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Amnesty International Report 2004 - Colombia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 26 May 2004
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2004 - Colombia , 26 May 2004, available at: [accessed 31 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.

Covering events from January - December 2003

Some key indicators of politically motivated violence, such as kidnappings and numbers of internally displaced people, fell sharply in 2003. However, this masked some significant regional variations. The human rights situation in the special security areas, known as Rehabilitation and Consolidation Zones (RCZs), which covered a number of departments, deteriorated during the period these zones were in operation, as did the situation in several conflict zones. Reports of a decline in certain human rights violations coincided with a context in which the work of human rights defenders was made increasingly difficult. In Colombia as a whole, grave violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law by all parties to the long-running internal armed conflict – the armed forces, armybacked paramilitaries and armed opposition groups – remained widespread. In 2003, more than 3,000 civilians were killed for political motives and at least 600 "disappeared". Around 2,200 people were kidnapped, more than half by armed opposition groups and army-backed paramilitaries. The civilian population continued to bear the brunt of the armed conflict. The government and security forces stepped up their campaign to undermine the legitimacy of human rights defenders, peace activists and trade unionists. This coincided with paramilitary threats and attacks against these groups. Congress passed legislation granting judicial police powers to the military, thereby strengthening impunity for human rights abuses. On 15 July, the government signed an agreement on the eventual demobilization of the umbrella paramilitary organization Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, following their cease-fire in December 2002. Killings by paramilitaries, however, continued unabated, and there were fears that they were being incorporated into new legal paramilitary structures. In August, the government presented a bill which could result in the release "on licence" of members of illegal armed groups implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Guerrilla groups were blamed for a number of bomb attacks in urban areas.

State of Emergency and special security zones

On 29 April, the Constitutional Court ruled against the renewal of the State of Emergency and Decree 2002, under which the government set up special security zones, RCZs, in the departments of Arauca, Sucre and Bolivar. Reports from the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Procurator General concluded that the human rights and security situation in Arauca deteriorated during the RCZ period.

The army carried out raids and detained individuals in the RCZs without judicial order, despite a Constitutional Court ruling in November 2002 which declared these practices illegal. The military also carried out arrests and searches in RCZs in joint operations with agents of the Attorney General's Office, who signed search or arrest warrants in situ on the basis of information from army informants rather than on the basis of full and impartial judicial investigations. As a result, there were hundreds of arrests and over half of those arrested were released without charge. Some of those released were threatened or killed by paramilitaries.


Reforms to the Constitution threatened to consolidate impunity in cases of human rights violations. There was concern that these reforms, and the failure to ensure strict application of the 1997 Constitutional Court ruling excluding all human rights violation cases from military courts, would increase the military's control over the judicial process.

In December Congress approved a law granting judicial police powers to the armed forces. This allows the military to detain individuals, raid homes and intercept communications without judicial authorization. This law could help cover up human rights violations committed by the military, particularly if it is claimed that those killed were guerrillas "killed in combat".

  • Eight-year-old Kelly Quintero was killed on 24 February when the air force bombed the area around Culebritas in the Barí Corronkaya Indigenous Reserve, Carmen municipality, Norte de Santander department. Shortly before the bombing, her family had reportedly lodged complaints about human rights abuses in the region with the authorities. Jurisdiction for the criminal investigation into the case was claimed by the military justice system.

The Office of the Procurator General called on the Attorney General to advance criminal investigations against retired General Álvaro Hernán Velandia, implicated in the "disappearance", torture and killing of Nydia Erika Bautista in 1987, and found Rear-Admiral Rodrigo Quiñónez guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to prevent the 2001 Chengue massacre by paramilitaries.

However, little information was received to suggest that the Attorney General's Office was making progress in prosecuting high-ranking military personnel or paramilitaries implicated in human rights violations.

Government seeks accommodation with paramilitarism

On 15 July, the government and paramilitaries of the AUC signed an agreement under which the AUC would demobilize by the end of 2005. In November a first group of around 800 paramilitaries were demobilized in Medellín. This followed the declaration of a cease-fire by the AUC on 1 December 2002. In January 2003, the government issued Decree 128. This grants pardons to members of illegal armed groups who surrender to the authorities as long as they are not implicated in criminal investigations for human rights violations or abuses, or are not in prison for such crimes.

In August, the government presented a bill to Congress that would release "on licence" incarcerated combatants and members of illegal armed groups who surrender to the authorities, even if they are responsible for serious human rights abuses. The main beneficiaries would be paramilitary groups involved in talks with the government. The Bill was pending at the end of the year. These measures, if implemented, could encourage impunity for paramilitaries, security force personnel and members of guerrilla groups accused of serious abuses of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law. There was also concern that many of the "demobilized" paramilitaries could be allowed to join private security firms, civilian informer networks and the army of "peasant soldiers".

In Medellín, around 200 private security posts were reportedly made available to demobilized paramilitaries, raising concerns that these combatants were being "recycled" in the conflict.


Despite the declared cease-fire, paramilitaries were still responsible for massacres, targeted killings, "disappearances", torture, kidnappings and threats. They were allegedly responsible for the killing or "disappearance" of at least 1,300 people in 2003, over 70 per cent of all attributable, non-combat, politically related killings and "disappearances".

There were further credible reports pointing to the ongoing consolidation of paramilitary forces in heavily militarized areas and indicating strong collusion between paramilitaries and the security forces.

  • On 8 February, a group of 50 gunmen, some wearing paramilitary armbands, others in military uniform, reportedly entered Corosito, Tame municipality, Arauca department. They remained for 20 minutes. During that time they allegedly killed one person and abducted eight others. Three of those abducted were released soon afterwards; the whereabouts of the remaining five was not known at the end of the year. The gunmen were able to drive through the town of Tame in the direction of the Naranjitos military base. As they left Corosito, the paramilitaries reportedly addressed each other by military rank. The paramilitary operation occurred one day after the military and police forces left the town of Tame on 7 February. On 9 February military and police units returned to the town.
  • On 13 March, 300 men claiming to be from the AUC, some of them hooded, entered the Nueva Vida community in Cacarica, Chocó department. The commander and some of his men were allegedly wearing the uniform of the army's XVII Brigade. The paramilitaries reportedly made death threats against some community leaders and accused the inhabitants of being drug traffickers and guerrillas.

Armed forces

The armed forces were reportedly directly responsible for serious human rights violations, including killings, "disappearances", arbitrary detention and torture. According to the 2003 Report of the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, there was a significant increase in reports of violations attributed directly to members of the security forces.

  • On 30 January troops belonging to the Manosalva Florez Battalion forced José Amancio Niasa Arce, a 15-year-old student, from the bus in which he was travelling in Bagadó municipality, Chocó department. His body, which reportedly bore signs of torture, was found several days later dressed in a military-style uniform.
  • On 16 May, four members of the Asociación Campesina de Arauca (ACA), Peasant Farmer Association of Arauca, were reportedly detained by members of the XVIII Brigade and the police in Tame municipality, Arauca department. Among those detained were brothers Eduardo Peña Chacón and Ronald Peña Chacón, who were allegedly accused by the police of being members of guerrilla militias operating in the department of Arauca. The police agents reportedly beat them, put plastic bags over their heads and forced them under water. They were released without charge after a few hours.

Armed opposition groups

Guerrilla groups were responsible for repeated and serious breaches of international humanitarian law, including hostage-taking and the abduction and killing of civilians. They carried out attacks using disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons which resulted in the death of numerous civilians.

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, continued to target and kill public officials following a "resign or die" threat issued to mayors, town councillors and judges in 2002. At least eight mayors were killed in 2003.

  • On 6 October, Orlando Hoyos, the Mayor of Bolívar, Cauca department, was killed, allegedly by the FARC, reportedly after a meeting with the armed group. The guerrillas continued to target those they suspected of collaborating with their enemies.
  • On 3 January, five people, including a minor, were allegedly killed by the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), National Liberation Army, in El Botalón and Pesebre in Betoyes, Tame municipality, Arauca department.
  • On 16 January, the FARC allegedly killed 17 peasant farmers in Dosquebradas, La Tupiada and Dinamarca, San Carlos municipality, Antioquia department.

Human rights defenders, peace activists and trade unionists

Human rights defenders, peace activists and trade unionists who exposed abuses committed by the parties to the armed conflict were themselves killed, attacked, threatened and arbitrarily detained. Scores endured ongoing surveillance as well as raids on their offices or homes. In several instances, military intelligence information gathered by the security forces resulted in spurious criminal investigations of activities in connection with their legitimate human rights activities. This heightened concerns that these attacks were part of a coordinated military-paramilitary strategy to discredit human rights and trade union activities.

  • On 17 August, the security forces and judicial officials arrested around 150 people in the municipalities of Chalán, Colosó and Ovejas, Sucre department, including members of the Sindicato de Pequeños y Medianos Agricultores de Sucre, Sucre Small and Medium Farmers' Union. The arrests occurred shortly after an international human rights delegation visited the area. Some of those detained had reportedly spoken to the delegation about human rights violations committed by the military. A judge who released all the detainees in November owing to lack of evidence was being investigated by the Attorney General's Office at the end of the year.
  • On 21 August, 42 social activists and human rights defenders in Saravena, Arauca department, were detained by the military. Among those detained were José Murillo Tobo, president of the "Joel Sierra" Regional Human Rights Committee, and Alonso Campiño Bedoya, also a member of the Committee and leader of the regional branch of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), Trade Union Congress. Their arrest came after the Committee had highlighted the presence of paramilitaries operating in collusion with the military in Saravena.
  • In September, criminal investigations were reportedly initiated against five members of the non-governmental organization, the Comisión Inter-eclesial Justicia y Paz, Inter-ecclesiastical Justice and Peace Commission. The Attorney General's Office initiated judicial investigations into allegations of corruption, drug smuggling, homicide and formation of illegal armed groups. These proceedings were the latest in a string of threats and harassment against members of the Commission. They followed a Constitutional Court decision to allow the Commission to participate in judicial proceedings into over 200 human rights violations committed by paramilitaries operating in conjunction with the XVII Brigade in 1997 and 1998.

Detentions repeatedly coincided with paramilitary threats and killings of human rights defenders and trade unionists. Human rights defenders were put under further threat of attack after President Uribe described some human rights non-governmental organizations as "political manoeuverers in the service of terrorism, who cowardly wave the human rights banner" in a speech in September.

Violence against women

Women were victims of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary and deliberate killings, and "disappearances". They were often targeted because of their role as activists and leaders campaigning for human rights, peace or socio-economic alternatives or because they were members of communities in conflict zones. Sexual violence against women, including rape and genital mutilation, was also used as a weapon of war to generate fear by all parties to the conflict.

  • Between 1 and 7 May, soldiers of the XVIII Brigade, wearing AUC armbands, reportedly entered Julieros, Velasqueros, Roqueros, Genareros and Parreros, hamlets of the indigenous reserve of Betoyes, municipality of Tame, Arauca department. In Parreros, a pregnant 16-year-old girl, Omaira Fernández, was allegedly raped and killed. Her stomach was reportedly cut open and the foetus pulled out before her body was placed in a bag, which was then thrown into the River Cravo.


Guerrilla groups, especially the FARC, accounted for most of the kidnappings carried out by paramilitaries and armed opposition groups. Mass kidnappings also continued.

  • On 12 September, eight foreign tourists were kidnapped by the ELN in the ruins of Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada. One of the hostages escaped. The remaining hostages were released by the end of the year.

Abuses against civilians

Internally displaced people, peasant farmers, and Afro-descendant and indigenous communities living in conflict or economically strategic areas were disproportionately affected by the violence. Over 175,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced in the first nine months of 2003, a 49 per cent fall on the previous year's record high.

Government policies, such as the creation of an army of peasant soldiers and the network of civilian informers, dragged civilians further into the conflict by blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians. The families of peasant soldiers, who mostly operate in their own communities, unlike regular soldiers, were threatened by guerrillas in several departments, including Caquetá and Arauca.

Members of indigenous communities continued to be targeted.

  • On 6 March, the FARC allegedly killed five members of the Murui indigenous community in La Tagua, Puerto Leguizamo municipality, Putumayo department.
  • On 16 October, paramilitaries reportedly killed three Kankuamo indigenous leaders in the Sierra Nevada de Santa María. At least 50 Kankuamos were allegedly killed in 2003, the majority by paramilitaries and the remainder by armed opposition groups. There was also a spate of bombings in urban areas, some of them attributed to armed opposition groups, which killed a significant number of civilians.
  • On 7 February, at least 35 people were killed and more than 160 injured in a bomb explosion in the "El Nogal" club in Bógota. On 15 July, the judicial investigator working on the case, Germán Camacho Roncancio, was dismissed, after failing to link the bombing to the FARC. He was killed on 4 September.

International Criminal Court

On 6 October, the US government released US$5 million in military aid to Colombia after the Colombian government entered into an impunity agreement not to surrender US nationals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes to the International Criminal Court. Such agreements are in breach of states' obligations under international law.

Military aid

In the fiscal year 2003 the USA sent an estimated US$605 million in military and police assistance to Colombia. Most of the aid was earmarked for "counter-terrorism" and "international narcotics control" purposes. The requirement that the US State Department certify progress on human rights was retained. However, this applied to only 25 per cent of US assistance, down from 100 per cent in 2002.

Intergovernmental organizations

The UN Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about a further deterioration in respect for human rights and international humanitarian law by guerrilla and paramilitary groups. It highlighted the persistence of impunity, continuing links between paramilitaries and the security forces, and the alleged existence of a campaign to create a climate of hostility towards human rights organizations. The Commission noted continuing reports of human rights abuses attributed to the security forces and the failure of the Attorney General's Office to show sufficient willingness to investigate serious human rights cases. It called on the government not to grant permanent judicial police powers to the military.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Colombia in March, April, September and November.

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