Image Source: Human Rights Watch
REGION: Western Hemisphere

In “Recycled Violence: Abuses by FARC Dissident Groups in Tumaco on Colombia’s Pacific Coast,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) examines the widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and attempts to understand the government’s inability to bring them to an end. The report finds that flaws in the demobilization process, as well as issues with reincorporating guerrillas into society, resulted in the emergence of FARC dissident groups throughout the Tumaco region. Through observing these groups’ activity in the region, as well as performing interviews with abuse victims and community members and leaders, HRW finds that these groups have continued to commit mass human rights violations in the region at an increasing rate. These abuses include killings, disappearances, dismemberment, kidnapping, sexual violence, recruitment and use of children, and use of antipersonnel landmines, as well as extortion, restrictions on movement, social control, threats, and forced displacement. The report additionally finds that Tumaco’s lack of institutional capacity contributed greatly to its inability to address these abuses. In response, the report provides recommendations for President Iván Duque, the Attorney General, the Magistrate’s Council, and the Mayor of Tumaco, in order to improve the justice system and ensure effective protection of community members and leaders in the region.

In the report, HRW argues that the FARC demobilization process was flawed due to uncooperative armed actors, including the “Daniel Aldana” faction of the FARC, who did not agree with the peace process and were deeply involved in drug trafficking and other crimes. Additionally, other armed groups began involving themselves in the demobilization process by threatening FARC guerrillas, attempting to obtain control of the region, or taking advantage of the process in order to escape being extradited to the United States for drug trafficking. These groups include the People of Order, United Guerrillas of the Pacific, Oliver Sinisterra Front, Gaitanistas Self-Defenses of Colombia, and a group led by “Mario Lata.” HRW has identified all of these groups as responsible for the widespread abuses in Tumaco since the demobilization process.

These abuses are not the only concern of the local residents, however. The report’s initial findings show that around half of Tumaco’s population is facing unmet basic needs, such as needs for adequate housing and other public services. HRW finds that this failure is largely due to corruption and mismanagement in local government. This widespread corruption and mismanagement has contributed greatly to the local government’s lack of law enforcement capacity, making the region and its people much more susceptible to the abuses. The report finds that the police and military response has been inadequate for a number of reasons, namely their failures to organize strategic plans to protect local residents and community leaders. In response, the Colombian government has launched initiatives to increase the number of police and military officers, as well as establishing strong police and military presence in the region. Despite these attempts, however, corruption within the police and military forces remains relatively common, as seen in the few documented instances of killings and other abuses perpetrated by them.

In response to these abuses, HRW and other humanitarian organizations argue that the government’s delay in establishing a strong state presence contributed to the emergence of these dissident groups. Despite attempts to increase accountability within the Attorney General’s office, as well as initiatives to establish police and military presence in Tumaco, the abuses are continuing at an alarming rate. According to the report, these initiatives have been largely ineffective due to a lack of permanent policing, and the fact that prosecutors and other judicial authorities often tolerate abuses or commit abuses themselves. Additionally, the report finds that there have been over 500 murders since 2017 in Tumaco, but there has been only one conviction. HRW’s research shows that this is due to the insufficient number of judges, prosecutors, and investigators available to handle such cases. Compounding on this issue, there is only one judge in Tumaco, a “specialized judge,” who can try crimes to the degree of these abuses, only 19 prosecutors, and an extremely limited number of investigators, resulting in extreme backlogging of these cases. Lastly, many abuses by these groups go unreported due to fear of reprisals.

In order to curb some of these abuses, the report concludes by outlining recommendations for the President, Attorney General, the Magistrate’s Council, and to the Mayor of Tumaco. Selected recommendations include:

  • Implementing measures to protect displaced people and provide them with humanitarian aid;
  • Ensuring effective protection of community members and leaders of Tumaco on the part of the national police and armed forces;
  • Improving the justice system by increasing the number of investigators, prosecutors, and judges trying these cases; and
  • Ensuring the protection of these individuals.

More recommendations can be found in the full report.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Recycled Violence: Abuses by FARC Dissident Groups in Tumaco on Colombia’s Pacific Coast

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