The scourge of landmines in Colombia continues six years after the signing of a peace accord and post-conflict implementation with 7,700 demobilized combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla. According to the most recent report by the Inter-national Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), released to mark International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance, landmines, IEDs and munitions caused 218 injuries during the first three months of 2022 – an increase over 157 documented during the same period last year.
This year’s landmine victims, including the nine fatalities, are mostly civilian (68%), and 245 towns remain affected by mines planted by illegal armed groups.
Taking a closer look at the ICRC numbers, explosive devices cause serious injury to five persons every 48 hours despite clearance projects in regions formerly under control of FARC. As part of the 2016 Final Accord, ex-combatants were involved in demining initiatives as a means to contribute to their reincorporation into society. Colombia is second to Afghanistan in being the most densely landmined country in the world, with indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians disproportionately impacted by the planting of mines by ELN and FARC dissidents in their ancestral territories.
The departments most impacted by landmines are Antioquia, Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Norte de Santander, Valle del Cauca and Santander.
The worrisome increase in landmine injuries and fatalities has been accompanied by the extra-judicial killings of social leaders and human rights activists in these departments. In February 2021, Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) recognised the planting of landmines as a war crime. “Last year the ICRC recorded the highest number of explosive device victims in the last five years. We are concerned that if this trend continues, in 2022, the humanitarian consequences could be more serious,” stated Ana María Hernández, coordinator of the ICRC Weapons Contamination Unit in Colombia.
With almost one out of every five towns contaminated by landmines, or close to 20% of Colombia’s 1,103 municipalities, the national government’s demining directorate Descontamina Colombia has pledged to clear 200 towns of explosive remnants of war (ERW) by August this year. Currently 107 towns have demining projects underway. Official government data since 1990 puts the number of landmine victims at 12,170, including 1,272 minors.