Red Cross: ‘Life without fear is overdue in Colombia’

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia warned Wednesday that ongoing human rights violations and the forced displacement of thousands from their homes because of violence mean many still live in fear.

The humanitarian organization recorded 352 victims of explosive devices and anti-personnel mines as well as the displacement of more than 25,000 people last year, suggesting the armed conflict is deepening in vulnerable areas.

“Civilians are still suffering the worst consequences of armed conflict and violence,” Christoph Harnisch, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Colombia, said in presenting the findings. “Life without fear is overdue in Colombia.”

Colombia’s government signed an historic peace accord with leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2016, ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict, but the nation is still struggling to combat smaller rebel groups and drug trafficking organizations in several parts of the country.

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The ICRC report documented 987 violations of international humanitarian law including threats, killings, acts of sexual violence and recruitment of minors into illegal armed organizations. There were also 93 new disappearances.

Harnisch noted that armed groups in Colombia today are more fragmented, making it difficult to pursue dialogue and promote humanitarian initiatives.

“The scenario we are seeing today is more complicated than last year,” he said.

The report comes on the heels of a similarly critical United Nations report released last week that called on Colombia’s government to address the structural causes fueling violence, particularly in rural areas where the state has had little presence.

President Iván Duque, a conservative who has been critical of the peace accord, has defended his government’s implementation of the agreement, pointing to investments in building roads and bridges in long neglected parts of the country.

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