Colombia: The situation and demobilization of right-wing paramilitary groups and, in particular, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC); the reintegration of demobilized combatants, government measures, assistance offered, and the results observed to date (2006 - February 2008)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa|
|Publication Date||15 April 2008|
|Citation / Document Symbol||COL102780.FE|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Colombia: The situation and demobilization of right-wing paramilitary groups and, in particular, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC); the reintegration of demobilized combatants, government measures, assistance offered, and the results observed to date (2006 - February 2008), 15 April 2008, COL102780.FE, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4829b55d23.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Approximately 30,000 Colombian paramilitaries had been demobilized by the end of the official demobilization process in March 2006 (RSF May 2007, 1; Le Monde 23 Feb. 2008). According to a 30 May 2006 article in Libération, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC) surrendered more than 15,000 weapons and dismantled most of its military structures. According to Colombia's Ministry of Defence, during 2006 and part of 2007, 10 groups with ties to the AUC were dismantled in the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Valle del Cauca, Risaralda, Cauca, Meta, Caquetá and Guajira (Colombia Aug. 2007, 61-62). However, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), "[o]ne of the main problems with the demobilization process is that these illegal structures have not been fully dismantled" (28 Feb. 2008, 14).
As the International Crisis Group reports, "new armed groups are emerging that are more than the simple 'criminal gangs' that the government describes" (10 May 2007, "Executive Summary and Recommendations"; see also UN 29 Feb. 2008, para. 42). According to estimates by the government and by human rights groups, [RSF English version] "between 5,000 and 8,000 paramilitaries, organised into 22 groups, are still active or have been revived in a total of 12 departments" (RSF May 2007, 1; see also International Crisis Group 10 May 2007, 6), or in 20 percent of Colombian municipalities, according to the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation (Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación, CNRR) (Colombia Aug. 2007, 46). The CNRR is a semi-autonomous commission overseeing the demobilization process (Reuters 15 Aug. 2007). The CNRR reports that the groups have 3,000 to 5,000 members and that an estimated 17 percent of the members are demobilized AUC combatants (Colombia Aug. 2007, 5). According to estimates by the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz, INDEPAZ) in July 2007, there were 76 illegal armed groups, with a total of 8,924 members (July 2007). According to the Foundation for Security and Democracy (Fundación Seguridad y Democracia, FSD), between July 2006 and February 2007, 78 groups, with a total of 3,500 to 4,500 members, had rearmed and taken over previously occupied territories (15 Feb. 2007).
These groups are reportedly still under the authority of former leaders and other former mid-level AUC commanders and officers, who are now acting as articuladores (combatants who did not heed the government's call to comply with the Justice and Peace Law [Ley de Justicia y Paz (Colombia 25 July 2005)], and who are coordinating activities) (OAS 3 July 2007, para. 4 and 13). The leaders of the dismantled AUC units are imprisoned in the maximum security Itagüí prison (Colombia Aug. 2007, 7). However, a 19 December 2006 report by WOLA and the US Office on Colombia stated that there was no proof that these groups were taking orders from imprisoned former AUC leaders (15).
According to the United Nations (UN), "[t]hese groups are heavily armed, have a military organization and responsible leaders, and have the capacity to control territory and to conduct military operations against other armed actors" (29 Feb. 2008, para. 39). However, the International Crisis Group does not share this view, reporting instead that these groups "do not yet have the AUC's organisation, reach and power" (10 May 2007, "Executive Summary and Recommendations").
The International Crisis Group also reports that new armed groups and drug trafficking organizations have established relations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) and with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) (10 May 2007, "Executive Summary and Recommendations").
Profile of the armed groups
According to the FSD, [translation] "the vast majority of the new groups are not linked or coordinated at the national level; they have no collective political project, and their interests are economic and territorial in nature ..." (15 Feb. 2007). The groups are organized differently and have different modes of operating, and even groups that share a common name do not necessarily share common interests, goals and alliances (UN 29 Feb. 2008, para. 40; see also OAS 3 July 2007, para. 10). According to the CNRR, the illegal groups of demobilized fighters [translation] "demonstrated more clearly [in 2007] their intent to exert political influence and to intimidate the social agencies that support the organizations of victims of paramilitary groups" (Colombia Aug. 2007, 29). The illegal groups of demobilized combatants are putting [translation] "armed pressure on the communities adjacent [to drug-producing areas]" (ibid., 53). Information on every group could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate; therefore, the following list of groups is not exhaustive.
The Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) (RSF May 2007, 5), a group created in October 2006, after the demobilization, reportedly operates in the departments of Magdalena, Cesar, Bolívar, Norte de Santander, Antioquia and Caquetá (Colombia Aug. 2007, 48-49). According to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), the Black Eagles have a strong presence in the departments of Nariño and Valle del Cauca, which are cocaine-producing regions (May 2007, 5). According to the FSD, the Black Eagles operate in 30 municipalities and primarily in the departments of Magdalena, Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Nariño and Guajira (15 Feb. 2007). The Colombian daily El Espectador has reported the presence of the Black Eagles in the department of Putumayo (15 Sept. 2007).
According to an article in Semana, the Black Eagles have approximately 4,000 members, organized into 22 groups and operating in 22 departments (Semana 18 Aug. 2007). The CNRR states that although the Black Eagles are present in many regions, they are not a [translation] "unified organization" (Colombia Aug. 2007, 50). According to RSF, the Black Eagles have murdered and threatened peasants, unionists, human rights activists, journalists, and former comrades-in-arms (RSF May 2007, 1). RSF also reports that this group led [translation] "a campaign of terror" against the media in September and October 2006 in the departments of Córdoba, Sucre and Bolívar (ibid., 1).
The CNRR states that the Black Eagles are known for [translation] "their dissemination of antisubversive propaganda, threats against the civilian population and victims' organizations, ... the control of transportation and people in certain regions, the control of illegal crops, the production and trafficking of drugs, and the forced displacement of individuals" (Colombia Aug. 2007, 29-30; see also International Crisis Group 10 May 2007, 9).
According to Semana, the members of the Black Eagles are dissidents who refused to demobilize, demobilized combatants who have rearmed and individuals involved in drug trafficking (Semana 18 Aug. 2007). Most of the groups are reportedly led by former AUC mid-level commanders (ibid.). The same source indicates that the Black Eagles are not [translation] "a paragovernmental army," do not have [translation] "cooperative relationships" with the army, and do not benefit from the same [translation] "institutional complicity" as the AUC (ibid.).
Autodefensas Campesinas de Casanare
Following the demobilization process, the Peasant Self-defence Forces of Casanare (Autodefensas Campesinas de Casanare) is the only one of the paramilitary groups recognized during the negotiation process that is still operating, according to the 29 February 2008 report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation in Colombia (para. 39; see also International Crisis Group 10 May 2007, footnote 52).
Los Rastrojos and Los Machos
These two groups, which are linked to the drug cartels, have taken over the territories previously occupied by the AUC (International Crisis Group 10 May 2007, 6).
Reintegration of demobilized combatants, measures taken by the government, and assistance offered
The Program for Reintegration into Civilian Life (Programa para la Reincorporación a la Vida Civil, PRVC), under the auspices of the High Council for Reintegration (Alta Consejería para la Reintegración Social y Económica de Personas y Grupos Alzados en Armas, ACR), which was established on 7 September 2006 (Colombia 7 Sept. 2006), offers assistance to demobilized combatants (OAS 3 July 2007, para. 44; see also International Crisis Group 20 Oct. 2006, 8). Participants receive an ex-combatants' allowance for 18 months, accommodation and training (International Crisis Group 20 Oct. 2006, 8 and footnote 70). In addition, according to parliamentarian José Francisco García Calume,
[RSF English version]
"[o]f the 5,000 paramilitaries demobilised since March 2006 in this region, a third of whom are in Montería, only 3 percent have found a job in the formal sector, that is to say, working for security companies, and 17 percent in the informal sector, namely makeshift methods of public transport such as motorcycle-taxis. As for the rest, they have gone back to criminal activity, this time on an individual basis and without ideology. As a result of internal feuding among paramilitaries, 150 people have died in Montería alone in the past two years." (RSF May 2007, 3)
According to Sergio Fajardo, the mayor of Medellín, who was quoted in Le Nouvel Observateur, 3,600 of the 4,000 paramilitaries in that city of 2.5 million inhabitants have reintegrated, but [translation] "400 are still criminals," and [translation] "some are trying to re-establish criminal groups" (24 Jan. 2008). However, the Organization of American States (OAS) has expressed doubts about the number of demobilized combatants reported by the government, information that differs from the number given by the police (3 July 2007, para. 48). According to RSF, [RSF English version] "Medellín is one of the few cities to offer demobilised paramilitaries support and retraining programmes" (May 2007, 7).
Eight regional Reference and Opportunity Centres (Centros de Referencia y Oportunidades, CRO) offer legal, psychological and social support to ex-combatants in Montería, Cúcuta, Turbo, Cali, Medellín, Sincelejo, Santa Marta and Valledupar, and three mobile CROs serve the regions of Magdalena Medio, Tolima, Huila, Caquetá, Putumayo, Atlántico, Casanare and Meta (International Crisis Group 20 Oct. 2006, footnote 73).
In addition, the government set up BACRIM, a committee for inter-institutional cooperation among public agencies, which has centralized information on the armed groups (Colombia Aug. 2007, 60-61). In early 2007, the Colombian government set up a results evaluation committee, coordinated by the Office of the Vice-President and the Ministry of Defence (Colombia Aug. 2007, 61). The OAS's Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (Misión de Apoyo al Proceso de Paz, MAPP/OAS), the Office of the Vice-President's Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Program (Programa de Derechos Humanos y DIH), the Office of the Prosecutor General (Fiscalía General de la Nación), and the Administrative Security Department (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS) are also participating in the evaluation committee (ibid.).
The government also adopted Decree 395, under which demobilized combatants may receive money to meet their economic and social needs for an indeterminate period (OAS 3 July 2007, para. 45). Nevertheless, according to the OAS, some demobilized combatants in Catatumbo, Bananero, Calima, Mojana and Córdoba had not received their allowances as of July 2007 (OAS 3 July 2007, para. 51).
Law 975 of 2005, or the Justice and Peace Law, creates a legal framework for the demobilization process (AI 2007, Sec. "Contexte"). According to the OAS, there has been progress in implementing the Law, and criminal proceedings have begun against former combatants, which shows the government's desire to judicialize the demobilization process (OAS 3 July 2007, para. 54-55). According to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) article from 11 February 2008, approximately 6,000 paramilitaries, including 60 of the highest-ranking AUC leaders, are currently being or will soon be tried under the Justice and Peace Law. According to the presidential advisor responsible for the reintegration of the paramilitaries, who was quoted in Le Nouvel Observateur, 3,000 paramilitaries have been imprisoned under the Law (24 Jan. 2008). AI reports, however, that the government has only 20 units tasked with investigating thousands of allegations of human rights violations committed by paramilitaries (21 Feb. 2008).
AI expresses concern that Decree 3391, which was adopted in September 2006 under the powers conferred by the Justice and Peace Law (Colombia 29 Sept. 2006), includes [AI English version] "rural reinsertion" programs for demobilized combatants that [AI English version] "could result in peasant and displaced communities working alongside those who forced them off their lands and committed human rights violations against them and lead to the legalization of ownership of lands taken by paramilitaries by force" (AI 2007, Sec. "Application de la loi pour la justice et la paix").
In the department of Norte de Santander, an elite search unit made up of 120 army members was formed to fight the Black Eagles (Colombia Aug. 2007, 62; OAS 3 July 2007, para. 39). Operations are coordinated by the police, the Office of the Prosecutor General and the DAS (ibid.; Colombia Aug. 2007, 62). The navy has also led offensives against reorganized groups in the department of Nariño (ibid., 63). In addition, the number of police stations in various municipalities has been increased (ibid., 63).
However, the government's response in dealing with the resurgence of illegal groups has not been sufficient to contain them, according to the CNRR (Colombia Aug. 2007, 60). The UN reports that some military authorities may be collaborating with or showing tolerance toward the armed groups (UN 29 Feb. 2008, para. 39; see also AI 2007, Sec. "Collusion entre paramilitaires et agents de l'État"). The process of implementing the Justice and Peace Law has been marked by the murders of victims' representatives and of a human rights activist in Medellín (OAS 3 July 2007, para. 57). In addition, some demobilized combatants in the departments of Norte de Santander and Nariño who have moved back to medium and large urban centres are reportedly being pressured to join new armed groups and urban gangs (International Crisis Group 20 Oct. 2006, 10). The OAS also reports that demobilized AUC members have been encouraged to rejoin the group and have received death threats (3 July 2007, para. 20-21; see also AI n.d.). According to the International Crisis Group, women, who make up 6.7 percent of demobilized combatants, are not allowed separate accommodation from the men, do not have access to "gender-appropriate job training," and do not receive support for their children (20 Oct. 2006, 8).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Agence France-Presse (AFP). 11 February 2008. "Les paramilitaires ont avoué plusieurs milliers de crimes en Colombie." (Cyberpresse.ca)
Amnesty International (AI). 21 February 2008. "Colombie : Déclaration d'Amnesty International à la 7ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations Unies." (AMR23/007/2008)
_____. 2007. "Colombie." Amnesty International – Rapport 2007.
_____. N.d. "Justice and Peace Law Decree 128."
Colombia. August 2007. Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación (CNRR). Disidentes, rearmados y emergentes: ¿bandas criminales o tercera generación paramilitar?
_____. 29 September 2006. Ministerio del Interior y de Justicia. Decreto número 3391 de 2006.
_____. 7 September 2006. Presidencia de la República. Decreto número 3043 de 2006.
_____. 25 July 2005. Presidencia de la República de Colombia. "Entró en vigencia de la Ley 975 de 2005, la Ley de Justicia y Paz."
El Espectador [Bogotá, in Spanish]. 15 September 2007. "Paramilitaries Thriving in Putumayo, despite Plan Colombia – Pundit." (BBC Monitoring Americas 17 Sept. 2007/ Factiva)
Fundación Seguridad y Democracia (FSD). 15 February 2007. "El nuevo escenario paramilitar."
Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz (INDEPAZ). July 2007. Leonardo González Perafán. " Nuevo mapa paramilitar."
International Crisis Group. 10 May 2007. Colombia's New Armed Group. (Latin America Report No. 20).
_____. 20 October 2006. Tougher Challenges Ahead for Colombia's Uribe. (Latin America Briefing No. 11).
Libération [Paris]. 30 May 2006. Michel Taille. "On doit le calme revenu à Uribe." (Eureka.cc)
_____. 27 May 2006. Michel Taille. "Colombiens réfugiés de guerres." (Eureka.cc)
Le Monde [Paris]. 23 February 2008. Marie Delcas. "De nombreux mouvements ont déjà rendu les armes." (Factiva)
Le Nouvel Observateur [Paris]. 24 January 2008. Philippe Boulet-Gercourt. "Colombie la main tendue aux paramilitaires : la violence a baissé, mais la justice y trouve-t-elle son compte?"
Organization of American States (OAS). 3 July 2007. Ninth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council, on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (OAS/MAPP).
Reporters sans frontières (RSF). May 2007. Benoît Hervieu and Fabiola León Posada. Colombie – Paramilitaires : des 'aigles noirs' prêts à fondre sur la presse.
Reuters. 15 August 2007. Hugh Bronstein. " New Crime Gangs Threatening Colombia – Commission." (Factiva)
Semana [Bogotá, in Spanish]. 18 August 2007. "¿Qué son las Águilas Negras?"
United Nations (UN). 29 February 2008. Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colmbia. (A/HRC/7/39)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). 28 February 2008. The Captive State: Organized Crime and Human Rights in Latin America.
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) / US Office on Colombia. 19 December 2006. "Crisis in Demobilization process: Will Paramilitaries in Colombia Rearm – or Have They Already?"
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including: