After decades of conflict involving Colombian military forces, two major non-state armed groups, FARC and ELN, and other criminal groups, many departments are believed to be contaminated by mines, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other explosive ordnance. Over 10,800 known landmine victims have been reported in Colombia since 1990—367 in 2013 alone. Colombia also has one of the highest numbers of IDPs.
Since 2010, UNMAS has been assisting the Government in its transition to integrate civilian humanitarian demining organizations into the national mine action framework with an emphasis on developing the institutional capacity for the mine action sector in Colombia. At the end of 2013, accredited civilian humanitarian demining operators were finally given the green light to commence work in Colombia. In 2013, UNMAS Colombia also assumed the role as the focal point for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO, ORoLSI) in relation to Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR). With this new role, and the developments in the peace process with the FARC, and eventually with other Non-State Armed Groups, there is a tremendous opportunity in 2015 to expand mine action activities in Colombia, to prevent mine accidents and protect civilians from them, and to offer necessary expertise and support related to DDR (with an emphasis on Disarmament and Reintegration). Finally, UNMAS offers its vital technical advice and support comprehensively, through its inter-agency work with UN, civil society organizations, and national and governmental institutions.
To strengthen the evolution of an effective technical and operational national coordination framework with a focus on streamlining practices to improve the efficiency of planning and task assignment while providing confidence in the quality of the land release process.
To improve understanding of the mine action endeavor within the Government and donor community and to advocate and lobby on behalf of the mine action sector.
To expand the Non-Technical Survey (NTS) capacity so that the full scope of Colombia’s mine problem can be quantified and to enable stakeholders to better plan and cost their activities.
To promote peacebuilding and reconciliation processes in both an on-going and post-conflict setting with a view to incorporating mine action into the DDR process. Moreover, as focal point for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in DDR, to provide technical advice and expertise to stakeholders of the Peace Process.
Colombia has been impacted by a deadly internal conflict for over half a century, resulting in one of the most complex landmine problems in the world. Since 1990, improvised mines and other explosive ordnance have been used by non-state armed groups and paramilitary forces. Contamination is believed to be widespread. In September 2013, after a lengthy period developing a national coordination framework (with technical support provided by UNMAS), Colombia finally granted accreditation and permission for the first civilian demining organization to commence operations on the ground. This organization, along with the military Humanitarian Demining Battalion, represents the current humanitarian demining capacity in Colombia.
Despite the suspected widespread contamination, the existing data lacks the quality necessary to establish the true scope of the problem. The experience so far has shown that many suspect hazardous areas can be cancelled and land can be released through Non-technical Survey (NTS) while supporting the national Land Restitution initiative and informing communities of the actual threat. In addition to the deployment of additional NTS teams, deminers are also needed on the ground. Unfortunately Colombia’s burdensome legal and bureaucratic environment challenges the development of the mine action sector. Current peace dialogues between the Government and non-state armed groups further intensify the urgency to develop a strong demining capacity in anticipation of an increased demand for land and a probable role for mine action within the DDR process. To expedite expansion and relevancy of the mine action sector, the existing accreditation and external monitoring processes requires streamlining. The evolution of effective quality management systems (needed to boost the confidence of demining NGOs, the national authority, and the eventual land user) is a top priority for UNMAS.
One of the impediments holding back the development of an adequate humanitarian demining response is the lack of understanding of how the sector works to provide sustainable solutions to Colombians. To promote mine action as a comprehensive solution for affected communities, and to dispel misconceptions, UNMAS is developing a communications campaign to provide stakeholders, decision-makers, and communities with accurate information. UNMAS is also working with prospective donors to increase awareness of the needs of the sector. 2015 will be a critical period for the development of the mine action sector in Colombia. Many converging factors such as the ongoing peace dialogues, a restructuring of the governmental institutions (Fall 2014), and the land restitution process have the potential to reshape the humanitarian space and usher in a period of stabilization resulting in tremendous opportunities for Colombia. UNMAS support and expertise would be critical for peacebuilding and mine action planning and implementation in the follow-up to, and following a peace agreement.
USD 5,000,000 is required for 2015. Now that civilian humanitarian demining has begun there is an urgent need to attract additional funding to support the sector. Both non-technical survey and demining teams are critically needed in Colombia. Funds are also required to build up the capacity of the mine action sector in anticipation of the peace agreement. If a peace settlement is ultimately brokered, the mine action sector must be ready to address the influx of displaced people and ex-combatants to communities presently contaminated by mines and other explosive hazards but also act as a peace building mechanism. Furthermore, UNMAS Colombia requires funding for its efforts relating to Peace Process and DDR. Conversely, should the conflict continue, alternative efforts will be required to expand humanitarian demining capacity in areas where communities are most affected and where they are requesting protection through humanitarian demining operations.
UNMAS Colombia is presently funded through the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action by The European Union, The Netherlands, Colombia, Andorra, New Zealand and Spain.
Updated September 2014