Five Decades of conflict in Colombia
During the last two decades, Colombia has been affected by a protracted conflict between the national government, the insurgent groups Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) the National Liberation Army (ELN), and criminal organizations known as BACRIM (Clan Úsuga, Rastrojos, etc.). But on August 24th 2016, a historical Peace Agreement has been signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
According to statistics from DAICMA; Colombia’s National Mine Action Center, Colombia has registered 11,446 mine and ERW victims between 1990 and July 2016. This amounts to more than one victim pr day for the past 26 years, and makes Colombia the second most dangerous country for mines and ERW in the world. Children are disproportionately affected by mines and ERW, and every month close to four children have been either injured or killed by landmines/UXO since the collection of victim data started in Colombia 26 years ago. All civilians living near or within these conflict zones are adversely affected by the direct and indirect effects of the armed conflict and the presence of mines and ERW, but in particular it impacts already marginalized groups such as indigenous communities - who traditionally use the park areas, as well as impoverished agrarian Campesino populations.
Conflict in Colombia has resulted in a high number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in neighboring countries (Venezuela and Ecuador); more than six million people were registered as internally displaced in 2014 (UNHCR). According to the report “Basta ya” (Stop now), written in 2013 by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 80% of victims affected by conflict-related violence and landmines were civilians. Kidnapping, threatening, forcible disappearances and illegal trafficking are some of everyday matters that civil society is affected with; reaching more than 7,712,014 victims in the country.
For more information about numbers of victims see on: http://www.unidadvictimas.gov.co/index.php/en/
The ongoing Peace Process
It is hoped that the Peace agreement signed in August 2016, if approved by the Colombian people, will open up a space for humanitarian mine action access to some of the areas that have been traditionally held by the FARC for decades. Peace talks have been ongoing between the Colombian government and the FARC since 2012.
Unfortunately, the heavy presence of mines and ERW remain a significant obstacle to creating a lasting peace process, especially in areas such as the Sumapaz-La Macarena conflict corridor. Mines have been laid by the various conflict actors along paths used by pursuant and retreating forces, around camps and bases, or to protect illicit cultivations of coca plants.
The implementation of the Peace Agreement and the legitimacy and sustainability of the peace itself is directly related to addressing the problem of mines and ERW- in particular to the accords on agricultural reform, ending conflict, and addressing the problem of illicit cultivation and drug trafficking.
As part of the peace negotiations, the FARC has agreed to work jointly with Colombian security forces to clear land mines in selected areas of Colombia as part of a peacebuilding pilot project. The advent of the recent peace negotiations and humanitarian demining pilot projects between the Colombian Government and the FARC is creating a positive outlook for future civilian clearance interventions. The Colombian government is now granting operational accreditation to civilian mine action organizations, which although is a slow process is a positive step in the right direction towards building a civilian humanitarian mine action capacity in Colombia.
Civilian humanitarian mine action organizations will play a special role in ensuring the sustainability of the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC.
DDG in Colombia
Danish Demining Group (DDG) has been working in Colombia since 2010, when the country approved a new law allowing international NGOs to take part in mine action in Colombia.
DDG ‘s activities in Colombia cover the following areas: technical support to the Colombian government department in charge of mine action coordination, the Dirección para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal (DAICMA), Community liaison (CL) and Mine Risk Education (MRE).
DDG’s setup of a humanitarian mine action program, has been a long process. However due to the recently simplified accreditation process and thanks to the assistance from UNMAS, OAS and DAICMA, it is expected that DDG will receive its accreditation and permission to set up operations by the end of 2016. DDG plans to start with non-technical survey and MRE interventions, building up a local Colombian operational capacity to be able to start clearance operations. DDG also intends to explore opportunities for its Armed Violence Reduction programming, in support of the Colombian peace process.
The first focal area, technical support to the DAICMA, financed by the European Union through a project that ended in April 2016, has involved the provision of mine action expertise through three consultants in the areas of coordination, prioritisation, development of National Standards, monitoring, conflict analysis, and technical operations advice. This experience has given DDG a strong understanding of the mine
action context in Colombia, in particular regarding marginalized communities and fragile conflict affected areas such as the National Parks.
DDG is currently conducting Community Liaison and Mine Risk Education (MRE) in Colombia, in partnership with national and local institutions. The location of DDG's current work is in FARC stronghold areas between Sumapaz and La Macarena National Parks, within Cundinamarca and Meta departments. These areas are heavily affected by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), and they host very sensitive and valuable ecosystems. The DDG Colombia office is working closely with national institutions, in particular the national mine action authority (DAICMA). DDG has formal partnerships with national parks authority (Parques Nacionales Naturales) and IDARTES (a national arts institute that will assist in the design of MRE messaging materials with local artists and teachers). DDG has also been working closely with indigenous and agricultural communities, given their status as particularly vulnerable groups, and we have established formal agreements to build their capacity to address the threat experienced from mines and ERW.