Violence against Colombian civilians worsened in 2020, says Red Cross

Lorenzo Caraffi, head of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Colombia, speaks during a news conference in Bogota
Lorenzo Caraffi, head of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Colombia, speaks during a news conference in Bogota, Colombia March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

March 24, 2021

By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Violence against civilians in Colombia worsened in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic as illegal armed groups stepped up operations amid struggles over territory, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

While a 2016 peace deal with the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) saw an initial fall in violence, the country is still fighting former FARC members who reject the deal and remain armed, as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and crime gangs.

“Throughout 2020, the consequences of conflict grew worse,” the ICRC’s new Colombia chief, Lorenzo Caraffi, told journalists.

“There’s a trend, some patterns, that show a worsening of the conflict and unfortunately it’s the civilian population that is paying the price,” he said, though he added the situation was not comparable to the early 2000s when the conflict was widespread.

Last year saw increases in victims of explosive devices and attacks against medical posts, Caraffi said. Forced displacements and confinements, killings, sexual violence and recruitment of minors also took place, he said.

In 2020 there were 325 attacks against medical sites, up 50% compared to the previous year, the ICRC said.

The pandemic curbed victims’ chances of finding protection and assistance and restricted humanitarian organizations, Caraffi said.

Over 28,000 people were confined to their homes by armed groups in 21 different incidents during 2020, the group said, while around 21,300 people were forced from their homes.

“This is about control of territory and groups in disputes for control of that territory,” Caraffi said. “The pandemic was an opportunity for these groups to reinforce that control.”

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)