Urgent measures needed for conflict victims amid coronavirus crisis

A commission established to protect the rights of victims of forced displacement – around thirteen per cent of the entire Colombian population, more than six million people – has urged the Constitutional Court to take urgent measures to alleviate impact of the coronavirus crisis on communities still affected by conflict and instability.

In response to the increased risk presented by coronavirus, the Commission of Monitoring Public Policy of Displacement has asked the Court to develop a clear strategy for protecting displaced communities. Key recommendations include guarantees over minimum income, access to healthcare and provisions of foods and essential domestic products.

On 18 March, more than fifty human rights and social organisations signed a letter addressed to all armed actors in Colombia, including paramilitaries, the ELN guerrilla movement and the military, which requested that they all implement an immediate cessation of hostilities. So far, only the ELN has announced a ceasefire in response to the crisis, a move welcomed by the United Nations.

Murders of social activists and FARC former guerrillas have continued during the ongoing lockdown imposed by the Colombian government. Human rights groups have warned that people are at greater risk of attack due to being confined to their homes. Some indigenous and rural communities have increased security measures in their territories, where armed groups are known to operate.

Since the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the FARC, violence targeting specific communities has got worse in various regions. The FARC’s withdrawal and reformation as a political party created power vacuums that multiple armed groups have subsequently competed to fill. With the state failing to secure these regions, as stipulated in the agreement, paramilitaries and other armed groups are now targeting communities which oppose their presence.

Colombia has registered at least 55 deaths and more than 2,000 cases of coronavirus, with both figures certain to rise.