Last year, 280,041 Colombian civilians were forced to leave their homes, fleeing from the extreme violence of Colombia’s decades-long conflict. This statistic is the centerpiece of a February Spanish-language report published by the Colombian human rights NGO CODHES, a group that has worked tirelessly for nearly two decades to shed light on the human rights crisis in Colombia. As CODHES’ report highlights, almost 33 percent of displaced civilians are forced to flee from zones that are a focus of “territorial consolidation,” the signature program of the Uribe administration that aimed to set up military control of areas of the countryside while also, at least in theory, expanding civilian government institutions.
Massacres, kidnappings, targeted assassinations, and death threats against civilians and human rights defenders continue to be the norm in these zones of territorial consolidation, forcing civilians to leave their homes and their livelihoods behind. From 1980 through July of 2010, 6,638,195 hectares of land were stolen from their rightful owners as a consequence of acts of violence committed by illegal armed actors. CODHES is quick to note that the provinces in which this land dispossession occurred coincide with the zones of “territorial consolidation.” These zones also coincide with national and international resource-extraction projects, including mining, oil palm cultivation, and the cultivation of illicit crops.
The 280,041 people who were displaced in 2010 are part the largest group of internally displaced persons in the world, some 5,195,620 people who have been forced off their land in Colombia since 1985. To put that into perspective, that number is 11.42 percent of the total population of Colombia. These numbers are much higher than the official statistics of a government that refuses to recognize some of the worst massacres and mass displacements that have occurred in the country. CODHES notes the particular vulnerability of indigenous and Afro Colombian communities, which have been consistently victimized by armed groups. Alongside the millions of internally displaced people, 389,753 Colombians living outside the country are considered refugees. In other words, nearly 12 percent of the Colombians living in the exterior were forced to flee their home country due to threats against their lives or well-being.
Making matters worse is the fact that paramilitary groups continue to threaten to silence anyone brave enough to struggle for justice and land restitution. CODHES calls on the government to protect those who are fighting for land rights, criticizes the impunity against victimizers, and calls on the government to strengthen the rule of law and punish those responsible for the massive displacement crisis in Colombia.
We encourage you to read the full report and learn more about one of the most tragic humanitarian catastrophes in the world. By becoming more informed, you can become an essential player in the fight for rights to land and life for the innocent victims of Colombia’s war.