Colombia

by Leah Young [ Center for International Stabilization and Recovery ]

Colombia, a country overwhelmed by four decades of war, has the highest concentration of contamination
from landmines and other explosive remnants of war1 in the Americas.2 The conflict, which was and continues to be waged between the Colombian government and various nonstate actors, reached its peak during the early 1990s.3 The use of improvised explosive2 devices, anti-personnel landmines and other forms of explosive ordnance has rapidly increased in Colombia since then, due to heavy usage by NSAs such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.4 In the past, the Colombian government laid landmines around 34 military bases to protect key infrastructure, but it renounced their use since 1997. Landmines are primarily used by the NSAs to protect their home bases and illegal drug crops, which fund the conflict. The Landmine Monitor Report observes that landmine usage may not be limited to use by NSAs against the Colombian government, but may also be employed by different nonstate actors against one another.2 The use of landmines has become increasingly common; during 2005 and 2006, over 1,100 landmine victims were reported each year, about three victims a day. Since then, the number of new casualties has decreased, yet the rate remains at an alarming level, with 769 victims for 2008.5

Casualties

Reported casualty rates due to landmines, IEDs and other ERW are higher in Colombia than in any other part of the world. The majority of these casualties are attributed to IEDs, however, rather than traditional landmines.2 The prevalence of IEDs is due to training that the two Colombian rebel groups, FARC and Ejército de Liberación Nacional, or ELN, undertook in the 1990, from groups such as the Irish Republican Army and the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom) concerning homemade explosives. IEDs are a serious problem, as “they have proven to be very unstable, very difficult to detect, and cause immense injuries,” according to Pablo Esteban Parra Gallego, Director of Humanitarian Demining for the Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal, Colombia’s mineaction program.6 The way that IEDs explode is fragmented, due to the numerous materials used to build them, making them very deadly and unpredictable.6 Furthermore, it is thought that the civilian casualty rates are under-reported, especially in high-conflict areas, rural areas and among displaced populations. Hospitals often neglect to document civilian mine casualties for security reasons.2

Mine Action

Colombia’s approach to its mine problem is comprised of many different components. The Colombian government works alongside the United Nations, the Organization of American States, various nongovernmental organizations, international organizations and local authorities to combat the problem. The government of Colombia also receives financial contributions for its mine-action program from donors, including the European Union and the governments of Canada, Japan and the United States.4 Colombia became a State Party to the Ottawa Convention7 on 1 March 2001, after signing the Convention on 3 December 1997.2

In October 2001, the Comisión Nacional Intersectorial para la Acción contra las Minas Antipersonalwas created in order to execute the Convention in Colombia. CINAMA’s responsibilities are varied, “including development of a national plan, policy decisions and coordination of international assistance.”2 It also has committees dedicated to the implementation of victim-assistance and mineclearance activities.2 By 2010, the Colombian government plans to have 14 demining teams from the military forces deployed. In order to complement that national capacity, an accreditation system is under construction to allow national and international NGOs to 6

Survivor Assistance

Survivor assistance in Colombia is somewhat inconsistent. Free emergency transport, hospitalization and rehabilitation are available to all survivors throughout the country; however, the quality and consistency of these services varies depending on the location. Emergency responses involving transportation and first aid is often inadequate, while road blocks and other infrastructural issues also hinder initial response.2 Hospitals in the cities are fully equipped with the staff and supplies necessary for providing aid to landmine survivors. Many of the areas most heavily affected by mines are rural, however, and hospitals in the less-populated areas of Colombia are not well-staffed and often lack the resources necessary to properly treat landmine victims. The problem is even more complicated in high-conflict areas, where hospital staff face constant threats of kidnapping and raids from NSAs, greatly disrupting their ability to provide care to victims of landmine accidents.2

Mine-risk Education

Although mine-risk education began to expand in 2006, it is still insufficient throughout Colombia considering the high level of civilian casualties.2 The International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF have expanded their MRE focus, incorporating the Colombian Red Cross, in conjunction with PAICMA, various Colombian NGOs and U.N. agencies into the process. Children make up a high percentage of landmine casualties in Colombia, and in response, these organizations place special emphasis on incorporating MRE into the educational system, particularly targeting at-risk children. These organizations provide MRE learning materials to schools and train teachers to help educate children on the risks of landmines and other ERW. According to PAICMA, indigenous populations in Colombia may likely be more at risk from landmines than other populations. Efforts are being made to develop an MRE program specifically targeted toward indigenous groups. This program aims to take into account the cultural differences that make other MRE programs less effective among these groups.2

The Future

Despite being a State Party to the Ottawa Convention, Colombia’s problem with landmines persists as the conflict between the Colombian government and NSAs drags on. The Colombian government and the international community are making efforts to combat the problem, and improvements in security have been observed in many regions of the country.8 The ongoing conflict has undoubtedly hindered efforts to eradicate Colombia’s dangerous legacy, yet it is encouraging to witness the Colombian government’s effort, as well as that of other actors, to resolve the situation despite the dangers posed by the ongoing conflict.

Biography

Leah Young has worked at The Journal of ERW and Mine Action from January 2008 until August 2009. She is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in justice studies with a minor in Spanish at James Madison University in May 2009.


Endnotes

  1. Editor’s Note: Some organizations consider mines and ERW to be two separate entities, since they are regulated by different legal documents (the former by the Ottawa Convention and Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the latter by CCW Protocol V). However, since mines are explosive devices that have similar effects to other ERW and it is often impossible to separate the two during clearance operations, some in the community have adopted a “working definition” (as opposed to a legal one) of ERW in which it is a blanket term that includes mines, UXO, abandoned explosive ordnance and other explosive devices.
  2. “Colombia.” Landmine Monitor Report 2007. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2007/colombia.html. Accessed 29 September 2008.
  3. “Colombia.” The CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/co.html. Accessed 29 September 2008.
  4. “Colombia.” E-Mine: The Electronic Mine Information Network. United Nations Mine Action Service. http://www.mineaction.org/country.asp?c=. Accessed 31 October 2008.
  5. E-mail interview with Pablo Esteban Parra Gallego, Director of Humanitarian Demining, Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral Contra Minas Antipersonal. 27 October 2008.
  6. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, commonly known as the Ottawa Convention. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 9 February 2009.
  7. Pablo Esteban Parra Gallego. Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral contra las Minas Antipersonal PowerPoint presentation from “UNMAS/GICHD Mine Action Technology Workshop 2008.” September 2008.

Contact Information

Abigail Eisley
Editorial/Research Assistant
The Journal of ERW and Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
Center for International Stabilization and Recovery
James Madison University
E-mail: maic@jmu.edu