Colombia’s internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958, and more than four of every five victims have been civilian noncombatants, a government-created commission said in a report released on Wednesday.
The much-anticipated report was produced by the National Center of Historical Memory, which was created under a 2011 law designed to indemnify victims of the conflict and return stolen land. The law prefaced peace talks now being held in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s main leftist rebel group.
The 434-page report, titled Enough Already: Memories of War and Dignity, says most of the killings occurred after far-right militias backed by ranchers and cocaine traffickers emerged in the 1980s to counter the FARC and other leftist rebels.
Center director Gonzalo Sanchez, who presented the report to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, said the rightist paramilitaries did more killing, while rebels kidnapped more and caused more destruction.
“We must recognize that we have hit bottom and that war dehumanizes and dehumanizes us,” said Santos, who has had a difficult week as commander in chief, with 21 soldiers killed by the FARC in a single day last weekend.
Sanchez said the report shows that “we have serious problems as a society.”
“The only way to end this horror is to consolidate a peace process. That’s the only way to stop it,” he said.
Sanchez said the conflict’s most violent period was 1996 to 2002, the “apogee of paramilitarism” that included most of the militias’ most notorious massacres, as well as the FARC’s biggest military victories and failed peace talks with the peasant-based rebel army.
From 1996 to 2005, on average, someone was kidnapped every eight hours in Colombia and every day someone fell victim to an anti-personnel mine, the report says.
The FARC vowed to halt ransom kidnappings last year as a condition for the peace talks, while mines continue to claim victims.
The report documents 1,982 massacres between 1980 and last year, attributing 1,166 to paramilitaries.