Colombia: Human rights in the midst of conflict

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Colombians often say-at times with pride and at times with frustration- that the roots of the country's conflict are deep and defy easy explanation. Human rights and conflict resolution are but two of many strands. The concept of human rights is not foreign to Colombia or imposed from the outside, but is deeply felt and has played a role in Colombian life for almost a century. Colombia was among the forty-eight member states of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly that voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. At the time, few signatories had a worse internal political conflict (among those who voted against the document were Saudi Arabia, the Union of South Africa, and the Soviet Union). Colombia's vote was evidence of its citizenry's profoundly civic aspirations. When it adopted a new constitution in 1991, respect for human rights was a central theme. Nevertheless, Colombia has the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. An average of four thousand people each year currently fall victim to political violence. In 2002, massacres, traditionally used by paramilitaries to spread terror, were less numerous than in previous years, but the decrease appears to have reflected a change in paramilitary tactics rather than a decrease in overall violence. Witnesses, church officials, and municipal observers, among others, say that paramilitaries now seize large groups of people, then killindividuals separately and leave the bodies scattered in different locations to avoid the publicity that results when incidents are recorded as massacres. At the same time, guerrillas seem to be increasingly interested in creating terror with their attacks, in complete disregard of civilians' safety. A tragic example was the case of Boyajá, Chocó, one of the worst slaughters of the entire Colombian conflict. On May 1, 2002, guerrillas launched at least one gas cylinder bomb that hit a church where displaced persons were gathered, killing 119, including at least 48 children. A year after the tragedy, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the population remained subject to threats from guerrillas and paramilitaries and that they remained living in a state of emergency. Efforts to resolve the country's prolonged conflict have been varied, persistent, creative, and largely unsuccessful. Since 1984, ten illegal armed groups have demobilized, more than seven thousand people have been "reinserted" into civilian life, and there have been numerous peace negotiations. Yet in that same time period, many more Colombians have joined illegal armed groups, and thousands of "reinserted" Colombians have faced exile or death at the hands of paramilitaries or their former comrades in guerrilla groups. In 2002, the authorities estimated that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army) had twenty thousand members. The Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC, United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia) is estimated to have twelve thousand members. The smallest active group is the Unión Camilista-Ejército de Liberación Nacional (UC-ELN, Camilist Union-Army of National Liberation), which has five thousand members. The FARC-EP and AUC have increasingly faced each other on the battlefield, a new phenomenon. When the latest round of peace talks ended in 2002, Colombia was stopped cold, a fl y in the amber of violence with no visible way out. An Inter-American Bank study showed that Colombians were just as poor in 2000 as they had been in 1990.1 Meanwhile, the casualties caused by political violence more than doubled. Copyright © 2009 by Syracuse University Press. All Rights Reserved.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kirk, R

Published Date

  • December 1, 2009

Book Title

  • Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in Context

Start / End Page

  • 23 - 45

International Standard Book Number 10 (ISBN-10)

  • 0815632053

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780815632054

Citation Source

  • Scopus