions were present during the operation. The Colombian Red Cross assisted the released persons at the reception points.

This complex operation, which required the participation of eight ICRC teams, began with the transfer of the 11 guerilleros by airplane through the ICRC on the 16 June. The aircraft departed from Valledupar-Cesar situated in the northern part of the country, and landed the same day in El Recreo municipality, located in the Zona de Despeje , where the released persons were received by another ICRC team. In the meantime, another ICRC team travelled to Caquetania municipality (Caqueta department in the south of the country) in order to meet the first group of 29 military and police officers at the initial place of release on 16 June. Shortly after, three helicopters identified with the red cross emblem transported this group to the Liborio Mejía battalion in Florencia (Caqueta department), where other ICRC delegates welcomed them and handed them over to the authorities concerned.


On 17 June, the operation was carried out in two locations in the northern part of the country. An ICRC team travelled by road to La Encarnación in the Urrao municipality (Antioquia department), in order to receive ten military and police personnel. At the same time, a second ICRC team received four military and police staff members in the nearby rural zone of Cocorna in the same department. The 14 newly released detainees were regrouped and transported to Medellin in a helicopter chartered by the ICRC, where their relatives were awaiting their return.

On 18 June, four military and police staff members were received upon their release in the northern part of the country by an ICRC team. Shortly afterwards, they were transported in a helicopter to Valledupar (Cesar department). Four additional staff members were handed over to a second ICRC team in Chiscas (Boyaca department) situated in the centre of the country, and transported by the ICRC to the Sogamoso brigade in the same department. On 23 June, another three FARC members were released.

 Third stage  


On 27 June, 242 police and military personnel detained by the FARC were gathered in La Macarena (Meta department) for their release. A total of 19 delegates, including five medical personnel were present in order to identify medical cases and carry out talks in private with each one of them, as a standard procedure prior to a release. On 28 June, four Antonov planes bearing the red cross emblem shuttled all of these 242 persons to a military base in the Tolima department, where they were met by their relatives and received by Colombian President Pastrana.

 Fourth stage  


On 30 June, another 62 police and military personnel were released by the FARC. The operation took place in three locations, Urrao, Cocorna and Ituango, all in Antioquia department where the detained men were gathered. Seven ICRC delegates were present during the operation and ensured that standard procedures were applied properly. Persons released were accompanied by ICRC delegates in helicopters bearing the red cross emblem to the military base of Medellin, where they were received by their families and high-ranking military officers.

With this liberation, the agreement signed between the Colombian Government and the FARC was completed as stipulated between the two parties to the conflict. A total of 359 military and police personnel were exchanged against 14 FARC members.




As the armed conflict has been increasing in both intensity and territorial scope, its impact has become more widespread. To address Colombia's complex humanitarian crisis situation, the ICRC has adopted a comprehensive strategy focusing on both protection and assistance issues in order to reach a single goal: the preservation of the physical integrity and the dignity of conflict victims. ICRC activities focus on protection, assistance and health programmes for civilians. An average of 53 expatriate delegates and 190 Colombian staff work to meet the protection and emergency needs of approximately 150,000 conflict victims.


  •  Protecting persons deprived of their freedom  


The ICRC, between January and March 2001, visited 859 persons held by state entities in 71 transitory or permanent centres of detention. These visits are carried out in order to assess the material conditions of detention, including medical care, and the treatment afforded to the detainees. Along with the information gathered during individual interviews held with the detainees, these observations constitute the basis of an independent survey and the ICRC may issue confidential recommendations to the detaining authorities concerned. The ICRC also continues to help detainees re-establish contact with their relatives via Red Cross family messages - some 83 messages were transmitted via the ICRC during this first quarter. In spite of repeated efforts, the ICRC has not yet been granted access to persons held by the FARC.

  •  Protecting civilians through ongoing contact and dialogue  


The main difficulty in protecting people is that each warring faction arbitrarily decides whether a civilian " collaborates " with an opposite armed group. This is contrary to the norms of international humanitarian law. Summary executions, death threats and acts of terror are often used as means to exert pressure on individuals and civilian communities.   To give an appropriate humanitarian response, the ICRC has opted for a strategy of proximity both with the civilian   population and the armed groups concerned.

To attain this proximity, the ICRC inter links more and more systematically with all parties to the conflict, through bilateral confidential discussions and written reports. The ICRC makes strong representations in the event of unlawful behaviour and strives to build awareness and respect of humanitarian law, as well as to build confidence in the ICRC's humanitarian endeavour.

  •  Persons Internally Displaced  


In 2000, often jointly with the Colombian Red Cross, the ICRC provided both food and non-food emergency assistance to a total of 123,651 civilians, most of them internally displaced. In view of the worsening of the situation, the ICRC adapted its response and increased its capacity to assist 70,000 additional beneficiaries.

  •  Wounded and sick  


Owing to the prevailing security situation, public health services are insufficient in some regions of the country. The ICRC's four Mobile Health Units (MHUs) in Colombia provide primary health care in conflict areas, including ad hoc treatment, while keeping substitution of State health services to a minimum. In case of medical emergencies, ICRC health delegates strive to stabilise the patient's condition and might opt to evacuate them to an appropriate hospital structure. In 2000, the MHUs treated 26,068 persons affected by the conflict. Some 12,949 patients received medical consultations; 3,852 people were provided with dental care, and MHUs gave medical care to 816 persons internally displaced who were ill.

Related sections