War Without Quarter

Colombia and International Humanitarian Law

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Violations of international humanitarian law -- the laws of war -- are not abstract concepts in Colombia, but the grim material of everyday life. War bursts into the daily activities of a farm, a village, a public bus, or a school with the speed of armed fighters arriving down a path or in four-wheel drive vehicles. Sometimes, armed men carefully choose their victims from lists. Other times, they simply kill those nearby, to spread fear. Indeed, a willingness to commit atrocities is among the most striking features of Colombia's war. The inauguration of a new president and the growth of a broad-based civic movement that has called for a just and fair peace have given Colombians new hope for an end to political violence. Some communities thrust into the conflict have attempted to negotiate local accords with combatants as a way of protecting their civilian populations. Nevertheless, none of the parties to the conflict have fully respected these decisions. Indeed, negotiations have been doomed in large part by the failure to address fundamental issues, including impunity for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

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