Colombian officials have released new estimates of the number of former guerrillas murdered since peace accord implementation began, highlighting the government’s inability to address killings committed by a wide range of criminal actors, which could fuel more dissidence from the process.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos acknowledged on May 22 that at least 40 former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) have been killed since the guerilla group and the government signed a November 2016 peace agreement.
According to Santos, none of the 40 ex-combatants whose murders are recognized by the government were receiving protection measures as part of the accord, which cover 200 former leaders and 4,000 ex-guerrillas in demobilization and reintegration zones.
Santos emphasized that in past peace processes in Colombia, the number of former combatants killed was significantly higher, but said his government “recognizes that one is too many” is “doing everything in our power to prevent more cases from happening.”
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The official government report estimates that 58 ex-FARC combatants and 18 family members of former guerrillas have been killed since the signing of the accord, El Colombiano reported. However, estimates from the United Nations and civil society groups differ.
The UN’s most recent verification mission report estimates 44 former FARC members and 18 family members have been murdered, and six ex-guerrillas have been forcibly disappeared, since the signing of the agreement. A report published earlier this month by a coalition of non-governmental organizations documented 62 former combatants and 17 family members killed, and six disappeared.
The former guerrilla group’s political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC), alleged earlier this month that the government is “not complying” with the accord’s “terms of protection, legal security and full reincorporation.”
In response to “recent attacks and threats,” the FARC asked for support from the international community, and called on the government to “take effective and suitable measures against criminal structures” that they say are establishing themselves near reincorporation zones.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although Colombia’s government has so far been able to prevent the killings of ex-FARC combatants directly under protection measures, authorities’ inability to stop the murders of other former guerrillas could threaten the peace process and fuel dissidence, as ex-rebels face threats from a wide range of criminal groups.
According to field research conducted across Colombia by InSight Crime, there are several reasons for former combatant killings. For example, some ex-FARC members with information on drug routes and other lucrative criminal activities are killed because criminal actors seeking to take over their former strongholds view them as a threat. Others are murdered because they have information on killings, massacres and drug trafficking activities that could implicate other ex-members in future trials. Some have gone back to criminality, while others demobilized from militias that were not obligated to go to reintegration zones, making them easier targets.
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Killings of former FARC combatants have been attributed to a wide range of criminal groups, including the the Urabeños, FARC dissident groups and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), based on shifting criminal dynamics in various parts of the country.
The UN verification mission has repeatedly called for the Colombian government to extend security guarantees beyond concentration zones, and the mission's top official, Jean Arnault, recently warned that “weakness in this effort can only increase the risk that some ex-combatants will be diverted to criminal groups.”
Last year, InSight Crime estimated that approximately 1,000 to 1,500 dissidents have already abandoned the peace process for various reasons. A lack of protection guarantees for demobilized members could lead to even higher rates of desertion and dissidence.
*This article was written with assistance from Sergio Saffon and Ángela Olaya.