Constitutional Court rules Colombian state has failed to protect former FARC combatants

The Colombian government must ensure protection for former FARC combatants, which it has failed to do since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, according to the country’s Constitutional Court. On 27 January, the court ruled that former combatants lack security guarantees and that the state has taken insufficient action to stem high levels of violence that they face. The security order also applies to family members of former combatants, as well as members of the Comunes political party, which was founded by the FARC under the terms of the peace agreement.

Despite the full commitment of the vast majority of former combatants to the peace agreement, which formally ended decades of conflict between the Colombian state and the FARC, they have been regularly targeted since the signing in November 2016. In its latest report on the peace process, dated 27 December 2021, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia reported that 303 have been murdered in that time, while another three were killed in late January. In total, 13,603 accredited former combatants voluntarily put down their weapons and entered the peace process.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Court found that the state had failed to ensure former combatants’ ‘right to life, personal integrity and peace.’ It declared a State of Unconstitutional Things, a mechanism designed to respond to state failings on protections for human rights and victims. The court ordered the government to activate security guarantees for former combatants as stipulated in the peace agreement. In addition, the ruling compels the state-run National Protection Unit, which provides security measures to threatened individuals and groups, to reevaluate risks facing former combatants.

The government of President Iván Duque, who will leave office when Colombia holds a presidential election later this year, has previously faced legal scrutiny over its failings on tackling violence against former combatants. In October 2020, magistrates in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the peace agreement’s transitional justice court, summoned ministers to explain what measures they were taking to end the targeting of former combatants.

Although the number of former combatants killed dropped to 54 in 2021 from 74 the previous year, the figures remain extremely alarming. Violence has forced former combatants and their families to abandon two of the specially-created reincorporation zones for more secure areas. The court ruling found that violence was due to the state’s failure to establish a significant institutional presence in impacted regions, which has facilitated the expansion of paramilitaries and other armed groups.

‘The murder of just one of the people who signed the agreement has a disproportionate effect and requires the immediate and coordinated action of the entire State. It must be taken into account that, in exchange for the demobilisation and disarmament that has already taken place and is fully complied with by the people who promised to re-join the social fabric, the least they expect is to be able to make this significant transit in a reliable and safe manner for their lives and personal integrity,’ said Cristina Pardo, one of the magistrates behind the ruling.

Magistrate Pardo also warned that, if violence against former combatants is not urgently addressed, as many as 1,600 could be killed by 2024, which would amount to 12 per cent of all those who entered the peace process.