Paramilitaries still displacing and threatening communities in western Colombia

Paramilitary activity is expanding and impacting on communities in the Chocó region of western Colombia, one of the poorest and most underdeveloped parts of the country, according to human rights organisation the Interchurch Commission of Justice and Peace. The Commission says that the long-running paramilitary presence in Chocó has been exacerbated by state neglect towards the region and its inhabitants.

According to the Commission, the paramilitary presence is the result of factions of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) which remain active despite the supposed 2006 deal to dismantle paramilitary structures. However, many paramilitaries joined or formed other groups which have continued to commit human rights violations against civilians.

While some communities in Chocó have been forcibly displaced, others are confined to restricted zones. Other ongoing violations include threats against social activists and the forced recruitment of minors.

Although the 2016 peace agreement stipulates that non-state armed groups, including paramilitaries, must be dismantled, the Commission says this has not been implemented. Paramilitary groups continue to operate freely to exercise control of territories and illegal economies such as drugs trafficking.

Although Chocó is highly militarised by Colombian security forces, the Commission says is has observed an ‘inefficiency’ to tackle regional paramilitarism. The lack of state institutions has left communities unable to denounce the situation or seek protection from the state. Much of the displacement is linked to the expansion of industrial agriculture in the region.

Historically-affected by conflict and underdevelopment, communities in Chocó established humanitarian zones that sought to provide sanctuary for the local population. However, these zones have also seen paramilitary incursions recently.