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  • Borderland Battles: Violence, Crime, and Governance at the Edges of Colombia's War by Annette Idler
  • Marina Brilman (bio)
Annette Idler, Borderland Battles: Violence, Crime, and Governance at the Edges of Colombia's War (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2019, ISBN: 9780190849146 (hb) / ISBN: 9780190849153 (pb), xxiii + 496 pages.

International law, and human rights law more specifically, permeate the subject matter of this book. It focuses on social order between nonstate actors, mostly illegal armed groups, and the general population in Colombia's borderlands (the borders with Ecuador and Venezuela, not with Panama). International law and human rights law are palpably present in these regions, despite their alleged "lawlessness."1 In 2008, Ecuador brought a case against Colombia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the fumigations of coca plants with glyphosate by Colombia in border zones (the case name refers neutrally to "Aerial Herbicide Spraying").2 Ecuador discontinued this case in 2013, when the two states agreed on the establishment of an exclusion zone in which Colombia was prohibited from carrying out such fumigations. In 2008, the Colombian armed forces bombed FARC guerrilla camps in Ecuadorian territory, causing the severing of diplomatic relations be tween the two states and a rejection of Colombia's actions by the Organization of American States. A case is currently awaiting a decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding an alleged violation by the Colombian state of—among others—the right to life of a woman and her baby as a consequence of fumigations with glyphosate.3 In addition, there is of course the ongoing preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC)—which started at least fourteen years ago with no definitive conclusion in sight,4 of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the internal armed conflict. Former President Santos was the first Colombian president to recognize the existence of such a conflict, something that had been denied by his predecessors, allegedly in an effort to prevent the ICC from assuming jurisdiction.

The state actions that gave rise to these cases, the cross-border bombing and fumigations, as well as the extrajudicial killings, are all taking place in the context of the longest running conflict of Latin America. Almost three years to the day after the signing of the peace agreement in Havana between the FARC and the Colombian state, that conflict reignited when the FARC leader Luciano Marín Arango—alias Iván Márquez—reappeared in a video posted on YouTube5 [End Page 974] dressed in army fatigues, rifle loosely hanging from one shoulder and flanked by his fighters. Márquez had apparently vanished from the face of the earth shortly after having negotiated the peace agreement as a FARC representative. He never took up his seat in Congress for the new FARC political party (no longer an abbreviation for "Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia" but "Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Communal (común)"). In the video, he said that they were taking up arms again because the Colombian state had betrayed the peace accord, referring to "the universal right of all peoples in the world to take up arms against oppression."6 This reference to the international law principle of self-determination is not surprising in a country where all citizens manage a basic legal vernacular (pejoratively known as leguleyo). The peace agreement now seems dead in the water, even though the FARC political party has said it will respect its terms. The Colombian armed forces have carried out new bombardments in rural regions, killing several of their inhabitants.

In this context, there are at least three ways in which this book is relevant to international and human rights lawyers. First, as an example (and to a certain extent a cautionary tale) of the consequences of trying to avoid a state-centric paradigm. Second, as an example of the well-trodden path of distinguishing center/margins and order/disorder, as well as the apparent situation of legal limbo that is actually highly regulated (in Annette Idler's book described mostly in terms of social, rather than legal, order). Third, and perhaps most importantly, as a reminder that international law regards people...


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pp. 974-980
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