JEP peace court to investigate state forces’ role in forced displacement

Colombia’s truth and justice court will investigate the role of state security forces in the forced displacement of civilians during the armed conflict. The Attorney General’s office has submitted a report to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) which details 294 episodes of forced displacement committed between 1977 and 2015 principally in the regions of Antioquia, Casanare, Santander, Meta, Magdalena, Bolívar, Bogotá, Chocó and Norte de Santander. The JEP was created in the 2016 peace agreement to investigate and prosecute those guilty of serious human rights violations committed during the conflict.

Although the report addresses 675 victims of forced displacement – a tiny fraction of the millions who were forced from their homes by violence – it aims to shed light on state agents’ attacks on civilian populations. The majority of victims covered in the report were young men aged 18-30, while at least 40 per cent were peasant farmers. The report registers 1,244 potential perpetrators, including 815 military personnel, 94 police officers and 226 members of paramilitary or other armed groups who collaborated in operations of forced displacement. Intelligence units were most involved in the abuses.

In some cases, the forced displacements followed massacres committed against the same communities, such as the case of Pueblo Bello in Antioquia, where 43 people were murdered in 1990. The population was subsequently driven out. In other instances, people were deliberately disappeared to hide evidence of the involvement of paramilitaries or state forces.

The report finds that from 1996 onwards, paramilitaries replaced state agents as the principal actor behind forced displacement. Between 1996 and 2005, paramilitaries were responsible for at least 51 per cent of cases, with peasant farmer communities most impacted. ‘The victimisation of this population sector was related to the stigmatisation of the inhabitants of certain rural territories who were labelled as guerrilla-supporters,’ says the report.

Although the report documents fewer cases of forced displacement in later years, it acknowledges that less information is available from which to gather research. It also finds that only around seven per cent of cases have gone beyond preliminary investigative stages. Colombia’s armed conflict forcibly displaced around six million people, the vast majority of whom have never returned to their homes.