Colombia: French journalist kidnapped, conflict resolution back to zero?
Colombia’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is suspected of holding French journalist Roméo Langlois. The rebel group announced in February that they would no longer kidnap civilians for purposes of extortion, a pillar for the stability of Colombia that now seems to stagger.
According to reports, French journalist Roméo Langlois was covering an anti-narcotics operation in the department of Caquetà when he found himself in the middle of a combat between the Colombian Army troops and the guerrilla. According to Militar personnel, Langlois was injured during the attack and since April 28 his whereabouts cannot be determined.
Human Rights status in Colombia
Since the 1970s Colombian guerilla groups like the M-19, the FARC and ELN extensively exploited the practice of kidnapping. The overall security environment in the country improved considerably between 2000 and 2009 but serious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law persist.
Recently OIDHACO (Oficina Internacional de los Derechos Humanos Accion Colombia) reported a number of facts and examples reflecting the critical situation in Colombia. The analysis highlights the persistence of enforced disappearances and of the armed conflict, continued impunity for the vast majority of the crimes perpetrated, a deep increase of attacks against human rights defenders and trade unionists, and the inability of the Colombian government to take appropriate measures.
“Those individuals who struggle to defend human rights in Colombia (whether victims’ organisations, journalists, lawyers, women, trade unionists, community leaders, indigenous peoples, small farmers and Afro-Colombians) continue to be the target of numerous attacks, threats and acts of harassment”, OIDHACO affirms. “In the year 2011, 239 human rights defenders suffered attacks, 49 of which were murdered and 6 disappeared, which represents a deep increase in comparison with 2010 (32 human rights defenders murdered)”.
Reacting on the kidnapping of Roméo Langlois the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern, considering “vital that the life, integrity and liberty of the journalist be unconditionally respected”, demanding that he be released immediately.
Kidnappings in Colombia
“Keep your word” is the message from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the FARC rebel group. Since early 2008 the FARC has been releasing captivities and in February 2012 the group announced that they would abandon the practice of kidnapping. A step forward in the negotiations to end the long civil conflict that now is put into question. Roméo Langlois is one of the many journalists and civilians who have been kidnapped in the last years by guerilla groups. TV producer Mark Henderson has been kidnapped by the ELN guerilla in 2003; the left wing guerrilla group justify the crime to target foreign nationals to emphasize human rights abuses by the government and rival militias in Colombia.
After his release Mark Henderson received an email from one of the kidnappers; 5 years later the two men were reunited once again in the heart of the Colombian jungle. Henderson went back to meet his former kidnappers with three other captives and camera in hand. Describing his experience in his documentary ‘My Kidnapper’ Mark Henderson says: “when people ask me what is like to be kidnapped I always find it hard to put into words. How to explain the ‘not knowing’, the sense of powerlessness, the real proximity of death, the total lack of freedom and any sort of choice in the way your life progresses, it’s all these feelings, but it’s all these feelings constantly. It never let’s up, the shadow of kidnap is always hanging over you”.