Shootings and Shamans: Local Civilian Authority Structures and Civil War Violence in Colombia
33 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2012 Last revised: 16 Jun 2014
Date Written: July 25, 2012
Can local organizations give civilians the capacity to protect themselves from the vagaries of civil war violence? Civilians have traditionally been considered powerless when facing armed groups but new research suggests organized communities may be able to promote security through strategies such as resolving disputes between neighbors and managing relations with macro-armed actors. This paper tests civilian organizations as an explanation for reduced violence with evidence from Colombia on the experiences of indigenous group communities. In Colombia there has been great publicity about both violence against indigenous groups in the armed conflict and about indigenous movements for autonomy from the conflict. At the same time, there is evidence that ethnic minority populations have on average suffered relatively less violence compared to campesino communities. I explore whether the unique organizational forms of indigenous groups help explain how and why some groups have been better able to overcome armed conflict violence than others. I develop a theory about the importance of strong tribal authority structures to regulate the internal order of indigenous communities and reduce entanglements with external armed groups. To test this theory, I leverage never used before micro-level quantitative data on the incidence of violence against members of different ethnic groups and on these groups’ cultural and organizational characteristics. Interviews and second-hand reports are used as qualitative evidence to confirm the presence of specific mechanisms through which authority structures may operate. The findings yield important implications for managing violence against civilians and protecting human rights in Colombia and in weak states where local institutions or tribal structures play roles in the provision of local order.
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