Bogota, Colombia – Colombia’s Truth Commission has presented its final report on the country’s long-running civil conflict, announcing that at least 450,664 people were killed over nearly six decades of fighting.
The long-awaited report from the Truth Commission on Tuesday said the effect of the conflict between the Colombian military and rebel groups has been “massive and intolerable”. It also called for substantial reforms in Colombia’s approach to drug policy, which it said helped prolong the civil war, and urged redress for the victims of the conflict.
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The commission was set up as part of a 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It was tasked with documenting abuses and explaining what caused the conflict to persist for so long.
It said that the war, which started with a Marxist peasant armed uprising in 1964, extended across the country over the course of nearly six decades and deteriorated in the 1990s due to drug trafficking and the rise of paramilitary factions that often worked in collusion with the military and politicians.
Based on interviews with more than 14,000 victims of the conflict, as well as military leaders and former fighters, the report gave an updated toll of the violence. In addition to the 450,664 people who were killed between 1985 and 2018, it said at least 121,768 people were also disappeared.
Some 55,770 were kidnapped between 1990 and 2018, while at least 7.7 million people were displaced between 1985 and 2019.
Launching the report in the Colombian capital, Bogota, Francisco de Roux, Truth Commission President Francisco de Roux called for the construction of a “great peace” and expressed confidence in President-elect Gustavo Petro’s commitment to implement the commission’s recommendations.
Petro, who attended the presentation, was a former fighter of the M-19 armed group that demobilised under a peace process. On the campaign trail, he had pledged full support for the 2016 peace deal and promised to implement provisions that had languished under outgoing President Ivan Duque.
At Tuesday’s event, Petro said that the truth cannot be used to create a “space for vengeance”. Instead, the truth would be needed to end cycles of armed violence and open dialogues, he said.
Duque, who had traveled abroad and was absent from the ceremony, previously told a local newspaper that he hoped the report would not be biased. Critics have accused the outgoing president of obstructing the peace deal, which addresses key causes and drivers of the conflict, such as underdevelopment and the drug economy.
The commission is part of a comprehensive transitional justice system that is designed to help the country move towards a path of reconciliation and peace. A peace tribunal is judging atrocities committed during the conflict and holding perpetrators accountable.
In its report, the Truth Commission urged the Colombian government to end its militarised approach to drug policy that for decades has prioritised prohibition over regulation.
The report showed that the local drug economy boosted armed groups and exacerbated the violence. While the United States flushed the Colombian government with millions of dollars under Plan Colombia, launched in 2000, to help combat a twin war against drug trafficking and armed rebels, the cultivation of coca, the base crop in cocaine, has continued unabated.
Under the peace deal, thousands of farmers were supposed to substitute coca with legal plants, such as cacao or coffee, but when the government subsidies to support the transition never arrived, farmers resorted once again to coca crops.
The report also criticised entrenched impunity in Colombia, saying there has been a lack of justice in cases related to the armed conflict. It said that the Attorney General’s Office had reported filing cases for 185,000 victims in 2018, a fraction of the 9 million victims registered in the official figures.
Addressing impunity will be crucial to ending the cycles of violence, the report argued, while also calling for the full implementation of the 2016 peace deal and continuing talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s largest remaining rebel group.
Analysts say the commission’s recommendations could bring Colombia closer to peace, if implemented.
“The fact that this report is published less than two months before a new government takes power can be seen as a new possibility for Colombia when it comes to building the peace the country so badly needs,” said Carolina Jimenez Sandoval, president of the Washington Office on Latin America.
The report, which also examined the effect of war on vulnerable populations such as women, the LGBTQ community, and Afro-descendants, comes at a time of renewed violence in Colombia, with new and old armed groups vying for strategic drug routes and targeting social leaders that resist their control.
In many rural pockets across the country, victims said they hoped the Truth Commission’s findings – which will be disseminated throughout the country in the next two months – will help end the violence.
Sandra Pena, head of the North Cauca Women, Children, and Youth Corporation, said her community needed peace.
“The effects of the war have not completely healed yet we’re already living through new violence,” she said.