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Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Colombia

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1992
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1992 - Colombia, 1 January 1992, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca45c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
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.

Events of 1991

Human Rights Developments

Despite encouraging institutional developments and welcome initiatives on human rights by the government of President César Gaviria, the rate of politically motivated murder in Colombia continued to be as high as in Peru, and both countries continued to register the highest number of such deaths in the Americas. Political killings accounted for about 3,500 deaths in 1991 – less than the 4,000 of 1989, but a slight increase over the 3,200 of 1990. These killings include murders committed by the guerrillas, the army, the police and paramilitary groups as well as combat-related casualties on both sides. As in 1990, an increasing proportion of these killings are categorized as murders for purposes of "social cleansing," in which the targets are prostitutes, drug addicts, beggars and petty criminals. These crimes are properly included in the list of political murders because they function as a form of social control and, for the most part, are committed by moonlighting police officers or shady death squads that enjoy police protection. Disappearances also continued at the rate of about two hundred per year.29

Ten political deaths each day is an enormous amount for any country. Of course, the state is not responsible for some of these killings, and indeed is often the victim of those perpetrated by insurgents. But hundreds of these deaths are attributable to the armed and security forces of Colombia, and government agents participate in many others indirectly by lending aid and comfort to paramilitary groups that are directly responsible. In such cases, pervasive impunity remains the occasion for persistent violence. Efforts by prosecutors and some judges continue to be thwarted by a lack of cooperation from military and police authorities, and occasionally by more direct obstruction of justice.

One significant category of murders – those attributable to the Medellín drug cartel – decreased sharply in the second half of 1991, after the surrender of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in June. This is an encouraging development, because Escobar and his accomplices commanded powerful armed groups that committed many murders: while enforcing drug-related operations, while fighting police and military efforts to apprehend the cartel leaders, and while supporting paramilitary violence against perceived leftists. A reduction in the frequency of such killings began in mid-1990, when "The Extraditables" – the name adopted by senior members of the Medellín cartel who feared extradition to the United States – announced a unilateral cease-fire, putting an end to a campaign that had claimed the lives of more than two hundred police officers in a four-month period in Medellín alone. Still, in the early part of 1991, the cartel continued to terrorize Colombia. On February 15, a remote-control explosive device placed at the Macarena bullfight ring in Medellín, where many police officers were in attendance, killed nineteen persons, nine of them police officers, and injured another sixty persons.

With major traffickers on the run in the first few months of 1991, the killings ordered by the cartel seemed to taper off. On the other hand, killings of other sorts increased in Medellín in the same period, probably because many gangs whose members previously were hired by the Extraditables were suddenly left to their own devices. This new violence, in turn, caused an increase in vigilante murders by self-styled "popular militias" that appeared in some of Medellín's poor neighborhoods. These two categories of violence have continued in that city even after the surrender of Pablo Escobar.

For their part, the two largest guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) launched an intense offensive in the beginning of 1991, attacking military and economic targets. In addition to killing combatants, the FARC and ELN murdered many civilian leaders in the countryside, accusing them of corruption or heading paramilitary groups. These assassinations, and the pattern of kidnappings for ransom that both groups commit, constitute serious breaches of the laws of war.

Paramilitary groups continue to be active in different parts of Colombia, although in 1991, as in 1990, they were not responsible for as many spectacular massacres as in 1988 and 1989. The decrees issued by then-President Virgilio Barco in 1989 have contributed greatly to delegitimizing the "self-defense" associations that often served as a relatively legal facade for paramilitary organizations.30 In addition, the campaign against the Medellín cartel placed some of these groups on the defensive, particularly those that enjoyed financial and logistical support from the cartel.

Some well-known paramilitary leaders in the Magdalena Medio region changed sides and cooperated with the government in tracking down Pablo Escobar, apparently in an effort to achieve legitimacy. After Escobar's surrender, the most notorious leaders of the Association of Cattlemen of the Magdalena Medio (ACDEGAM), one of the better known self-defense associations, were murdered in succession. This string of murders included among its victims an army colonel – Luis Bohórquez, commander of the Bárbula Battalion in Puerto Boyacá – who had been forced to retire in 1989 because of his connection to ACDEGAM. Sources from the security forces blamed Pablo Escobar for the murders of Colonel Bohórquez, as well as ACDEGAM chief Henry de Jesús Pérez and several relatives of Pérez, but no evidence was offered other than the motive of revenge. Both human rights activists and government observers told Americas Watch that they are more inclined to believe that the murders are the result of an internecine struggle for power within ACDEGAM. In any event, those responsible for the killings have not been identified.

Another paramilitary group that operates in the Magdalena Medio, "Los Masetos" (a name derived from a well known Colombian death squad), has continued to terrorize the peasant population south of Barrancabermeja, and to enjoy army tolerance if not support. One of its leaders, Isidro Carreño, was killed in 1991, apparently while trying to defuse a land mine.

Perhaps the most prominent of paramilitary leaders, Fidel Castaño, seems to have experienced a conversion. In an evident pitch for legitimacy, this fabulously rich landowner in Córdoba has distributed land to peasants and created a foundation to promote peace in his region. After former leaders of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) guerrilla group joined the peace process and abandoned armed struggle, he contributed to their electoral campaign even though they had once been his sworn enemies in the northeastern region. Although Castaño was convicted in absentia on July 18, 1991 for his role in two massacres of banana workers in Urabá in 1988 and is sought in connection with several other massacres, he makes public appearances in his region and enjoys the protection of army officers on active duty there.

The Colombian army has continued an active counterinsurgency campaign in certain regions of the country where the FARC and ELN still operate. As in the past, those campaigns are conducted with frequent use of "dirty war" tactics such as disappearances, selective murders, arbitrary arrests, and aerial strafing and bombing of civilian targets. These operations, combined with raids by the guerrillas, continue to force hundreds of civilians to escape conflict areas and join the increasing ranks of the displaced living precariously in cities and towns.

Despite this grim overview, several initiatives by the Gaviria government have given rise to hopes for institutional solutions to some of the country's human rights problems. Foremost among these developments is the approval of a new Constitution, after a process that seemed to pry open Colombia's relatively closed political system by providing new means of participation for many Colombians who have felt excluded for decades. The idea took hold after an initiative by university students to conduct a write-in referendum as part of the May 1990 elections on the question of convening a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. The idea gained wide support, and the Gaviria government organized an election for an assembly in December 1990. The Supreme Court ruled that the assembly would have complete authority to rewrite the Constitution, so long as the democratic system of government was maintained. In the December election, substantial support was given to lists of candidates that included former guerrillas who had recently given up armed struggle through the peace process. The Constituent Assembly met in Bogotá between February and July 1991 and produced a new Constitution.

The revised Constitution incorporates many fundamental principles of human rights protection, including standards that are not usually found in other national charters. It provides that the human rights instruments signed and ratified by Colombia will prevail over domestic law. An expeditious recourse to the courts (acción de tutela) was created to allow people to seek judicial protection of fundamental rights that have been violated by actions or omissions of public officials, as well as to force compliance with a law or administrative order. "Popular actions" were also created to allow people to seek judicial protection of collective interests and rights. The office of an ombudsman (defensor del pueblo) was created under the supervision of the attorney general, with broad powers to bring lawsuits, educate the public about human rights, and promote laws to improve the protection of human rights. The ombudsman and the attorney general are expressly authorized to demand information from any authority, without reservation or claim of secrecy, except as contemplated by law or the Constitution. Jaime Córdoba Triviño, who had distinguished himself as prosecutor-delegate for human rights, has been appointed the new ombudsman. However, the office remains in the planning stages. The Constitution sets forth clear rules for invoking states of exception, including limits on their duration, scope and extent, and the circumstances under which they can be established. It makes clear that fundamental human rights and liberties cannot be suspended under any circumstance.

The new Constitution fell short of expectations in some respects, particularly in defining the powers of the military and security forces. It reaffirmed the concept of military-court jurisdiction for crimes committed by military officers, which has been a principal cause of impunity for many years. Military courts have been used as a way of preventing investigations by civilian courts and prosecutors; once their jurisdiction is established to the exclusion of others, cases lapse without a serious attempt at investigation, let alone punishment. In the case of the police, the new Constitution legitimized what had been a perverse practice, not contemplated by the previous Constitution, of having police violations of human rights also reserved for military courts. The most troubling new constitutional clause in this area is the one creating an absolute defense of obedience to orders for members of the military and police who commit crimes.

As a result of the new Constitution, the state of siege was lifted throughout the country, leaving Colombia free of civil liberties restrictions. This is an important change because successive governments had ruled with emergency powers for most of the last forty years. The writ of habeas corpus was also clearly established, with the obligation that petitions be resolved within thirty-six hours. Until recently, habeas corpus protection had been rendered superfluous through various emergency regulations. It remains too early to tell whether in fact habeas corpus will become a useful tool against disappearances and arbitrary arrests.

Some of the emergency legislation used to pernicious effect during so many years of state of siege survived the Constituent Assembly. Among a number of transitory decisions made pending the election of a new Congress, the Assembly allowed the courts of special jurisdiction to stand. These courts, now known as Public Order courts, were created under the government of President Barco, and reorganized but retained under President Gaviria, to try cases related to political violence and drug trafficking. Their jurisdiction extends not only to guerrilla suspects and accused drug traffickers, but also to cases of paramilitary violence. Their principal feature is the so-called "nameless judge." Magistrates in this jurisdiction interview defendants and witnesses through a one-way glass, and use electronic devices to distort their voices. This secrecy is justified by the government as necessary to protect Colombian judges from being identified and attacked by defendants or their powerful supporters. Their decisions are signed anonymously and certified by an administrative supervisor. Most fundamental among their due process deficiencies, the courts refuse to reveal the identity of certain prosecution witnesses, who are shielded from cross-examination by the defense.

To President Gaviria's credit, some aspects of the emergency legislation that were most offensive to due process were not included in the submissions to the mini-Congress, which was created by the Assembly pending the convening of the new Congress.31 In addition to dropping restrictions on habeas corpus protection, the Assembly abandoned the power given to the army, through military judges, to make arrests and conduct searches and seizures in the course of preliminary investigations; the power (by any authority) to hold persons in incommunicado detention; and the restriction on the right to counsel prior to the defendant's first interview with a judge (now there is right to counsel from the moment of arrest). Nonetheless, an important part of criminal activity, particularly that related to political violence and drug trafficking, is still under the jurisdiction of special courts that suffer from serious due process shortcomings.

The Gaviria government continued to pursue its policies for a negotiated solution to the long-standing guerrilla conflict. Negotiations started in 1990 with the EPL – one the country's three largest guerrilla organizations – and were successfully concluded in early 1991. The EPL joined the political process as a new movement called Hope, Peace and Liberty, and two of its members took specially reserved seats in the Assembly. In 1991, the government began to discuss a political settlement with the FARC and the ELN, the two largest organizations which, together with a small EPL splinter group that refused to join the peace accord, now conduct joint operations under the name of the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Coalition. Toward this end, the government abandoned some of its previous conditions for talks, such as demanding agreement by the FARC and ELN to a unilateral cease-fire, refusing to meet in foreign countries, and refusing to accept outside monitoring. Talks between the government and FARC-ELN representatives took place during most of 1991 in Caracas, Venezuela, but a cease-fire does not appear imminent.

Since late 1990, a willingness to negotiate has also characterized the government's policy on the drug trade. At the time, the government enacted legislation offering leniency, nonextradition and reduction of penalties to traffickers who surrendered and offered evidence against others. Three members of the Ochoa family made use of these provisions between November 1990 and February 1991, leaving only Pablo Escobar and his closest associates as at-large leaders of the Medellín cartel. Escobar surrendered in late June 1991, immediately after the Assembly voted to make extradition of Colombian nationals illegal under the new Constitution. It appears that this policy of the Gaviria government, which was actively and vocally opposed by the Bush Administration, has succeeded in putting the Medellín cartel out of the drug trafficking business, although the rival Cali cartel has continued to thrive, and it remains possible that some of the Medellín cartel's activities will be picked up by new traffickers. Most important to the concerns of Americas Watch, this approach has resulted in a sharp reduction in violent crimes attributable to the Medellín cartel, as explained above. Paramilitary murders have continued, thereby tending to disprove a theory that was actively espoused by the Barco, Gaviria and Bush Administrations: that most of the political violence in Colombia originated with either the Medellín cartel or the leftist guerrillas. In fact, the center of murders and massacres by paramilitary groups seemed to move during 1991 to the Cauca River Valley, an area of heavy ELN activity close to the city of Cali. Observers see the emergence there of a renewed alliance between drug traffickers (this time linked to the Cali cartel), landowners and army officers as the main factor behind the growth of paramilitary violence in the region. The victims are generally suspected of ELN sympathies.

In 1991, the Gaviria government took some important steps to bring the country's security forces under civilian control. For the first time in forty years, a civilian was appointed minister of defense. The job went to Rafael Pardo, a close aide to President Gaviria who had distinguished himself as the presidential counsellor for peace by successfully negotiating the peace accord with the M-19 and, more recently, had served as presidential counsellor for security. Pardo has responsibility for defense policy, but no supervisory role over the Joint Chiefs of Staff on operational matters, or control over the military courts. President Gaviria also appointed a civilian, Fernando Brito Ruiz, to head the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), a law-enforcement and intelligence body which was given a large role in combating paramilitarism and drug traffic. Until September 1991, the DAS was led by Armando Maza Márquez, a police general originally appointed by President Barco, who became powerful because of his control of intelligence operations and the open support he enjoyed from the United States. President Gaviria had also intended to appoint a civilian to replace General Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla as head of the National Police, but the statute governing that body requires a career police officer to occupy the post. General Gómez had achieved prominence for his role in fighting the Medellín cartel, frequently using "dirty war" tactics. These important personnel changes indicate a desire to regain civilian control over powerful agencies that have frequently shown a tendency to act as autonomous forces within the state. Even given the limitations in their effective powers, the appointment of these new civilian authorities is encouraging.

In the immediate wake of these appointments, there also has been unprecedented activity in the investigation and prosecution of a few serious crimes attributed to military officers. A second lieutenant, a sergeant and several soldiers have been indicted for the August 18 murder of seven persons – five belonging to the same family – in the city of Fusagasugá, near Bogotá, in an episode first described by the regional army command as a confrontation with guerrillas. An army sergeant and two soldiers also face prosecution for the September murder of grassroots leader Gildardo Gómez in Barrancabermeja. In both cases, aggressive investigations by civilian prosecutors led military courts to prosecute. It is still too soon to know whether these actions represent the beginning of a serious break with the long-standing impunity of the security forces, but the emergence of apparently serious criminal prosecutions before military courts constitutes a major breakthrough in Colombia.

Although the major human rights cases of the last few years continue to languish in the courts, even in cases in which there is substantial evidence of guilt, there have been developments in some instances. In the well-known massacres of banana workers at the Honduras and La Negra farms in Urabá, a Public Order court convicted in absentia Fidel Castaño, Henry Pérez, his brother, and nine other members of paramilitary groups, but none was arrested. The military officers linked to these cases are allegedly being investigated separately by military courts. As for the 1990 massacre at Macaravita, a military court closed the case without any indictments, but the Superior Military Tribunal revoked that decision and ordered the arrest of the officers involved. The attorney general's office has successfully completed disciplinary proceedings in two important cases involving the police. It has ordered the dismissal of officers involved in the March 1990 massacre at Inversiones Budapest, a Medellín office building. In the case of journalist Diana Turbay, who was killed while she was being held by kidnappers, five high-ranking officers of the Elite Corps of the National Police, following the completion of disciplinary proceedings, are under criminal investigation for the disappearance of one suspect who apparently had led them to the site where she was being held.

In an important development in September, a major official report on human rights violations was published. It was released by the attorney general's office, which in Colombia is an independent body with disciplinary, but not criminal, jurisdiction over all public officials. For the last several years, the attorney general's office has been an important force promoting investigations into official involvement in political violence, and has contributed to a significantly better understanding of this phenomenon, even if the maximum punishment it could suggest was dismissal, and its investigations were frequently hampered by obstruction from some quarters. Gustavo Arrieta, who has been the attorney general since early 1991, presented his report to President Gaviria in a public ceremony. The report is based on the files developed by his office, particularly by the Delegation for Human Rights created in 1990. While making clear that it covers only one segment of the universe of abuses in Colombia – those in which public officials appear to have been involved – the report presents an undeniable picture of systematic gross abuse. For example, it states that the attorney general's office is investigating sixty-eight massacres in which government forces are implicated during the fifteen months under study. The small percentage of cases in which a final disciplinary decision is reached – between 2.46 and 7.72 percent for various serious crimes – suggests that impunity for such crimes is rampant in Colombia, which in turn contributes to the repetition of these practices.32 Even fewer cases are criminally prosecuted.

The report received considerable press attention, and President Gaviria issued a public statement highlighting its contribution to efforts to break the cycle of impunity. Unfortunately, the military and security forces were publicly silent about its findings, although the police apparently initiated meetings with the attorney general's office to explore solutions. Since July 1991, the Office of the Presidential Counsellor for Human Rights – headed by Jorge Orlando Melo, a respected social scientist – has been working on an official human rights report also based on the files gathered by that office since its creation by President Barco in 1987. Since the information it gathers is not limited to official abuse, its report is expected to be more comprehensive than the attorney general's.

The Right to Monitor

The nongovernmental human rights movement in Colombia has continued to grow and expand its reach to remote and dangerous parts of the country. It has done so at considerable risk to those who dare to investigate and publicize human rights violations. The July 4, 1990 disappearance in Bogotá of attorney Alirio Pedraza, of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, remains unsolved. On December 10, 1991, Human Rights Watch honored Mr. Pedraza as one of the human rights monitors selected annually from around the world to commend their dedication to justice and to highlight their plight. On February 25, 1991, unknown assailants murdered Alcides Castrillón, a member of the National Coordinating Body for Human Rights, Victims and Refugees of Colombia (CONADHEGS), also in Bogotá. His murder, too, remains unsolved. On March 19, José Hernández, a member of the Regional Committee for Human Rights (CREDHOS) in Barrancabermeja, Santander, was also murdered in the streets of that city by anonymous killers.

Several human rights monitors received death threats in 1991. Leaders of CONADHEGS received anonymous threats when they investigated the April 7 murder of seventeen peasants in Los Uvos, Bolívar, Cauca. The massacre originally had been attributed to drug traffickers, but the CONADHEGS investigation showed that an army unit had been responsible. Attorney Jorge Gómez Lizarazo, leader of CREDHOS, was also repeatedly threatened and had to leave Barrancabermeja for extended periods.

Two other committees that monitor human rights in Ocaña and Sabana de Torres, Norte de Santander, also received threats for their work. Noelia Parra, a leader of the teachers' union in Santander department and the wife of Isidro Caballero, who disappeared after his arrest by the army in 1989, received threats in October 1991. In September and October, attorney Eduardo Umaña Mendoza received repeated threats as a result of his representation of the victims of the Fusagasugá massacre described above. Umaña has long been involved in human rights work, most recently as a member of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective. The government provided special security for Umaña and his colleagues in the collective, and for a few days he left the country. The threats renewed as soon as he returned.

U.S. Policy

As with other Andean countries, U.S. preoccupation with narcotics trafficking has dominated U.S. relations with Colombia, to the detriment of concern for human rights. During 1991, when the United States has been forced to choose between supporting anti-narcotics activities or denouncing human rights violations, the Bush Administration has consistently chosen the former. In fact, the Bush Administration's single-minded pursuit of drug traffickers has at times placed it in direct opposition to the advancement of human rights in Colombia.

The year began inauspiciously when, on January 25, 1991, the Bush Administration submitted to Congress a formal determination stating that Colombia was meeting the human rights conditions contained in U.S. law as a prerequisite for anti-narcotics security assistance. The determination stated:

The Colombian Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies are not engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, and Colombia has made significant progress in protecting internationally recognized human rights, particularly in –

(A) ensuring that torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, incommunicado detention or detention without charges and trial, disappearances, and other flagrant denials to the right to life, liberty, or security of the person are not practiced; and

(B) permitting an unimpeded investigation of alleged violations of internationally recognized human rights, including providing access to places of detention, by appropriate international organizations (including nongovernmental organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross) or groups acting under the authority of the United Nations or the Organization of American States.

The determination also states that the Colombian government has control over police and military operations related to counternarcotics and counterinsurgency activities.

This determination contradicted the State Department's own assessment of human rights in Colombia, published days later in early February 1991 as part of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1990. The report stated:

Members and units of the army and the police participated in a disturbing number of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture, and massacres.... Official human rights abuses contravene government policy, but so far efforts by security forces to end such abuses have been inadequate.

The Administration's determination was also inaccurate when it stated that Colombia, as mandated by law, provides access to places of detention by appropriate international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Beginning in 1991, the ICRC had been allowed to visit the Administrative Department of Security, where narcotraffickers are often held, and had received verbal authorization for access to detention centers of security organs of the National Police. However, as of the date of the determination, the Colombian military had not allowed the ICRC to inspect its detention centers, although the ICRC had been publicly asking for access for two years. Indeed, in February 1991, the national director of criminal investigations told the ICRC that it would not be possible for the ICRC to visit Ministry of Defense detention centers, even though there is evidence that torture and eventual disappearances take place at these facilities.

Only in April did the government offer the ICRC access to all detention centers, including those of a "temporary" nature – a veiled reference to military detention centers. By the end of 1991, it appeared that the ICRC had been allowed access to police and military detention centers without interference.

The determination also overstates the importance of the role played by the attorney general's office. The determination alleges that the attorney general's office has conducted aggressive investigations into allegations of human rights violations committed by security-force personnel, and asserts that those investigations have resulted in the dismissal of a number of officers and enlisted men from both the military and police forces. In reality, the attorney general's office, no matter how well-intentioned, has serious limits on its ability to enforce its decisions. Until the new Constitution was enacted in July, the office could only suggest dismissal of members of the security forces, and except in a handful of cases its suggestions were ignored by the armed forces. The Administration goes on to misrepresent the human rights situation by stating that the military and police, on their own initiative, are also dismissing suspected human rights violators. In fact, the only disciplinary action taken is at the behest of the attorney general's office.

The determination even dismisses torture by the police and military personnel by stating, "these abuses are contrary to government policy and the Government condemns them." Americas Watch believes, and the Bush Administration should understand, that it does not matter whether the use of torture runs against government policy so long as the government does not act effectively to end the practice. Indeed, as noted, the State Department's own report on Colombia observes that "efforts by [Colombian] security forces to end such abuses have been inadequate."

Although Congress could have protested the flawed determination, as it did in the case of Peru, it instead allowed the release of all of the requested anti-narcotics assistance. During fiscal year 1991, Colombia received $27.1 million in military assistance and $50 million in Economic Support Funds.33 Police aid amounting to $20 million was also made available, and an additional $713,000 was given for developmental-assistance programs.

Colombia also received $2.5 million in military training in fiscal year 1991. Through this program, Colombian military personnel receive human rights training at U.S. military schools, including classes on the treatment of civilians and captured combatants. However, according to a September 1991 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, officials could not provide information on the number of military or police officers receiving instruction under this program because such records are not maintained.34 Americas Watch believes that, to evaluate the success of the human rights training program, records must be maintained and the activities of those military or police personnel receiving such training should be monitored.

As discussed above, the United States publicly condemned the Constituent Assembly's decision to make extradition illegal. During the debate on banning extradition, then-Ambassador Thomas McNamara stated that the ban was "a mistake ... given the weakness and corruptness of the judicial system. Losing extradition is losing a valuable tool in the fight against narcotics trafficking."35 Americas Watch disagrees with Ambassador McNamara on the value of extradition as carried out in Colombia from late 1989 until late 1990. Not only did extradition fail to produce significant results in convicting prominent traffickers, but the system instituted by President Barco and vigorously defended by the United States had serious human rights flaws. It was conducted through strictly administrative proceedings without judicial review, and it was the occasion for serious abuse.36 On the other hand, the discontinuation of extradition and the offer of prosecution with leniency to those who surrender led to a dramatic reduction in violent crimes attributable to the Medellín cartel and to the detention of major traffickers, although it is too soon to tell whether they will be convicted and appropriately punished by the Colombian justice system.

The United States has also been highly critical of the preferential treatment granted cartel kingpins who surrendered. Following Medellín cartel leader Pablo Escobar's surrender, Robert Martínez, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy asked, "Is there anyone here who does not want to see Escobar with his feet chained, breaking stones in the quarry of justice?"37

In July 1991, in an apparent attempt to bolster Colombia's judicial system, the Bush Administration announced a $36 million six-year project to support judicial reform. The goal of the project is reportedly to improve the effectiveness of the Colombian judicial system so that major narcotics traffickers can be brought to justice without extradition to the United States. However, a controversial aspect of the judicial-reform program is U.S. support for the use of special courts which, as explained above, violate due process norms.

In a disturbing example of the pursuit of narco-traffickers at any cost, the United States protested President Gaviria's dismissal in September of Police General Armando Maza Márquez. General Maza, who was replaced by a civilian, had led a bloody campaign against drug traffickers. He was allegedly involved in the torture and extrajudicial executions of drug-trafficking suspects and their families. In addition, the 1990 murders of presidential candidates Bernardo Jaramillo and Carlos Pizarro happened while he was responsible for their safety. Nonetheless, the United States supported him because he had worked closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Unfortunately, so much of General Maza's anti-narcotics campaign was devoted to killing cartel leaders that little useful evidence was collected against the cartel kingpins who have now turned themselves in.

The Work of Americas Watch

In May 1991, an Americas Watch staff representative visited Colombia to hold meetings at high levels of the Gaviria government and to conduct fact-finding in Bogotá and Medellín. The representative participated in the launching of the Spanish version of our 1990 report, The 'Drug Wars' in Colombia: The Neglected Tragedy of Political Violence, published under the auspices of two of Colombia's most respected research centers, the Institute for the Study of Politics and International Relations of the National University, and the Center for International Studies of the University of the Andes. The representative also was invited to address a joint session of two committees of the Constituent Assembly, and urged it to approve the constitutional provisions then under consideration to strengthen due process and break the cycle of impunity.

The Americas Watch staff published an article on Colombia in the January 1992 issue of World Monitor Magazine. In October, the representative returned to Bogotá for further fact-finding and dialogue with the government. Americas Watch expects to publish a new comprehensive report on human rights in Colombia in early 1992.


These grim statistics are part of a larger and equally alarming figure: the general murder rate in Colombia, amounting to about 25,000 violent deaths each year, is by far the highest in the hemisphere.

In amendments to internal security laws that date from 1968, President Barco in 1989 "suspended" the army's power to create civilian self-defense patrols and prohibited the military from arming such groups. The status of groups that previously had been established and armed was not addressed.

In transitory articles, the Assembly created a "special Legislative Commission," known also as a "mini-Congress," with appointed members representing the distribution of political forces in the Assembly. The mini-Congress was in session until the new Congress, elected on October 27, 1991, was installed in December. The powers of the mini-Congress were limited to "disapproving" legislation proposed by the Executive branch.

The rate of discipline for lesser infractions such as arbitrary arrest or abuse of authority is between fifteen and twenty percent.

The Bush Administration originally had requested $58 million in military assistance for fiscal year 1991, but after the United States and Peru failed to reach an agreement on anti-narcotics assistance during 1990, a large portion of the military aid originally destined for Peru was granted to Colombia and subtracted from Colombia's original fiscal year 1991 request.

U.S. General Accounting Office, "Drug War: Observations on Counternarcotics Aid to Colombia," September 1991, p. 37.

Douglas Farah, "Top Colombian Trafficker Surrenders," The Washington Post, June 20, 1991.

For examples of mistreatment of prisoners detained pursuant to extradition requests, see Americas Watch, The "Drug War" in Colombia: The Neglected Tragedy of Political Violence, October 1990.

El Nuevo Siglo, June 26, 1991, as reported in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, July 2, 1991.

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