Colombia: Still Engulfed in a Series of Non-International Armed Conflicts despite the 2016 Peace Agreement

Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window of the non-international armed conflicts in Colombia Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window of the non-international armed conflicts in Colombia

4 December 2018

Colombia has been affected by armed violence since the 1960s, experiencing one of the longest non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) in modern times.

In spite of the fact that the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) is now over, violence has not diminished in the country and the government is still involved in a series of NIACs against the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and a number of criminal organizations (bandas criminales, BACRIMs).

Furthermore, parallel NIACs are taking place among armed non-state actors operating in Colombia, including the ELN, which is fighting against the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC, called by the government Gulf Clan and formerly known as the Urabeños) and the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL).

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis and legal classification of these NIACs.

The NIAC between the Government of Colombia and the ELN

The ELN is a highly organized group that has been militarily active in Colombia since the 1960s. As the FARC is now officially turning into a political party, ELN is becoming the most powerful guerrilla army operating in Colombia.

Peace talks between the ELN and the Colombian government started in 2017 and led to a ceasefire agreement that lasted from October 2017 to the beginning of January 2018. However, armed confrontations resumed in 2018 following the end of the agreement.

The Armed Confrontations between the Government and BACRIMs Reach the Threshold of NIACs

The government of Colombia is involved in intense armed confrontations against a number of BACRIMs, in particular, the AGC. The level of violence and the degree of organization of at least the AGC triggered the classification of these situations as NIACs according to international humanitarian law (IHL) criteria.

The AGC is the largest organised criminal organization in Colombia, where it controls most of the drug trade and considerable parts of the Colombian territory, especially in the north.

‘While the peace agreement put an end to the conflict with the FARC, Colombia is scourged by the expansion of the phenomena of urban gangs, gang violence and organized crime’ underlines Dr Chiara Readelli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

‘We have, one the one hand, BACRIMs that are highly organized, control large portions of the Colombian territory, and are able to launch armed strikes in the areas under their control. On the other, the Colombian government is deploying thousands of troops to target BACRIMs’ criminal infrastructure and military apparatus and has specifically created elite corps in order to fight against the AGC. Tactics include the use of intelligence operations, criminal investigations, and armed attacks, both on land and by air’ she adds.

A Series of NIACs among BACRIMs and Armed Groups: Fighting for the Control of the Territory and the Drug Trade

Following the demobilisation of the FARC, the armed actors currently operating in Colombia reorganized. Since the government proved unable to establish control over the areas previously in the hands of the FARC, the ELN and BACRIMs have been engaging in turf wars in order to fill the power void.

As a result, the ELN is party to non-international armed conflicts against a number of criminal armed groups, in particular against the EPL and the AGC.

Since March 2018, armed confrontations between the EPL and the ELN have been intensifying in the Catatumbo region, close to the border with Venezuela. The two groups are fighting in order to gain control over the region, one of the most important regions for cocaine production.

Intense fighting is also continuing between the ELN and the AGC. Specifically, the two groups are engaging in armed confrontations in order to gain control over the areas once under the authority of the FARC in Chocó province.

About RULAC

The RULAC database is unique in the world in that it legally classifies situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict – international or non-international – under IHL.

‘This is crucial because IHL applies only in armed conflicts. Before humanitarian players, civil servants or academics can invoke IHL or analyze whether IHL was violated, they must know whether it applies. Outside armed conflicts, only international human rights law applies’ underlines Marco Sassòli, Director of the Geneva Academy.

Collaboration with the University of Essex

RULAC is supported by a law clinic at the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. In accordance with the RULAC methodology, a team of Essex postgraduate students drafted the conflict entry on Colombia, which was then revised and complemented by the Geneva Academy.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Voting during the  40th session of the Human Rights Council, March 2019 News

Call for Papers: The Role of Human Rights Mechanisms in Implementing International Humanitarian Law

1 April 2019

In the perspective of a conference co-organized with the Global Studies Institute (University of Geneva), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Canton of Geneva, we invite proposals that focus on the role of human rights mechanisms in implementing international humanitarian law.

Read more

Vover page of the In-Brief No.7 Human Rights Obligations of Armed Non-State Actors: An Exploration of the Practice of the UN Human Rights Council  News

How the UN Human Rights Council Addresses Armed Non-State Actors: Key Challenges and Way Forward

9 February 2017

Ten years after the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council, our new publication highlights the current challenges related to the Council’s approach to armed non-state actors and proposes recommendations to better address this phenomenon.

Read more

Sculpture realized to illustrate thre UDHR Event

Book Launch: Modes of Liability in International Criminal Law

29 October 2019, 18:30-20:00

On the occasion of the launch of Modes of Liability in International Criminal Law, based on research undertaken at the Geneva Academy, panelists will discuss questions related to criminal responsibility for international crimes.

Read more

Somalia, explosion of a bomb in the Mogadishu's market place. Short Course

The Classification of Armed Conflicts

31 January - 14 February 2020

This short course aims to study, in depth, an emblematic example of the complexity of international humanitarian law and the challenges it raises: the classification of armed conflicts.

Read more

Ukraine, damaged bicycle and car in front of a destroyed building Short Course

Protection of Persons and Property in International Armed Conflict

15 November - 13 December 2019

This short course examines the conduct of hostilities in situations of international armed conflict, also known as the Law of The Hague.

Read more

Peru, Ayacucho, Forensic Institut. With the help of the prosecutor's office staff, families try to identify the clothes of their missing relatives. Project

Standards of Proof in Fact Finding

Completed in January 2013

Several ad hoc fact-finding and inquiry commissions have been established to assess some of the most serious situations of human rights and humanitarian law violations across the world. With such mechanisms gaining influence, the question arises of whether a minimum formal standard of proof (or degree of certainty) exists or is required when such bodies adjudicate on such serious matters.

Read more

South Sudan, Warrab. An ICRC information session on the Law of Armed Conflict with soldiers from Warrab State. Project

Armed Non-State Actors and the Human Rights Council

Completed in January 2015

Launched in 2016, this project aimed to identify whether, to what extent and under what circumstances armed non-state actors incur obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights (HR) law.

Read more