Humanitarian Action During Transition: Lessons from Colombia

Release Date: 
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Catatumbo is one of the few areas where coca production has increased  © Obinna Anyadike/IRIN

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Over 50 years of internal armed conflict, along with urban violence, have fueled a persistent humanitarian crisis in Colombia. Approximately 12% of the population (5.7 million people) is internally displaced, and many people are dually affected by waves of intensifying conflict and natural disasters, such as flooding. Furthermore, organized crime, persistent human rights abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in conflict-affected communities, including sexual and gender-based violence and the recruitment of child soldiers, have taken a heavy toll on the civilian population.

Peace efforts between the government and various armed groups have proceeded since the 1990s with incremental success but have not yet brought the conflict to an end. In particular, since 2012, the government and representatives from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have been engaging in peace talks, though violence has escalated in recent months. As a consequence, humanitarian professionals engaged in Colombia find themselves operating in a context where the government and rebel groups are negotiating over a number of transitional measures — e.g., restitution programs, land and institutional reforms, and transitional justice efforts in the form of either a truth commission or criminal prosecutions — that could significantly affect the humanitarian situation in the country. 

Through discussions with high-level practitioners working in this context, this podcast will examine the impact of the ongoing peace process on key humanitarian issues, including conflict-induced displacement, weapons proliferation, and child protection. Key questions for discussion include:

  • How do transitional justice measures affect humanitarian action in response to a protracted humanitarian crisis?
  • What is the role of humanitarian actors in these complex situations, and how do their roles change in a transitional setting?
  • What dilemmas and/or opportunities arise for humanitarian action during such transitions?

Expert commentators:

  • Victor de Currea-Lugo, consultant in peace and conflict; Journalist, El Espectador
  • Gerard Gomez, Head of Country Office, OCHA Colombia
  • Rafael A. Prieto Sanjuán, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana; Visiting Research Associate, University of Oxford
  • Frederick Spielberg, Specialist in Child Protection and Humanitarian Action, UNICEF Colombia
  • Christian Visnes, Country Director, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Colombia


  • OCHA, 2015 Colombia Humanitarian Needs Overview
  • OCHA, 2015 Colombia Strategic Response Plan
  • Rey Marcos, Francisco and Sophie Duval, The humanitarian dimension in the aftermath of a peace agreement: proposals for the international community in Colombia, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) Report, February 2015.
  • International Crisis Group (ICG), Transitional Justice and Colombia’s Peace Process, Crisis Group Latin America Report N°49, 29 August 2013.
  • Summers, Nicole, Colombia’s Victims’ Law: Transitional Justice in a Time of Violent Conflict? Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 25, 2012.
  • Vidal-López, Roberto, Truth telling and internal displacement in Colombia, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ, July 2012.

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