Colombia

Mine Action

Last updated: 11 December 2017

Contaminated by: landmines (heavy contamination), cluster munitions (extent unclear, but likely to be minimal), and other unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Mine Ban Treaty Article 5 deadline: 1 March 2021
(Not on track to meet deadline)

Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 4 deadline: 1 March 2026
(Extent of contamination unclear)

Summary

The precise extent of contamination from mines remains uncertain, but the national action plan 2016–2021 is based on a national estimate of 51.24km2 of mined area. Thirty-one of the Republic of Colombia’s 32 departments may be affected.[1] In 2016, less than 0.3km2 was cleared. 0.29km2 of confirmed and suspected hazardous areas were identified through survey.

The extent to which Colombia is affected by cluster munition remnants is unclear. Colombia ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions on 10 September 2015. In August 2016, and again in May 2017, Colombia reported that it was in the process of establishing the location and extent of any contamination.[2] Colombia may be able to declare full completion of its Article 4 obligations once the assessment and survey have been conducted.

Recommendations for action

  • Colombia should take advantage of the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to conduct a baseline survey of contamination and to significantly accelerate clearance of remaining mined areas in accordance with its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.
  • As part of this process, Colombia should elaborate, in consultation with its demining partners, national mine action standards on land release.
  • Colombia should finalize the assessment of the extent of cluster munition remnants contamination as soon as possible, including through the conduct of survey.
  • Colombia’s mine action program authorities urgently need to improve data management and planning procedures. Colombia should ensure its national mine action database disaggregates data on unexploded submunitions and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).

Mine Contamination

Colombia’s mine problem is the result of decades of conflict with non-state armed groups (NSAGs). The precise extent of contamination remains highly uncertain, though at least 30 of Colombia’s 32 departments are suspected to have a mine threat.[3] As of mid-2017, Colombia still lacked a meaningful understanding of contamination, although its new strategic plan for 2016–2021, which is based on a national estimate of 51km2 of mined area, aims to elaborate a national baseline.[4]

Colombia continues to report on “events” included in its database, which include unconfirmed media reports, such as of victims and minelaying. Its Article 7 transparency report for 2016 stated that 647 suspected mined areas were recorded between 1990 and the end of 2016, a reduction from the 671 recorded as of the end of 2015.[5] Of these, 100 were in Antioquia, believed to be the most-affected department. Colombia systematically attributed 5,000m2 to each “confirmed hazardous area” (CHA).[6] In January 2017, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported that incidents involving mines and UXO) have been reported in 673 of Colombia’s 1,122 municipalities since 1990. Based on the Directorate for Comprehensive Mine Action (Dirección para la Acción Integral contra minas Antipersonal, DAICMA) analysis of incident trends, of those 673, 199 are considered to be highly impacted (type I), 291 moderately impacted (type II), and 183 suffer from low impact (type III).[7]

The HALO Trust believes that Colombia’s mine problem has certain unique features. Improvised mines were planted in isolated rural areas by NSAG factions to protect strategic positions; often coca cultivations whose crops were used to fund operations. When the groups moved on, the mines were left behind, blocking access to roads, paths, schools, and other civilian infrastructure, preventing productive use of land.[8]

According to HALO, mines “continue to have a huge effect on the civilian population, causing physical harm, preventing farming and affecting livelihoods.” Through the rapid response intervention plan implemented in 2016, 119 high-impact municipalities have been prioritized for intervention with a further 474 medium- and low-impact municipalities earmarked for intervention before 2021.[9] The organization believes that mine action is integral to efforts to rebuild the lives of the six million internally displaced people and eight million registered victims of conflict in Colombia. This is because land restitution claims are unable to be processed if land is deemed to be dangerous. By declaring municipalities free from mine threat, HALO observes that it is providing the “fundamental first step” towards facilitating the safe return of the displaced.[10]

Cluster Munition Contamination

The extent to which Colombia is affected by cluster munition remnants is unclear. Colombia ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions on 10 September 2015. It made a formal declaration upon depositing its instrument of ratification whereby “it is possible that there remain, in national territory, cluster munitions or cluster munition remnants of whose location the State has no knowledge or suspicion…Regarding article 4, and in connection with the particular circumstances of its internal armed conflict, the Republic of Colombia understands ‘cluster munition remnants’ to mean those whose location is known or suspected by the State.”[11]

In August 2016, and again in May 2017, Colombia reported that it was in the process of establishing the location and extent of any cluster munition contamination.[12]

In May 2009, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, acknowledged that the Colombian Armed Forces had used cluster munitions in the past “to destroy clandestine airstrips and camps held by illegal armed groups,” but noted the submunitions sometimes did not explode and “became a danger to the civilian population.”[13] In 2010, the Ministry of National Defense said that the Colombian Air Force last used cluster munitions on 10 October 2006 “to destroy clandestine airstrips belonging to organizations dedicated to drug trafficking in remote areas of the country where the risk to civilians was minimal.”[14]

In November 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Colombia had violated the rights to life and to physical, mental, and moral integrity by using a United States (US) World War II “cluster adapter” to disperse fragmentation bombs during an attack on the village of Santo Domingo in December 1998.[15] A helicopter dropped an AN-M1A2 cluster munition containing six submunitions, killing 17 civilians, including six children, and injuring a further 27 civilians, including nine children. The action also resulted in the displacement of the village’s inhabitants. Colombia had sought to attribute the deaths to a bomb placed by FARC guerrillas.[16]

The impact of any cluster munition contamination is believed to be minimal. HALO has not encountered or received any reports of unexploded submunitions,[17] nor has Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).[18]

Program Management

Since 2002, the national mine action program has been overseen by the National Interministerial Commission on Antipersonnel Mine Action (Comisión Intersectorial Nacional para la Acción contra Minas Antipersonal, CINAMAP).[19] CINAMAP serves as the national mine action authority responsible for implementing the Mine Ban Treaty. This body is expected to be also responsible for Convention on Cluster Munitions implementation.

Two other institutions—the Victims Unit and the Land Restitution Unit—were established subsequently.

In September 2014, Decree 1649 created the Directorate for Comprehensive Mine Action (Dirección para la Acción Integral contra minas Antipersonal, DAICMA) to replace the earlier mine action body, the Presidential Program for Comprehensive Mine Action (PAICMA).[20] DAICMA effectively serves as the national mine action center. In August 2017, DAICMA became DAICMA–Descontamina Colombia.[21]

The Organization of American States (OAS) serves as the monitoring body for humanitarian demining in Colombia. Its procedures for the approval of tasks, plans, and standing operating procedures (SOPs) have been questioned. NPA, for instance, waited 127 days for approval to use its mechanical assets, with mine detection dog (MDD) assets standing idle as a result, despite the dog teams having already been accredited.[22]

Since 2010, UNMAS has been advising DAICMA (and its predecessor). UNMAS’s aims for 2016 were threefold: to increase the capacity of the authorities to manage, coordinate, and regulate the mine action sector; to develop the sector to support peace and development initiatives (“particularly ensuring that civilian and humanitarian demining organizations are operating under an adequate quality management framework”); and to support the peace process.[23]

Strategic planning

Colombia’s Mine Ban Treaty Article 5 deadline extension request projected, improbably, that all mined areas would be released by 2020.[24]

Colombia developed a five-year strategic plan for 2016–2021. Among the primary aims set out in the plan are consolidation of the mine action sector and the elaboration of a detailed baseline of contamination.[25] The operational plan has assigned responsibility for 63 highly impacted and prioritized municipalities to a range of civilian and military humanitarian demining operators.

Colombia did not attain the targets set in the 2011–2013 operational plan to address 6,000 dangerous and mined areas in 14 of 660 municipalities where the presence of mines is suspected, covering an estimated 15km².[26] It was then due to submit an operational plan for 2014–2020 at the Thirteenth Meeting of States Parties in December 2013, but did not do so. Colombia did present a demining “action plan” for 2014–2016 at the Mine Ban Treaty Third Review Conference in Maputo in July 2014.[27] The plan foresaw a first phase of mine action in 91 municipalities and steadily increasing national army demining capacity to 54 units, as well as the number of non-technical survey teams to 15 by 2016.[28]

On 7 March 2015, negotiators for the government of Colombia and FARC announced that an agreement had been reached by the two parties on demining.[29] According to a joint statement, the government and FARC would select a number of pilot zones with the highest level of threat from antipersonnel mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), UXO, or other ERW. Following signature in August 2015 of an agreement with the European Union for support to the Pilot Project on Humanitarian Demining, NPA was overseeing non-technical survey of suspected hazardous areas (SHAs) and technical survey and clearance of confirmed hazardous areas (CHAs).[30]

Standards

New national mine action standards have been elaborated, including on MDDs and machines.[31]

Operators

The Armed Forces Humanitarian Demining Brigade (Brigada de Desminado Humanitario (BRDH), formerly called the Humanitarian Demining Battalion (BIDES), now, has been conducting humanitarian demining since 2005.[32]

In 2013, HALO became the first NGO to conduct demining in Colombia when it began clearance operations at the El Morro minefield, Nariño municipality, in Antioquia department.[33] In 2015–2016, HALO Colombia was conducting survey, mine clearance, risk education, and some victim assistance. Its main office was in Bogotá and operations were taking place in eight municipalities across three departments: Antioquia, Meta, and Tolima. Based on the peace agreement, DAICMA assigned HALO 14 rapid-response municipalities for immediate post-conflict intervention. As of March 2017, HALO was also conducting operations in Cauca and Valle del Cauca and had in addition been authorized to begin operations in the departments of Nariño and Putumayo bringing the total number of municipalities assigned to the organization to 27.[34]

NPA formally initiated a mine action program in April 2015, having taken part in the peace talks between the government and FARC that concerned demining. The first step in the process of implementing the agreement on demining was to conduct non-technical survey of suspected contamination in the departments of Meta and Antioquia. The parties chose two pilot projects, one in the village of El Orejón (Antioquia) and a second in the village of Santa Helena (Meta). NPA’s role has been to lead and supervise a mine clearance project as a trust-building exercise between the government of Colombia and FARC. The Colombian army has been conducting the mine clearance as such, with NPA providing verification with two MDD teams, while FARC has provided information on contaminated areas.[35]

In 2017, NPA was supporting the BRDH with its MDD and dog handler training, including by sourcing funds for a project to support their puppy and breeding project.[36]

Information management

Government decree 1649 of 2014 assigned responsibility to DAICMA for maintaining the IMSMA database and to “compile, systematize, centralize, and update relevant information” to serve as a basis for program planning.[37] This remains a central challenge for the program. NPA has been supporting DAICMA on information management with a full-time expert seconded to the directorate.[38]

Land Release (mines)

Colombia cleared less than 0.3km2 of mined area in 2016, a slight decrease on clearance output in 2015 of 0.35km². Operations in 2016 resulted in the destruction of 210 antipersonnel mines.

Survey in 2016 (mines)

In 2016, HALO conducted survey in the departments of Antioquia (in the municipalities of Abejorral, Argelia, El Carmen de Viboral, Nariño, San Rafael, and Sonson); Meta (Mesetas, San Juan de Arama, and Vistahermosa municipalities); and Tolima (Ataco, Chapparal, Planadas, and Rioblanco).[39] Survey identified 289,219m2 of hazardous area across a total of 53 CHAs and SHAs.[40]

In 2016, NPA coordinated the completion of demining by BIDES in two communities. One was El Orejón in the municipality of Briceño in Antioquia where 4,022m2 of area was surveyed, while the second was in Santa Helena in the municipality of Mesetas, in the department of Meta, where 19,624m2 was surveyed.[41] NPA also initiated independent non-technical survey in 2016, at Vista Hermosa in the municipality of Mesetas; this subsequently led to identification of CHAs that were due to be cleared in the course of 2017.[42]

Clearance in 2016 (mines)

Colombia reported clearance of 287,661m2 in 2016 across six departments: Antioquia, Bolivar, Caldas, Meta, Santander, and Tolima. DAICMA had expected to initiate clearance operations in 20 new municipalities over the course of 2016.[43]

Mine clearance in 2016[44]

Province

Area cleared (m2)

Antipersonnel mines destroyed

UXO destroyed

Antioquia

161,641

121

4

Bolivar

16,671

20

7

Caldas

35,349

18

0

Meta

20,874

19

1

Santander

53,059

32

1

Tolima

67

0

1

Total

287,661

210

14

 

In 2016, HALO conducted clearance in the departments of Antioquia (in the municipalities of El Carmen de Viboral, Nariño, San Rafael, and Sonson); Meta (San Juan de Arama municipality); and Tolima (Ataco municipality), reporting clearance of 115,628m2, with the destruction of 90 antipersonnel mines and two items of UXO.[45] On 15 October 2016, the municipality of Nariño was handed over to the local population by Colombian President Juan Manual Santos and HALO. Nariño is free of the threat of antipersonnel mines, the first time a civilian organization has freed a municipality from explosive contamination.[46]

On 21 and 22 December 2016, NPA, together with DAICMA, BIDES, FARC, and the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handed over cleared areas in El Orejón in the municipality of Briceño, in the northeast of the country, after clearance of 19,849m2 that included the destruction of 46 antipersonnel mines.[47]

Deminer safety

In June 2017, NPA staff had to leave Santa Helena, Mesetas municipality in Meta department, due to direct threats from a dissident FARC faction.[48]

Land Release (cluster munition remnants)

As of the end of May 2017, Colombia had not reported conducting any survey or clearance of any cluster munition-contaminated areas.

Mine Ban Treaty Article 5 Compliance

Under Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty (and in accordance with the 10-year extension granted by States Parties in 2010), Colombia is required to destroy all antipersonnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible, but not later than 1 March 2021.

It is not on target to meet the deadline, although the national Mine Action Strategic Plan 2016–2021 still envisions that Colombia will fulfil its mine survey and clearance obligations by 2021.

The peace agreement has the potential to be a great success for Colombia. The HALO Trust has, though, seen a reduction in funding to “legacy” projects in departments such as Antioquia that predate the peace deal even though many communities in those regions are still greatly impacted by mine contamination.[49]

As of September 2017, the government of Colombia was in negotiations with the now largest active guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN),[50] with mine action a point of discussion.[51]

Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 4 Compliance

Under Article 4 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Colombia is required to destroy all cluster munition remnants in areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible, but not later than 1 March 2026.

Colombia may be able to declare full completion of its Article 4 obligations once the requisite assessment and survey has been taken.

 

 

The Monitor acknowledges the contributions of the Mine Action Review (www.mineactionreview.org), which has conducted the mine action research in 2017, including on survey and clearance, and shared all its resulting landmine and cluster munition reports with the Monitor. The Monitor is responsible for the findings presented online and in its print publications.



[1] UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), “UNMAS in Colombia,” February 2016.

[2] Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report (initial report submitted in August 2016), Form F; and Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2016), Form J.

[3] UNMAS, “UNMAS in Colombia,” February 2016.

[4] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2015), Form D.

[5] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Reports (for calendar years 2015 and 2016), Form D.

[6] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2015), Form D.

[7] UNMAS, “UNMAS in Colombia,” February 2016.

[8] Email from Chris Ince, Programme Manager, HALO Trust Colombia, 28 May 2016.

[9] Email from Oliver Ford, Programme Support Officer, HALO Trust Colombia, 14 September 2017.

[10] Email from Chris Ince, HALO Trust Colombia, 28 May 2016.

[11] UN Treaty Collection, “Declaration of Colombia,” 2015.

[12] Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report (initial report submitted in August 2016), Form F; and Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2016), Form J.

[13] C. Osorio, “Colombia destruye sus últimas bombas de tipo racimo” (“Colombia destroys its last cluster bombs”), Agence France-Presse, 7 May 2009.

[14] Ministry of National Defense presentation on cluster munitions, Bogotá, December 2010.

[15] Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACtHR), Caso Masacre deSanto Domingo v. Colombia, Official Summary in Spanish, 30 November 2012; and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Masacre de Santo Domingo, Colombia, Case No. 12.416, 22 April 2011.

[16] IACtHR, Caso Masacre de Santo Domingo v. Colombia, Judgment, 30 November 2012, §§210–230 (in Spanish).

[17] Email from Harriet Houlsby, Programme Coordinator, HALO Trust, Colombia, 17 March 2017.

[18] Email from Vanessa Finson, Programme Manager, Humanitarian Disarmament – Colombia, NPA, 14 March 2017.

[19] Law No. 759/2002, 30 July 2002.

[20] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2014), Form A.

[21] Dirección para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal - Descontamina Colombia, “¿Quiénes Somos?” last updated 12 November 2017.

[22] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 12 September 2017.

[23] UNMAS, “UNMAS in Colombia,” February 2016; and UNMAS, “UNMAS in Colombia,” January 2017.

[24] Mine Ban Treaty Revised Article 5 deadline Extension Request, 13 August 2010, p. 66.

[25] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2015), Form D.

[26] Government of Colombia, “Plan de Acción de Desminado Humanitario 2014–2016,” undated but 2014 (hereafter, “Humanitarian Demining Action Plan 2014–2016”).

[27] Statement of Colombia, Mine Ban Treaty 13th Meeting of States Parties, December 2013.

[28] Statement of Colombia, Mine Ban Treaty Third Review Conference, June 2014.

[29] See, for example, C. Voelkel, “Demining the Path to Peace in Colombia,” International Crisis Group, 10 March 2015.

[30]Acuerdo Sobre Limpieza y Descontaminación del Territorio de la Presencia de Minas Antipersonal (MAP), Artefactos Explosivos Improvisados (AEI) y Municiones Sin Explotar (MUSE) o Restos Explosivos de Guerra (REG) en general” (“Agreement on clearance of areas contaminated with anti-personnel mines, IEDs, and ERW”), Joint Statement #52, Havana, 7 March 2015; and email from Zlatko Vezilic, NPA, 5 November 2015. See also, T. Solberg Johansen, “Mine Action agreement with the EU for Colombia,” 8 December 2015.

[31] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 14 March 2017.

[32] PAICMA, “Desminado Humanitario,” undated.

[33] HALO Trust, “HALO starts humanitarian demining operations in Colombia,” 24 September 2013.

[34] Email from Harriet Houlsby, Programme Coordinator, HALO Trust Colombia, 17 March 2017.

[35] Emails from Oliver Ford, HALO Trust Colombia, 14 September 2017; and from Fredrik Holmegaard, Project Manager, Humanitarian Disarmament – Colombia, NPA, 13 June 2016.

[36] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 14 March 2017.

[37] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2014), Form C.

[38] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 14 March 2017.

[39] Email from Harriet Houlsby, HALO Trust, 17 March 2017.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 14 March 2017.

[42] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2014), Form C.

[43] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2015), Form D.

[44] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2016), Form D.

[45] Email from Harriet Houlsby, HALO Trust, 17 March 2017.

[47] NPA, “Handover of cleared land,” 10 January 2017.

[48] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 12 September 2017.

[49] Email from Harriet Houlsby, HALO Trust, 17 March 2017.

[50] See, for example, “Colombia Expects Tough Peace Negotiations With ELN Rebels,” Voice of America/Reuters, 13 September 2017.

[51] Email from Vanessa Finson, NPA, 12 September 2017.