Neutrality in Internal Armed Conflicts : Experiences at the Grassroots Level in Colombia
Abstract: Civilians in situations of armed conflict are not exclusively victims or fence-sitters, but engage in a wide array of strategies along the spectrum from passivity to activity. Nevertheless, the privileged focus on eliteled processes has neglected peacebuilding efforts at the grassroots level, despite their increased saliency in internal armed conflicts and their potential impact on their regulation and/or transformation. Recent developments have brought to fore a particularly interesting option: the collective decision by communities to withdraw from the dynamics of war by refusing to cooperate with the warring parties, in effect declaring their neutrality in the conflict. The issue is particularly intriguing, considering that, in contrast to its long-standing and developed status in international conflicts, neutrality in internal armed conflicts lacks legal recognition. Thus, as a strategy for the protection of civilians in internal armed conflicts, the policy of neutrality confronts seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This study compares the fate of three communities that have declared their neutrality in the Colombian conflict: the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, the Cacarica Communities, and the Lower Atrato Communities. Contrary to theoretical expectations derived from previous research, the study shows that the pattern of violence against the neutral communities does not divert significantly from the pattern of violence exercised against the rest of civilians. It also shows that the different neutral communities exhibit varying degrees of success and failure in terms of the warring actors’ respect for their policy of neutrality. The study calls for a revision of factors deemed to have high explanatory power, and rescues the importance of the dynamics of the military confrontation and the changing patterns of control at the local level as offering a more accurate explanation.
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