The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) just released its 2015 annual report on the refugee crisis world-wide. While Syria came in first in this report with 6.5 million internally displaced peoples (IDPs), Colombia came in a close second with more than 5.7 IDPs.
And, as the UNHCR explains, the treatment of these Colombian IDPs is horrifying:
Despite government efforts to improve its response to forced displacement and to implement the Law on Victims and Land Restitution (Victims Law), widespread security risks and violence involving the forced recruitment of children and youth, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), threats, disappearances and murders, continue to occur.
In the first half of 2014 alone, "64,500 people were officially declared displaced... and were awaiting registration; and almost 24,000 people were officially registered by the national Victims unit."
As the report explains, these displacements, and the human rights violations which go along with them, are occurring as the Colombian government is negotiating a peace accord in Havana, Cuba with the left-wing FARC and ELN guerillas. However, as the UNHCR explains, it is not the left-wing guerrillas who are responsible for vast majority of these displacements, but rather, the right-wing paramilitary groups which were supposed to have demobilized in 2006 and 2007. As the report states:
Areas such as Córdoba reported high levels of pressure by armed groups, especially post-demobilization armed groups, in actions affecting land occupation and land restitution processes. Conflict continues in strategically important areas of Colombia, particularly in the coastal and border departments of Arauca, Chocó, Nariño, Norte de Santander, and Putumayo. The Pacific region of the country continues to generate most large-group displacements affecting four departments, with the highest concentration in Cauca followed by Valle del Cauca.
These areas most affected by the paramilitary displacements are ones with large numbers of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups -- two groups which have borne the brunt of the human rights abuses in recent years.
While both the U.S. and the Colombian governments have attempted to downplay the activities and indeed the very existence of the right-wing paramilitaries (the largest grouping known as the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC)) since the "demobilization," they continue to plague Colombia. As an excellent report by Insight Crime explains, the "demobilization" of these paramilitaries was choreographed with the connivance of Colombian officials:
Paramilitary commanders have said that the demobilization of some elements of the AUC was faked, with the blessing of government officials, undermining official claims that paramilitarism in Colombia is a thing of the past.
Even the UNHCR could not bring itself to use the term "paramilitary" in its report, instead referring vaguely to "post-demobilization armed groups." Like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, it appears that few dare to speak the paramilitaries' name. However, failing to speak their name empowers the paramilitaries, for it allows these groups to continue their gross human rights abuses unseen, in the shadows, and with near total impunity. After all, how does one fight an enemy that does not exist?
And, as usual, the Fourth Estate continues to fail in its role of reporting on Colombia and its paramilitary/human rights problems, instead focusing on problems in Venezuela which truthfully pale in comparison to those in Colombia. Indeed, quite tellingly, Venezuela is a mere footnote in the UNHCR report, which simply states that "[d]espite reparation and land restitution developments in Colombia, refugees continue to cross into the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela regularly." In other words, while the press continues to vilify Venezuela, to the exclusion of any Colombian coverage, Colombians are actually seeking safe haven in Venezuela - an irony worth noting.
As the Colombian government continues to negotiate peace with left-wing rebels, and indeed appears very close to entering into a final peace accord with these groups, all of this raises the question of what happens to the paramilitary groups -- long-time allies of the Colombian military and the U.S. which supports it -- who are not parties to these discussions and whose existence few will acknowledge. The answer does not appear to be a comforting one, as it seems quite likely that the paramilitaries will continue to commit massive human rights abuses even after the execution of a peace accord between the Colombian government and the left-wing guerillas. And sadly, there appears to be few who will speak out against this tragedy.