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Afro-Colombians Under Fire
Afro-Colombians have been historically marginalized in many sectors.
The current armed conflict has exacerbated the plight of this community, making Afro-Colombians more vulnerable to attacks by the guerillas, the paramilitaries, and the national armed forces.
Afro-Colombians have been disproportionately displaced by the conflict.
Those who have not fled have been confined in communities by various armed forces where they are further stripped of their rights.
Afro-Colombians oppose the current FT A because it violates the rights to collective property, land ownership, and access to natural resources.
Afro-Colombians continue to organize peacefully, despite intimidation and threats.
The Effects Of Armed Conflict On Colombia’s Children
The culture of conflict in Colombia has led to an increase in gang violence in urban areas and “social cleansing” campaigns against street children.
Between 11,000 and 14,000 Colombian children are directly involved in the conflict, having been recruited as child soldiers by the various illegal armed actors.
Sexual violence against children has been used as a tool of conflict by all armed actors.
Children displaced by the conflict face many obstacles to getting the education accorded to them under Colombian law.
Healthcare is a central concern for displaced youth, with the daily calorie intake of these children averaging well below global standards.
An increased amount of US assistance should be allocated for street children, child soldiers, displaced children, and child laborers in Colombia.
Colombian Civil Society Working For Peace
Civilian activists, human rights defenders, and community leaders have organized significant peace initiatives over the past decade.
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó marks an unprecedented push for peace by Colombian civlians vowing to separate themselves from the warring parties; sadly, the community has received regular threats and attacks by armed actors.
Civilians pushing for peace, justice, and the respect of human rights have continually come under attack in Colombia; most recently, these attacks have been intensified as a result of dangerous government stigmatization.
Peace negotiations in Colombia void of civil society participation will be insufficient and unsuccessful.
The international community must actively support civil society peace initiatives in Colombia.
Instead of reducing coca production fumigations have spread cultivation to surrounding areas, in 1999, only 12 departments produced coca, however in 2007, 23 out of the 32 departments are involved in production of the plant.
Despite fumigations, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that farmers had planted 245,000 acres of coca in 2007 – a 27% increase from 2006.
In response to fumigations, the UNDOC reports that from 2001 to 2007, at least 158,000 hectares of virgin forest was cut down for the cultivation of coca plants.
Independent scientific reviews show that the US State Department failed to meet legal requirements to determine the health and environmental impacts of fumigations, underscoring risks associated with the aerial fumigations program.
IDP’s: Colombians Uprooted By War
4.4 million Colombians—in a country of 42 million—have been displaced since 1985.
The IDP humanitarian crisis in Colombia is exceeded only by the Sudan.
The sources of displacement include the armed conflict, human rights violations, and aerial fumigation.
A disproportionate number of IDPs in the country are Afro-Colombians, indigenous, women, or children.
Though Colombia’s constitution outlines the rights of the internally displaced, the state has failed to follow through with action to sufficiently help IDPs.
Aid reaching IDPs in Colombia is inadequate. For every $1 given by the US to a victim of displacement, roughly $50 is given to a demobilized paramilitary.
Displaced people are often marginalized and stigmatized, further disintegrating the society in Colombia
Illegal Armed Actors
Besides the Colombian armed forces, there are two main armed actors in the conflict: the guerillas and the paramilitaries.
There are two main guerilla groups: the FARC and the ELN, both of which have been fighting the Colombian state since the 1960s.
The guerillas carry out violent acts that have left many civilians dead, Individuals are also regularly kidnapped and extorted.
Peace has been elusive with the FARC, while the ELN continue to hold sporadic negotiations with the government.
The AUC was founded as an umbrella group for the paramilitaries in the 1990s.
The AUC is often cited for committing some of the worst human rights violations in the conflict.
Links to the military and to drug trafficking have been confirmed.
The AUC’s recent demobilization has been thoroughly criticized by many sources.
After the 2005 demobilization process new bands of paramilitaries have been conformed. Government officials have labelled them as “ermeging bands”
The Impact Of War On Indigenous Colombians
There are over 80 indigenous communities in Colombia. Due to the effects of the on- going war, many of the indigenous communities in Colombia face extinction.
Indigenous people make up about 4% of Colombia’s population, yet they account for almost 8% of the displaced.
Illegal armed groups fight for control of indigenous land for economic gain, compromising the civil and political rights of the indigenous communities. Also, Paramilitary and guerilla blockades have isolated indigenous communities.
Aerial fumigation has endangered the food security of many indigenous groups and has adversely affected their health.
The Constitution of 1991 outlined judicial rights of indigenous communities, which often are not enforced.
Journalists In Colombia
Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries to be a reporter.
Reporting from rural, conflict areas is dangerous and less and less journalists feel secure enough to take on this task—leading to a type of self-censorship.
The paramilitaries, the guerrillas, the army, and the drug traffickers have all targeted journalists that have tried to expose them.
The threat was very blatant during the drug boom in the 1980s, but has now transformed into more subtle bribery and intimidation.
There is an alarming level of impunity in cases involving journalists in Colombia.
The danger for some journalists has been exacerbated by allegations made by senior government officials.
The Impact Of Conflict On Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Individuals
The LGBT community faces widespread discrimination by Colombian society in terms of education, employment, health, and legal rights.
The internal armed conflict has exacerbated this discrimination, as both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries have actively targeted members of the LGBT community.
Common criminals also target the LGBT sector as a means to extort money from individuals.
The national government has cut spending on HIV/AIDS education programs that could help minimize false perceptions of the LGBT community in Colombia.
The police has been lax in enforcing laws to protect the LGBT sector, citing that official complaints have to be made by the victims.
Dissention by the Constitutional Court on the discrimination against the LGBT community has yet to be converted into hard policy.
The “Pact of Ralito”–a secret cooperation agreement between the AUC and more than 50 politicians.
In June 2005, Clara Lopez Obregón condemned connections between some congressmen and the AUC before the Supreme Court.
“Jorge 40”’s laptop, which provided details of the para-political connection was confiscated.
Various branches of the government have been implicated in the scandal—the Congress, the Colombian Intelligence and Security Service, and the Judicial Branch.
Allegations have revolved around Uribe’s party members, thus putting his administration on the defensive.
The US should monitor the situation to see how the millions it gives to the Colombian government has played a role.
The paramilitaries agreed to demobilize in 2002 after negotiations with the Uribe government.
The Justice and Peace Law ensures lighter prison sentences for those AUC combatants that demobilize.
Not all paramilitary blocks agreed to demobilize. There is growing concern that ex-combatants
are rearming under smaller paramilitary militias.
The reintegration program is criticized as being weak and inconsistent.
The validity of the demobilizations has been called into question because of the on-going “para-politics scandal.”
Victims of paramilitary violence are not being offered the opportunity to testify with security or to hear testimonials.
The US government appropriated up to $20 million in aid for the demobilization process.
US Funding To Colombia
Much of US monetary assitance to foreign countries is contingent on the country’s human rights record (“Leahy Amendment” of 1997).
Plan Colombia was proposed by President Pastrana as a plan to create peace and initiate development; instead, the US-funded package has focused on the military and police.
The Andean Regional Initiative, like Plan Colombia, allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in aid directed mainly at the Colombian security forces.
Plan Patriota marked a change in US assitance to Colombia because it’s goals were overtly counterinsurgencuy instead of anti-narcotics.
Plan Colombia II was proposed by the Colombian government in 2007.
US funding to Colombia changed notably in FY2008, when a Democratic Congressional initiative increased the proportion of social and economic aid to 40% from the previous 20%.
US Policy Towards Colombia
The War on Drugs initiated the close relationship between the US and Colombia. This policy led to a large aerial fumigation campaign – which negatively impacted human health and the environment, in addition to being ineffective and causing displacement.
Plan Colombia has been the defining agreement between the US and Colombia under which Colombia receives military, economic, and social aid from the US.
The War on Terror has made US- Colombia relations even closer.
There is a pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
US policy towards Colombia has largely been based on drugs and military spending. These policies, however, have not assisted Colombia to develop economically or to quell its internal conflict.
The Impact Of War On Women
The majority of the millions of displaced people in Colombia are women and girls.
It is estimated that more than half of displaced women are not registered, and so, are not receiving any emergency assistance.
Sexual violence against women is a common weapon of war employed by all armed actors in the conflict – especially the paramilitaries.
Domestic violence is a serious issue and one that often goes unpunished because women do not report the crimes for fear of reprisal.
There is insufficient state-funded health and prenatal care for women, especially IDPs.
Despite opression and marginalization, Colombian women have historically played a central role in the peace movement, and continue to do so.
The US government should use its good offices to urge the support of women’s issues in all peace talks.
The U.S. Office on Colombia is an independent non-profit organization, not affiliated with any political party, that seeks to educate U.S. policymakers, the media and the U.S. public about the impact of U.S. policy on Colombia.