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

2021 Graduation Ceremony News

Three Prizes Distinguish Graduate Students for their Master’s Papers

8 November 2021

The Henry Dunant Research Prize, the Best LLM Paper Prize and the Best MTJ Paper Prize distinguished three graduating students for their exceptional academic work.

Read more

Portrait of Dr Annyssa Bellal News

Dr Annyssa Bellal Will Discuss IHL Monitoring and Compliance at the UNGA Ministerial Week

20 September 2021

Our Senior Research Fellow and Strategic Adviser on International Humanitarian Law Dr Annyssa Bellal will discuss IHL monitoring and compliance at a High-Level Side Event during the UN General Assembly Ministerial Week.

Read more

Logo of the Atlas Network Event

Women's Perspectives on a Career in International Law

7 February 2022, 12:30-14:00

In this online event co-organized with the ATLAS Network, prominent women in international law will share their experience and advice through an interactive discussion.

Read more

Syria,  Aleppo, great Umayyad mosque. Destructions. Short Course

The Interplay between International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

11 February - 4 March 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, focuses on the specific issues that arise in times of armed conflict regarding the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It addresses key issues like the applicability of human rights in times of armed conflict; the possibilities of restricting human rights under systems of limitations and derogations; and the extraterritorial application of human rights law.

Read more

Côte d'Ivoire,  Abidjan, military instruction center in Akandjé. An ICRC dissemination session on international humanitarian law for the 1st bataillon of commando paratroopers. Short Course

The Implementation of International Humanitarian Law

8 February - 11 March 2022

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, will cover the ‘nuts and bolts’ of implementation, including national legislation, dissemination and training, and discuss the mechanisms such as the International Fact-Finding Commission, as set out in the treaties.

Read more

Screen Shot of Obsolete, a game made for the 7DFPS project in 7 days. Download for PC and Mac Project

Disruptive Military Technologies

Started in February 2020

Via a new lecture series on disruptive military technologies, this project aims at staying abreast of the various military technology trends; promoting legal and policy debate on new military technologies; and furthering the understanding of the convergent effects of different technological trends shaping the digital battlefield of the future.

Read more

Séléka rebels patrol in the town of Bria, Central African Republic (CAR). Project

Human Rights Responsibilities and Armed Non-State Actors

Completed in June 2018

This research aims at building a common understanding and vision as to how states and the relevant parts of the UN system can provide a concrete and practical framework to address human rights responsibilities of armed non-state actors.

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

The UN Security Council and Common Article 1: Understanding the Role of Peacekeeping Operations in Ensuring Respect for IHL

published on October 2021

Émilie Max

Read more