The Colombian state must address the structural causes of violence

By Erika Guevara-Rosas, Directora para las Américas de Amnistía Internacional

Above and beyond the current electoral debates, Colombia urgently needs a major national agreement to end the structural violence faced by some of the country’s territories and guarantee human rights, especially for population groups that have historically been marginalized and abandoned by the state. Such an agreement should lead to a systemic change in state policy so that these matters do not depend on the political will of the government of the day.

The Colombian state has failed to recognize that the dynamics of the armed conflict are still present in regions like Chocó, Cauca, Catatumbo and Nariño. It has therefore failed to take any action to counter the situation and the civilian population remains trapped in a perverse and generalized web of violence in the vacuum left by the state. After more than fifty years of war, Colombia still owes a debt to the more than seven million victims who are still waiting for justice, full reparation for the harm they have suffered and the restoration of their basic rights.

In this context, it cannot remain silent about the grave violations of human rights that persist in the country. Even more so when the main victims continue to be the Afro-descendant communities and Indigenous Peoples who have had their territories and resources taken from them.

After more than fifty years of war, Colombia still owes a debt to the more than seven million victims who are still waiting for justice, full reparation for the harm they have suffered and the restoration of their basic rights.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

The figures on forced displacement and killings of human rights defenders in the first months of this year reflect the Colombian state’s negligence and failure to provide the protection measures required to deal with this grave crisis and address the needs of these population groups, forgotten even in the electoral debates, who are suffering as a result of the armed violence.

Since January 2018, Amnesty International has received reports that at least 150,000 people have suffered forced displacement – a crime under international law. Meanwhile, the reorganization of the armed groups party to the conflict isolates some communities in a way that violates their basic rights. Armed clashes between state security forces, ELN guerrillas and paramilitary groups is a constant in the lives of thousands of Colombians in rural areas, for example, the Indigenous Peoples in Chocó and Risaralda.

Other communities are still subjected to the terror and anguish that goes with being the victims of armed clashes, as in Bojayá and Pogue in Chocó. The state must act to guarantee their human rights and at all costs avoid a repeat of the massacre that plunged the country into mourning in 2002.

The state must pledge to eliminate the conditions that cause this structural violence. Afro-descendant and Indigenous territories must not remain a theatre of war.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

More than 40 human rights defenders and community leaders have been killed in Colombia so far this year, which illustrates the widespread violent response to their work. Human rights defenders continue to be stigmatized and receive little protection from the state against the attacks and threats to which they are subjected on a daily basis. There are also daily reports of gender-based violence, especially sexual violence against women and children.

The state must pledge to eliminate the conditions that cause this structural violence. Afro-descendant and Indigenous territories must not remain a theatre of war. Armed actors like the ELN must respect International Humanitarian Law and agree to comply with the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants in the conflict, especially with regard to those that have suffered armed violence for decades. Paramilitary groups cannot be allowed to continue in control of many regions of the country with the complicity or consent of state actors.

The people who are victims of the armed conflict in Colombia cannot continue to wait for the government to protect them and ensure they can lead a dignified life in their territories. Now is the time for the state to recognize the historical situation in which it finds itself and take decisive action to stop the violence and guarantee human rights in every corner of the country.