HUMAN RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS IN THE REGION
Consistent with its authority under relevant provisions of the
Charter of the Organization of American States, the American
Convention on Human Rights, and its Statute and Regulations, the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for more than twenty years,
has included in its annual report to the General Assembly a chapter on
the human rights situations in various countries.
In its 1995 annual report the Commission suspended this
practice in order to reexamine the bases upon which countries are to
be selected for purposes of inclusion in this annual exercise.
Over the years the Commission used this section of its annual
report to issue follow-up
reports upon the human rights situations in countries on which the
Commission had published special, individual country reports.
These special reports, which reviewed the status of human
rights in a large number of countries,
were usually the products, in part, of on site human rights
investigations carried out in those countries.
The Commission's purpose in elaborating follow up reports in
its annual report was to provide the Organization with updated
information on the evolution of the human rights situations in
countries which had been the special focus of Commission attention.
In addition, the Commission used this section to assess and
report upon compliance by member states with its various
this section sometimes provided a timely opportunity to report on a
situation emerging or developing at the close of its reporting cycle.
During its 92nd, 93rd and 94th sessions the Commission reviewed
its practice in this connection, in order, as stated by its Chairman
during his presentation to the General Assembly held in Panama City in
1996, to reintroduce "its custom of reporting on the human rights
situation in various OAS member states once it has had an opportunity
to reflect upon its goals and methods in this regard."
The Commission intends to establish a new approach to this
section of the annual report, in the sense that it will henceforward
reflect important factual and legal developments in the field of human
rights in the hemisphere which fall within certain pre-established
In this regard, the Commission has agreed on four criteria for purposes of identifying those OAS member states whose human rights practices merit special attention and, hence, inclusion in this chapter.
The first criterion in which the Commission believes that special
reporting is warranted obtains in states which are ruled by governments
which have not been chosen by secret ballot in honest, periodic and free
popular elections in accordance with accepted international standards.
The Commission has repeatedly pointed out the centrality of
representative democracy and democratically constituted systems in
achieving the rule of law and respect for human rights.
With respect to states in which the political rights set forth in
the American Convention and Declaration are not respected, the
Commission has a duty to inform other OAS member states regarding the
situation of the political and civil liberties of its inhabitants.
The second criterion concerns states where the free exercise of
rights contained in the American Convention or Declaration have been
effectively suspended, in whole or part, by virtue of the imposition of
exceptional measures, such as a state of emergency, state of siege,
prompt security measures, and the like.
The third criterion which could justify a particular state's
inclusion in this chapter is where there are serious accusations that a
state is engaging in mass and gross violations of human rights set forth
in the American Convention and/or Declaration or other applicable human
rights instruments. Of
particular concern here are violations of non-derogable rights, such as
extrajudicial executions, torture and forced disappearance.
Thus, where the Commission receives credible communications
denouncing such violations by a particular state which are attested to
or corroborated by the reports or findings of other governmental or
intergovernmental bodies and/or of respected national and international
human rights organizations, the Commission believes that it has both a
moral and legal duty to bring such situations to the attention of the
Organization and its member states.
The fourth criterion concerns those states which are in a process
of transition from any of the above three situations.
In addition to reporting on those human rights situations which
meet the above noted criteria, the Commission intends, in the future, to
develop additional criteria in
order to highlight measures taken by states which demonstrate a
commitment to improving respect for human rights.
To achieve this the Commission will seek the cooperation of all
member states in identifying measures of this type for purposes of
preparing this section of its annual report. Without
prejudice to the foregoing considerations, the Commission, in various
sections of this report, has taken note .
of the positive steps in the field of
human rights taken by various states of the Hemisphere.
In 1996, the bodies of the inter-American human rights system
paid close attention to the human rights situation in the Republic of
Colombia, both in the processing of individual cases before the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission")
and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the "Court") and
in the monitoring of the general human rights situation.
General Information on the situation in Colombia in 1996
During 1996, the Colombian State engaged in important efforts to
combat the human rights violations which occur on a massive scale in
Colombia. However, the
human rights situation continued to be extremely serious.
Political murder and common crime claimed the lives of 26,710
Colombians in 1996, a 5.4 percent increase over 1995, according to
information provided by the National Police.
Non-governmental sources suggest that the number of violent
deaths may be even higher and estimate that approximately 3,600 persons
were killed for political or ideological reasons.
Non-governmental sources attribute responsibility in 65% of
political killings to the armed forces and paramilitaries.
Such sources estimate that the number of violations committed by
security forces of the Colombian State declined in 1996 to approximately
8%-18% of all political murders in which the perpetrators could be
identified. As the number
of political killings committed by State forces declined, the number of
such violations committed by paramilitary forces increased.
According to non-governmental sources, paramilitaries were
responsible for 48%-59% of politically motivated extrajudicial killings.
The Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman has reported that
paramilitary activity has increased by 60% since 1992.
These statistics must be analyzed in the context of serious
indicia which link killings by paramilitary groups with the complicity
of individual soldiers or of military units and which tend to
demonstrate that the Government has not adequately sought to control the
Incidents of "social cleansing" continued, including
attacks and killings directed against individuals deemed socially
undesirable, such as street children, beggars and drug addicts.
State security agents have been implicated in some of this
In addition to extrajudicial executions, other forms of serious
human rights violations also occurred on a large scale in Colombia in
1996. For example, the
Procurator General for Human Rights ("Procurador General para los
Derechos Humanos") estimated that, by October of 1996, members of
the armed forces, police and the DAS had committed 40 forced
disappearances. The same
Government office reported 462 cases of torture allegedly committed by
State security forces during the period from June 1995 to October 1996.
The information provided in this section makes clear that a
situation involving numerous violations of human rights guaranteed in
the American Convention on Human Rights (the "Convention" or
the "American Convention"), including non-derogable rights,
exists in Colombia. This
situation, in addition to the existence of an officially declared state
of emergency which continued throughout almost all of 1996 justifies the
preparation of this report on Colombia for inclusion in the Annual
Report of the Commission. The
Commission will further analyze the human rights situation in Colombia
during an in loco visit to be conducted in 1997, which will
eventually result in an exhaustive Commission report on the situation.
Advances in the field of human rights
The Colombian State took several important steps in the field of
human rights during 1996. On
July 5, 1996, the Congress of Colombia passed Law 288, which establishes
a means of compensating victims of human rights violations where
international bodies, such as the Commission, have concluded that the
State of Colombia violated human rights and have recommended the payment
Law 288 establishes a Committee of Ministers and requires the
Government to provide compensation in all cases where the Committee
agrees with the decision taken by the international body.
This compensation must be provided even if the victims have not
initiated a domestic proceeding to seek compensation.
If the Committee does not agree with the international body and
therefore initially declines to pay compensation, it must appeal the
decision of that body to the appropriate international instance to
obtain a final decision.
The positive effect of Law 288 has already been seen in relation
to Colombian human rights cases before the Commission.
The legislation has been applied in several cases previously
decided by the Commission with recommendations for indemnization.
It has also been applied to allow for compensation in a case
presented to the Commission which is currently in friendly settlement
Commission considers that the adoption of this legislation is a very
important measure taken to protect human rights in Colombia.
The Commission would urge the Colombian State to advance even
further by creating effective mechanisms for ensuring compliance with
all of the recommendations of the Commission and other international
human rights bodies, not only those which recommend financial
recommendations of the Commission often also include, for example, a
call to carry out an effective investigation of the violation and to
sanction those responsible.
Commission also observed that the work of the Prosecutor General's
Office ("Fiscalía General de la Nación"), particularly the
Unit for Human Rights, played a strong positive role in the field of
human rights in 1996. The
Unit for Human Rights of the Prosecutor General's Office is composed of
a coordinator and a team of prosecutors whose identity is reserved.
The Unit is responsible for particularly serious cases, involving
massacres, extrajudicial killings, kidnapping and forced disappearances.
The Unit was able to push forward criminal investigations in
several important human rights cases, including several cases under
study by the Commission. Prosecutors
from the Unit issued numerous arrest warrants against members of the
armed forces, paramilitary groups and others.
Commission has received information indicating that civil and military
institutions in Colombia have suggested that the Unit for Human Rights
of the Prosecutor General's Office should be dismantled.
That suggestions appears to stem, in part, from the pressure
which has been brought to bear on important military officials as a
result of the Unit's investigations.
In addition, certain elements question the need to maintain the
Unit on the grounds that most important cases have been removed from its
jurisdiction by decisions transferring the cases to the military justice
system. The Commission
strongly urges Colombia to maintain and to continue to support the work
of the Unit for Human Rights.
the Unit for Human Rights is an effective tool, the Commission also
suggests that the State further define which cases should be handled by
that Unit. The Commission
received information from non-governmental sources indicating that the
criteria used by the Prosecutor General's Office for assigning cases to
the Unit were not altogether clear.
Commission has observed that the legal action for protective relief
("acción de tutela"), a remedy provided for in Article 86 of
the 1991 Constitution, has become an important tool for the prevention
of some human rights violations and for the protection of the effective
exercise of the rights set forth in the Constitution and in
international instruments relating to human rights. The remedy has generally been applied broadly and rapidly.
The Constitutional Court has the competence to review first
instance and appellate decisions in tutela actions where those decisions
merit review by the highest constitutional authority in Colombia.
It has been noted that the decisions of the Constitutional Court
in tutela actions have benefited sectors of society which traditionally
have not had access to rapid and effective judicial protection, such as
children, women, workers and indigenous communities.
1996, the Government of Colombia accepted the establishment in Bogotá
of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The office will be installed in March of 1997.
Its mandate will include supervision of the human rights
situation in Colombia and the provision of assistance to the Government,
civil society and non-governmental organizations in the field of human
rights protection. The office will be headed by Almudena Mazarrasa, a
Spanish national who has served as ambassador for that country.
According to the agreement with the Colombian authorities, the
office will have a 17-month tenure which may be renewed. Mazarrasa will direct a team consisting of five experts in
human rights, political science and communication.
These experts will not be Colombians.
The Commission considers that the work which will be carried out
by this office is of utmost importance and that the Government's
willingness to accept the installation of the office should be treated
as an important indicator of its stance on human rights.
decision of the President of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, to authorize the
Commission to carry out an in loco visit during 1997 constitutes
another important indicator of the Colombian Government's current
openness in relation to human rights.
The President personally gave his consent to the visit during a
meeting held with a delegation of the Commission in Bogotá on February
14, 1997. The Government's
decision to accept the in loco visit of the Commission was later
confirmed by diplomatic note dated February 19, 1997.
Processing of cases in the inter-american human rights system
December 8, 1995, the Court issued its decision in the Caballero Delgado
and Santana Case brought by the Commission against the State of Colombia
in 1992. The Court decided
that the State of Colombia was responsible for the forced disappearance
of Isidro Caballero Delgado and María del Carmen Santana and concluded
that the State had therefore violated, as to the two victims, the rights
to life and personal liberty contained in Articles 4 and 7 of the
Convention, in concordance with Article 1.1 of that instrument.
On January 29, 1997, the Court issued its decision regarding
reparations in the case. The
Court ordered the Government to pay $89,500.00 to the family members of
the two victims.
1996, the Commission continued to process the individual cases which
have been brought before it alleging violations of human rights by the
Colombian State. The Commission also continued to act in four cases which are
in friendly settlement proceedings.
The parties continue to negotiate with the hopes of achieving a
friendly settlement in the cases of Trujillo (11.007), Los Uvos
(11.020), Caloto (11.101) and Villatina (11.141).
A delegation of the Commission travelled to Colombia on February
9, 1997 to study the status of the friendly settlement proceedings, to
meet with the Government officials and the victims involved in the cases
and to encourage further movement by all parties towards the goal of
friendly settlement. The
Commission expresses its appreciation for the full cooperation it
received from the Government in planning and carrying out this visit.
Commission requested the Government of Colombia to adopt precautionary
measures to protect the lives and physical integrity of individuals,
pursuant to Article 29 of its Regulations, on four occasions during
1996. Josué Giraldo
Cardona, a human rights activist in the Department of Meta who was
covered by Commission precautionary measures issued in 1995, was killed
on October 13, 1996.
a result, on October 18, 1996, the Commission asked the Court to adopt
provisional measures on behalf of the other members of the human rights
organization in which Josué Giraldo had served, pursuant to Article
63(2) of the Convention. Those
persons had also been covered by the Commission's precautionary
measures. The President of
the Court ordered the adoption of provisional measures on October 29,
1996. The Court in plenary
ratified the decision to require the adoption of provisional measures on
February 5, 1997, emphasizing the special importance of effectively
investigating the death of Josué Giraldo as a means of protection.
Commission is extremely concerned that an individual, on whose behalf
the Commission had requested precautionary measures, was killed in 1996.
The Commission urges the Colombian State to fully implement the
precautionary measures and provisional measures issued by the Commission
and the Court, respectively, so as to ensure that the persons covered by
such measures are protected in all circumstances.
Characteristics of the human rights situation in Colombia in 1996
Impunity and denial of justice
1996, the problems of impunity and denial of justice continued to be
prominent in Colombia. In
June of 1996, the Superior Council of the Judiciary ("Consejo
Superior de la Judicatura") reported that between 97% and 98% of
all crimes go unpunished, and that 74% of crimes go unreported.
According to information issued by the National Police, 90% of
all crimes go unpunished. Human
rights monitors assert that virtually 100% of all crimes involving human
rights violations go unpunished. The
Commission observed that many investigations were not effectively
initiated until long after the original violation occurred and many
others remained stagnant many years into the investigation.
problem of impunity has been aggravated by recent decisions of the
Superior Council of the Judiciary which have transferred jurisdiction
over important human rights cases from the civil judicial system to the
military system. The
Commission has repeatedly condemned the military jurisdiction in
Colombia and in other countries for failing to provide an effective and
impartial judicial remedy for violations of Convention-based rights,
thereby insuring impunity in such cases.
In Colombia specifically, the military courts have consistently
failed to sanction members of the public security forces accused of
committing human rights violations.
The situation of impunity and lack of impartiality in the
military tribunals became even more serious when the Colombian
legislature modified Article 221 of the Colombian Constitution to
specifically allow active military officials to serve on military
tribunals. In this manner,
the Colombian legislature overturned a 1995 decision of the
Constitutional Court which had interpreted Article 221 as allowing only
retired, not active, military officers to serve on military tribunals.
Colombian Ministry of Defense cites figures which indicate that 47.7% of
criminal proceedings carried out under the military justice system
result in convictions. However,
those statistics do not state what types of crimes result in
convictions. It is
generally understood that almost all of these convictions relate to
crimes actually connected to military service, such as desertion and
disobedience of direct orders. Cases
of human rights violations tried in the military courts are protected by
Commission understands that certain crimes truly relating to military
service may be tried in military tribunals with full respect for
judicial guarantees. Thus,
the Political Constitution of Colombia provides, in its Article 221,
that crimes committed by members of the armed forces "in active
service, and related to that service" will fall under the
jurisdiction of military tribunals" (emphasis added).
The Commission considers, however, that the majority of the
Superior Council of the Judiciary has interpreted excessively broadly
the notion of crimes committed in relation to military service.
on November 26, 1996, the Superior Council of the Judiciary transferred
to military jurisdiction the criminal proceeding carried out against
retired three-star general Farouk Yanine Diaz.
General Yanine is being investigated for alleged involvement in
the organization and support of paramilitary groups in the Middle
Magdalena region of Colombia in the 1980s.
The specific case transferred to military jurisdiction involved
the alleged forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution of 19
merchants in the Middle Magdalena region in October of 1987.
This case is currently being processed by the Commission.
decision dated September 23, 1996, the Superior Council also transferred
jurisdiction to the military courts in the case of Los Uvos, one of the
cases currently before the Commission in friendly settlement
proceedings. That case
involves the extrajudicial execution of 17 rural peasants, 15 of whom
travelled in a local bus and two who rode nearby on a motorcycle.
Several members of the military were allegedly involved in the
interpretations provided by the majority of the Superior Council
transferring cases such as these to the military tribunals appear to
contradict jurisprudence developed by the Supreme Court and
Constitutional Court of Colombia which establishes a more limited
jurisdiction for the military courts and which confirms the
applicability of the norms of the American Convention on Human Rights in
the domestic system.
Commission considers that the Superior Council should inform its
interpretation of the Constitution and the Military Penal Code with
reference to the decisions of the other high courts of Colombia and to
the jurisprudence of this Commission relating to the compatibility of
military jurisdictions with the American Convention. The current tendency of the Superior Council of the Judiciary
to transfer all cases involving armed forces personnel to military
jurisdiction seriously undermines the positive efforts currently being
carried out by other organs of the Colombian State to combat human
Executive Branch of Colombia has recently proposed reforms relating to
the military justice system. These
reforms include the creation of a military prosecutor to investigate and
accuse members of the armed forces and the removal of the military
tribunals from the chain of command.
The reforms would also allow an affected individual to take part
in military criminal proceedings as a civil party to the case, an
effective tool in ordinary criminal proceedings.
The President of Colombia reiterated his support for these
reforms in a recent speech to the diplomatic corps in Colombia.
The Commission also views these reforms favorably and encourages
their immediate adoption. They
would perhaps help to prevent impunity in military proceedings.
these reforms would not resolve the crucial problem which is presented
when cases of grave human rights violations committed with the alleged
involvement of members of the armed forces are tried in military
tribunals. The Commission
considers that, if there is no change in the trend of submitting human
rights cases to the military justice system, a reform of the Military
Penal Code should include clarifying language limiting the jurisdiction
of the military courts to those crimes truly committed in connection
with service and excluding human rights violations from that
"regional" justice system (previously "public order"
justice system) also continued to present human rights problems in 1996.
Cases involving narcotics trafficking, terrorism, subversion and
kidnapping are heard under this system.
The prosecutors who investigate these cases as well as the judges
who hear the cases remain anonymous.
The identity of witnesses is also often held in reserve, and
other elements of the right to a defense are severely limited.
Reforms of the system have provided that judges may no longer
base a conviction solely on the testimony of an anonymous witness and
that the identity of prosecutors shall be held in reserve only under
special circumstances. However, the Commission is of the opinion that the regional
justice system utilizes a structure which does not protect the due
process rights of the defendants brought before it and does not
guarantee access to justice. The
Commission has criticized "faceless" justice systems on
various occasions in the context of Colombia and other countries.
The President of Colombia has proposed that a careful analysis be
made of the regional justice system.
The Commission supports this effort and calls on President Samper
to take concrete steps in this regard.
Proposals for constitutional reform
1996, the President of Colombia and a group of Congressmen presented
several proposals for reform of the Constitution.
These proposed reforms actually constituted counter-reforms to
the advances made in the Constitution of 1991.
The reforms, which have mostly now been withdrawn, raised serious
questions about their compatibility with Colombia's obligations under
the American Convention and other human rights instruments.
reforms sought to prevent the Constitutional Court from reviewing
declarations of states of emergency and to eliminate the current time
constraints on such declarations. The
reforms also would have converted certain emergency measures into
permanent legislation, including a measure that would authorize the
military to investigate all crimes, including those involving civilians,
even in non-emergency situations. The
reforms also included a measure to legalize preventive detention without
a warrant for up to seven days.
addition, they sought to bar all civilian criminal and disciplinary
investigations of members of the armed forces.
This reform would have the result of prohibiting all
investigation of members of the military and police forces charged with
human rights violations by the Prosecutor General or by the Procurator
General ("Procurador General de la Nación").
The Commission views with particular concern this proposed
reasons already explained, almost all crimes committed by members of the
armed forces are tried in military courts, which have been found not to
be impartial and which have created a situation of impunity to protect
those servicemen. The
constitutional reforms would have prevented impartial civil
prosecutorial authorities from even investigating members of the
military and police.
the reforms would preclude disciplinary review of members of the armed
forces by civil authorities. Such
a change, in the context of the extensive jurisdiction of the military
justice system and the impunity which reigns in that system, would have
several problematic consequences. First,
civil disciplinary proceedings currently serve at times to fill in
partially the gap left by ineffective criminal proceedings.
Thus, at least some sanction is levied against members of the
armed forces who commit violations, even though that sanction is often
light in comparison to the abuse committed.
A prohibition of review by the Procurator General in cases
involving members of the armed forces would preclude use of this
the Office of the Procurator General currently plays the important role
of providing a form of civil review of the criminal proceedings carried
out in the military tribunals. The
Office of the Procurator General has jurisdiction to carry out
disciplinary investigations and punishment of military officials who
improperly conduct criminal proceedings.
This important civil review of actions taken by military
officials in the military justice system would cease to exist under the
Definition of forced disappearance as a crime
again failed to establish criminal penalties for the crime of forced
disappearance in 1996. This
failure to penalize the crime of forced disappearance of persons
contravenes the provisions of the Inter-American Convention on Forced
Disappearance of Persons, particularly Article IV.
The Convention on Forced Disappearances was signed but not yet
ratified by the Colombian Government.
The President of Colombia recently declared his support for the
approval of legislation which would typify the crime of forced
disappearance and for the ratification of the Inter-American Convention
to Prevent and Punish Torture. The
Commission urges the State to move forward with these efforts.
States of Emergency
was governed in 1996 under a state of emergency declared at the end of
October, 1995. Various exceptional measures were invoked, including the
denomination of certain areas of the country as "public order
zones." In those
areas, the invocation of special measures allowed military and police
authorities to restrict the rights of citizens to freedom of travel and
residence. Additionally, in
those zones, the armed forces were provided with authority to engage in
searches and arrests without judicial order.
The declaration of the state of emergency followed a trend in
Colombia which has resulted in the imposition of states of emergency for
36 of the past 44 years.
1995, the Constitutional Court had declared unconstitutional a previous
declaration of state of emergency issued in August of 1995.
However, the Court did not take similar action against the state
of emergency declared in October of 1996, instead declaring
unconstitutional only a limited number of specific measures.
detrimental effect on human rights caused by the special emergency
measures was demonstrated between July and September of 1996 in the
confrontation which took place between security forces and rural workers
who protested the fumigation of coca crops in the departments of
Guaviare, Caquetá, Putumayo and Norte de Santander.
According to information received by the Commission from
non-governmental organizations, the confrontations resulted in the
arbitrary detention of more than 400 persons, physical violence against
representatives of the press, the death of several persons and the
subordination of local mayors and other officials to the control of
military commanders in the area.
groups, which have been officially outlawed in Colombia since 1989,
continue to commit serious acts of violence against the civilian
population. As noted above,
approximately 50% of all politically-motivated killings are attributed
to these groups. The
Commission received information indicating that, in areas where the
paramilitary groups operate, such as in certain towns and areas in
Antioquia, they have committed extrajudicial executions and other
violence and have also placed restrictions on the movement and
activities of the civilian population.
the end of 1996, Colombian paramilitary groups held their "Third
National Summit of Autodefense Groups of Colombia."
The meeting was allegedly called by Carlos Castaño, a recognized
paramilitary leader. The
press and other groups were able to obtain the final report produced at
the event and have, in the past, obtained the reports of previous
the Third Summit, paramilitary leaders declared that they consider
family members and "sympathizers" of guerrillas to be valid
targets for intimidation and murder.
Considering that paramilitary groups have consistently targeted
human rights workers and community activists as guerrilla sympathizers,
it is likely that this declaration will serve as a death sentence for
the families of those engaged in political, human rights or labor union
Commission has received credible information from individuals and
organizations in the private and public sectors indicating that elements
of the Colombian armed forces support and collaborate with the
paramilitary groups in carrying out their abusive activities.
For example, in the case of Farouk Yanine Diaz, mentioned above,
the Prosecutor General's office found that sufficient evidence existed
to charge General Yanine Diaz with carrying out human rights violations
in coordination with paramilitary groups in the Middle Magdalena region.
The paramilitary groups also recognized and discussed, at the
Third National Summit, their cooperation with national security forces.
The Commission considers to be extremely important the
information indicating that state agents participate in the activities
of the paramilitaries. That
information will be carefully analyzed by the Commission.
has the Colombian State acted adequately to control the paramilitary
groups. A cloak of impunity
has almost completely protected those groups and the members of the
security forces allegedly involved with them.
The problems described in relation to the military justice system
and the excessively broad interpretation of the crimes which should be
heard in that system contribute to the problem.
failure of the Colombian Army to combat the paramilitaries has been
denounced by Colonel Carlos A. Velásquez.
Colonel Velásquez complained to the Army High Command on this
issue and, as a result, he was removed from service in November of 1996.
In January of 1997, he made public statements indicating that,
"in Urabá, there has been no fight to conquer the
Velásquez served as second commander of the XVII Brigade of the Army in
Urabá until he was removed from service.
Colombian military officials announced steps to combat the
paramilitaries. On December
10, 1996, then Minister of Defense, Juan Carlos Esguerra, offered a
reward for information leading to the capture of Carlos Castaño.
At the same time, army commander General Manuel José Bonett
announced that the Colombian army would go after the right-wing
paramilitary squads with the same vigor as drug traffickers and
Commission appreciates the statements of intent of the Colombian State
and will study with interest the actions to be taken against the
effectiveness of those actions will be analyzed by looking at the extent
to which the State takes effective measures to disband these groups.
In this regard, the investigation and sanction of the members and
organizers of the paramilitary groups will be of crucial importance.
this juncture, the Commission underlines several misgivings about the
new military plan in relation to the paramilitaries.
The anti-paramilitary activities announced by the military do not
recognize or target members of the Colombian armed forces who may be
involved in those activities. Also,
although the military plan of action offers a reward for the capture of
one known paramilitary leader, the Government has not announced any
effort to deal with other equally well-known paramilitary organizers,
such as Víctor Carranza.
Commission has also viewed with concern the development of Rural
Vigilance Cooperatives ("CONVIVIR").
Decree 0356 of 1994 established the CONVIVIR as groups of armed
private individuals which would support the armed forces of Colombia in
counterinsurgency intelligence and other activities.
The numbers and strength of the CONVIVIR are growing rapidly.
By the end of 1996, the number of such groups in existence, as
reported by the Government, had increased to 450.
The Commission is concerned that the activities and structure of
the CONVIVIR are not easily distinguishable from those of the outlawed
paramilitary groups which have been responsible for numerous human
rights violations. The Colombian Ombudsman has already expressed his office's
opposition to the CONVIVIR program, and Government officials have begun
to receive complaints about vigilante activities of the CONVIVIR.
activities of irregular armed groups
extremely difficult conditions caused by the various guerrilla movements
in Colombia continued in 1996. These
groups committed numerous violent acts, many of which constitute
violations of humanitarian law norms applicable to the internal armed
conflict in Colombia. These
acts included killings outside of armed conflict, kidnaping for ransom,
indiscriminate use of land mines and oil pipeline bombings. Guerrillas
often carried out extrajudicial executions and other abuses against
civilians on the grounds that their victims were either informants for
the military or collaborators of the paramilitary groups. The two
largest guerrilla groups, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia
("FARC") and the National Liberation Army ("ELN"),
commanded an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 guerrillas organized in various
human rights organizations attribute approximately 35% of political
killings to the guerrillas. According
to police reports, guerrillas also committed the majority of kidnappings
which occurred during the first three quarters of 1996.
The activities of the guerrilla also contribute to the poor human
rights situation in Colombia by creating a situation of armed conflict
in which the violation of human rights is more likely.
the Commission does not have the competence under the American
Convention to address individual cases alleging violations of rights
protected in the Convention which do not involve State responsibility,
the Commission has repeatedly condemned the abuses committed by the
guerrilla groups in Colombia. In
1996, the Commission expressed its concern in relation to several
specific occurrences involving actions by irregular armed groups in
August 30, 1996, FARC forces attacked an army outpost in Las Delicias in
the Department of Putumayo. The
guerrillas killed 29 soldiers and took 60 hostage.
On November 13, 1996, the Commission issued a press release
noting that it has frequently spoken out about personal liberty as a
basic freedom. The
Commission requested publicly "for humanitarian reasons that the
soldiers of the Colombian Army be set free safe and sound as quickly as
possible." To date,
the captured soldiers remained under guerrilla control.
Credible evidence has been brought forth to establish that they
are still alive.
Human rights violations committed against human rights workers,
activists, labor union activists
on human rights workers, political parties which serve as an alternative
to the traditional parties, local elected officials and labor unions
continued in 1996. As noted
above, Josúe Giraldo Cardona, a human rights activist, was killed in
October of 1996 despite the Commission's request that the Government
implement precautionary measures in his favor.
Pedro Julio Mahecha Avila, a human rights lawyer who represents
peasant families threatened by paramilitary groups in the Department of
Cesar, has been under surveillance by unidentified individuals who also
tried to locate members of his family.
Yanette Bautista, a human rights lawyer who has headed national
and regional organizations dedicated to combatting the phenomena of
forced disappearances, has announced that she is followed and watched by
Government agents and that she believes that she is in danger.
Army officers brought several slander suits against human rights
workers. General Bedoya,
now Commander of the Armed Forces, brought one such suit against Father
Javier Giraldo, the director of the Intercongregational Commission for
Justice and Peace ("Comisión Intercongregacional de Justicia y
Paz"), a human rights organization which has presented several
cases to this body. Non-governmental
organizations reported that, during the first 6 months of 1996, 14 labor
activists were murdered in connection with their labor activities.
information received by the Commission indicates that the mass killings
carried out against the Patriotic Union leftist political party
continue. The leadership of
that party estimates that, in 1996, a member of the party was killed
every two days. Pedro Malagón,
a congressman from the department of Meta and a member of the Patriotic
Union, was killed on June 20, 1996 in Villavicencio, Department of Meta.
Josúe Giraldo also belonged to the Patriotic Union political
Commission urges the Colombian Government to find and implement
effective means of protection for human rights workers and other
threatened groups. Traditionally,
the Government has provided two means of protection:
1) armed State agents who serve as escorts, and 2) the witness
protection program administered by the Prosecutor General's Office.
Both of these methods of protection present difficulties in many
cases. There often exist
indicia suggesting that members of the security forces of Colombia have
been involved in the situation creating the danger for the individual
who fears for his safety. The
individual therefore does not wish to accept an armed escort who serves
in those same security forces, particularly when the escort would be
provided from the local units of the security forces in the area where
the danger has arisen.
witness protection program, on the other hand, was conceived to protect
defectors from criminal organizations who agree to cooperate with
criminal proceedings and who fear reprisals from their criminal
colleagues. The program
therefore does not meet the specific needs of human rights workers and
political activists who face a different type of danger.
In addition, it requires that the protected person abandon his
work and community. Such
displacement entails unacceptable additional suffering for persons who
are under threat. It also
allows those who create the situation of danger, in an effort to
eliminate human rights activists and/or political opposition, to
succeed. The goal of
forcing the threatened persons out of the community is achieved.
Commission considers positive the creation of a new program for the
protection of human rights workers in the Ministry of the Interior.
The Colombian Congress legislated this protection program
pursuant to Law 199 of 1995, but it has not yet been implemented.
In his speech before the diplomatic corps on February 14, 1997,
the President of Colombia announced his commitment to the implementation
of this program. The
Commission encourages President Samper to take the steps that are
necessary to put this program into effect as soon as possible.
Commission considers that several other steps may be taken to create a
safer situation for human rights workers, alternative political parties
and other similar groups. Article
189(3) of the Constitution of Colombia provides the President of
Colombia with the discretionary authority to remove members of the armed
forces from service even where those officials have not been the subject
of a criminal or disciplinary sanction.
The Government used this authority, for example, to remove
Colonel Carlos Alfonso Velásquez from service after he denounced the
omissions of the Army in the fight against the paramilitaries.
Commission suggests that, where there exists a situation of danger for
human rights workers and where there exist indicia of involvement of
certain members of the security forces in threatening those workers or
in committing previous violations committed against human rights
workers, the President should exercise his authority to suspend such
persons pending final disciplinary or criminal proceedings against them.
In this way, the Government will reduce the danger to those
persons who are imminently at risk and will send a message indicating
that future violations will be punished. This message will, in turn, create a situation which will
involve a lower degree of risk for those who seek to carry out human
rights or other similar work. The
Commission calls on President Samper to take prompt and decisive action
in this regard.
serious and effective investigation and sanction of attacks on human
rights workers also provides an important method of protection.
The Inter-American Court has recognized this fact in several of
its recent decisions adopting provisional measures, in which it has
specifically ordered governments to initiate an investigation as a means
Internal forced displacement
October of 1996, the Office of the President's Adviser for Human Rights
("Consejería Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos")
reported that 750,000 persons are displaced in Colombia.
The Presidential Adviser's Office also estimated that 195 persons
per day must leave their homes because of the violence.
The President has recently mentioned a total figure of 650,000
displaced persons. The
numbers of displaced persons per year increased during both 1995 and
organizations have provided information indicating that, after
displacement, 11% remain unemployed and 22.5% become workers in the
informal sector. Before
displacement, 88% of persons live in owned or rented homes.
Afterwards, over 52% live in shacks in slums surrounding large or
groups appear to have caused the largest forced displacements during
1996. The displacement of
persons is also caused by the activities of the guerrilla and narcotics
trafficking organizations as well as by gross violations of human
well-known case of forcible displacement which took place in 1996 was
committed by a paramilitary group against the peasants living on the
grounds of the Bellacruz ranch in the Department of Cesar.
The peasants occupying Bellacruz ranch believe that they were
legally occupying the lands based on the finding of a Government agency
which declared the land to be government-owned.
February 13, 1996, a paramilitary group ordered the 450 families living
on the grounds of the Bellacruz ranch to leave within five days.
During the following days, the same group attacked the peasants,
beating them and ransacking and burning their homes.
As a result, 280 families left Bellacruz.
In April, the displaced peasants returned to Pelaya, the nearest
town to Bellacruz. In April
and May, several residents of the area were killed, including a peasant
leader from Bellacruz. The
situation of the displaced peasants still has not been resolved.
Arrest warrants issued by the Office of the Prosecutor General
against those responsible for the violent displacement have not been
the Department of Guaviare, approximately 30,000 people abandoned their
homes during July and August as a result of the anti-narcotics
fumigation policies and resulting violence and arrests described above.
Approximately 5,000 of these persons never returned to their
September 1995, the Government made public a document containing legal
directives for the execution of the National Program for Comprehensive
Attention to the Population Displaced by Violence ("Programa
Nacional de Atención Integral a la Población Desplazada por la
of this program began in January of 1996.
As of November of 1996, over 3,000 individuals had been helped
through the program. However,
the Commission has received information indicating that the displaced
persons program has not received adequate government financial and
Commission considers that the forced displacement of persons involves an
entire set of human rights protected in the American Convention.
The Commission urges the Government of Colombia to take measures
to prevent, where possible, the involuntary internal displacement of
persons, particularly where such displacement is caused by the actions
of State agents. The
Commission also stresses the importance which it places on the
development and implementation of an effective program to protect and
assist those who have been so displaced.
Government of Colombia has been willing to receive and has been
supportive of visits from experts in the field of displaced persons.
Over the last several years, the Government of Colombia accepted
a visit by Francis M. Deng, Representative of the Secretary General of
the United Nations for Displaced Persons, and several visits by the
Permanent Consultative Body for Displaced Persons in the Americas, a
panel sponsored by the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights.
These experts have formulated recommendations to the Government
of Colombia on the issue of internally displaced persons.
The Commission expresses its hope that the Government, as well as
the experts, will provide follow-up on those recommendations.
persons suffered many of the violations committed against local elected
officials, human rights workers, community activists, and others.
In general, indigenous communities suffered from the violence
which took place in Colombia in 1996.
In May and June of 1996, several leaders and members of the Zenú
indigenous community in Córdoba were killed and other leaders received
threats. The seriousness of
the situation led the Commission to formally request the Government of
Colombia to adopt precautionary measures on June 18, 1996.
Government forces often treated members of the indigenous
population as sympathizers with the guerrilla forces, resulting in
aggressions against indigenous persons.
At the same time, indigenous persons are also often attacked by
members of the guerrilla movement.
1991 Constitution provides special protection for the fundamental rights
of the indigenous people. The Constitution thus recognizes the multiethnic and
pluricultural character of Colombian society and recognizes control of
the indigenous populations over their territories.
It also provides for special criminal and civil jurisdiction,
based upon traditional community laws, within indigenous territories.
Despite the important advances made in the Constitution, not all
of these protections have been fully implemented through laws and
regulations and not all government officials have sufficient
understanding of the rights which must be observed and protected in
relation to the indigenous populations.
Colombian State has recently taken several important steps to protect
the indigenous populations. In
June of 1996, the Government issued two decrees creating a human rights
commission for indigenous communities and a permanent board for
coordination with the indigenous communities.
These two bodies will be responsible for developing and
recommending general State policy regarding the indigenous population
and for providing input and guidance in relation to the resolution of
land disputes involving indigenous populations. The decrees establish a special role for the Commission to
participate in these activities as an observer. The Commission has accepted this invitation with pleasure and
will serve actively as observer in the two commissions within the limits
of its competence.
Constitutional Court of Colombia also recently issued an important
decision reinforcing the rights of the indigenous populations in
Colombia. The Court invoked
a provision in the 1991 Constitution of Colombia to require consultation
with the U'wa indigenous community before geological surveys could be
carried out by Occidental Petroleum on indigenous territory.
population of Colombia includes a sizeable proportion of persons of
African heritage who live primarily in the Pacific Departments of Chocó,
Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño and along the Caribbean coast and the
Magdalena and Cauca river valleys.
These groups have suffered from political and economic
marginalization. In 1993,
the Colombian Congress approved Law 70, which recognized the ethnic
rights of Afro-Colombians. However,
little progress has been made to expand public services and economic
development in the Chocó and in other predominantly black regions.
Unemployment among Afro-Colombians reaches 76% in some areas.
the efforts of the Colombian State to prevent and address human rights
violations during 1996, the human rights situation in Colombia continued
to be extremely serious. The
sheer number of human rights abuses and other violent acts committed
demonstrates the gravity of the problem.
Human rights workers and indigenous communities suffered from
extreme violence in 1996, and the forced internal displacement crisis
continued. The increase in
violations committed by the paramilitaries also constituted a serious
human rights problem, particularly since these groups are widely seen
within Colombia and internationally as enjoying the support and/or
participation of members of the armed forces.
At the same time, the irregular armed groups acting in Colombia
continued to step up activities and abuses of international humanitarian
law. The actions of these
groups were an important cause of internal displacement.
bodies of the Colombian State did not always react adequately and
appropriately in these circumstances.
The problems of impunity and denial of justice generally and the
excessive use of the military justice system specifically were important
components of the negative human rights situation in 1996.
The reaction of the President and Congress to the difficult
situation -- declaring a state of emergency and proposing constitutional
reforms -- presented additional human rights issues.
Commission fully comprehends that Colombia faces extremely difficult
circumstances at this time and that the State of Colombia is not
directly responsible for all of the harm caused to its citizens.
However, the State of Colombia is responsible for human rights
abuses committed by its agents using their position of authority, even
when those agents act outside the sphere of their authority or violate
internal law, as well as for comparable acts committed by private
persons which are tolerated or acquiesced in by the State.
The Commission also notes that the State may also incur
international responsibility for the illicit acts of private individuals
or groups when the State fails to adopt the necessary measures to
prevent the acts and/or where it fails to properly investigate and
sanction those responsible for committing the acts and to provide
adequate compensation to the victims.
Commission has noted that many of the civil institutions in Colombia are
working with dedication to prevent and to follow up on human rights
violations committed against the citizens of Colombia.
The Commission fully supports the efforts of these institutions
as they seek to better the human rights situation in the country.
The Commission will be observing the efforts made in this area
under the guidance of several recent important Government appointments,
including a new Minister of Defense, a new Procurator General and a new
Commission expresses again its appreciation for the cooperation of the
State of Colombia in allowing an in loco visit of the Commission
to Colombia to take place. The
Commission will seek to use that visit and all other means available to
extend the cooperation between the Commission and the Government and
people of Colombia for the purpose of advancing the promotion and
protection of human rights in Colombia.
Colombian State should take all appropriate measures to ensure that the
right to life and other fundamental guarantees of all of its citizens
are respected. The State should take actions to prevent its agents from
committing abuses and should provide for training of its agents in the
proper observance of the norms relating to human rights and humanitarian
law. In addition, the
Commission calls on the State to combat, dismantle and disarm all
paramilitary and other proscribed self-defense groups.
Finally, the State should investigate and sanction all persons
responsible for committing violations of rights.
combat impunity, full support should be provided for civil disciplinary
and prosecutorial institutions in Colombia and for the Ombudsman.
Because the Unit for Human Rights of the Prosecutor General's
Office has been able to carry out effective work, it should receive
special support. The Colombian State should also act to ensure that cases of
human rights violations are not tried in the military justice system.
regional justice system in Colombia should be modified or eliminated to
extinguish incompatibilities with the Convention which arise from the
lack of judicial guarantees and the "faceless" justice system.
Instead of the continuing emphasis on the regional justice
system, the ordinary criminal justice system should be strengthened to
allow it to handle crimes of every nature.
Colombian State should ensure that individuals on whose behalf
precautionary measures or provisional measures have been issued by the
Commission and the Court, respectively, are protected in all
circumstances. In general,
the legitimate activities of human rights workers, alternative political
parties, elected officials, labor union leaders and other similar
persons must be protected. The
Commission specifically recommends that the program being developed in
the Department of the Interior for the protection of human rights
workers be fully implemented as soon as possible.
The Commission further recommends that the Government suspend
from service those members of the armed forces against whom there exist
indicia of responsibility in the persecution of human rights workers,
even where full criminal or disciplinary proceedings have not yet
violations committed against human rights workers, political activists
and other similar persons should be investigated rapidly and
constitutional reform which is contemplated should seek to retain and
consolidate the progress made in the Constitution of 1991 in the area of
human rights and should seek to avoid incompatibility with international
instruments relating to human rights, such as the American Convention.
should be passed penalizing the crime of forced disappearance.
should be taken to prevent, to the extent possible, the forced
displacement of persons and an effective program for protecting and
assisting persons who are displaced should be developed.
Commission considers to be very positive the adoption of Law 288 by the
State of Colombia, allowing for the pecuniary compensation of victims of
human rights violations where international bodies, including the
Commission, have recommended that such indemnization be paid.
Colombia should expand upon the legal regime established by Law
288 by creating effective mechanisms for ensuring compliance with all
recommendations of the Commission and other international human rights
bodies, not only those which recommend financial compensation.