A twin human rights and environmental crisis in Colombia has intensified since the government and rebel army FARC signed a peace treaty in 2016. The demobilisation and disarmament of FARC created a power vacuum in the Colombian Amazon that has allowed increased exploitation of natural resources and illegal economic activities, in particular the cultivation of coca plants, unregulated gold mining, livestock and agriculture. This has led not only to more environmental destruction and deforestation, but sparked a new spiral of violence.
With the sharp increase in illegal activity, local communities, NGOs and state institutions that strive to protect the Colombian Amazon are increasingly victims of threats, attacks and even killings.
Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit, losing their land and becoming victims of human rights abuses, violence and displacement. Between 2016 and 2019, seven environmentalists were murdered in the Amazon region and ten leaders of indigenous communities and environmental organizations were threatened. Many other attacks, forced evictions and sexual assaults have also been recorded.
Environmental degradation and conflict produce a vicious circle. Deforestation, driven by the constant instability, is accelerating the global climate crisis. At the same time, the ecosystems of the Amazon are becoming less able to withstand the effects of climate change due to deforestation and environmental pollution. Changes in water availability, the navigability of rivers and weather patterns are already noticeable, endangering the livelihoods of the local population. As a result, people come under more pressure to engage in illegal activities such as growing coca or joining armed groups, further destabilizing the region.
This study is the first of its kind to analyse these links between conflict dynamics, environmental degradation and climate change in the Colombian Amazon and how they have changed since the signing of the peace agreement in 2016. It also provides recommendations on how the Colombian state, international organisations and environmental organisations can work together to break the vicious circle.