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Colombia: the armed conflict in the south continues to affect the lives of thousands

08-09-2010 Operational Update

Hostilities intensified in the lead-up to Colombia's presidential elections in May and June 2010. Thousands of Colombians living in some rural areas continue to have limited access to basic services such as medical care, education, water and sanitation. An overview of the ICRC's activities in Colombia from January to June 2010.

  ©CICR / C. V. Toggenburg /co-e-00901    
  Vaccination of children in a clinic in Roberto Payán, Nariño department.    

  ©CICR / C. V. Toggenburg /co-e-00995    
  An ICRC delegate visits El Buen Pastor, a women's prison in Bogotá.    

  ©CICR / C. V. Toggenburg /co-e-00831    
A physiotherapist readjusts the artificial limb of a mine victim at the Hospital Universitario del Valle in Cali.    

  ©CICR / C. V. Toggenburg /co-e-01195    
An ICRC agricultural engineer with a young man from the community of San José del Guaviare, where the ICRC is running a project to support local farming. 

  ©CICR/B. Mosquera /co-e-01955    
ICRC delegates meet members of the FARC in a rural area of San José del Guaviare, to promote international humanitarian law and the work of the ICRC. 

Two members of the army and the mortal remains of a police major, who had died in captivity, were released by the FARC at the end of March 2010. The ICRC facilitated the operation, with logistical support from Brazil. 

In the lead-up to Colombia's presidential elections in May and June 2010, clashes intensified between the police and armed forces and the FARC in the south of the country, especially in Caquetá, Cauca, Guaviare, Huila and Nariño. Thousands of Colombians living in certain rural areas are facing the consequences of the armed conflict, including limited access to basic services such as medical care, education, water and sanitation. The ICRC is carrying out a large part of its work in the 25 rural areas worst hit by the armed conflict.

 ICRC activities from January to July 2010  

 Cases of suspected violations of international humanitarian law  

Between January and July 2010, the ICRC recorded 315 cases of suspected violations of international humanitarian law and of other national and international laws. With a view to preventing further violations, the ICRC reminded the parties to the conflict on 138 occasions – nine times in writing – of their obligations to respect these laws, and of the protection that international humanitarian law affords the civilian population during armed conflict.

In the same period, the ICRC:

  • helped pay the funeral expenses of 55 people who had died as a result of violations of international humanitarian law, in this way supporting families already devastated by the loss of a loved one.

  • gave emergency aid to 280 victims of death t hreats and provided 94 people with the financial means to escape to a safer part of the country.

 Assisting people living in weapon-contaminated areas  

Colombia faces a serious problem of weapon contamination. Anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war (artillery shells, mortar bombs and grenades) lead to death, serious physical injury, considerable psychological trauma and disastrous socioeconomic repercussions for thousands of victims in rural areas, along with their families and communities. Weapon contamination prevents residents from accessing cultivable land, water sources, schools, medical centres, and places of worship. It greatly restricts their movements and some dare not leave their small village at all.

During the first seven months of the year, over 3,400 residents of such areas were given food, and the majority were also given essential household items to meet their basic needs.

In total, more than 7,200 people living in remote or weapon-contaminated areas, including those who had been internally displaced, benefited from 28 farming initiatives designed to improve their food security. By mitigating the effects of the restrictions imposed on them by the parties to the conflict, the ICRC hopes to discourage these rural residents from moving to the city.

From January to July, the ICRC built and renovated school facilities in Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Meta and Tolima, granting 1,162 children better access to education.

The ICRC has registered the details of 1,428 civilian victims of anti-personnel landmines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war in its database " EpiInfo " , in order to gauge the scale of the problem and thus tailor its response to the needs of the victims. In April 2010, the ICRC exchanged information on weapon contamination victims with PAICMA, the presidential programme for comprehensive action against anti-personnel landmines. As a result, the details of 194 previously unregistered victims were added to the national database.

In addition, the ICRC:

  • promoted safe behaviour and raised awareness of the rights of weapon contamination victims among more than 1,700 civilians and representatives of local authorities in weapon-contaminated areas. The Colombian Red Cross held similar workshops for a further 1,000 people;

  • ran three first-aid courses for communities living in weapon-contaminated areas so that they might be able to respond to an emergency in the absence of medical personnel and while waiting for transportation to hospital.

 Improving access to health care and physical rehabilitation services  

During the first half of the year, the ICRC referred 604 people to six centres for physical rehabilitation or out-patient care, including physiotherapy. It paid for their transport, food and lodging whenever such costs were not covered by the national health system. The ICRC also distributed 78 prostheses and orthoses and 128 appliances, such as wheelchairs and walking frames to those who had no other means of obtaining them.

The ICRC also facilitated access to curative and preventative medicine by organizing mobile health teams. On four occasions, ICRC staff accompanied a local medical team, and on one occasion ICRC staff worked alone.

These five medical teams attended to over 6,200 patient s and gave vaccinations to 560 people. Of the 836 people that the ICRC sent to a health post or hospital, 732 were provided with the financial means to cover transport costs, medicine and other basic needs during the treatment process.

The ICRC also trained over 440 medical staff from 87 rural health facilities, in order to help facilitate their access to conflict-affected areas.

In total, 8,700 people in Barbacoas (Nariño), Montañita (Caquetá) and Argelia (Cauca) can now enjoy better hygiene conditions thanks to the renovation of three health posts, and in particular their water and sanitation facilities.

Four health structures were marked with the " Misión Médica " symbol of protection, in accordance with Resolution 1020 of Colombia's Ministry of Social Protection.

Likewise, the ICRC gave economic support to 72 victims of sexual violence and guidance on where they could receive medical and psychological care.

 Assisting the internally displaced  

During the first seven months of the year, the ICRC:

  • provided almost 23,000 internally displaced people with food or food vouchers and essential household items, to help them through the first three months of displacement, or six months for the most vulnerable families.

  • improved access to water, basic sanitation and temporary shelter for more than 1,800 displaced people.

  • increased the chances of social reintegration for 162 (*) internally displaced people through psychosocial support and income-generating projects.

  (*) Figure correct on 30 June 2010  

The ICRC helps improve basic services for the displaced. O ne of the ways it did this during this period was to provide 20 government-run care centres for displaced people with office equipment and furniture. It has renovated four of these centres and is in the process of adapting the facilities of another.

 Missing persons and their families  

The ICRC supported the National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences in improving a database used by all forensic institutions for body identification purposes – a database that already has 47,410 entries. In addition, it invited three Colombian forensic experts to Geneva for training.

Together with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, the ICRC facilitated a monthly interinstitutional working group offering psychosocial support to the families of the missing.

In April, the ICRC helped family associations organize, in Bogotá, the second World Congress on Psychosocial Work in Exhumation Processes, Forced Disappearance, Justice and Truth.


The ICRC regularly visits places of detention run by the National Prison System Institute to monitor the prisoners'conditions of detention and the manner in which they are treated.

Between January and July 2010, the ICRC:

  • visited 2,225 detainees (of which 143 were women);

  • registered 650 new detainees (of which 45 were women) during 82 visits to 64 places of detention;

  • provided the families of 1,357 detainees with the financial means to cover overland transport costs to visit the prison;

  • completed a joint diagnostic report on prison health, in July 2010, with the National Prison System Institute, to be presented to the Director General of the Institute.

 People in the hands of armed groups  

Two members of the army and the mortal remains of a police major, who had died in captivity, were handed over by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to a humanitarian delegation headed by Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba. Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC facilitated the operation, while Brazil provided logistical support and Colombians for Peace were involved in the mediation. The soldiers and police major were returned to their families in the presence of the authorities.

The ICRC was not granted access to the other hostages from the police and armed forces, but it was able to pass on 20 Red Cross messages from their families.

 Promotion of international humanitarian law  

The ICRC delegation in Colombia has been encouraging key members of the Congress to work towards ratification of the conventions on cluster munitions and enforced disappearance.

  • Over 150 commanders, legal operational advisers, training instructors and intelligence officers, from the Seventh Division and the Caribbean Naval Force, participated in two seminars on the application of international humanitarian law.

  • For the first time, the Ministry of Defence issued a directive to run 10 similar international humanitarian law workshops, using the experience of the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross.

  • Fifty-six members of the air force attended a presentation on customary international humanitarian law and direct participation in hostilities.

  • One hundred and sixty-six members of the armed forces and health personnel participated in six workshops on protecting me dical services.

  • The ICRC held 99 sessions on the negative impact of the armed conflict on the Colombian population, and the work the ICRC is doing to help the victims, for 6,700 participants from government forces, the authorities, the civilian population and organized armed groups.

  • Sixty-five journalists attended three courses – of a total of 75 hours – entitled'Journalists, armed conflict and international humanitarian law'in Ocaña, Pasto and Quibdó. The training was designed to enhance their understanding of international humanitarian law, the negative impact of conflict on the population, and the work of the ICRC in Colombia, so that they might be able to report more accurately on these subjects and understand the plight of the victims of the armed conflict.