Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Armed Conflict and Human Rights in Colombia

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Armed Conflict and Human Rights in Colombia

Article excerpt


Colombia, a country in South America with a population of around 44 million, is considered to be one of the oldest and most stable democracies in the region. However, alongside democracy in Colombia, there is also an armed conflict, which some consider to have begun at the end of the 1940s. The fact that Colombia has maintained its democratic tradition while experiencing so lengthy a period of armed conflict, in which there have been so many victims and deaths, has resulted in international bodies such as the United Nations and humanitarian and ecumenical organizations devoting particular attention to the human rights situation in Colombia.

As social organizations, churches and national and international ecumenical organizations facing this situation, we have the challenge to strengthen the work of support and accompaniment to those who are working in the defence of human rights, seeking justice and creating conditions to overcome the armed conflict by means of dialogue and political negotiation.

The situation in Colombia, from the human rights perspective in relation to the armed conflict, was described by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in her 2007 report as follows:

   Colombia has been seriously affected by an internal armed conflict
   for more than 40 years. It has also become increasingly evident
   that the illegal armed groups are directly or indirectly involved
   in drug-trafficking, and are associated with local and international
   networks of organized crime and corruption. The complex
   relationships between all these factors, added to persistent
   structural problems such as impunity and limitations of access to
   justice, inequality and discrimination, continue to affect the
   human rights situation negatively. (1)

Armed Conflict and Democracy

The armed conflict in Colombia that the High Commissioner refers to originated, according to various analysts, between 1948 and 1958. That decade is known as the period of "the violence", when more than 200,000 Colombians died in an inter-party civil war between liberals and conservatives. That war ended with the National Front, which was a negotiated power-sharing agreement between two of the parties that had been in conflict. However, some groups and communities refused to hand in their weapons or recognize the political agreement entered into by the leaders of the two parties. Out of some of those groups and communities that did not accept the agreement there arose guerrilla movements that mounted an armed revolt against the governing liberal-conservative coalition of the 1960s. The families and groups that were part of that coalition have held on to power until the present day by controlling the government, and some of the armed groups that arose at that time have continued to fight against what they consider a restricted democracy that refuses to allow any party or individuals other than those in government to take

power. (2) The guerrillas of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Army of National Liberation (ELN) claim that, whenever they have attempted to enter into a peace process, their militants and leaders have been killed. An example of this situation is the Patriotic Union (UP), a party formed out of a peace agreement between the FARC and the government of Belisario Betancur in 1984. The UP took part for the first time in the 1986 elections and obtained substantial results that made it part of the national political scene: 14 congress members were elected to the Chamber and the Senate, 18 deputies and 335 town councillors. Two months later, the UP's candidate for the presidency, Jaime Pardo Leal, obtained 10% of the national vote. However, immediately after its first participation in elections, a plan was formed to eliminate party activists, their family members and their sympathizers. That murderous attack on the UP resulted in the killing of two presidential candidates, nine members of congress, 70 councillors, and dozens of deputies, mayors, leaders of community organizations, trade union and student leaders, persons involved in cultural activities and the administration of justice, professional people and hundreds of local activists. …

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