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Country Report

Colombia: Country Profile

As a vastly diverse country, Colombia's approach to pluralism is closely tied to its peace process.

Global Centre for Pluralism

Colombia has endured one of the longest civil wars in the world, despite having one of the most durable and competitive electoral systems in Latin America and having very sophisticated legal norms and institutions (especially its courts). The Colombian conflict has undeniable political and structural dimensions.

Conservative and liberal parties fought for ideological and political dominance from the early independence days (1820s) into the mid-twentieth century, virtually uninterrupted. Leftist guerrilla groups emerged in the 1960s for many reasons, including to challenge the exclusionary bipartisan agreement reached to put an end to violence in 1958. Right-wing paramilitary groups were created in the 1980s by, or in complicity with, economic and political elites and members of the armed forces as “irregulars” tasked with combatting guerrilla groups. The human rights of civilians were violated extensively, with these groups targeting leftist parties and those promoting redistributive agendas, including assassinating thousands of militants of the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica), a phenomenon many consider to be political genocide.

The conflict also has important structural causes, including the unequal distribution of land done through multiple waves of dispossessions and the permanent political exclusion of non-hegemonic groups. The conflict has an identity dimension based on which groups striving for change are stigmatized and targeted through violence.  As a result, violence has disproportionately targeted members of Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and peasant populations who defend alternative forms of production, civic engagement and organization.

Many important and serious attempts have been made to achieve peace, including the demobilization of several guerrilla groups in the late 1980s and the enactment of the 1991 Constitution, which had peace as a fundamental right and pluralism as a means to reach this goal. The 1991 Constitution’s recognition of cultural and ethnic rights was pioneering for the Latin American region. More recently, peace negotiations with paramilitary groups in 2005 and the guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarieas de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP) in 2012 resulted in the adoption of transitional justice measures to redress human rights violations. It is estimated that 261,619 Colombians, most of them civilians, were assassinated as a result of 50 years of war (1964–2016). The Peace Agreement with FARC-EP, considered one of the most comprehensive in the world, includes an Ethnic Chapter and a gendered approach which entail a transversal approach to peace that recognizes ethnic and gender differences and specific commitments in favour of Indigenous, Afro-descendant and Roma populations, who were consulted in the agreement’s creation. 

Currently, violence continues to disproportionately target ethnic populations and peasants because their leaders and organizations promote the enactment of the Peace Agreement’s transformative agenda. For this reason, these groups are the main focus of this report. These groups are targeted by violence due to their redistributive and transformative agendas against extractive projects, destructive development and exclusionary elitist politics, which have, at this point, acquired an identity dimension but are not reducible to it. Attitudes toward migrants and their treatment, especially towards Venezuelan and Haitian migrants, are relevant for pluralism. However, with limited space, the present report does not focus on this issue due to a narrow scope, and it is recommended that this issue be considered for a separate report in the future.


Associated Documents

Colombia Monitor Report

After enduring a lengthy civil war, Colombia’s peace process must grapple with the inclusion of all ethnic and marginalized communities.

Colombia: Executive Summary

The Colombia report explores the gaps and potential opportunities impacting Colombia's ethnic groups, after years of internal armed conflict.

Colombia: References

To access more information that supported the development of the Colombia report, you can access the references below.