From years of coursework in Latin American studies, I developed an interest in the region for its unique history and cultural and biological diversity. With that, I came to realize that Latin America’s conflicts are often overlooked. A recent tweet from the IHL team’s Twitter account referencing an article about the conflict in Colombia sparked my attention to the area once more. While the Middle East has become a recent hot bed of civil unrest, it can be shocking to learn that Latin America has its own share of armed conflicts, some of which include the use of landmines.
Antipersonnel landmines, which have become commonplace in war-torn areas, are cheap yet powerful weapons of war. These dangerous relics of the past do not serve a purpose in the humanitarian world of today, but unfortunately many communities in Latin America and other regions of the world are still feeling the effects of landmines from conflicts that ended years ago.
Often associated with the Middle East, landmines are indiscriminate, meaning they detonate regardless of whether it is a civilian or a combatant who takes the mistaken step onto one. This is why International Humanitarian Law bans landmines under the Landmine Ban Convention. Along with places like Afghanistan and Syria, Colombia has its own share of landmines. Since the mid-twentieth century, the Colombian government has been in constant conflict with its most notorious rebel group, the FARC. The FARC formed as a left-wing rebel group with a paramilitary campaign against the Colombian government during La Violencia. Today, the guerilla force finds itself with a large hand in the illegal drug trade. In an effort to secure its territorial holds, the FARC is also known for its use of landmines. These landmines often take rural farmers and their families for hostage and have caused a dilemma resulting in a reported 3.7 million IDPs and 380,000 refugees. This half-decade-long strife has had a lasting effect on the country’s civilian population.
Los colores de la montaña (The Colors of the Mountain), an award-winning 2010 film directed by Carlos César Arbeláez, shows the impact that landmines have had on rural Colombian families. In the movie, the community soccer fields, which are the popular hang-out spot for local children, become a death trap after a rebel group camouflages landmines on one of the fields. The story follows the effects this has on the town’s children when their families, schools, and of course, soccer fields, are destroyed by landmines. Mirroring reality, Los colores de la montaña serves as an accurate depiction of the situation in Colombia surrounding civilian interactions with landmines.
Just like in Los colores de la montaña, the FARC is responsible for purposely placing landmines in civilian-populated areas, including around schools and train tracks. Landmines have caused over 10,900 recorded deaths and injuries in Colombia since 1990. Amputations have become a common practice in the country’s hospitals, since many landmines are made with scraps, battery acid, and even human fecal matter (which leads to bacterial infections). The fear of accidentally stepping in the wrong place can easily control all aspects of human life; often, the fatalities are rural civilians who cannot afford proper healthcare or who live far from hospitals.
While watching Los colores de la montaña in Spanish class a few months ago, I never thought about the film’s application to International Humanitarian Law. Since I have rarely seen the conflict in Colombia covered as much as some other conflicts by the media, I had ignorantly ignored the issue despite landmines’ overall lack of discrimination and proportionality. However, after writing about two things that I am interested in – Latin America and International Humanitarian Law – I have learned to look at all current events through an IHL lens.
Author – Jessica Lach, Youth Education Intern