Posted by: Angelica Zamora
“One dies when he’s forgotten.” This is a verse written by Colombian poet Manuel Mejía Vallejo, and today it seems to be a reality regarding the tragedy of victims in Colombia. This week, the Annual Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that armed conflict in this country – which has already stretched beyond four decades – continues to cause suffering to civilians, and that such victims are at risk of being forgotten.
According to the report, the conflict has moved to remote areas of the country. This does not mean, however, that the number of victims has decreased. Today there are 3.3 million displaced persons in Colombia, making it the state with the highest number of IDPs in the Western hemisphere and the second highest number of displaced persons in the world, after Sudan.
The ICRC report states that the displaced persons are almost “invisible” in rural areas. Inhabitants of the countryside, unable to move freely, remain unseen as well. Relatives of those who have been forced disappeared, victims of sexual violence, and those who remain hostages in the jungles have not received adequate attention. Also, ethnic and Afro-Colombian communities suffer in silence due to the actions of armed actors.
Christophe Beney, Head of Delegation in Colombia of the ICRC, said during the report’s presentation that the “most concerning” cases are extrajudicial executions of civilians committed by the army, so-called “false positives”; these victims are usually young peasants or members of marginalized urban communities who are reported as “enemy combatants killed in battle,” with the objective of demonstrating success of military actions and achieving personal benefits such as days off or promotions.
Recognition of victims remains a critical challenge in the Colombian conflict. The Colombian government frequently denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, minimizing the magnitude of forced internal and cross-border displacement. The government, consistent with this attitude, rejected the conclusions of the ICRC report.
Denying the existence of armed conflict, and the status of victims of such actions, has condemned victims to oblivion. This denial only confirms victims’ beliefs that they do not exist and victimizes, yet again, a highly vulnerable population. The provision of measures to compensate victims and recognize their suffering is a legal and ethical duty of the state. The acknowledgment of victims should be accompanied by public policies that address the complexity of the demands of different categories of victims and provide appropriate measures for their damages.