Human Trafficking In Colombia: A Brief Update

October 04, 2019 | By Solweig Ogereau

Colombia has a history of human trafficking. In 2001, the International Organisation for Migration1 set up a programme to fight against the transfer of individuals done with the aim of exploiting them, whether inside or outside of the country. This includes sexual exploitation, exploiting them for begging or servile marriage. It can also mean slavery, forced labour, servitude or even the removal of bodily organs2.

 

In 2013, 70,000 victims of human trafficking were identified in the country – making it the second most affected country of the continent after Brazil3. In 2019, it increased across South America4. Women are particularly vulnerable: in Colombia and Venezuela, they represented more than 60% of the victims. This share seems to have reached 80% for Colombia in 2018, and 23% of complaints filed involved girls5. In 2016, 194 cases regarding this offence were open, and 100 people began to be investigated (60 of whom were men). In 2017, according to the numbers of the Colombian Ministry of Interior and of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, at least 128 people were victims of human trafficking. Most of them suffered sexual exploitation, while others lived through forced labour, servile marriage, begging or slavery6</sup.

 

Many cases of violence are related to the conflict: between 1958 and 2012, 200,000 people died, 80% of whom were civilians7. It is thus easy to understand why, when the Peace Agreements were signed between the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016, many celebrated the end of a decades-long conflict. Many others worried, however, that former guerrilleros would join other groups like the Ejercito Nacional de Liberación8 (another leftist guerrilla) or paramilitary groups9. Some of them did, and coupled with the void left in many regions, fighting has intensified over available resources, in particular in coca production areas10.

One of the consequences of the Colombian conflict has been intensified human trafficking. Smuggling is certainly an issue, which local authorities fight as best as they can, hiring guides and issuing safe-conducts11. In fact, “Colombia has been a hub [for] migrants traveling from Africa and Cuba to the United States for years, but this has spiked over the past few years because of an ongoing crisis in Venezuela.”12 And the result is strengthened trafficking in every shape and form. As expressed by public prosecutor Gómez: “it is not known how many Venezuelans exactly fall victim to this phenomenon, but what is clear is that the problem is increasing”13. In fact, Venezuelans were found to be most affected by human trafficking in Bogotá: 75% of known cases between 2016 and 201814.

 

In their despair, and because of the lack of opportunities in these areas, many Venezuelans are indeed, recruited by criminal groups: more than 15,000 Venezuelans, many of whom children or teenagers, were found “to help further criminal economies at the Colombia-Venezuela border”15, as described in the report by the Fundación Redes (FundaRedes) quoted by Insight Crime. Activities included “drug trafficking, microtrafficking, fuel smuggling, illegal mining of gold, coltan and copper, or being employed as “gariteros,” or guards for illegal businesses”.16 Sex work, forced labour, and servile marriage have also been reported in Bogotá17.

 

As a response, the Bogotá district has established a plan to bring assistance to victims, in the form of health care, psychological help, temporary housing, judicial representation, transport to return to their place of origin, education and training opportunities to find work18.

 

Along with arms and drug trafficking, human trafficking is generally considered to be one of the most profitable crimes in the world19. In 2019, the crime of human trafficking was estimated to move around $9 billion, and sanctions are very few, which makes it all the more appealing20. Because of the very few investigations conducted, and the even fewer condemnations, the Colombian state has been accused by civil organisations and human rights defenders of abandoning victims21. The international nature of these networks certainly complicate investigations, however further effort is needed to dismantle them and prevent increasing numbers of victims in the chaotic context of the region.

1 International Organisation for Migration, “Lucha contra la trata de personas”.
2 Redacción Judicial, “En Colombia hay 70 mil víctimas de trata de personas”, El Espectador, 15th November 2013.
3 Redacción Judicial, El Espectador, 2013.
4 Redacción Judicial, “La lucha contra la trata de personas en Suramérica, Colombia incluida”, El Espectador, 16th January 2019.
5 El Tiempo, “Mujeres, el 80% de las víctimas de la trata de personas en Colombia”, 16th January 2019.
6 Redacción Judicial, El Espectador, 2019.
7 Lasconjarias, Guillaume, “Colombie : la longue marche vers la paix ?”, Politique étrangère, 2016/3, p. 38. By March 2019, that number had reached 260,000 people, according to Murphy, Helen and Vargas, Carlos, “Colombian Duque’s bid to change peace deal rattles sabers, but war unlikely”, Reuters, 17th March 2019.
8 Faiola, Anthony, “Two years after Colombia’s peace accord, the historic pact is in jeopardy”, The Washington Post, 15th June 2018.
9 Mitchell, Charlotte, “Colombia: Fragile peace a year after FARC referendum”, Al Jazeera, 2nd October 2017.
10 Asmann, Parker, “Mass Displacements in Colombia Illustrate New Dynamics of Criminal Violence”, Insight Crime, 23rd January 2018.
11 Tamayo Ortiz, Heidi, “Piden plan de choque para migrantes que arriesgan sus vidas en Urabá”, El Tiempo, 29th May 2019.
12 Veitch, Adam, “Government inaction spurs locals in northeast Colombia to step up aid to migrants”, Colombia Reports, 30th May 2019.
13 El Tiempo, 2019.
14 Redacción Bogotá, “Venezolanos, los más afectados por trata de personas en Bogotá”, El Espectador, 30th July 2018.

15 Venezuela Investigative Unit, “Guerrilla Groups Largest Employers at Colombia-Venezuela Border: Report”, Insight Crime, 18th April 2019.
16 Venezuela Investigative Unit, Insight Crime, 18th April 2019.
17 Redacción Bogotá, El Espectador, 2018.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid
20 Redacción Judicial, El Espectador, 2019.
21 NTN24, “Denuncian que víctimas de trata de personas en Colombia son abandonadas por el Estado”, 30th July 2018.

References

– Asmann, Parker, “Mass Displacements in Colombia Illustrate New Dynamics of Criminal Violence”, Insight Crime, 23rd January 2018. Available from: <https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/mass-displacements-new-dynamics-colombia-criminal-violence/>
– El Tiempo, “Mujeres, el 80% de las víctimas de la trata de personas en Colombia”, 16th January 2019. Available from: <https://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/investigacion/alerta-por-aumento-de-trata-de-personas-en-mujeres-314718>
– Faiola, Anthony, “Two years after Colombia’s peace accord, the historic pact is in jeopardy”, The Washington Post, 15th June 2018. Available from: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/two-years-after-colombia-won-a-nobel-peace-prize-the-peace-is-in-jeopardy/2018/06/15/c6030c9c-6d8b-11e8-b4d8-eaf78d4c544c_story.html?utm_term=.de9771459043>
– International Organisation for Migration, “Lucha contra la trata de personas”. Available from: <http://www.oim.org.co/trata-de-personas/iombogota%40iom.int>
– Lasconjarias, Guillaume, “Colombie : la longue marche vers la paix ?”, Politique étrangère, 2016/3, pp. 37-48.
– Mitchell, Charlotte, “Colombia: Fragile peace a year after FARC referendum”, Al Jazeera, 2nd October 2017. Available from: <https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/colombia-fragile-peace-year-farc-referendum-171002065629390.html>
– Murphy, Helen and Vargas, Carlos, “Colombian Duque’s bid to change peace deal rattles sabers, but war unlikely”, Reuters, 17th March 2019. Available from: <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colombia-peace-analysis/colombian-duques-bid-to-change-peace-deal-rattles-sabers-but-war-unlikely-idUSKCN1QY0MO>
– NTN24, “Denuncian que víctimas de trata de personas en Colombia son abandonadas por el Estado”, 30th July 2018. Available from: <https://www.ntn24.com/america-latina/colombia/denuncian-que-victimas-de-trata-de-personas-en-colombia-son-abandonadas-por>
– Redacción Bogotá, “Venezolanos, los más afectados por trata de personas en Bogotá”, El Espectador, 30th July 2018. Available from: <https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/bogota/venezolanos-los-mas-afectados-por-trata-de-personas-en-bogota-articulo-803244>
– Redacción Judicial, “En Colombia hay 70 mil víctimas de trata de personas”, El Espectador, 15th November 2013. Available from: <https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/colombia-hay-70-mil-victimas-de-trata-de-personas-articulo-458390>
– Redacción Judicial, “La lucha contra la trata de personas en Suramérica, Colombia incluida”, El Espectador, 16th January 2019. Available from: <https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/la-lucha-contra-la-trata-de-personas-en-suramerica-colombia-incluida-articulo-834319>
– Tamayo Ortiz, Heidi, “Piden plan de choque para migrantes que arriesgan sus vidas en Urabá”, El Tiempo, 29th May 2019. Available from: <https://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/medellin/piden-medidas-para-situacion-de-migrantes-en-antioquia-y-choco-368204>
– Veitch, Adam, “Government inaction spurs locals in northeast Colombia to step up aid to migrants”, Colombia Reports, 30th May 2019. Available from: <https://colombiareports.com/amid-government-inaction-locals-in-northeast-colombia-step-up-to-support-migrants/>
– Venezuela Investigative Unit, “Guerrilla Groups Largest Employers at Colombia-Venezuela Border: Report”, Insight Crime, 18th April 2019. Available from: <https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/guerrilla-groups-largest-employers-at-colombia-venezuela-border-report/>

About Solweig Ogereau

A recent graduate from Sciences Po Paris, Solweig is passionate about international relations and diplomacy. Also a Sorbonne graduate in English and Spanish, her regional specialties are Latin America and Asia. Security issues are increasingly at the heart of her interests, especially those related to non-military security as well as non-state actors and their relation to state actors.