Colombia: Plight of Conflict Victims Mostly Unreported

Geneva–(ENEWSPF)–26 April 2010.  With the shift of the armed conflict away from densely populated areas towards more remote regions, the plight of tens of thousands of people who still bear the brunt of the fighting has become almost invisible, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today.

“The south and the Pacific coast are among the areas worst affected by the armed conflict,” said Christophe Beney, who heads the ICRC delegation in Colombia. “Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities are especially hard hit. Many are forced to flee because of threats to their lives. Others are killed, injured or subjected to sexual violence. And yet most of their tragedies go unreported.”

Over the past year, ICRC delegates have recorded some 800 alleged violations of international humanitarian law, including 28 cases of homicide, 61 direct attacks against civilians, and 84 instances of people disappearing in connection with the armed conflict. Death threats are among the reasons people have been forced to flee their homes. Last year, the ICRC paid transport costs for some 400 individuals who had received such threats to enable them to reach safer areas.

“We were in the house when we suddenly heard gunfire”, explains María, who recently fled her home in the south of the country. “When we looked out into the courtyard, we saw my brother’s body lying on the ground. They let us bury him, then they forced us to leave our village. Who knows what would have become of us if we had decided to stay.” When people like María are driven from their homes, they generally lose everything they have.

“If we can limit the number of violations of international humanitarian law, that means fewer people who feel the need to flee to safety”, said Christophe Beney. “The number of people displaced in Colombia has been rising every year and now officially stands at over 3.3 million, one of the highest figures in the world.” Very few of these people dare to return to their villages because they feel threatened by fighting. In 2009, the ICRC provided over 50,000 internally displaced people with food parcels or vouchers, essential household items and hygiene kits.

To address the most pressing needs, the ICRC focuses on around 20 areas of the country particularly affected by the armed conflict, where government bodies and other relief organizations have little presence. By means of income-generating projects, the ICRC enables communities in remote areas to find a stable livelihood. It also helps them get better access to vital services such as health care, education, water and sanitation.

In recent years, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war near settlements and farmland have posed an increasing threat to thousands of people, causing death, serious injury and economic hardship. In 2009, the ICRC upgraded water collection points, school dormitories and other key facilities in safe areas in order to help people stay away from places littered with explosive devices. It also helped farming families to develop new agricultural activities in these areas.