Forced displacements in Colombia increase by over 169% during 2021

The Office for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) condemned that 2021 had been the year with the highest number of victims of forced displacement events in Colombia since the signing of peace agreements in November 2016

December 27, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is one of the many communities that has seen an increase in paramilitary violence and threats. They carried out a march for the right to life on December 23, 2021. Photo: Contagio Radio

The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), on December 22, warned of an alarming increase in massive and multiple forced displacement events in Colombia during 2021. The CODHES reported that between January and November, 2021, 82,846 people were forcibly displaced from their homes and territories, a figure that represents an increase of 169.3% as compared to the same period in 2020. The CODHES further reported that a total number of 167 displacement events were recorded in these eleven months, which represents an increase of 65.3% in relation to the same period in 2020.

CODHES also reported that this year’s increase in displacement incidents had been marked by an increase in displacement of Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities. The organization informed that seven out of ten displaced people belonged to one of these ethnic groups. It detailed that in total, 37,664 Afro-descendants and 18,979 Indigenous people were forced to abandon their homes and move away from their territories.

According to CODHES’ data, the departments of Nariño, Antioquia, Chocó and Cauca in the Pacific and Northwest regions of the country are the most affected and have the highest number of victims. The human rights organization condemned that 2021 had been the year with the highest number of victims of forced displacement events in Colombia since the signing of peace agreements between the former government of president Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group, in November 2016, in Havana, Cuba.

The increase in paramilitary violence, cocaine production, and the conflicts between illegal armed groups to define control over land for drug trafficking and illegal mining activities are the main causes of the escalation of forced displacement in Colombia. The paramilitaries specifically target those who work to defend land and natural resources, and protest against the cultivation of illicit crops and illegal mining in their territories.

According to the Institute of Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), as of December 23, 2021, 167 environmentalists, land defenders, human rights activists and leaders of Afro-descendent and Indigenous communities had been murdered by illegal armed and drug trafficking groups just in 2021. The number killed since the signing of the peace agreements is 1,282. Additionally, according to the INDEPAZ’s other records, over 320 people had been killed in 91 massacres perpetrated in this year.

The grave humanitarian crisis has been recognized and condemned by different agencies of the United Nations. For the past three years, civil society and human rights organizations have been organizing and demanding measures to protect people in rural areas and dismantle paramilitary groups operating in different regions. However, the government of far-right President Ivan Duque has yet to take effective action in this regard.

Criminalization of social movements continues

Meanwhile, the national government, recently, took another step towards strengthening its campaign of criminalization of those who take part in social protests. On December 22, the Senate, controlled by the ruling party and its allies, approved the controversial ‘Citizen Security’ bill, which criminalizes social protest and toughens penalties against citizens who are accused of repeating crimes in public spaces.

Interior minister Daniel Palacios said, defending the law, that it gives “greater tools to judges to punish violent citizens who disturb tranquility, so that the offenders always go to jail and do not walk freely on the streets.”

Various opposition leaders have condemned that several articles of the bill, instead of protecting the citizens, violate their fundamental rights and promote criminal practices.

Senator Ivan Cepeda Castro of the Alternative Democratic Pole, said that the law is “a compendium of provisions that legalize official, paramilitary and private criminal practices. It is a license to kill, the Duque administration’s new fascist aberration.”

Cepeda reported that he, along with 18 other legislators, had already sent a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to “verify the government’s failure to comply with its recommendations regarding respect for social protest” after the massive protests during the national strike, between April 28 and July 31 of this year. He also said that they would soon file a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court against the law.

Senator Aida Avella of the Patriotic Union (UP) also fiercely criticized the law and called it unconstitutional. “It redefines the concept of proportionality in order to give a license to kill, thereby placing private property above human life,” said Avella. She also pointed out that the law also modifies other norms so that the principles of “presumption of innocence” and “legitimate defense” can be appealed in advance by the police and military involved in any act of violence.

Senator Roy Barreras of the Social Party of National Unity denounced that “what has just been approved criminalizes protest, legitimizes justice by its own hand, legalizes forms of urban paramilitarism. It authorizes the shooting of young people and Indigenous people. It legalizes citizens who want to shoot as if they were ‘good people’ against other citizens.” Barreras also warned that the law “authorizes arbitrary detentions under the pretext of conviction for protection, and legalizes massacres such as that of the children of Llano Verde in Aguablanca who dared to raise their kites on a private property.”

Senator Gustavo Petro and future presidential candidate of the Colombia Humana party said that the bill proves the government support paramilitarism. “You know what the government’s security bill shows? It shows that they have always believed in paramilitarism,” tweeted Petro.

Senator Sandra Ramirez of the Comunes party also rejected the bill, calling it “dangerous,” as it “violates the human rights of Colombians.”

The CODHES also rejected the said law. The organization warned that the law “criminalizes actions carried out within the framework of social protests; legitimizes the use of force (even lethal) by individuals with the status of privileged legitimate defense; and promotes punitive populism, creating crimes and aggravating factors without analyzing implications for the penal system or of its true objective, effect, in the face of crime.”