Colombia (1964 - first combat deaths)

Last Updated: December 13, 2018

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): Historically the Colombian government and military, supported by the United States, have opposed left-wing guerrillas, especially the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). In 2016, the government and FARC, the largest rebel group, signed a historic peace treaty. However, right-wing paramilitary gangs remain a threat to both parties.

What (started the conflict): In the 1960s, social, political, and economic problems led to conflict between the government and left-wing guerrillas, primarily FARC and ELN. In the 1980s and 1990s wealthy landowners backed right-wing paramilitary groups to fight the guerrillas. During this time, drug cartels also fueled major violence; both guerrillas and paramilitaries profited from the drug trade. All parties committed serious human rights abuses, including executions, bombings, and kidnappings. The government has been accused of extra-judicial killings, including killing civilians and then dressing them in FARC uniforms.

When (has fighting occurred): The conflict began in the 1960s; violence peaked in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2002, FARC ­­and ELN memberships have declined significantly with loss of popular support. Between 2003 and 2006, the government of President Alvaro Uribe and the United Self-Defence Forces (AUC) negotiated a disarmament deal. With the 2008 process and extradition of its leaders the AUC declined and dissolved into less powerful splinter groups. Since then, the splinter groups have gained traction and become a threat to national security—during recent peace talks between the government and left-wing rebel groups, for example. FARC and the government of President Santos began serious peace negotiations in 2012, which culminated in a historic peace treaty in 2016. Over 220,000 people, approximately 80 per cent civilian, have been killed during the 50-year conflict.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Fighting has taken place in virtually all regions of Colombia. In recent years FARC and the ELN have maintained only a few strongholds, but have waged sporadic attacks and ambushes in various parts of the country.

Type of Conflict: State control


Important strides were made in the peace process, although implementation of the 2016 peace deal remained complicated. In June, the United Nations Mission in Colombia certified that more than 7,000 FARC rebels had handed over their weapons and demobilized. By the end of the year, approximately 11,000 former rebels had disarmed. As the handover of weapons and demobilization are key conditions of the peace deal, such actions were promising. Furthermore, the transformation of FARC from an armed group to a political party opened the possibility for FARC to run in 2018 Colombian elections; the Colombian senate approved 10 congressional seats for former FARC members. However, this development was not welcomed by everyone and many citizens felt that FARC rebels were being treated too leniently. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a transitional justice mechanism that was to try rebels accused of crimes against humanity, using both restorative justice measures and other forms of sentencing, had yet to be set up. Approximately 800 dissident FARC rebels did not disarm and seemed likely to join drug gangs.

The Colombian government appeared to be making progress in peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) that began in February in Quito, Ecuador. But, ELN violence and kidnappings continued, especially against activists and community leaders putting the talks at risk. In areas previously under FARC control, more than a 100 human rights activists and community leaders were assassinated in 2017. A significant number of those killed were Afro-Colombian or Indigenous.

Status of Fighting

The disarmament of FARC concluded on August 2017; 17 containers of arms had been collected in the previous year. FARC also provided information on the remaining arms caches located in remote regions. This entire process occurred under the supervision of the United Nations, with the Colombian state assuming responsibility for the demobilization and safety of FARC ex-combatants.

Although the Colombian government called on the ELN to end its practice of kidnapping, the kidnappings continued, threatening a potential bilateral ceasefire agreement. In June 2017, two Dutch journalists were kidnapped. Still, in September, the two sides reached a bilateral ceasefire agreement, which started on October 1 and was set to end on January 12, 2018, with the possibility of renewal. On October 5, Colombian security forces killed five farmers and wounded 20 during protests in the southwestern region of Tumaco over the eradication of the coco leaf. The authorities initially suggested that FARC dissidents were responsible for the violence.

Number of Dead and Displaced

According to the UN, more than 100 human rights activists and community leaders were killed in 2017 by hitmen, most in former rebel-controlled regions (The Guardian). According to Human Rights Watch, more than 48,000 people were displaced between January and November. Although the number had decreased since 2015, displacement continued to be a problem in certain areas (Human Rights Watch).

Political Developments

In February 2017, the Colombian government and the ELN held peace talks in Quito, Ecuador. Both parties agreed to a ceasefire from October 2017 to January 2018, and the ELN agreed to stop the recruitment of child soldiers and the use of landmines. As part of the 2016 peace accord, FARC promised to release its remaining child combatants and those who were recruited when they were under 18. In September, FARC presented itself as a new political party and looked to run in 2018 Colombian elections. The 2016 peace accord guaranteed the newly rebranded political party 10 seats in the Colombian Congress until 2026. Despite their name change from Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) to Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionara del Común (Common Alternative Revolutionary Force), the infamous FARC acronym remained.

Map made by Ben Skinner

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