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Human Rights in Colombia
Colombia has various laws to prevent human rights violations; unfortunately, these laws often go ignored and are broken. Colombia is commonly referred to as the country with the ‘worst human rights record in the western hemisphere,’ but there’s always more to a story than popular taglines. Here are 10 facts about human rights in Columbia.

10 Facts about Human Rights in Columbia

  1. The Colombian government recently reached a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to formally end the 52 years of conflict in their country. The civil war left 220,000 dead, 7 million displaced and led to numerous human rights violations — including the recruitment of child soldiers by rebel groups.
  2. There continues to be around 8,000 child soldiers in Colombia today. Colombia has a law that prohibits any person under 18 from engaging in military behavior, but children are still being recruited for guerrilla groups. Fortunately, FARC rebel groups in the past few years have promised to start releasing child soldiers and to stop recruiting under 17 year-olds.
  3. It is dangerous to be a trade union or social activist in Colombia. Many hoped violence would subside after the signing of the peace treaty, but attacks on union and social activists have actually skyrocketed since. In the past 20 years, over 3,000 unionists have been killed, making Colombia one of the most dangerous countries for trade union members.
  4. Even Colombia’s government military has committed human rights crimes against citizens. During the civil war, the Colombian army frequently executed citizens and reported them as enemy combatants in order to increase their body counts against the rebel groups. In 2017, the Attorney General’s office began investigating such atrocities and have convicted around 1,200 soldiers.
  5. Over 7.7 million Colombians have been displaced since the civil war began; in fact, around 48,000 people were displaced in 2017 alone. In 2011, a Victim’s Law was passed by which the Colombian government has been attempting to finish land restitution for millions of hectares of land. Although the program has made some progress, it is still moving slowly.
  6. Gender-based violence in Columbia is also common. The large amount — approximately 2 million — of displaced women are especially susceptible to high rates of rape and abuse. The government has attempted to reform laws addressing human rights in Colombia (such as gender violence), but the country lacks a proper system to enforce these laws.
  7. The U.S. is heavily involved as a foreign actor in Colombia. The country received almost $400 million in aid from the U.S. in 2017, a good chunk of which is allocated for human rights in Colombia. The money will also go towards anti-drug efforts, military education and anti-terrorism.
  8. FARC is the main rebel group known to commit numerous human rights violations in Columbia. Since the group’s inception in the 1960s, its members have committed atrocities such as child recruiting, sexual violence, murder and abductions. Thankfully, attacks from FARC have decreased since they declared a cease-fire in July 2015.
  9. Since the peace treaty, the U.N. has assisted Colombia in fighting for human rights in Colombia. The U.N. has urged the nation to create a regimented schedule that will enforce laws against human rights atrocities. They also recommended that Colombia start using an incentive system to prevent rebel groups from continuing violence.
  10. Indigenous peoples in Colombia are disadvantaged compared to other groups. Due to their lack of access to drinking water, child deaths are higher in indigenous groups in Colombia. They are more likely to live in low-income communities and have limited access to social resources.

A Brighter Future

Colombia has one of the worst human rights violations records in the western hemisphere. Despite such a reputation, the situation has improved since the end of the civil war, and the government is continuing to work towards a better future for the country.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Colombia
Although the five-decades-long civil war in Colombia ceased in 2016 with the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), human rights in Colombia continue to be violated.

According to Amnesty International, the very group who signed the agreement, FARC, and another rebel group, National Liberation Army (ELN), commit numerous violations of international humanitarian law including high profile kidnappings. Currently, the most susceptible populations are human rights defenders, women, farmers, unionists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. These groups face constant threats to their security and are terrorized by guerillas and paramilitaries. The violence from internal conflict has forcibly displaced 6.8 million Colombians, creating the world’s second-largest population of internally displaced persons (IDP) after Syria, according to Human Rights Watch.

Marino Cardoba, an Afro-Colombian advocate for the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), is executing a campaign to protect the human rights of Afro-Colombians. He feels this community is particularly vulnerable because they were not included in the peace agreement. His colleague, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, is also a researcher and advocate for human rights in the Americas. In a presentation the two gave called “Peace and Human Rights for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Peoples in Colombia,” they stated Afro-Colombians lived in areas with valuable natural resources such as oil, and the government and paramilitary forces both wanted this land. Perhaps this is why that population remains a target for forcible displacement.

Another flaw of the peace agreement includes a lack of accountability for wrongdoers and punishment that matches the crime committed. The current peace agreement allows members of FARC who committed war crimes to run for and hold political offices. Human Rights Watch reached out to the Colombian Constitutional Court and requested that war criminals be held fully responsible for their crimes and receive sanctions through the newly established Special Jurisdiction for Peace.

Despite the shortcomings of the peace agreement, it does have strengths. According to Amnesty International’s 2016-2017 annual report, FARC is required to provide an account of assets it acquired in conflict. The resources the group gained would then be used to provide reparations to victims of crimes of human rights in Colombia. If implemented this would certainly be a positive gain.

The peace agreement also established a Special Jurisdiction for Peace – to come into force once approved by Congress – to investigate and punish those responsible for crimes under international law, a truth commission and a system to locate and identify those missing as a result of the conflict.

Achieving security for human rights in Colombia has been a long process. However, citizens in Colombia are more open to securing those rights for all as indicated by the historic 2016 peace agreement. With continued aid and accountability from groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Colombians is a very real possibility.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr