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The risks of instrumentalizing humanitarian action in Colombia


The urgency of the president to show the progress of the ceasefire between the National Liberation Army and the Colombian Army, together with the obsession to communicate them immediately, can become counterproductive in the process of reparation and justice

The self-proclaimed "humanitarian caravan" of the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) through certain areas of southern Chocó and Valle del Cauca, at the end of January, to see the situation in those regions and plan the "humanitarian relief" is an obscene attempt to whitewash image and legitimacy.

It is because both the State and the ELN are precisely the cause of the suffering of the population in those territories.

It is an instrumentalization of humanitarianism, since they are now presented to those same communities as providers of peace and prosperity.

This also puts the populations they have visited at risk from other armed groups.

Something that, as has been shown in previous situations, can happen.

Since taking office last August, the government of Gustavo Petro has shown great determination, even daring, to address the resolution of the violent conflict that has plagued Colombia for decades.

His proposal for “Total Peace”, launched at the beginning of his term, is a clear example of that firm will, but it is also a great improvisation.

The news of having reached a bilateral ceasefire with the ELN, immediately denied by the armed group, is the best example of this lack of solidity and clarity in some of the Government's proposals.

Don't the Colombian army and the ELN know that their actions generate human suffering, deaths, forced displacement or confinement?

Much more confusing still is the type of proposals that will be made to each of the armed groups with which they want to talk, given their different nature.

If with some groups the negotiation of agreements would be traceable, with others there seems to be no other way than submitting to the Law. The importance of legal details, even judicial ones, in this type of situation, is not lost on anyone and, therefore, At the moment, they have not materialized.

Rushing has never been good for solving complex problems and the president's urgency to show results, together with the obsession to communicate them immediately, can turn against him if they are not achieved.

From the humanitarian perspective, some of the initiatives launched by the Government are also a reflection of this improvisation, of a great ignorance of what humanitarianism represents, and of the lessons learned in numerous conflicts, also in Colombia, throughout the history.

And we must say it clearly: they are an unacceptable and dangerous instrumentalization of humanitarian action.

The launch of the "humanitarian caravan", of more than 100 people for five days, through Bajo Calima and the middle of San Juan, sponsored by the Government and the ELN, to "hear the drama of the war in the Pacific" , can only be described as an attempt to improve the image.

Both of one and of the other, using the suffering of the communities as a mere excuse to legitimize themselves.

The Government of Colombia, like any other that has signed the international instruments of human rights and international humanitarian law, is the holder of obligations regarding the protection of the population

Don't the Colombian army and the ELN know that their actions and those of the rest of the armed groups with a presence in the areas generate human suffering, deaths, forced displacement or confinement?

Do they need, like Santo Tomás, to put their finger on the sore to verify the serious humanitarian situation that their own actions have caused?

Haven't they bothered to talk to the communities first or read the reports from social, humanitarian and human rights organizations?

Didn't you know about those reports that have been published periodically for decades?

The Government of Colombia and the ELN have obligations

Obviously, some of the communities visited have received the caravan with hope and expectations and support, of course, the advancement of possible peace processes.

But these wishes expressed by community leaders cannot be used by the government or the ELN to present themselves as virginal humanitarian visitors who, moved by solidarity, want to know about the problems on the ground.

Beyond the good intentions of some of the participants in that caravan, it should be remembered that the Government of Colombia —like any legitimate Government that has signed the international instruments of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL)— is the bearer of obligations with respect to the protection of the population.

and should therefore

For its part, the ELN, as a non-state armed group, also has obligations, which emanate from international humanitarian law, in terms of precaution, distinction of the civilian population and limitation of its actions and participation in hostilities.

And both also have obligations in terms of respect for humanitarian work and the access of impartial organizations to affected communities, as well as the commitment to be accountable for their actions and their respect (or not) for IHL and human rights.

That in this "humanitarian tourism tour" they have gone to listen to the communities and not to account for their actions is still hypocrisy that is impossible to accept, since it reinforces the idea of ​​impunity for possible violations of IHL or human rights. humans they may have committed.

That in this "humanitarian tourism tour" they have gone to listen to the communities and not to give an account of their actions is still hypocrisy that is impossible to accept

The confusion and instrumentalization of humanitarian issues is not new in the Colombian conflict, nor in many other conflicts.

Let us remember the times when the paramilitary leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), Carlos Castaño, spoke of the fact that international humanitarian law should be adapted to Colombia as "Creole-style IHL."

Or the invention of picturesque concepts such as the humanitarian siege of the FARC by former President Álvaro Uribe.

Until the current humanitarian caravan, various organizations have been proposing ideas that ultimately have the same result: trying to justify a certain self-interested interpretation of the humanitarian, proposing measures that do not imply compliance with legal regulations and not improving the humanitarian situation of the populations. affected.

For this reason, the Peace Commissioner, Danilo Rueda, has suggested a Ceasefire Oversight, Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVMV) that would integrate territorial social organizations together with the national Government, armed actors and other institutions such as the Church, poses a risk to communities in areas affected by conflict and violence.

Although some social organization has already expressed its desire to "monitor the bilateral ceasefire and control IHL norms by all the armed actors", it seems irresponsible to us that must be corrected.

The UN, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia,

The enormous hopes that the new government has raised in terms of peace and resolution of the Colombian conflict are causing the international community and Colombian human rights actors to observe the situation with excessive complacency.

And not paying the necessary attention to compliance with international standards and good practices in the field of human and international rights.

Innovation and creativity are values ​​that must incorporate the knowledge accumulated in other similar situations if the humanitarian crisis is truly to be resolved and a firm path towards the total peace that it claims to be defending.

Francisco Rey Marcos


Andrés Gómez

work at the Institute for Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IECAH). 

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-02-08

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