Homicides in Colombia drop to ‘lowest level in four decades’
President Santos attributes declining trend to impact of FARC peace accord
President Juan Manuel Santos has hailed the impact of the historic peace deal signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with official statistics indicating that last year the country registered the lowest homicide rate in four decades.
The rate, which has been declining gradually in recent years, clocked in at 24.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2016 — down from 26 in 2015 and a whopping 48 in 2004.
Colombian officials said that the last time the rate was that low was in 1974.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ year-end message attributed a great extent of the decline in the murder rate to the recent peace deal.
“Not only have we signed the peace agreement and started its implementation. Its benefits are already being felt! The bilateral and definitive ceasefire has saved dozens of lives since it started last August,” the president said. “Reparation to victims is making progress and the restoration of properties has allowed thousands of displaced families to go home. The security and calm of Colombian improved this year. We have managed the lowest homicide rate in 40 years!”
The four-percent dip in the homicide rate is equivalent to 500 lives saved in comparison to 2015 and officials are aiming for a rate of 21 homicides per 100,000 people by the end of 2017.
In parallel to the reduction in the murder rate, officials cited by the El Tiempo newspaper noted that there had been a 22 percent reduction in extortion and 21 percent less kidnappings seeking monetary rewards than in the previous year.
Colombian Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told El Tiempo that 18 months ago extortion was on the rise but that that recent figures had revealed a steep drop.
The rate of 24.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants may be a recent historical low for Colombia, but Latin America as a region has homicide rates that are well above global averages, with an average of 22.5 homicides per 100,000 people. That figure is four times greater than the global average.
Not only is Latin America well above the global average, it is also an outlier in terms of the rest of the developing world — which has a homicide rate of 5.9 per 100,000 people. Sub-Saharan Africa takes the unwanted second position in the ranking, with 9.5 murders per 100,000 people.
According to the Security Ministry here, the average homicide rate in Argentina for 2015 was 6.6 victims per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to six per 100,000 people reported in 2008.
Drug-trafficking and organised crime, the prevalence of firearms and in recent years and the Colombian conflict have been cited as the reasons for the astronomical murder rates in the region.
For Santos, the peace negotiations in 2016 clearly made a dent in the violence. While in 2015, 112 FARC members were killed, last year only six were reported to have been killed. Some 108 Colombian soldiers were killed in 2015, and 44 deaths reported in 2016. Those relatively higher numbers may be linked to the fact that the ELN guerrilla group and the government have not signed a peace agreement despite fledgling talks. In 2016, 53 ELN members were killed in skirmishes and 632 were arrested according to officials.
Colombia’s Congress last week approved an amnesty law to protect thousands of demobilising Marxist guerrilla fighters from prosecution for minor crimes committed during the country’s 52-year war.
The law, a key part of a peace deal signed last month between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, will not include fighters who have committed war crimes or human rights violations.
The amnesty also applies to members of the country’s military. It is the first in a series of laws tied to the deal that will be sped through Congress in hopes of reassuring rebels who are beginning to move to special demobilisation zones.
The bill was passed in both the Senate and the Lower House, despite vociferous opposition from the right-wing Democratic Centre party — led by Santos’ mentor-turned-enemy, former president Álvaro Uribe, whose members abstained from voting.
The coalition of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this month, has a majority in Congress.
Some 7,000 FARC fighters are expected to lay down their arms over the next six months.
Rebels found guilty of serious crimes like massacres, sexual violence or kidnapping will not fall under the amnesty and will instead serve alternative sentences such as land- mine removal, to be determined by a special court.
In a joint statement last week, the FARC and the government said they would establish how many rebels are not eligible for the amnesty by January 30 at the latest.
Other laws tied to the peace deal include rural reform, compensation to victims, removal of land mines and a United Nations-monitored ceasefire. The FARC will convert into a political party under the accord.
Herald with Reuters