A COLLABORATION WITH THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
In addition to covering almost the entire country, the geography of forced displacement reveals additional patterns of the conflict. Some of the cruelest moments in the history of the conflict occurred when different legal and illegal armed groups carried out massacres to instill terror in the civilian population. Understanding why forced displacement worsened during the 1990s requires explaining the flows of victims in the midst of this climate of abject terror. There are also cases of people who were forcibly displaced on several occasions and who have traveled to different areas of the country to protect their lives and that of their families. All these instances of displacement, explored in this visual project, are an essential part of the history of the victims and of the efforts that in the future can help rebuild the social fabrics torn by violence in Colombia.
The following concepts are a result of our collaboration with the Truth Commission, who used our maps as part of their Final Report on the Conflict. Their interrogation of our data and visualizations added spatial nuance to the documented history of violence and struggle in the Colombian conflict, and prompted us to look for additional variables - other forms of violence, multiple instances of victimization, time - to understand the spatial effects of Human Rights’ violations in several regions of the country and to illustrate the local differences in forced displacement. We hope that by shedding light upon the localized nature of some cycles of violence, we can help regional peacebuilding efforts and reparations for the victims of the conflict.
THE SPATIAL LINK BETWEEN MASSACRES AND FORCED DISPLACEMENT
All armed groups present in the country - guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug traffickers, organized crime, and the Colombian Army and Police - contributed to the degradation of the conflict. One of the main mechanisms to instill terror and assert territorial dominance was the strategic use of massacres, events where multiple individuals were killed and their bodies often displayed to send political messages in a region. While paramilitary organizations, according to academic research, were the most prevalent group in committing massacres, they were not the only actors employing this practice.
These massacres were also triggers of forced displacement. To investigate the specific nature of these flows, we created a timeline that links the occurrence of massacres, as documented by the National Center of Historical Memory, and the outgoing flows of victims of displacement.
RETHINKING THE BOUNDARIES OF FORCED DISPLACEMENT
Most available geographic information in Colombia is aggregated at the regional level, usually following the administrative divisions of the country. Composed of 32 departamentos, Colombia is usually called a “country of regions.” This represents a methodological challenge, since these boundaries fail to capture the way in which people move, especially when escaping violence. While seeking refuge, victims of forced displacement are left with precious few options, including existing familial relationships and nearby towns or cities offering any sort of economic opportunity to rebuild.
To better understand the regional dynamics of displacement, we used an algorithm to factor the relationship between all the municipalities in Colombia where forced displacement took place since 1985. The result is a series of (Louvain) communities, an approximate classification of these towns based on the links between them - that is, the volume and direction of outgoing victims of forced displacement.