After decades of conflict involving Colombian military forces, two major non-state armed groups, namely, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and other criminal groups, many departments are believed to be contaminated by mines, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other explosive ordnance.
Since 2010, UNMAS has helped the Colombian Government develop a framework to enhance mine action sector capacity, supporting the integration of civilian demining organisations, the first of which began operations in 2013. UNMAS recently assumed the role of focal point for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO, ORoLSI) in relation to disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR). With this new role, and developments in the peace process with FARC-EP (and potentially other non-state armed groups) there is tremendous opportunity to expand mine action in Colombia. UNMAS regularly offers advice, technical assistance, training and equipment to a number of inter-agency groups (e.g., UN agencies, civil society organizations, and national and governmental institutions), enhancing efficiency and effectiveness by mainstreaming its work with broader, more comprehensive initiatives. Indeed, UNMAS provides valuable counsel and coordination to the sector and the peace process by leading an inter-agency group on mine action, one on DDR, and through active participation in the UN Cluster System.
UNMAS work in Colombia prevents mine accidents, protects communities, and promotes peace and reconciliation in a country devastated by over 50 years of conflict.
Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the mine action sector; Develop technical and operational national coordination framework; Streamline planning and task assignment process.
Increase awareness of mine action sector, achievements, challenges, and needs within the Government and donor community.
Verify areas and scope of mine/IED contamination; Expand non-Technical Survey (NTS) capacity for efficient and effective diagnosis.
Integrate UNMAS and Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) expertise by integrating peace process and DDR planning; Promote opportunities in the mine action sector as a reintegration activity.
Colombia has been wracked by internal conflict for over half a century, resulting in one of the most complex landmine problems in the world. Non-state armed groups and paramilitary forces have used improvised mines and other explosive ordnance since 1990. As a result, contamination is believed to be widespread. After much time spent developing a national coordination framework in collaboration with UNMAS, Colombia finally granted accreditation and permission to the first civilian demining organization to commence operations on the ground in 2013. This sole organization, along with the military Humanitarian Demining Battalion, represents the extent of humanitarian demining capacity in Colombia at present.
Despite widespread contamination, existing data cannot establish the full scope of the problem. Experience suggests that many hazardous areas can be cancelled and released through Non-technical Survey (NTS), supporting the national Land Restitution initiative and informing communities of the extent of contamination. But deminers are needed on the ground in addition to NTS teams. Unfortunately, Colombia’s bureaucratic legal environment frustrates progress in the mine action sector. Peace dialogues between the Government and non-state armed groups further intensify the need to improve demining capacity in anticipation of increased demand for land and a likely role for mine action services within the DDR process. To expedite the expansion and relevance of the mine action sector, existing accreditation and monitoring processes require streamlining. Therefore, public confidence in demining, the national authority, and the safety of the land are top priorities for UNMAS.
One of the impediments to humanitarian demining is a misunderstanding of how the sector helps Colombians achieve development and sustainability goals. To promote mine action as a solution for affected communities and dispel misconceptions, UNMAS launched a communications campaign to provide accurate information to decision-makers, communities and other stakeholders. UNMAS also works with prospective donors to increase awareness of the needs of the sector. This year will be critical to the development of the mine action sector in Colombia. Many factors will converge, such as ongoing peace dialogues, governmental reform to meet the demands of peace, and land restitution, and have the potential to reopen the humanitarian space, which will usher in a period of stability resulting in tremendous opportunities for Colombia. UNMAS technical expertise will be critical for peacebuilding.
Now that civilian humanitarian demining has begun, there is an urgent need to attract additional funds to support the sector. Both NTS and demining teams are critically needed in Colombia. Funds are also required to build the capacity of the mine action sector in anticipation of the peace agreement. If a peace settlement is brokered, the mine action sector must address the influx of displaced people and ex-combatants to communities presently contaminated by mines and other explosive hazards, while supporting peace. Furthermore, UNMAS Colombia requires funds to help underwrite the cost of work on the peace process and DDR. Conversely, should the conflict continue, efforts will be required to expand humanitarian demining capacity to affected communities and anywhere else intervention is solicited.
With this in mind, UNMAS is seeking USD 5 million this year.
UNMAS Colombia is presently funded through the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action by Denmark, Italy, Korea, The Netherlands and UNDP.
Updated February 2015