Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 15:15 GMT

Colombia: Crime in Bogotá and Cali, activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Libéración Nacional, ELN) in those cities, government actions to combat the activities of these groups, and protection offered to victims

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 16 April 2009
Citation / Document Symbol COL103020.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Colombia: Crime in Bogotá and Cali, activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Libéración Nacional, ELN) in those cities, government actions to combat the activities of these groups, and protection offered to victims, 16 April 2009, COL103020.FE, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a7040aac.html [accessed 31 July 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.

Crime in Bogotá and Cali

An article published on leParisien.fr on 21 January 2009 reports that according to information from the Colombian police, in Colombia, [translation] "16,140 people were killed in 2008, compared with 17,198 in 2007 and nearly 29,000 in 2002, which amounts to 33 violent deaths for every 100,000 residents." Although the number of murders has decreased over the years, the murder rate is still high (leParisien.fr 21 Jan. 2009). Colombia has a population of more than 45 million (US 19 Mar. 2009).

Bogotá

According to data from the national police sent to the Research Directorate by a representative of the Observatory for the Presidential Program on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Observatorio del Programa Presidencial de Derechos Humanos y Derecho Internacional Humanitario), the number of murders in Bogotá decreased from 1,669 in 2005 to 1,341 in 2008 (Colombia 11 Feb. 2009). Statistics from the governmental organization National Fund for the Defence of Individual Freedom (Fondo Nacional para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal, FONDELIBERTAD) indicate that there were 36 kidnappings in Bogotá in 2005, 75 in 2006, and 30 in 2008 (ibid.).

In October 2008, the Foundation for Security and Democracy (Fundación Seguridad y Democracia, FSD) studied crime and victimization in Colombia's six largest cities; 50 percent of study participants were men and 50 percent were women, all aged 20 to 44 years (FSD 27 Nov. 2008, 12). More than 67 percent of participants were the head of their household or the spouse of the head of the household, and most had a job: 34 percent were salaried employees and 29 percent were self-employed (ibid., 12).

The study shows that in Colombia's six largest cities, the most common crimes are theft without violence (73 percent) and armed robbery in the street (20 percent) (ibid., 6). According to the study, in Bogotá

  • 11.8 percent of participants stated that they were the victim of a crime in 2008, compared with 20 percent in 2006 (FSD 27 Nov. 2008, 6);
  • knives are the most commonly used weapons in the commission of theft (ibid., 7);
  • in 2008, 45 percent of people who stated that they were the victim of a crime reported the crime, compared with only 17.6 percent in 2007 and 40 percent in 2006 (ibid., 8);
  • the police registered most of the complaints (87 percent), followed by the Office of the Attorney General (Fiscalía General de la Nación) (13 percent) (ibid., 8);
  • 39 percent of participants felt that the police are doing a good job (ibid., 9).

According to an FSD report entitled Balance de la confrontación armada en Colombia 2002-2008 (summary of the armed conflict in Colombia 2002-2008), the number of violent acts committed by illegal groups in Bogotá dropped from 69 in 2002 to 30 in 2008 (FSD 18 Dec. 2008). A report published by the International Crisis Group indicates that, according to several sources, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) continues to commit murders and carry out bombings in Bogotá and is trying to extend its control in Colombian cities (International Crisis Group 26 Mar. 2009, 11). In addition, according to official sources, in November 2008, the police seized a large amount of explosives on the outskirts of Bogotá (ibid.). According to an article in the Spanish daily El País, a bombing at a mall on 27 January 2009, for which FARC claimed responsibility, killed two people (El País 29 Jan. 2009; see also lepetitjournal.com 9 Feb. 2009). Further information on FARC's activities in Bogotá could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Cali

The French website leParisien.fr reports that according to police data, Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca department, has the highest homicide rate: 66 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2008 (leParisien.fr 21 Jan. 2009). According to statistics from the national police, the number of murders in Cali decreased from 1,583 in 2005 to 1,384 in 2008 (Colombia 11 Feb. 2009). An article published by Agence France-Presse (AFP) notes that according to official figures, 1,574 murders were committed in Cali in 2008, down from the 2,403 violent deaths reported in 2004 (AFP 11 Feb. 2009). According to data from Fondelibertad, the number of kidnappings in Cali increased slightly, from 12 in 2005 to 14 in 2008 (Colombia 11 Feb. 2009).

The results of an FSD study on crime and victimization in the six largest cities in Colombia shows that in Cali:

  • 12.9 percent of study participants stated that they were the victims of a crime in 2008, compared with 14 percent in 2006 (FSD 27 Nov. 2008, 6);
  • firearms are the most commonly used weapons in the commission of theft (ibid., 7);
  • 41 percent of participants felt that the police are doing a good job (ibid., 9);
  • 44 percent of participants did not trust the police, and a majority of participants felt that the police are corrupt (ibid., 10).

According to an AFP article, the registries of the hospital in the district of Aguablanca, a community of approximately 700,000 that includes the poor neighbourhoods in northwest Cali, show that 1,380 stabbing or gunshot victims were treated there in December 2008 (AFP 11 Feb. 2009). According to the Cali police commander, members of groups previously involved in drug trufficking are partially to blame for this violence (ibid.). Cali's former mayor, Rodrigo Guerrero is quoted in the AFP article as stating that although organized crime exists in the city, the violence is primarily caused by social disorder and a lack of authority of the city administration (ibid.). Guerrero believes that Cali has long had inconsistent security policies, but in his opinion, the current mayor, Jorge Iván Ospina, is working to correct this problem (ibid.). Guerrero also dismisses the possibility that the violence in Cali is caused by rebel groups (ibid.).

According to the FSD report on the armed conflict in Colombia, the number of crimes in Valle del Cauca attributed to illegal armed groups dropped from 147 in 2002 to 45 in 2008 (FSD 18 Dec. 2008). This report also indicates that the number of kidnappings decreased from 130 in 2002 to 32 in 2008 (ibid.). However, the number of attacks by guerrillas in Valle del Cauca increased slightly, from 11 in 2002 to 15 in 2008 (ibid.). An article in the Cali daily El País reports that according to official sources, FARC is active in Cali (7 Sept. 2008; see also International Crisis Group 26 Mar. 2007, 12); from 2004 to 2008, FARC committed eight bombings in the city (El País 7 Sept. 2008). Articles in two media sources report that the bombing of a Cali police station in early February 2009 killed two people and injured 30 (AFP 11 Feb. 2009; lepetitjournal.com 9 Feb. 2009). FARC was blamed for this attack (ibid.). Further information on the activities of FARC in Cali could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Information on the activities of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Libéración Nacional, ELN) in either Bogotá or Cali could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Government actions to combat the activities of FARC and the ELN

Although various international organizations continue to denounce the human rights violations committed by FARC and the ELN in Colombia (AI May 2008; HRW Jan. 2009; International Crisis Group 26 Mar. 2009), the FSD report on the armed conflict in Colombia found that the government's Defence and Democratic Security Policy (Política de Defensa y Seguridad Democrática) has given it more control over the actions of illegal military groups (FSD 18 Dec. 2008; see also Colombia 5 Aug. 2008 and AI May 2008). However, according to the International Crisis Group report, the government of Colombia has yet to implement a political strategy that is rigorous enough to end the actions of the illegal groups (26 Mar. 2009, i).

The overall objective of the Defence and Democratic Security Policy is [translation] "to strengthen and guarantee the rule of law in Colombia by bolstering democratic authority: the free exercise of the authority of institutions, the power of the law and the active participation of citizens in public affairs" (Colombia 2003). However, the International Crisis Group report, citing the ineffectiveness of Colombia's anti-drug program, states that these efforts lack long-term vision and are insufficient to improve the rule of law (26 Mar. 2009, i).

In an annual report covering the period from July 2007 to July 2008, the Ministry of Defence (Ministerio de Defensa Nacional) lists some of the successes of the Colombian army with respect to the Democratic Security and Defence Policy and its offensive against the illegal armed groups:

  • from July 2007 to July 2008, 2,568 FARC members were demobilized (Colombia 5 Aug. 2008, 5);
  • the neutralization of several key FARC members weakened the group, which experienced serious communications and supply problems (ibid., 9);
  • from January to June 2008, 163 ELN members were demobilized (ibid., 6).

The same report also indicates that information provided by the demobilized paramilitary soldiers and the cooperation of intelligence officials contributed to the Colombian government's efforts to

  • free 31 hostages (Colombia 5 Aug. 2008, 7);
  • seize and destroy 8.9 tons of cocaine (ibid.);
  • deactivate 7,449 antipersonnel mines (ibid.);
  • seize 98.8 tons of explosives, 3,207 firearms and 7,820 grenades (ibid.);
  • decrease the number of murders by 9 percent, from 17,966 (between July 2006 and June 2007) to 16,325 (between July 2007 and June 2008) (ibid., 31);
  • reduce the number of kidnappings from 614 (between July 2006 and June 2007) to 447 (between July 2007 and June 2008) (ibid., 33).

The December 2008 FSD report on the armed conflict in Colombia indicates that in recent years, Colombia has succeeded not only in reducing the number of crimes attributed to illegal groups, but also in neutralizing their communications systems and reducing their operational capacity (FSD 18 Dec. 2008). The report compares the various types of crimes committed by illegal groups in Colombia and their frequency during the periods of January to October 2002 and January to October 2008 (ibid.). The data show that illegal armed groups committed 3,226 violent acts between January and October 2002, compared with 533 crimes reported between January and October 2008 (ibid.). This represents a decrease of approximately 83 percent, and according to the report, is due to the demobilization of nearly all paramilitary groups and the weakening of FARC and the ELN (ibid.).

The FSD report also notes that the number of attacks committed by FARC fell 70 percent, from 330 between January and October 2002 to 100 between January and October 2008 (ibid.). In 2008, after FARC moved its main area of operations from central to western Colombia, more than half of all crimes were committed in the departments of Cauca (21), Antioquia (11), Nariño (8), Valle del Cauca (8) and Chocó (7) (ibid.). No attacks were committed in the departments of Boyacá, Casanare, Magdalena, Risaralda, Santander and Vichada (ibid.). The number of kidnappings committed by FARC also dropped 89 percent, from 830 between January and October 2002 to 94 between January and October 2008 (ibid.). The departments with the most kidnappings in 2008 were Chocó, Tolima, Antioquia, Caquetá and Meta (ibid.). Ten departments did not report any kidnappings in 2008: Magdalena, Sucre, Caldas, Bolívar, Nariño, Boyocá, la Guajira, Vichada, Atlántico and Córdoba (ibid.).

An AFP article published by the Ecuadorian daily El Tiempo reports that according to government data, FARC has approximately 7,000 rebels (AFP 5 Feb. 2009). The International Crisis Group report, however, indicates that government figures are inconsistent: according to the Ministry of Defence, there are 7,000 to 8,000 guerrillas, but a Colombian security agency states that FARC has approximately 10,000 combatants (International Crisis Group 26 Mar. 2009, 7).

On 5 February 2009, FARC released a former Colombian politician, the sixth hostage released since 1 February 2009 (France 5 Feb. 2009; AFP 5 Feb. 2009). FARC is still holding 22 hostages, soldiers and police officers, whom it is trying to exchange for imprisoned guerrillas (ibid.).

As for the ELN, the number of attacks committed by this group decreased by 77 percent during the period of the FSD report (January to October 2002 and January to October 2008) (FSD 18 Dec. 2008). The number of kidnappings committed by the ELN decreased by 96 percent from 646 in 2002 to 29 in 2008 (ibid.). Of the 29 kidnappings, 14 took place in the department of Norte de Santander (ibid.).

Information on the protection offered to victims of crime in Bogotá and Cali could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

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 sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 11 February 2009. Carlos Osorio. "Cali, una ciudad azotada por todos los factores de la violencia colombiana." (Factiva)
_____. 5 February 2009. "Las FARC liberará a último político rehén y mantiene a 22 militares." (El Tiempo [Cuenca, Équateur]) [Accessed 18 Mar. 2009]

Amnesty International (AI). May 2008. "Colombia." Amnesty International – Report 2008. [Accessed 18 Mar. 2009]

Colombia. 11 February 2009. Correspondence from a representative of the Observatorio del Programa Presidencial de Derechos Humanos y Derecho Internacional Humanitario, Vicepresidencia de la República.
_____. 5 August 2008. Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. Un año para la historia. Informe anual – Ministerio de Defensa, Julio 2007-Julio 2008. [Accessed 13 Feb. 2009]
_____. 2003. Presidencia de la República / Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. "Política de Defensa y Seguridad Democrática." [Accessed 13 Feb. 2009]

France. 5 February 2009. Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes. "Libération de M. Sigifredo Lopez (5 February 2009)." [Accessed 18 Mar. 2009]

Fundación Seguridad y Democracia (FSD). 18 December 2008. Balance de la Confrontación Armada en Colombia 2002-2008. [Accessed 12 Feb. 2009]
_____. 27 November 2008. Criminalidad y victimización en las ciudades más grandes de Colombia. Boletín No. 22. Informe Especial. [Accessed 12 Feb. 2009]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). January 2009. "Colombia." World Report 2009. [Accessed 18 Mar. 2009]

International Crisis Group. 26 March 2009. Ending Colombia's FARC Conflict: Dealing the Right Card. (Latin America Report No 30). [Accessed 26 Mar. 2009]

LeParisien.fr. 21 January 2009. "16 140 homicides en Colombie en 2008." (With the AFP) [Accessed 20 Mar. 2009]

Lepetitjournal.com. 9 February 2009. Damien Bouhours. "Colombie – Les FARC affaiblis libèrent des otages." [Accessed 12 Feb. 2009]

El País [Madrid]. 29 January 2009. "El último crimen de las FARC no afectará a la liberación de los rehenes." (Factiva)
_____. [Cali]. 7 September 2008. "El frente Manuel Cepeda, un monstruo de mil cabezas" [Accessed 27 Mar. 2009]

United States (US). 19 March 2009. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Colombia." The World Factbook. [Accessed 23 Mar. 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CPDH), the Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES) and the Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz (INDEPAZ) did not respond to requests for information within time constraints.

Internet sites, including: Agencia EFE, Bogotá Daily, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Cambio [Bogotá], Colombia – Ministerio del Interior y de Justicia, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Le Monde diplomatique, Organization of American States (OAS), ReliefWeb, El Tiempo [Bogotá], United Nations.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld

Countries