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Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Colombia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 May 2012
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Colombia, 24 May 2012, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Head of state and government: Juan Manuel Santos Calderón
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 46.9 million
Life expectancy: 73.7 years
Under-5 mortality: 18.9 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 93.2 per cent

The government continued to express a commitment to human rights. Despite this, there were few tangible improvements in the overall human rights situation. Civilians – especially Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities, human rights defenders, community leaders and trade unionists – continued to bear the brunt of the human rights consequences of the long-running internal armed conflict. The Victims and Land Restitution Law, signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in June, was an important step in acknowledging the rights of many victims of the conflict and returning some of the millions of hectares of land stolen, often through violence, to the rightful owners. However, continuing threats and killings of those campaigning for land restitution risked undermining implementation of the law. The government made commitments to end impunity for human rights abuses, and progress was made in some emblematic cases. However, the authorities failed to ensure that most of those responsible, especially for sexual crimes against women and girls, were brought to justice. There were concerns that government plans to broaden the scope of military jurisdiction could reverse what little progress had been made in the fight against impunity. More than 40 candidates were killed during local and regional elections in October, considerably more than during the 2007 elections. Several candidates with alleged close ties to politicians convicted or under criminal investigation for illegal links with paramilitaries were elected to office, including as departmental governors.

Internal armed conflict

Guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces continued to be responsible for crimes under international law, including unlawful killings, abductions or enforced disappearances, and forced displacement. Those living in rural areas, particularly Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities, were most at risk, as were those living in poverty in urban areas, human rights defenders and trade unionists.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, 111 Indigenous people were killed in the first 11 months of 2011.

  • In June, paramilitaries killed five leaders from the Zenú Indigenous People in Zaragoza Municipality, Antioquia Department.

  • The body of Indigenous Katío youth leader Crisanto Tequia Queragama was found on 26 February in Bagadó Municipality, Chocó Department. Indigenous leaders blamed the guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) for the killing.

Around 308,000 people were forcibly displaced in 2011, compared to 280,000 in 2010.

  • In October, some 400 Indigenous people from Pradera Municipality, Valle del Cauca Department, fled their homes following combat between the security forces and the FARC.

  • In March, more than 800 Afro-descendants from rural Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, were forcibly displaced during fighting between the security forces and the FARC.

  • In January, some 5,000 people, including some 2,300 children, were forced to flee their homes in Anorí Municipality, Antioquia Department, after threats from the FARC.

On 2 November, the government issued Decree 4100, which created the National Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law System. The government claimed this body would improve the co-ordination and implementation of the state's human rights policies.

Victims and Land Restitution Law

The Victims and Land Restitution Law acknowledges the existence of an armed conflict and the rights of victims. It provides for reparations for some survivors of human rights abuses, including those perpetrated by state agents. However, there were concerns that many victims would be excluded from making claims for reparation, while significant tracts of stolen land might still not be returned to their rightful owners. There were also concerns that some returnees may be forced to cede control over their land to those who had forcibly displaced them.

Leaders of displaced communities and those seeking the return of stolen lands continued to be killed and threatened.

  • On 30 June, Antonio Mendoza Morales, leader of the San Onofre and Montes de María Association of Displaced Peoples, was killed by unidentified gunmen in San Onofre, Sucre Department.

Security forces

At least 17 extrajudicial executions by security force personnel in which the victim was falsely presented as a "guerrilla killed in combat" were reported in the first half of 2011. Although this marked an increase on 2010, the figures were still significantly lower than those recorded in 2008, when some 200 such killings were reported.

  • In July, a judge sentenced eight members of the army to between 28 and 55 years' imprisonment for the 2008 killing of two young men in Cimitarra Municipality, Santander Department. This was the first conviction of soldiers implicated in the killing of more than a dozen young men from Soacha, near Bogotá, falsely presented by the army as "guerrillas killed in combat".

Most of the thousands of extrajudicial executions carried out over the course of the conflict, including those being investigated by the Office of the Attorney General, remained unresolved.

At the end of the year, measures remained before Congress to extend the military justice system's role in investigating human rights violations in which the security forces were implicated. The military justice system regularly has closed such investigations without a serious attempt to hold those responsible to account. If passed, this measure would be contrary to international human rights standards which state that human rights violations should be investigated exclusively by civilian courts.

Congress was also debating measures which could allow human rights abusers, including members of the security forces, to benefit from de facto amnesties.

The guerrilla

The FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, hostage-taking, forced displacement and the recruitment of children.

  • On 22 May, FARC guerrillas reportedly attacked a boat in Medio Atrato Municipality, Chocó Department, killing three civilians and injuring a further two.

  • On 19 March, ELN guerrillas killed a young Indigenous man in Tame Municipality, Arauca Department, after members of the Indigenous resguardo (reservation) where he lived refused to be forcibly recruited into the guerrilla group.

  • On 9 July, FARC guerrillas detonated a car bomb in the urban centre of Toribío Municipality, Cauca Department, an area inhabited predominantly by Indigenous Peoples. The explosion and fighting between the FARC and the security forces left at least three civilians and a police officer dead and 120 civilians and two police officers injured.

According to government figures, in the first 10 months of the year, 49 members of the security forces and 20 civilians were killed and hundreds more injured by anti-personnel mines deployed predominantly by the FARC.

According to official statistics, there were 305 kidnappings in 2011 compared to 282 in 2010. Most were attributed to criminal gangs, but guerrilla groups were responsible for the vast majority of conflict-related kidnappings.

  • On 26 November, FARC guerrillas reportedly executed four members of the security forces they had been holding captive for at least 12 years.

On 4 November, FARC commander Guillermo León Sáenz Vargas (alias "Alfonso Cano") was killed by the security forces during a military operation.


Despite their supposed demobilization, paramilitary groups, labelled "criminal gangs" (Bacrim) by the government, continued to expand their territorial presence and influence. In February, the then Minister of the Interior and Justice, Germán Vargas Lleras, acknowledged that Bacrim had territorial control in many parts of the country, both in urban and rural areas. Reports were received that increasing numbers of paramilitaries were operating in areas with a significant security force presence.

Paramilitaries, sometimes with the collusion or acquiescence of the security forces, continued to commit serious human rights violations, including killings and enforced disappearances, as well as social cleansing operations in poor urban neighbourhoods. Their victims were mainly trade unionists, human rights defenders and community leaders, as well as members or representatives of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities.

  • On 12 September, at least 30 armed and uniformed members of the paramilitary group Los Rastrojos arrived at the hamlet of Pesquería, Cumbitara Municipality, Nariño Department. They threatened and ransacked the community and accused them of collaborating with the guerrilla. The paramilitaries reportedly dismembered two civilians while they were still alive in front of the whole community. They also kidnapped 13 people, at least two of whom were killed.

The Justice and Peace process

The Justice and Peace process made little progress. Under this process, introduced in 2005, some 10 per cent of the more than 30,000 paramilitaries who supposedly demobilized can qualify for reduced prison sentences in return for confessing to human rights violations. The remaining 90 per cent received de facto amnesties. By the end of the year only 10 paramilitaries had been convicted under the process; most had appeals against their convictions pending at the end of the year.

In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that Law 1424, which sought to grant de facto amnesties to tens of thousands of supposedly demobilized rank-and-file paramilitaries if they signed a so-called Agreement to Contribute to the Historic Truth and to Reparation, was constitutional.

The civilian intelligence service

On 31 October, the government disbanded the civilian intelligence service (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS). This had operated under the direct authority of the President and had been mired in an illegal "dirty tricks" scandal, which included threats, killings, illegal surveillance and wire-tapping, targeting human rights activists, politicians, judges and journalists, mainly during the government of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010). It was replaced by the National Intelligence Directorate.

Several senior DAS officials were still under investigation for their involvement in the scandal; others had already been sentenced. However, another former DAS director, María del Pilar Hurtado, continued to evade justice; she was granted asylum in Panama in 2010.

  • On 14 September, former DAS Director Jorge Noguera was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment for the killing of academic Alfredo Correa de Andreis and for links to paramilitary groups.

  • In November, the Procurator General called on the congressional committee investigating the role played in the scandal by former President Uribe to examine whether he had ordered illegal wire-tapping by the DAS.

Human rights defenders

The work of human rights activists continued to be undermined by killings, threats, judicial persecution and the theft of sensitive case information.

  • On 23 August, Walter Agredo Muñoz, a member of the Valle del Cauca Branch of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, and Martha Giraldo, a member of the Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes, received a death threat via text message, accusing them of being communists and members of the FARC. The message listed several human rights NGOs, trade unions, and Afro-descendent and Indigenous organizations.

More than 45 human rights defenders and community leaders, including many working on land issues, and at least 29 trade union members, were killed in 2011.

  • On 23 March, human rights activists Orlando Enrique Verbel Rocha and Eder Verbel Rocha and his son were on their way home in San Onofre Municipality, Sucre Department, when two paramilitaries shot at them and beat them. Eder Verbel Rocha was fatally wounded.

  • On 17 March, Gabriela, a member of the Transgender Foundation of the South, was killed by gunmen in Pasto Municipality, Nariño Department. The killing came shortly after fliers were circulated in Pasto calling for the "social cleansing" of members of the LGBT community, among others.

In response to the spate of killings of human rights defenders, the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the government in March to fundamentally revise its physical protection programmes. On 31 October, the government issued Decree 4065 which unified all the Ministry of the Interior's protection programmes under a single new agency, the National Protection Unit.


Progress was made in a limited number of key human rights cases.

  • On 28 April, a judge sentenced retired General Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales to 35 years' imprisonment for his role in the enforced disappearance of 11 people in November 1985 after the army stormed the Palace of Justice where people were being held hostage by members of the M-19 guerrilla group. The government and the military high command both made statements criticizing his conviction and that of retired Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega, sentenced in 2010 to 30 years' imprisonment in the same case. Retired General Iván Ramírez Quintero, who was charged with one of the disappearances, was acquitted in December.

Impunity persisted in the vast majority of cases, exacerbated by threats against and killings of witnesses, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

  • On 22 March, the judge presiding over the case against an army officer accused of the rape of one girl, the rape and killing of another, and the killing of her two brothers, was shot dead in Saravena, Arauca Department. The NGO assisting the victims' families received a telephone death threat soon after the killing, as did the family of the three siblings.

Violence against women and girls

Women human rights defenders and community leaders, especially those working on land issues, were threatened and killed.

  • On 7 June, Ana Fabricia Córdoba, an Afro-descendent leader who campaigned on behalf of displaced communities, was killed in Medellín, Antioquia Department.

  • On 5 May, 11 paramilitaries surrounded Sixta Tulia Pérez and Blanca Rebolledo, two women leaders of the Afro-descendent community in Caracolí, Chocó Department. The paramilitaries tried to rip their clothes off and grabbed a child who was with them. One of them hit Sixta Tulia Pérez with a whip. Later that day, the paramilitaries threatened the women in front of soldiers, who did not react when asked to help.

Women human rights organizations, especially those working with displaced women and survivors of sexual violence, were also threatened.

  • On 19 June, a number of NGOs, including many women's organizations, received a death threat by email from the paramilitary Black Eagles Capital Bloc. The email read: "Death penalty to the guerrilla bitches of the FARC who are opposing the policies of our government".

The government made commitments to combat conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls, but the problem remained widespread and systematic. Government compliance with Constitutional Court rulings on the issue, especially Judicial Decision 092 of 2008, remained poor. Impunity for such crimes continued to be significantly higher than for other types of human rights abuse. However, in December, a paramilitary was found guilty of conflict-related sexual crimes, the first such conviction in the Justice and Peace process.

US assistance

US assistance to Colombia continued to fall. In 2011, the USA allocated some US$562 million in military and non-military assistance to Colombia. This included US$345 million for the security forces, of which US$50 million was designated for the armed forces, 30 per cent of which was conditional on the Colombian authorities meeting certain human rights requirements. In September 2011, some US$20 million in security assistance funds from 2010 was released after the US authorities determined that the Colombian government had made significant progress in improving the human rights situation.

In October 2011 the US government ratified the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), despite opposition from human rights and labour organizations which expressed concerns about the safety of labour leaders and activists in Colombia and the impact the FTA might have on small-scale farmers, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent communities.

International scrutiny

The report on Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, published in February, recognized "the commitment to human rights expressed by the Santos administration". However, the report stated that all parties to the conflict continued to violate international humanitarian law, and expressed particular concern "about the continuing homicides, threats, attacks, information theft, illegal surveillance and intimidation targeting human rights defenders and their organizations".

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