Colombian riverside communities face poverty and displacement

Villages along the river bear the burden of conflict due to restricted access to health care, extreme poverty, and constant fear of abuse Villages along the river bear the burden of conflict due to restricted access to health care, extreme poverty, and constant fear of abuse © Mauricio Morales

27 July 2017
San Juan river basin is the theatre of increasing poverty and major abuses on civilians as a result of armed groups conflict for regional control.

Human Right Watch reveal that serious abuses are being committed against the communities living along the San Juan river in the Chocó province of Colombia; following conflicts between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gaitanistas Self-defenses of Colombia (AGC) over control of the region. The area is of strategic importance as the river is a vital corridor to the Pacific Ocean, and AGC or ELN members find shelter in the hills flanking it. Human Right Watch reported that both armed groups are forcibly recruiting children as either fighters or informants and that there have been cases of young girls being used as sexual partners. In fear of recruitment, school attendance has dropped significantly. Both the AGC and the ELN are responsible for threats, violence, imposed restrictions on civilian movement, and the presence of landmines therefore making it difficult for villagers to engage in their daily economic activities like fishing, chopping woods, and  harvesting. Civilians are scared of reporting abuses to local authorities who are feared to be potential informants of ELN or AGC. Poverty is rising as the economic opportunities are decreasing and access to basic services is limited, with a special concern for health care. According to Government figures, in 2011, 80% of the population in Chocó province had unsatisfied basic needs and over 30% lived in extreme poverty. Families and entire communities decided to leave the area: 20% of the population of Litoral de San Juan has been displaced in 2016, and almost 10% in the first two months of 2017. The Colombian government has been unable to provide adequate shelter to those who flee, resulting in substandard conditions of living for internally displaced people. While the study of Human Right Watch focused mostly on the municipality of Litoral de San Juan, it is believed that the abuses reported are illustrative of the situation in the entire Chocó province.

 

For more information, please read:

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/07/colombia-armed-groups-oppress-riverside-communities

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