ICRC reports rise in Colombia’s internal displaced and landmine victims

ICRC medical mission in central Colombia. Photo: ICRC
ICRC medical mission in central Colombia. Photo: ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released its most recent report documenting the humanitarian challenges in Colombia in 2022. The report presents a grim assessment of human rights violations, and the number of persons who are direct victims of the armed conflict. In 2022, “whole communities experienced fear, anxiety, and powerlessness as a result of the risks posed by explosive hazards, which make it impossible for civilians to move freely across their area of residence, fish, hunt, or access crops or other forms of subsistence,” highlighted the ICRC’s Lorenzo Caraffi.

According to the head of the delegation for Colombia, the country witnessed an additional 58,010 internally displaced, and 515 victims of anti-personnel landmines. Landmines, remnants of war, and controlled detonation devices claimed the lives of 56 people, the highest number in six years. “This is further confirmation of a trend we have seen since 2018, where year-on-year the problem has grown worse, and with it the scale of this human tragedy,” states Caraffi.

Cases were documented in 18 departments, of which six – Cauca, Antioquia, Arauca, Nariño, Norte de Santander, and Meta – were the worst affected, accounting for 70 percent of all victims. “In total, 54 percent of all victims last year from landmines were civilians, of which 43 percent were children,” states the report.

Among many violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) are persons who have gone missing during the armed conflict. “Our figures, which account for only a fraction of the cases, show the issue is still a live one in the country (…) with 209 recorded cases,” confirmed Caraffi.

Missing persons were reported in 15 departments, of which Arauca, Chocó, Cauca, Nariño, and Norte de Santander were the worst affected. These departments accounted for 79 percent of cases and since the Peace Agreement was signed in 2016 between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla, ICRC has registered 1,122 disappearances.

“In 2022, our field teams recorded 400 suspected violations of IHL – some of them serious – and other humanitarian norms, of which more than half were homicides; threats; sexual violence; indiscriminate use of explosive weapons; recruitment, use and participation of children and teenagers in hostilities; arbitrary detention; and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” noted Caraffi.

The presence of armed actors near populated areas, and use of civilian objects with military purposes increased the pressure on communities and their fear of being caught in the crossfire or their community spaces being turned into military objectives,” highlights the report.

According to official figures, in 2022 there were at least 123,000 cases of individual displacement; mass displacement affected a further 58,000. All these people were forced to abandon their homes to save their lives. Around 39,000 people were confined as a result of the upsurge in armed violence, and the presence of explosive hazards in areas where they lived.

During the last four years, the departments of Nariño and Chocó saw the highest levels of mass displacement and confinement, respectively. “We are concerned that armed state and non-state actors continue to involve children in armed conflicts. This has profound consequences for them, such as being separated from their families; losing control over their lives; experiencing psychological issues; becoming victims of sexual violence; and being wounded, mutilated or killed,” claims the Geneva-based organization.

“Whenever I’m asked how it is possible to be neutral in the midst of armed conflict, my answer is always the same: to be on the side of the victims of war,” said Caraffi.

The ICRC also denounced attacks in 2022 by illegal armed groups against medical missions and healthcare professionals. The most serious cases were recorded in the areas most affected by the armed conflict, where “health workers and patients were killed, received threats, suffered sexual violence or were subject to blackmail, and ambulances were held up at roadblocks.” The report also notes that “it is important to make clear that both the statistics and the analysis represent what we saw in 2022. Given how fast things vary in Colombia, this outlook may change.”