Light at the end of the tunnel in Colombia - when?

Xavier Badia i Card˙s
Director of the Office for the Promotion of Peace and Human Rights of the Government of Catalonia and member of the ICIP Board
Xavier Badia i Cardús

Xavier Badia
i Cardús

I have been in Colombia for a week, accompanying two human rights activists whose lives have been threatened, who have been living in Barcelona for six months. The purpose of the trip was to accompany them and ensure their safety during their reintegration in their homeland. With this in mind, we held a number of meetings with high level representatives of the Colombian government and public prosecutor's office. Our message at all of them was clear: these two people who were returning to Colombia needed to do so with full guarantees in terms of their personal safety and that of their family and associates.

Our stay in Bogota coincided with the presentation of the report by MOVICE [Movement of Victims of State Crimes] in the National Library, which considered the 5 years since the implementation of the Justice and Peace Law, and the presentation of the report published by the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris [2009 - The Decline of Democratic Security?] on the failure of the policy of Democratic Security, the cornerstone of the current Colombian government's plan to deal with the conflict that has blighted the country for decades, which highlights a considerable increase in violence and action by armed groups - both guerrillas and paramilitary groups.

I therefore believe that this shows a stark division in Colombian society, which is one of the major challenges for a peaceful outcome to the conflict. This double perspective on the situation in the country to a large extent explains the situation in which Colombia finds itself today. From the government's point of view, there is no internal conflict, the violence is limited to isolated actions by terrorist groups, the demobilisation of the paramilitary groups has been completed successfully, human rights are generally respects and thanks to the Democratic Security policy, the country is gaining the confidence of investors and achieving social cohesion. In this line of argument, the government is supported by a privileged and wealthy social minority, and also by an important sector of the population that is unaware of the government's strategic plans and considers the president to be a saviour of the country.

This is counterbalanced by the view of a growing sector - which includes the social movements and human rights organisations - that are the main victims of human rights violations; which is aware of the impact of the Democratic Security policy on specific sectors of the population, especially the peasants, and the types of resistance created by the social movements; which is aware of the changes that the demobilisation process of the paramilitary groups has caused to the landowning structure, leading to massive displacements of the peasant population; which understands that the rule of law and the separation of powers do not exist, and that parapolitics have become indiscernibly embedded in the structures of the state; which condemns the strategies to conceal massive human rights violations by the State institutions (such as the "false positives" scandal) and sees how serious human rights violations go unpunished.

The fact is that today Colombia is practically the only country in Latin America where there is an ongoing armed conflict, with the presence of various guerrilla groups and a recent history that is also defined by the operations of armed paramilitary groups in large areas of the country. This conflict has deep roots in the structure of land ownership, in the failed attempts to reform land ownership in the twentieth century and the major social inequality that this structure has created. In my opinion, it is therefore necessary to consider the "military" conflict as the sign of an underlying problem and not as the root of the problems itself. And this means that the solution to the problem will be found in the political arena rather than in strictly "military" terms. I believe that efforts should focus on creating agreements which make significant breakthroughs in the democratisation of the state mechanisms, which would involve strict respect for human rights and a complete separation of powers, and especially of justice, as the basis for moving towards recognition of all the victims of the conflict by means of truth and redress. And it is also necessary to focus these efforts on a humanitarian agreement that facilitates an end to hostilities, and which creates a situation in which it is possible to reach wider-ranging long-term political agreements. This humanitarian agreement must include an end to kidnappings, the use of anti-personnel mines and harassment of the civilian population; i.e., it must entail the application of international human law to all parties, including the guerrilla forces. I believe that international pressure should be brought to bear in these directions, as a decisive contribution to facilitating an agreement in Colombia.

(This article was also published on the ICIP blog: )