HOW THE ACTIVITIES OF IRREGULAR ARMED GROUPS AFFECT
HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
When it met in regular session in Chile in 1991 and The Bahamas
in 1992, the OAS General Assembly passed resolutions recommending that
when reporting on the human rights situation in the member states of
the inter-American system the Commission should also make reference
to how the activities of irregular armed groups affect human rights.
Therefore this report, like earlier reports on other countries,
recounts the activities of such groups in Colombia and describes how
the magnitude and severity of the activities of such groups have
impaired the exercise of human rights in that country.
FOR THE PRESENTATION OF THIS SUBJECT
The Commission has often made observations on the kind of
violent scenario in which human rights abuses occur, on terrorism and,
in particular, on how the activities of irregular armed groups affect
the observance of human rights in the countries of the inter-American
system. In a number of
its reports, the Commission has discussed these problems.
The Commission raised this problem with the General Assembly of
the OAS in its Annual Report for 1990-1991, citing by way of example
the fact that in its reports on the situation of human rights in El
Salvador (1978), Argentina (1980), Colombia (1981), Guatemala (1981
and 1983), on the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua (1983) and in the
updates to these reports, reference was made to the violence in the
country in question and the activities of armed irregular groups were
Particular reference should be made to the Commission's
discussion of these issues and of terrorism in the aforementioned report
on the human rights situation in Argentina, which was the result of its
on-site visit there in 1979. In
its 1990-1991 report to the General Assembly of the OAS, the Commission
discussed this problem at length in an effort to establish the
parameters within which it must operate.
One particularly important precedent was in 1970, when the
Commission decided to include the following topic within its general
work program: Political and
ideologically motivated terrorism as a source of human rights
violations. In effect, on April 16, 1970, during its 23rd session, the
Commission approved resolution OEA/Ser.L/V/II.23, doc.19 rev. 1, whereby
it condemned terrorist and guerrilla activities as follows:
"THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, CONSIDERING;
That its duty is to defend human rights in the member states of
the OAS, devoting particular attention to the observance of the rights
mentioned in articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 18, 25 and 26 of the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties on Man and to make recommendations
to the governments, in order to make the observance of those rights more
effective; that repeated violations of human rights have occurred in the
American hemisphere, under the label of political terrorism or urban or
rural guerrilla activities,
To condemn acts of political terrorism and urban or rural
guerrilla terrorism, as they cause serious violations of the rights to
life, personal security and physical freedom, freedom of thought,
opinion and expression, and the right to protection, upheld in the
American Declaration and in other international instruments.
II. To declare that
the political or ideological objectives cited as the reason for such
acts do not alter the fact that they are serious violations of human
rights and fundamental freedoms, nor does it exonerate the authors of
such acts of their responsibility for the commission of those
To include the topic `Political and ideological terrorism as a
cause of human rights violations' on the Commission's general work
program, so that the internal measures and international cooperation
warranted by the seriousness of the problem may be studied.
IV. To transmit the text of this resolution to the General
Assembly of the Organization at its
next regular session."
Another much more recent precedent of a not infrequent practice
in the Commission's day-to-day business is the note wherein the
Executive Secretary of the Commission, as a matter of routine business,
conveyed the Commission's condemnation of a terrorist act that occurred
amid the violence in a member country of the Organization.
The note reads as follows:
June 15, 1989
Ambassador Mauricio Granillo Barrera
Permanent Representative of El Salvador
to the Organization
of American States
I have the honor to respond to your communication of June 9 of
this year, where on behalf of the Government of El Salvador, Your
Excellency informs this Commission of the assassination of Dr. José
Antonio Rodríguez Porth, Minister of the Office of the President, in an
attack that also claimed the lives of two members of his security guard
and, as Your Excellency reports, was perpetrated by urban commandos of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.
I agree with Your Excellency that this terrorist act violates the
most elementary right, which is the right to life, and that it was a
cowardly, premeditated and cold-blooded act.
The facts to which your communication refers will be brought to
the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The foregoing notwithstanding, I am in a position to inform you
that the Commission, like Your Excellency's Government, vigorously
condemns this act of terrorism and that it has taken note of the
Salvadoran Government's determination to bring these terrorists to
justice and apply to them the full force of the law.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest
Edmundo Vargas Carreño
As an international organization, the IACHR is subject to certain
customary limitations whereby it is to confine itself to monitoring the
observance of international human rights laws by States of the
Organization of American States. Nevertheless,
on its own and without overstepping its authority, it has also discussed
how the activities of irregular armed groups help create the scenario of
violence and affect the exercise of human rights.
It has also expressly condemned such activities.
While this report also discusses the Colombian Government's
compliance or failure to comply with its obligations in the area of
human rights, this chapter is devoted to examining how the atrocities
committed by irregular armed groups in Colombia that work for drug
cartels, the guerrilla groups still at arms and paramilitary bands are
detrimental to the exercise of the most important human rights, in
particular the right to life, the right to humane treatment and personal
security, the right to personal liberty and the right to a fair trial.
The systematic destruction of the country's basic infrastructure
is an outrageous violation of the economic and social rights of
Equally abhorrent are the kidnappings, torture and murders
committed day after day in Colombia, as acts of revenge or reprisal.
Generally, these are committed by hired killers.
The reprehensible murders committed every day in Colombia,
allegedly as a form of social cleansing and attributed to paramilitary
groups, are also violations of human rights and constitute an affront to
the conscience of mankind. Even
though this is widespread violence, growing in alarming proportions, the
Commission has never discussed it because it regards kidnapping, assault
and assassination as common crimes.
Since the Commission's reports are of particular interest to the
average citizen and the relatives of the victims, who as a rule are not
experts in international law, there is one point that needs to be
clarified: the expression human rights, as used by the Commission, does
not always have the same meaning it has in common parlance.
In colloquial jargon, human rights would be any crime committed
against an individual because one cannot conceive of rights that are not
human. But this is not the
definition used by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an
international organization created by the American States.
For the Commission, the concept of human rights is much narrower,
and are specifically those enumerated and defined in the American
Declaration and in the American Convention on Human Rights.
The provisions of those two instruments only classify as human
rights violations those acts that are the exclusive responsibility, be
it direct or indirect, of the member states of the inter-American system
and do not give the Commission competence to take cognizance of,
investigate or condemn any other acts.
These limitations and functions of the Commission mirror what was
then the current thinking in international law.
But international law is in constant evolution.
Therefore, on its own initiative and without neglecting its most
paramount duty, i.e., to be the watchdog of, defend and protect the
human rights of citizens against abusive conduct by States, the
Commission has been determined to move forward, operating within the
framework of these constraints. It
believes that the General Assembly resolutions mentioned earlier
support, recognize and encourage its work.
FOR THE PRESENT CHAPTER
When preparing this chapter the Commission relied on news reports
put out by foreign and national news agencies; reports supplied by the
government and by nongovernmental human rights organizations, and even
certain petitions from individuals or associations of individuals
directly affected by the activities of such groups.
Some of those petitions are based on the fact that their claims
and cases were mishandled or neglected by the Colombian domestic courts;
invoking the principle of a State's international responsibility, those
petitions accuse the State of failing to comply with its obligation to
afford them proper protection and to defend their human rights from the
brutal, relentless attacks of which they are victims.
They blame the State and hold it accountable, mainly for
negligence and for not bringing to trial and punishing the authors of
these actions. Many of
those authors, according to the petitioners, have been indiscriminately
and improperly exempted from any form of trial or punishment and have
been relieved of their obligation to pay their debt for their direct or
indirect participation in atrocious crimes against humanity. This was done by enacting amnesty laws whose legality and
fairness are challenged to the extent that they impair and deny the
petitioners their rights.
WAYS THAT THE ACTIVITIES OF IRREGULAR ARMED
GROUPS AFFECT THE EXERCISE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
International standards of human rights, as contained in
international treaties and conventions, are violated by the activities
of irregular armed groups by the following:
the population's exercise of its human rights by forcing the Colombian
Government, in response, to exercise clause 27 of the American
Convention on Human Rights, which authorizes states parties like
Colombia to establish temporary states of emergency and to suspend
exercise of some of those rights and guarantees because of the serious
danger and national emergency created by the activities of these
irregular armed groups;
by their activities, reactions from the Armed Forces or their agents;
because of involuntary zeal or because of uncontrolled use of force or
State terrorism to fight the terrorism of armed irregular groups, these
reactions can generate human rights violations for which the Colombian
State is responsible;
by their actions, reactions from economically productive individuals and
institutions; when the public authorities are unable to afford them
adequate protection, these individuals and institutions have organized
to defend themselves on their own, creating self-defense units (private
armies); or they have
entrusted their protection to security organizations.
The underlying principle is to combat violence with violence.
Some of these groups have ultimately become uncontrolled
paramilitary groups that, in some cases, work in league with members of
the military forces; in others cases they work with drug trafficking
organizations. But in the
process, they commit atrocities, sometimes acting on their own or even
with official support.
The international responsibility of the State for what happens to
individuals within its territory is a creation of modern public
international law, since originally States, under the principle of
sovereignty, did not recognize any type of international accountability
of this nature. Today, the international responsibility of a State for
violations of human rights of individuals living within its
territory--be they nationals or aliens--is recognized in a number of
international declarations and treaties on the subject, binding upon any
When examining the issue of state responsibility for human rights
violations, there are many and sometimes conflicting criteria for
assessing that responsibility. In
countries where agents of public forces have committed serious, massive
violations of human rights, some government spokesmen contend that the
State is not responsible; that such stories are the product of
international misinformation campaigns calculated to discredit the
government. The only
violations they acknowledge are those attributed to "terrorist
subversives". In cases
where it is impossible to hide the fact that the violations were the
work of public forces, they attempt to justify them by arguing that
these violations occurred amid an armed confrontation; that it is a
question of legitimate self defense or that it was a fortuitous
circumstance triggered by some form of aggression.
Still others argue that terrorists do not have human rights
because they do not respect the human rights of others; that they must
be eliminated wherever they are and that this is not a violation of
human rights. None of these
typical responses, cited here as examples of what the Commission has
heard over and over again, is true of the Colombian Government.
A state may be responsible for a human rights violation committed
within its territory in very different ways.
Based on the principle of objective responsibility, States are
responsible for any human rights abuse or violation committed by its
agents or by its public institutions, just as the owner of an automobile
would be responsible for the damages or injuries caused by that vehicle,
even though someone else may be at the wheel.
Therefore, States are responsible for the direct acts of their
agents, even when those actions are not performed on orders from a
superior or with the knowledge of that superior.
Naturally, that responsibility is all the more serious when the
violations or abuses are committed on orders from a superior, even when
the author of the violation exceeds his orders.
More serious still are violations that are the result of an
official, systematic policy of human rights violations steered and
directed from the highest levels of government, which is not the case
Although the State is not answerable for all human conduct, it is
responsible when in emergency situations it puts its agents in special
situations where there is a real possibility they will overstep their
authority. The risk that the State runs increases even more when in
times of war it trains its soldiers especially to react with extreme
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE FOR THE ACTIONS OF IRREGULAR
Apart from the responsibility that the State bears for actions
committed directly by its agents, there is also the State's
international responsibility for the actions of irregular armed groups,
although there is no single criterion to establish the type and degree
of that State responsibility. Here again it is objective responsibility vis-à-vis the
terrorist phenomenon. This
responsibility is in respect of all its inhabitants, whether national or
foreign, under the laws and jurisprudence governing aggravating
circumstances such as improvidence, negligence, criminal complicity,
impunity, etc., and by the mitigating circumstances of "necessary
diligence", unforeseeability, the surprise factor, a lack of
proportion that could not have been anticipated, etc.
These circumstances also need to be weighed in each case:
terrorist crime has some peculiar characteristics; it often
involves unthinkably ferocious and barbaric methods.
In still other cases, the responsibility may be mitigated
somewhat by such factors as the victim's own shared responsibility, when
that victim has, either voluntarily or involuntarily, provoked the
As a report supplied by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on
Human Rights on this subject puts it, the State of Colombia is obliged
to protect residents in the country from violations of their rights by
criminals, regardless of the motive for the crime and regardless of
whether it is the work of armed groups or individuals.
To provide that protection, the State organs that prevent and
punish crime and the State's law enforcement agencies must be
functioning properly. This obligation is recognized in the new Constitution.
Several court rulings have elaborated upon it.
For example, the Council of State has ruled that victims of the
actions of State agencies and the victims of guerrilla warfare, drug
trafficking or criminal activities are entitled to receive compensatory
damages, provided it is reasonably established that the government did
not provide the victim with proper attention (and without requiring, for
example, that any threats to the victim be reported to the State and
even if the victim had mechanisms available to protect himself), was
negligent in its actions or failed in some way to perform its
fundamental obligations. This
responsibility exists regardless of whether it can be shown that either
there was intent on the part of the State or its
agents to harm the individual, that its officials were somehow to
blame, or that they can be identified.
The responsibility is established within a real context that
considers the availability of State resources to compensate for the
actions of the criminal groups directly responsible for the acts.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA ARE AFFECTED BY THE ACTIVITIES OF GUERRILLA
For some years now, Colombia's civilian population has been the
victim of indiscriminate, constant criminal aggression by Colombian
guerrillas. The latter have
claimed thousands and thousands of innocent victims nationwide: in
streets, city squares, shopping centers, churches, buses, high schools,
hospitals, etc. But this
brand of indiscriminate, irresponsible violence that can claim anyone as
its victim, is compounded by the selective, targeted actions of
guerrilla groups. They kill political leaders of the traditional parties; local
authorities such as mayors, governors, etc.; honorable but defenseless
magistrates; journalists who will not be silenced by fear; humble
peasants merely suspected of collaborating with the Army or who refuse
to give tribute, food or lodging to guerrillas, to join their ranks or
to allow their sons and daughters to join the armed struggle.
They even kill those who refuse to continue to be part of the
armed struggle and former guerrillas.
For example, members of the EPL have been executed by the
"Caraballo", an EPL dissident faction, or by other groups
trying to prevent the EPL's political legitimization.
The guerrilla movement has claimed that some of these incidents
have been "mistakes", as in the case of the seven children who
were killed in Algeciras, Huila, in September 1990, while in the company
Between 1989 and 1992, the period to which this report refers,
Colombian guerrillas stepped up their activities calculated to
intimidate the civilian population.
Summary executions or even executions of members of the group as
punishment for having availed themselves of the amnesties increased.
The terrorist acts and threats against civilians have mainly been
designed to achieve a political effect, while their kidnapping and
extortion are a means to raise funds to bankroll their subversive
Another method used has been to use the civilian population as
a hostage in combat situations.
This happened in at least two recent attacks on municipal
authorities in 1991 (Charta, Santander and Morales, Bolivar) where
guerrillas kidnapped the families of policemen and took them to the main
square, threatening to kill them as a means to pressure the police into
surrendering, which is what happened.
As for the threats, extortion, kidnapping and summary executions
when one refuses to pay ransom, in Colombia the practice whereby private
citizens or small, medium or large businesses are required to pay sums
periodically is called "vacuna" [vaccination] and is
used by the guerrilla movement and openly and expressly defended by it.
In exchange for those payments, the guerrilla group offers
various forms of "security", even taking action against cattle
rustlers and other types of common criminals.
Many of the murders of peasants where neither author nor motives
can be established and are reported as political murders, are in fact
executions of persons of this type.
Colombian investigatory agencies calculate that in 1991 the FARC
collected close to 6 billion pesos from payments of this kind, not
including the sums collected for coca crops.
Extortion in the gold mines is estimated to be in excess of 8
billion pesos. Research
agencies estimate the "gramaje" charge for coca crops, a
charge similar to the "vacuna" along with a percentage of the
profits of coca processing and shipment, at between 20 and 25 billion
pesos. Estimates are that
in 1991 the two main guerrilla movements received at least 80 billion
from kidnappings, extortion, bank robberies and other illegal
The same government source reports that kidnapping as practiced
by the guerrilla groups is very political (hostage taking to negotiate
to have reports and communiques made public, the abduction and holding
of police agents and soldiers, the abduction of political and social
leaders to negotiate the State decisions that they want or to encourage
concessions in the negotiations) or other forms of extortion whose
primary goal is to get the victims to pay large sums of money. Although
used sporadically by the guerrilla movement since 1964, kidnapping has
increased alarmingly in recent years, especially kidnapping for ransom.
Although initially a guerrilla group will disclaim any
responsibility for the kidnapping, it will later acknowledge that it was
the author, or in the process of negotiating for the victim's release,
relatives will obtain unmistakable evidence of the fact that guerrilla
groups are responsible.
The principal victims of extortive
kidnapping are large- and medium-size rural landowners, urban
businessmen and foreign executives with the large oil companies. It has taken a serious toll on economic and rural activity;
rural employment is down dramatically as more and more people from rural
sectors move to the cities, swelling urban neighborhoods with migrants
and displaced persons. In
what would be properly classified as violations of humanitarian law, one
might cite the multiple cases of executions of soldiers and policemen.
In some cases, the guerrilla movements have executed soldiers and
agents off the field of combat; these acts are accompanied by torture or
cruelty calculated to make the people or the agents afraid. Agent Luis Alfonso Mape had his hands amputated and was then
executed in the presence of the family.
The director of the Tolima Anti-narcotic Police was murdered in
1991 after being captured as he was making arrangements to have a poppy
As for which weapons take the largest toll among the civilian
population, the guerrillas continue to rely more and more on mines and
"caza-bobos" bombs. While
this is especially true in the Department of Santander in general, the
municipality of El Carmen has been hardest hit.
Its peasant population is accused of supporting paramilitary
groups. More than 30 people
have been injured as a result of this strategy.
In some incidents, civilians have been the victims of bombs
planted in public facilities or intended to destroy vehicles in which
members of the armed forces and civilians were traveling.
H. WAYS IN
WHICH THE ACTIVITIES OF VIGILANTE GROUPS HAVE
AFFECTED THE EXERCISE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
Between 1985 and 1989, dozens of vigilante groups were formed.
Called paramilitaries, they worked for drug traffickers and for
large rural landowners in guerrilla-embattled areas.
At the same time, a few "self-defense" groups were
formed in accordance with the laws allowing the establishment of such
groups. These were
gradually assimilated into the vigilante groups, which terrorized the
civilian population, executed alleged sympathizers and agents of the
guerrilla movement, and settled private scores as well.
Although the self-defense groups were formed in accordance with
the law, there was evidence that members of the public force had either
supported or tolerated unlawful and violent acts committed by these
groups, even after 1989 when self-defense groups became illegal.
As recently as 1992, two army officers were retired because they
were suspected of supporting self-defense groups.
Although the groups blamed for the large massacres in 1988 and
1989 are not nearly as active today, they are still responsible for
assassinations and other criminal acts in certain areas of the country.
Apart from the massacres and murders in rural areas, these groups
have been particularly virulent against members of the judiciary and
other agents of the State.
OF THE GUERRILLA WAR IN COLOMBIA
At its 84th session, the Commission discussed the predicament of
the victims of the guerrilla war in Colombia and the problems with which
the National Committee of Victims of the Guerrilla War (Comité Nacional
de Víctimas de la Guerrilla - VIDA) is contending.
This nongovernmental group presented the Commission with an
updated report on this dramatic problem.
Some of that report is summarized below:
One among many such episodes happened near Florián in the
department of Santander on May 20, 1993.
Guerrillas from FARC's 11th Front stopped a truck driven by Mr.
Rodrigo Piraquive Triviño, a civilian driver in the employ of Sucre
Battalion. Though the
victim was utterly defenseless, they tortured him by taking out his
eyes, cutting off his tongue and ears and castrating him.
His wife and three small children have been left without any
means of support.
Guerrillas with the EPL and FARC's 35th Front abducted an elderly
priest, Father Javier Cirujano Arjona, the parish priest in San Jacinto
in the department of Bolivar. Because
he disapproved of the extortion and terror tactics that the subversives
use against the civilian population, he was abducted and brutally
murdered. When his body was
found, he had been castrated and had been beaten on the head.
His left leg had been cut with a machete.
There were other signs of torture, such as burns and bruises.
The public was outraged by this crime.
The fate of this martyr of the church also befell the Bishop of
the department of Arauca, Monsignor Jesús Emilio Jaramillo, who had
energetically condemned the guerrilla attacks on oil pipelines.
He was tortured and murdered in October 1989.
ELN guerrillas publicly claimed responsibility for the crime.
Another recent episode that left the public shaken was the murder
of soldiers Abaunza Hernández and Benedo Avendaño Díaz on April 29,
1993, in the town of Nazareth in the department of Cundinamarca.
They had been wounded in a guerrilla ambush and were being rushed
to the hospital in a Red Cross ambulance.
The ambulance was attacked by members of the "Juan de la
Cruz Varela" and "Jaime Pardo Leal" subversive fronts.
With the soldiers defenseless, unarmed and wounded, the
guerrillas dynamited the ambulance.
While the soldiers were still alive, the guerrillas disconnected
them from the surgical equipment, took them out of the ambulance and
shot them outright, in violation of every principle of the humanitarian
law that they demand the Army observe vis-a-vis them.
Later, two of many assassinations that occurred in the suburbs of
that municipality were those of Conservative Party leader don Florio
Alvarez and of the liberal councilmen don Benigno Briñez, on June 21,
1993. Then there are the
civilians who have been killed by the guerrillas, as the deceased leader
don Eduardo Romero reported. Guerrilla
terrorism has reached such an extreme that in the department of Cesar
terrorist harassment triggered a massive exodus in Curumani on August 4,
1993, that threatened to leave the town completely abandoned.
Compounding this are the scandalous figures on extortive
kidnappings. There were
nearly 3,000 in the past year: 80%
were the work of subversives and 20% were the work of common criminals.
This inflicted a terrible toll on society, not to speak of the
dampening effect it had on investment.
Nothing has come from all our efforts to put together a state
program to help the immediate victims of the guerrilla war.
This sector of Colombian society, consisting of some 500,000
people, remains completely abandoned, left alone to deal with their
psychological trauma and without any humanitarian assistance.
Contrary to Article 13 of the Constitution and even the most
elementary standards of humanitarianism, the State has failed to mount
any plan for social and economic rehabilitation of the dozens of young
people who have lost legs or arms to mines planted by subversives in the
fields of the Colombian countryside.
After so many years of violence, the number of human rights
violations committed by the guerrillas in Colombia continues to be
ignored. Today, the
subversive movement pursues a purely financial objective,
indiscriminately and mechanically annihilating anything and anyone who
is not with it. Using
Vietnamese tactics and others like those used against the people of
Afghanistan, it plants explosives where it chooses, explosives that end
up taking innocent lives. In
Orito, in the department of Putumayo, this criminal practice claimed the
lives of small children were killed on August 12, 1993.
In the last three years, the Guerrilla Steering Group has
dynamited oil pipelines 445 times. The country has lost millions as a result; enormous
ecological damage has been done, since the petroleum spills contaminate
streams, water sources and rivers; once arable land becomes sterile and
millions of species of plants and animals die.
The immediate result is that thousands of farm families living in
contaminated areas are ruined because of the irreversible damage done to
In this three-year period, the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering
Group has carried out 1,352 acts of indiscriminate terrorism and has
killed 1,560 civilians. These
are the reported murders; the figure should be increased by at least 80%
since many crimes are reported as "common crimes" because
relatives are afraid and do not believe the authors will ever be
The Government pays so little heed to these matters that there
are no statistics on the number of civilians wounded, tortured or
mutilated by guerrillas, which is just further proof of how the victims
of subversion have been abandoned.
Given the serious problems with which the victims of the
guerrilla war in Colombia must contend, some of which are described in
the VIDA report, the Commission has asked the Colombian Government for a
report on the measures it is taking to protect and assist the victims of
the guerrilla war. It has also asked that steps be taken to protect the life of
the president of VIDA, who has received repeated death threats.
The following is the text of the note that the Chairman of the
Commission, Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, sent to the Minister of Foreign
At its 84th session, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights devoted special consideration to a request from the National
Committee of Victims of the Guerrilla War, to the dramatic situation
that the individuals directly victimized by the activities of Colombian
guerrillas are experiencing...
Based on these considerations, the Commission is asking that Your
Excellency provide whatever information you deem appropriate on the
steps the Colombian Government is taking to deal with this very serious
problem, which affects this large segment of the Colombian population.
These people have been unjustly attacked by the various guerrilla
groups operating in the country.
Further, given the threats of imminent death being made against
the President of the National Committee of Victims of the Guerrilla War,
the Commission would request that the Government take the measures it
deems appropriate to protect the life and safety of Dr. Fernando Antonio
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest
Although the Commission has not yet received any official reply
from the Government on this matter, from statements that the Minister of
Defense made to the press, the Commission was pleased to learn that the
Colombian authorities have reacted favorably.
The Minister said that the Government had received the note with
satisfaction and would be providing the requested information as soon as
REPORTED BY THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT TO
CONTROL SELF-DEFENSE ACTIVITIES AND COMBAT PARAMILITARY
Decrees 1199 and 1034, of 1987, orders that rewards be given to
those who supply the authorities with information leading to the arrest
of individuals for whom warrants have been issued or who present
evidence suitable for building a case of criminal liability.
Decree 1437, of July 30, 1987, establishes imprisonment as the
penalty for the unlawful use and marketing of military apparel.
Decree 1631, of August 27, 1987, establishing public order courts
to investigate and try punishable offenses that have caused serious
Decree 180, of January 27, 1988, adds provisions to the penal
code and the code of criminal procedure, to combat terrorist acts and
attacks on individual freedom, economic holdings and public security and
Decree 181 of January 27, 1988, amended by Decree No. 474 of
March 16, 1988, creates the Superior Public Order Tribunal, which has
its seat in Bogota and jurisdiction nationwide.
Decree 678 of 1988 declares the region of Urabá (Antioquia) an
emergency zone and an area of military operations because of the
genocidal acts committed by anti-social groups in the municipalities of
Turbo and Apartadó.
Decree 261 of February 6, 1988, amends Article 29 of Decree 180
of 1988, to create the crime of homicide for terrorist purposes.
Decree 2490, November 30, 1988, exempts from punishment those
who, after having been either the author of a crime that is within the
jurisdiction of the public order courts or an accomplice to its
commission, cooperates with the authorities to shed light on the facts
and ascertain the identity of those who participated.
Decrees 813, 814 and 815, of April 19, 1989, are to combat
vigilante groups and bands of hired killers;
these decrees establish regulations for bearing arms and create
the elite corps of the national police and an advisory and steering
committee for operations against groups of hired killers.
Decree 2047, September 5, 1990, creates mechanisms to prosecute
the trial of those who have committed crimes related to disrupting
public order. This decree
was supplemented by Decree 2147 of September 14, 1990, to the effect
that once the Attorney Delegate for Human Rights has received a report
from the judge who took the confession from the individuals to which
Decree 2047 refers, said Attorney Delegate is to assign an official to
take the measures necessary to guarantee full respect for the rights of
the accused and to see that those who have made statements confessing to
their crimes are properly protected.
Decree 2790, of 1990, issues the Statute for the Defense of the
Judiciary: the public order courts and the specialized courts are
combined to form a single jurisdiction; legal mechanisms are instituted
to protect the judges and others participating in criminal proceedings
in that jurisdiction. A
national office of the deputy director for public order courts and
sectional bureaus were created to provide the operational support needed
to enable these courts to perform their functions and to strengthen the
auxiliary organs of justice.
Decree 3030, December 14, 1990, establishes the requirements that
must be met to reduce penalties in exchange for confessing crimes
committed up to September 5, 1990.
Decree 303 of January 29, 1991, amends Decree 3030 of 1990 to
reduce penalties and establish non-extradition without requiring
Decree 99 of 1991 amends and introduces additions to the Statute
for the Defense of the Judiciary, contained in Legislative Decree No.
2790 of 1990.
The trial decrees became permanent law through Decree 2265,
adopted by the Special Legislative Committee on October 4, 1991.
The measures the government has adopted to deal with self-defense
and paramilitary groups have varied in nature.
The entire criminal justice apparatus has been strengthened,
better enabling investigators to perform their functions.
Judges have been given increased personal security services;
agencies with specific responsibilities vis-à-vis the problem have
modernized the entire administrative and operational apparatus to combat
foci of violence.
Situations in which various officials have been assassinated
In this regard the Government has informed the Commission the
The assassinations of a number of Colombian officials have
something in common: they
were all subjected to barbaric cruelty by various forces in the
self-styled "Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering Group" while
held captive in various regions of the departments of Casanare, Cesar,
Huila, Norte de Santander, Putumayo and Santander.
These are but a sample of the modus operandi used by the
guerrilla movement to commit crimes of all sorts, against any person or
institution that opposes its ends.
There are no limits to the violence it inflicts upon its victims,
to the point that it has terrorized and created fear in the surrounding
community, especially in those areas in which it is an established
In a communication of November 1992, the government describes the
heinous murders and other brutal acts committed by various elements of
the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Steering Group against civil servants of
humble origin. These were
young people "with spotless records, who had discharged their
functions according to the highest standards of ethics and
professionalism, being loyal, courageous and honorable.
They were guided by moral principles and custom and respected the
Constitution and the laws for the welfare of society and their
In communications of December 1 and December 16, 1992, the
Colombian Government continued to provide quite extensive and detailed
statistical data on the damage caused in that country by irregular armed
groups. The information
shows that between January and November 1992, there were 39 ELN assaults
on oil pipelines and refineries; the dates and places of these assaults
are given as is a description of events wherein Colombian public
officials were killed. Many died after being tortured by subversives and hired
killers working for drug traffickers.
The Government of Colombia is requesting that this information,
which describes cruel and barbaric crimes, be supplied to the members of
the Commission to be taken into account when preparing the report on the
situation of human rights in Colombia, pursuant to the provisions of
General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1043 of 1990.
Assassinations of reincorporated former guerrillas by groups
affiliated with the Guerrilla Steering Group
On March 23, 1993, the Commission received another communication
from the Colombian Government which transcribed a note received from
parliamentarians in the Esperanza, Paz and Libertad movement.
That note described how those who had laid down their arms and
entered politics in Colombia were being killed.
It stated the following:
In 1990 and 1991, several rebel movements concluded peace
agreements with the Colombian Government:
the M-19, the Revolutionary Labour Party and the Quintín Lame
Armed Movement. In March
1991, the EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación) signed agreements that
led to the demobilization of 2,000 guerrillas.
We made this decision conscious of the changes at work in the
nation and the world, without forsaking the ideals of social justice and
democracy and after an in-depth internal discussion democratically
conducted for all the country to see.
Signing the demobilization agreements on behalf of the
International Socialist was Dr. Manuel Medina, a prominent member of the
European Parliament; the Catholic Church was represented by Monsignor
Gerardo Vera Bustamente.
Having moved into the arena of institutionalized politics, we and
other sectors joined together to form the M-19 Democratic Alliance.
Our agenda has always been clear and we have participated
actively in the democratization of the country, in the political
renewal, in the process of shaping alternatives, and in the nation's
But this action has been affected by those who refuse to accept
that peaceful means might achieve change.
This was shown by the murder of 165 members of the EPL, the
majority committed in Urabá by the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering
Group. Members of other
demobilized organizations have also been killed by groups from the
extreme right. Compounding
the problem is the fact that in Colombia armed intimidation is being
used in large areas of the country to prevent any legally established
political parties from freely engaging in political activities.
SINEP had already reported this tragedy to the Commission on
August 17, 1993, as follows: At
around 8:30 in the morning, Olga Yami González Rengifo, age 8, was
playing in her usual place when she found a grenade along the road
from the town of Orito to the villages of Lucinaria and Churuyaco.
She called to her sister and cousins to share her discovery;
the children were fascinated by the object, which they called
"la copita" (the little cup), and took it to their house,
some 15 meters from the place where it was found abandoned. Roger Mario Yela Rengifo, the eldest in the group,
immediately took the lead in this deadly game and got pincers to try
to take the object apart. The
grenade exploded immediately and the six children, who were all
members of the same family, were killed instantly.
The victims were: 1.
Roger Mario Yela Rengifo, age 15: 2. Waimen Antonio Yela
Rengifo, age 14; 3. Jhon Keni Yela Rengifo, 8; 4. Yelma Lucía Yela
Rengifo, 6; 5. Olga Yami González Rengifo, 8; and 6. Yasmin González
Rengifo, 6. Humberto
Yela Rengifo, 12, was injured.