United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Colombia, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7f1c.html [accessed 29 July 2015]
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Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy, in which the Liberal and Conservative parties have long dominated politics. In May and June elections, citizens chose Conservative Party candidate Andres Pastrana as President, and he took office on August 7. The Liberal Party maintained control of the national bicameral legislature following elections on March 8. Despite attempts at intimidation and fraud by paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers, all three elections were generally free, fair, and transparent, with high voter turnout. The civil judiciary is largely independent of government influence, although the suborning or intimidation of judges, witnesses, and prosecutors by those indicted is common. The Government continued to face a serious challenge to its control over the national territory, as longstanding and widespread internal armed conflict and rampant violence--both criminal and political--persisted. The principal participants were government security forces, paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers. In some areas government forces were engaged in combat with guerrillas or narcotics traffickers, while in others paramilitary groups fought guerrillas, and in still others guerrillas battled demobilized members of rival guerrilla factions. Paramilitary groups and--to a lesser extent-- guerrillas attacked unarmed civilians suspected of loyalty to an opposing party in the conflict. The two major guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), consist of an estimated 11,000 to 17,000 full-time combatants organized into more than 100 semiautonomous groups. The FARC and the ELN, along with other smaller groups, exercised a significant degree of influence and initiated armed action in nearly 700 of the country's 1,073 municipalities during the year, roughly comparable to their level of activity in 1997. The major guerrilla organizations received a significant part of their revenues (in the hundreds of millions of dollars) from fees levied on narcotics production and trafficking. Guerrillas supplanted absent state institutions in many sparsely populated areas of the national territory. On July 9, President-elect Pastrana undertook peace efforts in a meeting with FARC leader "Manuel Marulanda Velez", which followed a meeting between civil society groups and the ELN in Mainz, Germany, on June 28. A second round of ELN-civil society talks held in Colombia on October 12 yielded plans for a national convention in 1999 to discuss political solutions to the conflict. In a prenegotiation concession to the FARC, the Government committed to withdraw its military forces from five southern municipalities on November 7 for a 90-day period. At year's end, the Government and the FARC had agreed to begin holding peace talks in January 1999. The civilian-led Ministry of Defense is responsible for internal security and oversees both the armed forces and the National Police, although civilian management of the armed forces is limited. The Administrative Department of Security (DAS), with broad intelligence gathering, law enforcement, and investigative authority, reports directly to the President, but is directed by a law enforcement professional. The police are charged formally with maintaining internal order and security, but in practice law enforcement responsibilities often were shared with the army, especially in rural areas. In some locations on a few occasions the army attacked and captured members of illegal paramilitary groups; in others members of the security forces collaborated with such groups, and several general officers were under investigation during the year for arming and sharing intelligence with such groups. Although their record showed some improvement, the armed forces and the police committed numerous, serious violations of human rights throughout the year. Despite years of drug- and politically related violence, the economy is diverse and developed. Trade and financial activity have been liberalized, and many public-sector entities privatized, since 1991. Crude oil, coffee, coal, and cut flowers are the principal legal exports. Narcotics traffickers continued to control large tracts of land and other assets and exerted influence throughout society and political life. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth has slowed in recent years, and the 1998 growth rate of 2 percent was one of the lowest ever. To defend the peso, the Central Bank raised interest rates drastically early in the year. The result was a recessionary climate and record unemployment rates (nearly 16 percent) in the last half of the year. Inflation ended the year below 17 percent, a 15-year low. The balance of payments and fiscal deficits both rose to critical levels. Income distribution is highly skewed; much of the population lives in poverty. Per capita GDP was about $2,500. Some academic observers estimated that the various armed conflicts cost the country as much as 3 percent in GDP growth annually. The Government's human rights record remained poor; there was some improvement in several areas, but serious problems remain. Government forces continued to commit numerous, serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, but at a level below that of previous years. The authorities rarely brought officers of the security forces and the police charged with human rights offenses to justice. In May the army formally disbanded the 20th Brigade (military intelligence), which had an egregious human rights record, including targeted killings of civilians, and prohibited its successor organization from directly undertaking armed operations. Security forces were responsible for one known instance of forced disappearance and several instances of torture; police and soldiers continued to beat detainees. At times the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that committed abuses. Conditions in the overcrowded prisons are generally harsh; however, some inmates use bribes or intimidation to obtain more favorable treatment. Arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as prolonged pretrial detention, are fundamental problems. The civilian judiciary is inefficient, severely overburdened by a large case backlog, and undermined by intimidation and the prevailing climate of impunity. This situation remains at the core of the country's human rights problems. Less than 3 percent of all crimes committed nationwide are prosecuted successfully. The use of "faceless" prosecutors, judges, and witnesses, under cover of anonymity for security reasons, continued in cases involving kidnaping, extortion, narcotics trafficking, terrorism, and in several hundred high-profile cases involving human rights violations. Human rights groups accuse these courts of violating fundamental rights of due process, including the right to a public trial. The authorities sometimes infringed on citizens' privacy rights. Journalists practiced self-censorship. Elements of the security forces harassed and threatened human rights groups. Violence against women and children is a serious problem, as is child prostitution. Extensive societal discrimination against women, minorities, and the indigenous continued. Child labor is a widespread problem. Vigilante and paramilitary groups that engaged in "social cleansing"--the killing of street children, prostitutes, homosexuals, and others deemed socially undesirable--continued to be a serious problem. Throughout the country, paramilitary groups murdered, tortured, and threatened civilians suspected of sympathizing with guerrillas in an orchestrated campaign to terrorize them into fleeing their homes, thereby depriving guerrillas of civilian support. A paramilitary umbrella organization, whose membership totaled approximately 5,000 to 7,000 armed combatants, exercised increasing influence during the year, extending its presence into areas previously under guerrilla control. Although some paramilitary groups reflect rural residents' desire to organize solely for self-defense, others are vigilante organizations, and still others are actually the paid private armies of narcotics traffickers or large landowners. The army's record in dealing with paramilitary groups remained mixed. In some locations the army attacked and captured members of such groups; in others it tolerated or even collaborated with paramilitary groups. The FARC and the ELN regularly attacked civilian populations, committed massacres, and held more than 1,000 kidnaped civilians, with ransom payments serving as an important source of revenue. In some places, guerrillas collected "war taxes," pressed the citizenry into their ranks, forced small farmers to sow illicit crops, and regulated travel, commerce, and other activities. The cycle of violence involving government forces, paramilitary groups, and guerrillas resulted in the deaths of 2,000 to 3,000 persons; according to one nongovernmental organization, during the first 9 months of the year in cases in which the perpetrator was identified credibly, government forces committed at least 21 extrajudicial killings in the context of the internal conflict and in other actions, paramilitary groups committed at least 573, and guerrillas at least 160. Violence and instability in rural areas displaced 300,000 civilians from their homes during the year, more than any other similar period during the past decade. The total number of internally displaced citizens during 1995-98 probably exceeded 750,000.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Political and extrajudicial killings continued to be a serious problem. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 citizens died in such acts, committed principally by nonstate agents. Members of the security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, but at a substantially reduced rate. The Center for Investigations and Popular Research (CINEP), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported that the security forces were responsible for 21 extrajudicial killings in which the perpetrators could be identified during the first 9 months of the year. This represented a decrease from 1997, when the military and police were deemed responsible for killing 86 persons, and from 1996, when the total was 126. The police reportedly committed some social cleansing killings, and CINEP reported two killings resulting from police abuse of authority. The human rights delegate of the Attorney General's office processed 467 cases during 1998. It concluded investigations for alleged infractions committed in previous years by 173 members of the security forces, a majority of whom were officers. The office exonerated the accused person in 72 cases, and imposed administrative sanctions, (e.g., fines, temporary suspensions, dismissals) in the other 99 cases. (The remaining two subjects died during the course of the investigations.) Of the 173 security force members investigated in criminal activity, 77 were members of the army and 71 were members of the national police. Cases were found to be either without merit or "archived" for lack of sufficient evidence in 294 instances. The most commonly cited offense was torture, followed by massacres, homicides, forced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions. It remains unclear how many of the 99 persons who received administrative sanctions were subsequently referred to the Prosecutor General for criminal prosecution, or how many of these administrative sanctions were the result of previous criminal investigations. During the year, the human rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office pursued 65 criminal processes against members of the security forces and civilian officials, 77 processes against paramilitaries, 25 processes against guerrillas, and 33 processes against private civilians. In total, it issued 276 arrest warrants during the year, on the basis of which the authorities arrested 60 persons. Among the 74 military personnel against whom it took action for alleged serious human rights abuses were 1 brigadier general, 7 colonels, 8 majors, 5 captains, and 2 lieutenants. The National Institute for Forensic Medicine stated in a preliminary report that at least 19,665 murders occurred during the year. In 1997 the Institute reported a final homicide rate of 60 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. The police and the Prosecutor General's office have insufficient resources to investigate most killings adequately. In 1996 the Superior Council of the Judiciary reported that 74 percent of all crimes go unreported, and between 97 and 98 percent of all crimes go unpunished. The 1996 Government Commission on Public Spending placed the impunity rate for all crimes at 99.5 percent. According to CINEP, on July 24, soldiers of the Boca battalion of the army's Third Brigade executed 5 civilians whom they suspected of being members of the FARC's 58th front at a road block at San Pablo municipality, Narino department. The bodies of Mario Burgos Arcos, Carlos Betancur Garcia, Martin Estacio Ceballo, Carlos Obando Cabrera, and Jose Calderon Riascos reportedly showed signs of torture. According to the Ministry of Defense, the military judiciary was investigating the incident at year's end. In May the army formally disbanded the 20th Brigade (military intelligence), which had an egregious human rights record including the targeted killing of civilians. In an effort to ensure that the brigade's successor organization, the Army Military Intelligence Center (CIME), would not commit human rights abuses, the army prohibited it from directly undertaking armed operations. On October 16, the Prosecutor General's office ordered the arrest of retired Colonel Bernardo Ruiz Silva, the commander of the 20th Brigade in 1995, in connection with the November 1995 Bogota assassination of conservative opposition leader Alvaro Gomez Hurtado and his assistant. However, at year's end, Col. Ruiz remained a fugitive. In August a civilian court sentenced seven of the Departmental Investigative Police at Palmira, Valle del Cauca to a collective total of 250 years' imprisonment for the February 1996 torture and murders of soldiers Edison Echeverri Vergar and Jorge Eliecer Lopez, and mechanic Gustavo Diaz, whom they had suspected of being guerrillas. (One policeman was exonerated and another was freed conditionally.) Four policemen in custody received 27 years' imprisonment; three who were fugitives from justice at year's end received 54 years' each. In 1997 a military court had convicted all seven of charges of deprivation of liberty (kidnaping), abandoning the service, and attempted robbery. The National Police had removed all seven policemen from duty prior to their sentencing. In September a military tribunal exonerated five policemen of the September 1995 death of Italian tourist Giacomo Turra in a Cartagena police station. Although the policemen claimed that Turra had died of a drug and alcohol overdose, an autopsy by the National Institute of Forensic Medicine determined that he was beaten to death. The Supreme Military Tribunal was considering an appeal of the case at year's end. The military judiciary convicted 76 security force members, including 3 police officers and 1 army officer, during the year, including some for human rights violations. Those courts convicted 29 of homicide, 41 of assault, 4 of deprivation of liberty, 1 of abuse of authority, and 1 of rape. However, the Ministry of Defense reported neither the nature of sentences in the 76 cases nor the circumstances of the crimes. The civilian Prosecutor General's office pursued cases against 74 security force members for human rights crimes during the year, including 22 army officers and 2 marine officers. The Penal Code authorizes restriction to base as an acceptable substitute for imprisonment when military jails or prisons are unavailable. In an October 13 ruling, the Attorney General's office "severely reprimanded" four officers and one noncommissioned officer (marine Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Alfonso Quinonez, marine Major Jairo Osorio Morales, army Majors Walter Hurtado Morales and Jose Fernando Lee Uribe, and marine Third Sergeant Carlos Lopez Maquillon) for their roles in establishing, promoting, financing, and fomenting paramilitary groups, and for assisting members of these groups in entering the city of Barrancabermeja for the purpose of committing murder during 1993-94. The activities of these groups caused the deaths of at least 50 persons. Nonetheless, all five remained in uniform and on active duty at year's end. The Superior Military Tribunal earlier had exonerated a lieutenant colonel of similar charges involving the 1993-94 Barrancabermeja massacres. In May the Attorney General's office ordered the army to separate Lieutenant Colonel Luis Felipe Becerra Bohorquez from service because of his role in the October 1993 "Rio Frio" massacre; however, the Attorney General's office reduced the punishment in October to issuance of a severe reprimand, because complicity in a massacre had not yet been codified as a crime at the time of the massacre. (A light punishment, the severe reprimand is noted in the security force member's personnel file and can affect his chances for promotion.) On October 14, Third Brigade commander Jaime Canal concluded military tribunal proceedings against Becerra and two other army members, and found the three guilty of a coverup of the Rio Frio massacre. Becerra was tried and convicted in absentia. The tribunal sentenced Becerra to 12 months' imprisonment, although he remained in hiding at year's end. The court also sentenced Major Eduardo Delgado Carrillo and Second Sergeant Leopoldo Moreno Rincon to 9 and 7 months' imprisonment, respectively. They were restricted to their bases at year's end. In July just before leaving office, President Samper publicly and formally recognized state responsibility for the deaths of some 50 citizens in 3 massacres and 2 extrajudicial killings that occurred during 1991-93 (and under a previous president). Despite the President's statement, military courts had already absolved those army and police personnel investigated of any responsibility for the killings; however, civilian courts had convicted several low-ranking soldiers and a few civilians for these crimes. Samper's statement was part of an amicable settlement under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); the Government also fired three police officers implicated in one case and initiated payment of compensation to the families of some of the victims. In July an anonymous regional court sentenced 3 civilians to 30-year prison terms and fined an army corporal and 2 civilian informants for their roles in the April 1991 massacre by the army of 15 bus passengers and 2 passersby at Los Uvos. The military judicial system still is processing the cases of two army majors implicated in the investigation. The other 4 cases for which President Samper accepted state responsibility are the December 1991 massacre of 20 Paez Indians by the police at Caloto, Cauca; the November 1992 killing of 10 persons in Medellin's Villatina neighborhood by police officers; the April 1992 murders Faride Herrera and Oscar Ivan Andrade by members of the army and the police; and the June 1993 killing of a youth, Roison Mora Rubiano, by members of the army. On March 31, an anonymous civil court judge sentenced five police and army officers (including army Lieutenant Colonel Alejandro Londono Tomayo, then in command of the Bombona battalion of the 14th brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel Marco Baez Garzon), to 18 years' imprisonment. The officers had been charged with terrorism and complicity in the November 1988 paramilitary massacre of a group of 49 people and the injury of 56 others at Segovia, Antioquia department. On December 22, in a separate military trial, the Superior Military Tribunal exonerated the 5 officers, a well as 3 others, of related charges also stemming from the Segovia massacre. Despite his civilian court conviction, Londono was never detained and remained on active duty at the end of the year with the army's logistical support brigade in Bogota. While it was asserted that Londono was entitled to continue on active duty status because the civilian judiciary had yet to rule on his appeal, Londono should have been in preventive detention, stripped of his uniform and removed from active military service, according to both the Prosecutor General's office and the Defense Ministry's own human rights office. After his conviction and sentencing, Baez Garzon also remained on active duty with the army's Third Brigade in Cali. However, in September he was relieved of his responsibilities as deputy brigade commander, placed on half pay, and restricted to the Third Brigade's base. He remained in uniform while appealing his conviction, even while a warrant for his arrest by civilian authorities remained outstanding. In June authorities arrested marine Colonel Jose Ancizar Molano Padilla, then-commander of the 2nd marine Infantry Battalion, and marine Sergeants Javier Fernando Guerra, Eduardo Aristides Alvarez, and Jorge Milton Caicedo for the May 1995 social cleansing murders of two alleged thieves, Sifredy and Freddy Arboleda. Prosecutor General's office investigators found the two bodies and those of other victims in the garbage dump of that battalion at Tumaco, Narino. Molano and the three sergeants were in detention and undergoing civilian judicial processing at year's end. In June the appellate court of the military judicial system confirmed the June 1997 decision by then-commanding general of the army General Manuel Jose Bonett to exonerate retired General Yanine Diaz of all charges related to formation and activities of paramilitary groups. Yanine Diaz, the highest-ranking military officer ever detained on human rights charges, was first ordered to be arrested in 1996 by the Prosecutor General on various charges, including several related to the 1987 massacre of 19 local merchants in the Magdalena Medio region. Long suspected of being a patron of paramilitary groups, Yanine Diaz was accused of implementing a strategy to have paramilitary groups carry out counterguerrilla activities that the army was prohibited from doing in the Magdalena Medio region in the 1980's. Despite the Government's attempts to bring him to justice in the civilian court system, the military prevailed, continuing the tradition of impunity for all but the lowest-ranking members of the security forces. A complaint against Yanine Diaz remained before the IACHR at year's end. Credible allegations of cooperation with paramilitary groups, including instances of both silent support and direct collaboration by members of the armed forces, in particular the army, continued. There were tacit arrangements between local military commanders and paramilitary groups in some regions, and paramilitary groups operated freely in some areas that were under military control. The authorities assigned two senior officers with links to paramilitary groups to top leadership positions: Brigadier General Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas and Brigadier General Fernando Millan Perez. However, the new military high command, appointed by President Pastrana and under the leadership of General Fernando Tapias, stated repeatedly that it would not tolerate collaboration between military personnel and paramilitary groups. The authorities arrested five persons, including two army sergeants, for their roles in the July 15-20, 1997 massacre in the town of Mapiripan, Meta department. During the attack, paramilitary members had singled out at least seven persons in the town and executed them, reportedly for supporting the guerrillas. An estimated 2,000 persons subsequently fled from the town, claiming that the paramilitary forces had killed as many as two dozen others and thrown their bodies into the Guaviare River. In a September 1997 interview in El Tiempo newspaper, paramilitary leader Carlos Castano, head of the Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), admitted responsibility for the Mapiripan massacre. In June the National Police arrested suspected Meta department paramilitary leader Rene Cardenas Galeano for his part in organizing the attack. On July 10, the police arrested army sergeants Juan Carlos Gamarra and Jose Miller Uruena, of the Seventh Brigade's Joaquin Paris Battalion and placed them in military detention on suspicion of having facilitated the attack. In September the police arrested two private pilots for transporting the perpetrators of the attack to a nearby airfield. Prosecution of all five was underway at year's end. The Attorney General's office was investigating then-commander of the army's Seventh Brigade, Brigadier General Jaime Humberto Uscategui, army Major Hernan Orozco Castro, army Captain Juan Carlos Lopez, and five local Mapiripan civilian officials for complicity in the Mapiripan massacre. The Attorney General's office was forced to close its investigation of Brigadier General Agustin Ardila Uribe, then commander of the Fourth Division, when Ardila retired in 1997. The office may investigate only active duty personnel. The army reportedly had opened its own investigation into the Mapiripan attack, but no developments had been announced by year's end. No arrests were made for a similar paramilitary incursion into Miraflores, Guaviare, on October 18-20, 1997, which left at least five persons dead. In August the Prosecutor General for human rights opened a formal investigation of the army's Fifth Brigade commander, Brigadier General Fernando Millan Perez, to look into allegations that Millan armed and equipped a paramilitary group in Lebrija, Santander department in 1997. The group was believed responsible for at least 11 murders. However, on October 1 the Superior Judicial Council determined that Millan's alleged actions constituted an "act of service," and turned the case over to the military judiciary for prosecution, effectively cutting off the prosecutor's investigation. Millan had denied the charges. Thirteenth Brigade commander Brigadier General Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas voluntarily made a formal statement to the Prosecutor General's office in August to respond to allegations that he had encouraged the formation of, and active collaboration with, paramilitary groups in the Uraba region. Brigadier General del Rio denied the charges, and in December the Prosecutor General's office dropped all charges against him for lack of evidence. There was no progress in the case against army Captain Rodrigo Flores, who was arrested in May 1997 for a 1996 massacre in Segovia, Antioquia department, or in the case against former army Captain Ciro Alfonso Vargas Lancheros for his possible role in the April 1996 murder of three men in Ciudad Bolivar, Medellin. In October 1997 the Prosecuting Attorney's Human Rights Unit formally charged two army Sergeants, Hernando Medina Camacho and Gusto Gil Zuniga Labrador, and paramilitary leader Carlos Castano with the 1994 killing of the leader of Patriotic Union (UP) Senator Manuel Vargas Cepeda. The two sergeants remained in preventive detention, while Castano was tried in absentia. The case was awaiting a judge's decision at year's end. In 1997 the national human rights Ombudsman received 192 complaints against members of paramilitary groups involving killings. It also received 82 complaints against paramilitary groups of massacres. CINEP reported that paramilitary groups were responsible for 573 extrajudicial killings. On May 4, more than 200 paramilitary members entered the town of Puerto Alvira, Meta department, and murdered between 12 and 22 local residents whom they suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers or collaborators. A definitive death toll was not available, as the bodies were disposed of in a nearby river. The attackers also destroyed much of the town's infrastructure. At the insistence of the attackers, hundreds of persons subsequently fled from the town. Some of the attackers allegedly identified themselves to town residents as the perpetrators of the 1997 massacre at Mapiripan. ACCU leader Carlos Castano publicly had declared Puerto Alvira a military objective in September 1997. The human rights Ombudsman criticized the Government for not heeding his January call for protection of the town. The Defense Minister subsequently responded that not enough troops had been available for permanent deployment to protect all threatened towns. A preliminary investigation by the Prosecutor General's office was underway at year's end, but no developments were reported. On May 16, 40 to 50 heavily armed members of the AUSAC paramilitary organization entered the town of Barrancabermeja, Santander department, and rounded up young adults whom they suspected of sympathizing with the ELN. They killed 11 persons and dumped their bodies in the streets, and kidnaped another 25 persons. On June 3, a court convicted two detained Santander department former mayors, who had been arrested in 1992, of complicity in paramilitary violence. Possibly in retaliation for these convictions, the paramilitary group announced on June 4 that the 25 hostages had been "tried" as guerrilla supporters, "convicted," executed, and their bodies burned. The Samper Government established an ad hoc Truth Commission to investigate the massacre; it presented a basic report on July 31, which noted that both the Attorney General and the Prosecutor General's office were investigating the massacre. Those investigations were still under way at year's end. The Prosecutor General's office was investigating 10 army and police members for complicity in the attack at year's end, and 1 of the ten, army Corporal Rodrigo Perez Perez, had been detained on suspicion of having participated directly in the attack. Politically motivated killings and related unrest continued in Barrancabermeja at a very high rate throughout the year. AUSAC paramilitary leader Guillermo Cristancho Acosta, who publicly admitted having ordered the killings, had not been detained at year's end. Paramilitary groups continued to target and kill judicial and criminal investigative employees for their efforts to enforce the rule of law. On June 10, Sergio Parra Ossa, Medellin chief of the Prosecutor General's corps of technical investigators, was shot to death; members of paramilitary groups were the principal suspects. The bodies of technical investigators Edilbrando Roa Lopez and John Morales Patino were found at Mesopotania, Antioquia department on September 3. The two had been investigating a massacre of nine persons at the nearby town of Sonson; the unidentified perpetrators of the Sonson massacre likely killed Roa and Morales. The murders of Roa and Morales brought the number of killings of Prosecutor General's office employees during the last 2 years to 30; in the Medellin office alone 7 were killed between January and June. On February 24, police and prosecutors arrested billionaire emerald magnate Victor Carranza in Bogota on charges of sponsoring the Eastern Plains paramilitary self-defense group. Despite his efforts to subvert the workings of the judiciary through bribery and political influence, Carranza remained in jail at year's end. While an estimated 400 paramilitary members were believed to be in jail at year's end, known paramilitary leaders largely remained beyond the reach of the law. On May 21, 19 paramilitary followers of Victor Carranza escaped from Bogota's maximum security prison. The reported finance chief for the ACCU paramilitary group, Jacinto Alberto Soto Toro, escaped from jail several months after his capture in Antioquia. There continued to be incidents of social cleansing--including attacks and killings--directed against individuals deemed socially undesirable, such as drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, beggars, and street children. According to the National Institute for Forensic Medicine, such killings occurred with greatest frequency in Bogota, and the departments of Magdalena and Antioquia. Most of these incidents were attributed to police or paramilitary groups. CINEP attributed 2 social cleansing murders and one injury to police; other cases were not reported. Paramilitary groups also killed members of indigenous groups (see Section 5) and labor leaders (see Section 6). On November 7, the authorities found the skeletons of 25 children in a common grave near Pereira, Risaralda department. Forensics experts concluded that the children had been murdered. Some observers speculated that the killings may have been the result of a social cleansing campaign; others suspected satanic cult members were responsible. The Bogota press reported that the Prosecutor General's office had developed a list of 15 people it believed may have been involved. In December the Prosecutor General's office arrested Pedro Pablo Ramirez Garcia in relation to the crimes. On February 27, three unidentified assailants murdered Jesus Maria Valle, president of the Antioquia Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, in his Medellin office. Valle had been an outspoken critic of what he termed the complicity of regional politicians and elements of government security forces in paramilitary and narcotics-related killings. In July the police arrested five persons in conjunction with Valle's murder; all but one of the five were detained and undergoing prosecution at year's end. In September the authorities indicted paramilitary leader Carlos Castano for alleged intellectual authorship of Valle's murder. On June 3, a court sentenced two former mayors of El Carmen de Chucuri, Santander department, to 11 years in prison for their involvement in paramilitary death squads in the early 1990's. The authorities arrested both men in 1992 when they turned themselves in; both are believed to remain in prison. The ex-mayors and their followers have been linked to a paramilitary vigilante group known as Death to Kidnapers (MAS), believed to be responsible for several massacres and the 1987 murder of the mayor of Sabana de Torres. The arrest and prosecution of the two men came after an investigation in 1992 into paramilitary groups conducted by the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Justice and Peace. On April 18, three persons posing as journalists killed Eduardo Umana Mendoza, perhaps the country's best-known and most controversial human rights lawyer, in his office in Bogota. In November the Prosecutor General's office detained Fabio Mosquera Uribe, Victor Manuel Campuzano, Hernando Alberto Araque Marmol, and Regner Antonio Mosquera Velasco on suspicion of involvement in the killing. The authorities suspected Mosquera of intellectual authorship of the crime. In December the office also arrested Jose Bernardo Hernandez Ossa and Teresa de Jesus Leal Medina. The latter reportedly served as the link between the crime's intellectual authors and Umana's killers. The case was pending at year's end. On July 26, Betty Camacho was murdered just 6 days after relinquishing her congressional seat. The police arrested several persons in August and charged them in connection with the case. In September the Government indicted five persons (detaining three of them) for the May 1997 murders of two CINEP workers, Mario Calderon and Elsa Alvarado. The suspects allegedly were linked to paramilitary groups. Elsa's father, Carlos Alvarado, also was killed. The three detained suspects are Walter Jose Alvarez Rivera, Gabriel Jaime Alvarez Paniagua, and Pablo Vanderly Vargas Garcia. The Prosecutor General's office also ordered the arrest of ACCU leader paramilitary leaders Carlos and Fidel Castano in relation to these crimes, but neither had been detained at year's end. Carlos Castano denied the charges. On December 26, the Prosecutor General's office also arrested brothers Juan Carlos and Fernando Gonzalez Jaramillo for allegedly having participated in the murders. Medellin narcotics trafficker Gustavo Adolfo Utegui Lopez, suspected by many of having been the intellectual author of the crime, was arrested in November on unrelated murder charges. Narcotics traffickers also were responsible for other killings. On September 14, unknown persons shot and killed congressman and Liberal Party member Jorge Humberto Gonzalez in Medellin traffic. According to the press, his murder may have been related to narcotics trafficking. He was the fourth member of Congress to be murdered since May 1997. No suspects were identified in the case. Catholic priest Alcides Jimenez Chicangana was shot 18 times as he gave a sermon in a Catholic church in Popayan, Putumayo department on September 11, hours after he led a public rally for peace. On September 22, investigators detained alleged narcotics trafficker Luis Angel Canas for the crime; the case was pending at year's end. The guerrillas of the FARC, the ELN, and the People's Liberation Army (EPL) continued to commit extrajudicial killings, often targeting noncombatants in a manner similar to that of paramilitary groups. According to CINEP, guerrillas committed 160 homicides outside of combat during the first 9 months of the year. Local elected officials or candidates for public office, teachers, civic leaders, business owners, and peasants opposed to their political or military activities were common targets. The Colombian Federation of Municipalities reported that eight mayors were murdered between January and August, and positively identified guerrillas as responsible for four of the killings. Guerrillas were also the principal suspects in the other four cases. Police and military personnel were targeted for killings (see Section 1.g.). Guerrilla groups also killed members of indigenous groups (see Section 5) and labor leaders (see Section 6.). Communities controlled by guerrillas also experienced killings described as cleansing of criminal antisocial elements. On May 12, former Defense Minister General Fernando Landazabal Reyes was murdered near his Bogota home. Although guerrillas were widely suspected of having murdered Landazabal, police had announced no leads in the case at year's end. In 1997 the national human rights Ombudsman received 71 complaints against guerrillas of killings and 29 complaints against guerrillas of massacres. There was no progress regarding the leftist coalition Popular Unity (UP) party's 1996 complaint to the IACHR that charged the Government with "action or omission" in what the UP termed "political genocide" against the UP and the Communist Party. In its October 1997 submission to the IACHR, the Reinsertion Foundation human rights organization charged that 13 regional UP political leaders had been killed and 3 tortured during the first 9 months of that year. The Government and the UP continued without success in their efforts to reach an amicable solution under the auspices of the IACHR. There were no new developments in the investigation of Gerardo Antonio Palacio for his role in the August 1995 massacre in Chigorodo, Antioquia.
"Forced disappearance," while explicitly prohibited by the 1991 Constitution, remained an act not explicitly outlawed under the Penal Code, although the law codifies kidnaping for extortion and "simple kidnaping" as crimes, and continued to be a problem. An estimated 3,000 cases of forced disappearance have been formally reported to the authorities since 1977; very few have ever been resolved. CINEP reported that the army was responsible for one case of forced disappearance during the first 9 months of 1998, and that paramilitary groups were responsible for 126 cases during the same period. According to the Permanent Commission for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH), 117 persons were the victims of forced disappearances from January to June. It reported that nearly half of those cases occurred in Antioquia department. In May members of a paramilitary organization kidnaped 25 persons in Barrancabermeja (see Section 1.a.). The CPDH identified paramilitary groups as being responsible for 86 of the 117 disappearances. The great majority of victims of forced disappearance were never seen or heard from again. The military judicial system took no action in the case against General Alvaro Velandia Hurtado, the former commander of the Twentieth Brigade, who was accused of the 1987 forced disappearance, torture, and murder of M-19 member Nydia Erika Bautista. The authorities suspended from duty Police Major Manuel de Jesus Lozada Plazas, the former deputy commander of the Government's elite antikidnaping squads, and placed him on half-pay subsequent to his arrest in March 1997. His trial in a civilian court continued at year's end. There have been no results reported in the investigation into cooperation between these squads, known as GAULA, and illegal paramilitary groups. Kidnaping was an unambiguous, standing policy and major source of revenue for both the FARC and ELN. The NGO Pais Libre reported that there were 2,216 kidnapings during the year--fully one-third more cases than in 1997. It said that 1,799 of these were financially motivated, and 417 cases were politically motivated. Pais Libre attributed 667 cases to the FARC, 566 to the ELN, 109 to the EPL, 43 to other guerrilla groups, 231 to common criminals, 20 to paramilitary groups, and 580 to "unknown organizations." According to Pais Libre, politicians, cattlemen, children, and businessmen were guerrillas' preferred victims. Among the 2,216 kidnap victims were 131 children. GAULA officers and other units of the security forces freed 341 kidnap victims during the year. 721 kidnap victims remained in captivity at the end of the year, and 82 were murdered. A total of 1,039 kidnap victims were freed during the year through negotiation, payment of ransoms, or unilateral action by kidnapers, and 21 escaped their captors. Arrests or prosecutions in any of these cases were rare. Guerrillas continued to kidnap political leaders. The Federation of Colombian Municipalities reported that guerrillas kidnaped and later released 33 mayors between January and September, including 8 Antioquia department mayors released in September in exchange for continuing the ELN-civil society talks begun in Germany (see Section 1.g.). As part of the same quid-pro-quo, the ELN also released Senator Carlos Espinosa Facciolince on September 20, after 51 days in captivity. On September 22, the EPL freed Congressman Gerardo Tamayo, after 57 days in captivity. Despite increased pressure by the Government on the FARC to account for 3 American missionaries kidnaped by FARC guerrillas in January 1993, their whereabouts and condition remained unknown. The FARC, the ELN, and other guerrilla groups regularly kidnaped foreign citizens throughout the year; some were released after weeks or months of captivity, while others still were held at year's end.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution and criminal law explicitly prohibit torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, reports of incidents of police and military torture or mistreatment of detainees continued. Of the 140 investigations of security force members completed by members of the human rights unit of the Attorney General's office between January and July, 108 investigations involved allegations of torture committed in previous years. However, the Attorney General's office only can sanction administratively or refer to the Prosecutor General's office those it finds guilty. Reports of torture by Government forces declined. Torture and abuse often occurred in connection with illegal detentions in the context of counterinsurgency operations. The Office of the Attorney General received 119 complaints of torture during the year; they reported investigating 462 cases of torture committed by the police, DAS, army, prison officials, and other agents of the State between June 1995 to October 1996. CINEP deemed the army responsible for eight reported torture cases during the first 9 months of the year and the police for none. The National Institute of Forensic Medicine reported that the bodies of 325 of the 24,306 persons murdered during 1997 showed signs of torture. CINEP attributed 41 of the remaining 42 cases it had documented to paramilitary groups. Paramilitary groups increasingly made use of threats both to intimidate opponents and to raise money. Letters demanding payment of a "war tax" and a threat to mark the victim as a "military target" if he failed to pay were typical. The CPDH reported that 5,429 persons were threatened with murder between January and June. The NGO reported that nearly half were public school teachers, and that approximately half of all threat recipients were residents of Antioquia department. Guerrilla groups also tortured and abused persons. The bodies of many persons detained and subsequently killed by guerrillas showed signs of torture and disfigurement. For example, on September 24 the FARC's 13th front abducted soldier Juan Paul Becerra Evanjuanoy and his brother, reservist Damacio Becerra Evanjuanoy, from their parents' home. Guerrillas tortured the brothers, decapitated them, and sent the heads to their parents. CINEP reported that guerrillas also made use of threats, both to intimidate opponents and to raise money, and, like the paramilitary groups, sent letters demanding payments of a war tax, along with threats to make persons military targets. Prison conditions are generally harsh, especially for those prisoners without significant outside support. Severe overcrowding, and dangerous sanitary and health conditions remained serious problems. In December 1997, a visiting IACHR mission declared that the living conditions in Bogota's La Picota prison constituted "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the inmates." According to the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, a majority of prisoners' food was provided by outside, private sources. The nation's 168 prisons and jails held nearly 45,000 inmates at year's end, 59 percent more than their planned capacity. In a number of the nation's largest prisons, the overcrowding was severe. Medellin's Bellavista prison, the nation's largest, was built to house 1,700 inmates; in December 1997 it housed more than 5,100 inmates. Bogota's La Modelo prison and the Palmira prison outside Cali both held more than 250 percent of their designed capacity. Only 8,000 prisoner accommodations met international standards, and no new construction was undertaken during the year. The National Police reported in December that La Modelo prison had the highest incidence of homicide of any "neighborhood" in Bogota. The National Prison Institute (INPEC) reported 150 murders in the country's 168 prisons during the year. Forty-seven percent of all prison inmates are pretrial detainees. The remaining 53 percent are split roughly between those appealing their convictions and those who have exhausted their appeals and are serving out their terms. Prison conditions prompted a nationwide civil disobedience campaign from August 1997 through May 1998 by prisoners who physically prevented the entry of more prisoners into their cells. In response, the Government began talks with prisoners and NGO's to address inmates' concerns, which ended the campaign but produced no other significant results. Prison violence was common; in one 45-day period, prisoners murdered 23 fellow inmates of Bogota's La Modelo prison. Instances of abuse by and corruption among prison staff, as well as ongoing criminal activities by inmates, were so serious that in 1997 judicial authorities announced the transfer of control of the maximum security wings of several prisons (La Picota, La Modelo, Palmira, and Itagui in Medellin) from the civilian National Prisons Institute (INPEC) to the National Police. By year's end, control of La Modelo and Palmira prisons had been returned to INPEC. On May 21, 19 paramilitary supporters of Victor Carranza escaped from Bogota's maximum security prison. On May 23, guerrillas of the FARC's 6th Front attacked the San Isidro Prison in Popayan. One guard and 2 prisoners died in the attack, which freed 324 prisoners, including several dozen FARC guerrillas, and was the biggest single prison escape to date. There are no separate facilities for pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. However, key narcotics traffickers and some guerrilla leaders get special cells with many comforts, some of which--such as access to two-way radios, cellular telephones, and computers--allowed them to continue their illegal activities from inside jail. Local or regional military and jail commanders did not always prepare mandatory detention registers or follow notification procedures; as a result, precise accounting for every detainee was not always possible. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to have routine access to most prisons and police and military detention centers. The ICRC obtained more frequent access, although still on an ad hoc basis, to prisoners held by paramilitary groups or guerrilla forces.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution includes several provisions designed to prevent illegal detention; however, there continued to be instances in which the authorities arrested or detained citizens arbitrarily. The law prohibits incommunicado detention. Anyone held in preventive detention must be brought before a prosecutor within 36 hours to determine the legality of the detention. The prosecutor must then act upon that petition within 36 hours of its submission. Despite these legal protections, instances of arbitrary detention continued. CINEP received 24 reports of arbitrary detention during the first 9 months of 1998. Conditional pretrial release is available under certain circumstances; for example, in connection with minor offenses or after unduly lengthy amounts of time in preventive detention. It is not available in cases of serious crimes, such as homicide or terrorism. Guerrilla groups captured and held prisoner members of the army and police. In September the FARC proposed a prisoner exchange and confirmed the identity of 278 army and police personnel it held. In addition, the ELN reportedly held more than 20 such prisoners. At year's end, the FARC and the ELN were believed to hold almost 400 police and army personnel captive. The Constitution prohibits exile, and forced exile is not formally practiced. However, there were repeated instances of individuals pressured into self-exile for their personal safety. Such cases included persons from all walks of life, including politicians, human rights workers, slum-dwellers, business executives, and farmers. The threats came from various quarters: elements of the military, paramilitary groups, guerrilla groups, narcotics traffickers, and other criminal elements.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The civilian judicial system, reorganized under the 1991 Constitution, is independent of the executive and legislative branches, both in theory and in practice, although the suborning or intimidation of judges, witnesses, and prosecutors by those indicted or involved is common. The human rights Ombudsman's office reported receipt of 1,533 complaints of denial of the right to due legal process during 1997. The judiciary includes the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, the Council of State, the Superior Judicial Council, and lower courts. The Prosecutor General's office is an independent prosecutorial body that brings criminal cases before the courts. The National Tribunal serves as the first court of appeal for cases tried before the regional (anonymous) courts. The Supreme Court of Justice serves as the appellate court for decisions by the national tribunal and lower appellate courts, and is also the court in which elected officials, generals, admirals, diplomats, and judges are tried. The Council of State is the appellate court for civil cases. The Constitutional Court is to adjudicate cases of constitutionality. The Superior Judicial Council is the administrative arm of the judicial branch, and also has the responsibility to determine whether individual cases are to be tried in civilian or military courts. Jurisdictional clashes among the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, the Council of State, and the Superior Judicial Council were common, due to the lack of a single supreme judicial authority capable of deciding issues of competence or constitutional interpretation. As part of the Ministry of Defense, the military judiciary falls under the executive branch, rather than under the judicial branch. The armed forces commander is also the president of the military judiciary, which has no dedicated corps of military lawyers. The Uniform Code of Military Justice predates the 1991 Constitution and does not contemplate some contemporary crimes. The workings of the military judiciary lack transparency and accountability, contributing to a generalized lack of confidence in the system's ability to bring human rights abusers to justice. In response to this situation, in 1997 the Constitutional Court directed the military judicial system to relinquish to the civilian judiciary the investigation and prosecution of grave human rights violations and other alleged crimes not directly related to acts of service--the 1991 constitutional standard for determining whether a case should be tried by the military or civilian judiciary. According to the Colombian Jurists' Commission, the court's decision defined only three crimes--torture, genocide, and forced disappearance--as grave human rights violations (homicide was not included). However, two of these--genocide and forced disappearance--were not codified as crimes in the civilian Penal Code and thus could not be prosecuted as such in civilian courts. Similar crimes, such as kidnaping, murder, and mass murder, are codified in the civilian code. The Superior Judicial Council assigned most cases involving high-level military personnel to the military courts, where convictions in human rights-related cases were the rare exception. According to the 1991 Constitution, general-rank officers are to be tried by the Supreme Court, but that provision was ignored in practice, and no definitive court ruling has resolved varying judicial interpretations of the provision. In determining which alleged crimes were to be tried by military tribunals, the Superior Judicial Council also regularly employed an extremely broad definition of relation to acts of service, thus ensuring that most uniformed defendants of any rank were tried in military tribunals. On October 1, the Superior Judicial Council determined that Brigadier General Fernando Millan Perez's alleged organization of a paramilitary group constituted an act of service and therefore turned General Millan's case over to the military judiciary for prosecution (see Section 1.a.). In reaching its decision, the Superior Judicial Council determined that it was not bound by the Constitutional Court's narrow 1997 interpretation of the 1991 constitutional standard of relation to acts of service. The Superior Judicial Council's decision effectively ended the Prosecutor General's investigation into whether General Millan had provided weapons and intelligence to paramilitary groups in Santander department. In cases where military officers were tried, convicted, and sentenced for human rights violations, they generally did not serve out prison terms and in some cases remained on active military duty. The Attorney General's office investigates misconduct by public officials, including members of the military and police. Its constitutional mandate only provides for the imposition of administrative sanctions; it has no authority to bring criminal prosecutions. Although the Attorney General's office may refer cases to the Prosecutor General's office for investigation and prosecution, it often fails to do so. The Attorney General's office can draw upon a nationwide network of hundreds of government human rights investigators covering the country's 1,073 municipalities. However, since it cannot impose criminal sanctions, it is incapable of adequately punishing human rights abusers. Judges have long been subject to threats and intimidation, particularly when dealing with cases involving members of the armed forces or of paramilitary, narcotics, and guerrilla organizations. Although the number of instances of violent attacks against prosecutors and judges declined in recent years, prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys continued to be subjected to threats and acts of violence. Moreover, prosecutors reported that potential witnesses in major cases often lacked faith in the Government's ability to protect their anonymity and were thus unwilling to testify, ruining chances for successful prosecutions. These concerns led in 1984 to the creation of regional or public order jurisdictions to prosecute cases involving the crimes of narcotics trafficking, terrorism, kidnaping, subversion, extortion, and some cases of human rights violations. In these courts, prosecutors, judges, witnesses, and attorneys act under cover of anonymity for security reasons. Given security concerns, and since testimony and evidence typically is provided to the judge in written form, regional court trials are not public. While a 1993 reform of the Criminal Procedures Code addressed certain procedural shortcomings within the system, significant problems remained. It still was difficult for defense attorneys to impeach or cross-examine anonymous witnesses, and often the defense attorneys did not have unimpeded access to the State's evidence. As a result of such concerns, judges may no longer base a conviction solely on the testimony of an anonymous witness. Nonetheless, national and international human rights groups continue to accuse these courts of violating fundamental rights to due process, including the right to a public trial. Some of the most vocal congressional critics of these courts continued to be implicated in investigations. The faceless regional courts are expected to be abolished in 1999. The Supreme Court elects the Prosecutor General for a 4-year term, which does not coincide with that of the President, from a list of three candidates chosen by the President. The Prosecutor General is tasked with investigating criminal offenses and presenting evidence against the accused before the various judges and tribunals. However, this office retains significant judicial functions and, like other elements of the civilian judiciary, it is struggling to make the transition from a Napoleonic legal system to a mixed one that incorporates an adversarial aspect. In an attempt to deal with impunity, the Prosecutor General in October 1995 created a special Human Rights Unit as part of the regional courts system. The unit achieved significant results; its group of 25 anonymous prosecutors addressed several hundred cases involving massacres, extrajudicial killings, kidnapings, and terrorism. These prosecutors issued arrest warrants against members of the public security forces, paramilitary, drug trafficking, and guerrilla organizations and successfully arrested 60 suspects by year's end. The Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor General's office attempted to combat prevailing impunity by investigating, indicting, or prosecuting 74 security force members during the year, including 12 officers, on a variety of charges including kidnaping, sponsorship of paramilitary groups, torture, and homicide. However, the Attorney General's office and the security forces did not always follow up with instructions that those ordered arrested be removed from their duties, denied the right to wear the uniform, or turned over to civilian judicial authorities. For example, despite convictions on terrorism charges in a civilian court and subsequent sentences to prison, Lt. Cols. Baez Garzon and Londono Tamayo remained on active duty with the army's Third Brigade and the logistical supply brigade in Bogota, respectively (see Section 1.a.). The Constitution specifically provides for the right to due process. Judges determine the outcome of all trials; there are no jury trials. The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to representation by counsel, although representation for the indigenous and the indigent historically has been inadequate. On October 3, Superior Judicial Council president Gustavo Cuello Iriare stated that the civilian judiciary suffered from a backlog of 3.5 million cases. The number of outstanding arrest warrants stood at 150,000 in August. Trials conducted by the regular courts are public. Defendants have the right to be present and the right to timely consultation with an attorney. Regular court defendants and their attorneys have the right to question, contradict, and confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses on their own behalf, and to have access to government evidence relevant to the case. Direct confrontations are not possible in regional courts, where everything is processed on paper without a face-to-face courtroom trial. Defendants also have the right to appeal a conviction to a higher court. The Chamber of Deputies elects the Public Ministry's National Ombudsman for Human Rights for a 4-year term, which does not coincide with that of the President. The office has the constitutional duty to ensure the promotion and exercise of human rights. In addition to providing public defense attorneys in criminal cases, the Ombudsman's 32 departmental offices throughout the country provide a legal channel for thousands of complaints and allegations of human rights violations. In practice, however, the Ombudsman's operations are underfunded and understaffed, slowing its development of a credible public defender system. The Government states that it does not hold political prisoners. The ICRC reported that it monitored approximately 3,700 cases of imprisoned citizens accused of terrorism, rebellion, or aiding and abetting the insurgency, which are crimes punishable under law.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides for the protection of these rights; however, at times the authorities infringed upon them. The law generally requires a judicial order signed by a prosecutor for the authorities to enter a private home, except in cases of hot pursuit. The Ministry of Defense continued training public security forces in legal search procedures that comply with constitutional and human rights. Due to intimidation, corruption, or the absence of evidentiary proof collected directly by prosecutors, guerrilla suspects captured by the security forces in or out of combat and turned over to the judicial authorities were routinely set free. A judicial order or the approval of a prosecuting attorney is required to authorize the interception of mail or the monitoring of either landline or cellular telephones. This protection extends to prisoners held in jails. However, various state authorities sometimes monitored telephones without obtaining prior authorization. No officials have ever been disciplined for illegal wiretapping. The security forces subjected human rights groups to surveillance, harassment, and threats (see Section 4). Guerrillas forcibly recruited children to serve as soldiers (see Section 1.g.).
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law In Internal Conflicts
The internal armed conflict and narcotics trafficking are the central causes of violations of human rights and humanitarian law. Government security forces violated international humanitarian law, and paramilitary groups and guerrillas, in particular, committed numerous abuses. The ICRC reported that the Government, including military authorities, followed an open-door policy toward the ICRC and readily incorporated Red Cross curriculums on international humanitarian law in standard military training. The military has reduced its emphasis on body counts as a means of assessing field performance. According to military sources, local commanders typically preferred to transfer or discharge soldiers accused of serious human rights violations, rather than initiate court martial proceedings. The CPDH reported 112 massacres between January and November, which resulted in the deaths of at least 667 people. For example, soldiers of the Boca battalion of the army's Third Brigade executed five civilians whom they suspected of being members of the FARC's 58th front at a road block at San Pablo municipality, Narino department (see Section 1.a.). Twenty-four massacres occurred in Antioquia department. Human rights monitors charged that on December 13, military aircraft attacked the jungle village of Santo Domingo, Arauca, killing 18 civilians and wounding 25 other civilians, while engaging the FARC. The military strongly denied these accounts, stating that a battle took place 6 kilometers outside the town, and that deaths in Santo Domingo were the result of a FARC truck bomb that exploded prematurely. The Prosecutor General established a commission to conduct a full investigation of the incident, which continued at year's end. According to the independent Advisory Committee for Human Rights and Displacements (CODHES), some 308,000 persons were forcibly displaced from their homes by violence during the year, the highest number during any year during the past decade. CODHES estimated that the government forces were responsible for approximately 6 percent of displacements during the year. Internally displaced citizens during 1995-98 probably exceeded 750,000, but the total number--and the number of those who were permanently displaced--was difficult to discern. CODHES states that some persons have been displaced for as long as 10 years, but is unable to identify a typical timeframe for displacement. Some persons return to their homes within days or weeks, others within months, and some never return. Some displaced persons move several times after fleeing their original home, making tracking difficult. The Government does not consider persons to be displaced after 2 years. CODHES estimated that perhaps 65 percent of displacements became permanent. Many displaced persons lost access to health care and employment, and displaced children often were unable to attend school. The Samper Government's response to the needs of the displaced population was inadequate, and by its own estimate reached only 10 percent of the displaced population. Most displaced citizens receiving government assistance received it for only 90 days. Conditions at the Government's two camps for displaced persons, at Pavarando and Turbo, were poor and unhygienic; health care is poor and there are few educational or employment opportunities. In March the Bogota office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the Government for sometimes encouraging civilian populations to move back to their homes before the security situation had normalized. Thousands of displaced persons also fled to Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela, where they usually were denied refugee status, treated as illegal immigrants, and denied protection or assistance. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened an office in Bogota in July in order to address the problem. According to army estimates, there were between 50,000 and 70,000 antipersonnel landmines located in 13 departments. The armed forces deployed approximately 20,000 landmines during the year, most of which were used to defend static positions. Due to the ongoing conflict, no generalized mine clearance program was underway at year's end. Thousands of displaced persons were unable to return to their homes due to the presence of antipersonnel mines. There were no known civilian mine awareness campaigns or assistance programs for civilian victims of landmines. The human rights Ombudsman's office reported an increase in violence against women during 1997, especially in war zones. It noted that most female victims in zones of conflict chose not to report the abuses they had suffered, in part due to a lack of confidence in the efficacy of governmental institutions to address their problems. The Ombudsman noted that female leaders of political and peasant organizations in the Uraba-Antioquia region were increasingly the targets of persecution, threats, torture, and executions. According to the Ombudsman's 1997 report, there was a substantial increase in sexual assault and murder of women that year, particularly in Meta, Arauca, Cesar, and Sucre departments. The many paramilitary groups are diverse in their motivations, structure, leadership, and ideology. The 1997 establishment of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) as a national umbrella organization was designed both to provide a national structure and to develop a more coherent political culture for the nation's local and regional paramilitary groups. The AUC paramilitary umbrella group comprises between 5,000 and 7,000 combatants, who are members of 7 major organizations. Although illegal, some paramilitary groups reflected rural citizens' legitimate desire to defend themselves from the guerrilla threat. Other groups were actually the paid, private armies of drug traffickers or large landowners. The victims of paramilitary killings were often unarmed civilians that the paramilitary groups believed to be guerrillas or guerrilla collaborators. Paramilitary groups sought the death or displacement of civilians as punishment for perceived ties to the guerrillas. The paramilitary groups centered their actions in selective killings, intimidation, and the forced displacement of persons not directly involved in the hostilities. They targeted teachers, labor leaders, community activists, mayors, town council members, and peasants whom they accused of supporting the leftist guerrillas. A number of these victims included members of indigenous communities (see Section 5). A paramilitary group publicly claimed responsibility for the May 16 massacre of 36 civilians at Barrancabermeja (see Section 1.a.). Paramilitary groups redoubled their efforts to deprive guerrillas of civilian support by displacing civilian populations believed to be sympathetic to the guerrillas. CODHES estimated that paramilitary groups were responsible for approximately 54 percent of displacements. On October 25, about 100 members of the AUC paramilitary group attacked the town of San Carlos, Antioquia. They killed 10 persons whom they accused of being guerrilla collaborators. The group also destroyed a police station and a bank. The Prosecutor General's office was investigating the attack at year's end. On July 26, AUC leader Castano and a dozen other paramilitary commanders signed an agreement with the national human rights Ombudsman, other members of the National Peace Council, and representatives of civil society committing the paramilitary groups to a search for national peace. Coming a few weeks after the ELN agreement with civil society groups, the "Nudo de Paramillo" agreement represented an attempt by the paramilitary leaders to obtain political status and to be considered for participation in future peace talks. In November Castano held a radiotelephone conversation with "Antonio Garcia," the military leader of the ELN guerrillas, which was later printed in the newspaper El Tiempo. Castano argued that the paramilitary groups are independent of the Government, but Garcia argued that the guerrillas had seen AUC members exchange their armbands for army armbands, and that the guerrillas did not believe the paramilitaries were entirely autonomous. Castano admitted that some elements of the armed forces tolerate the paramilitary groups, but asserted that the military had increased pressure on his forces. On December 28 and 29, the FARC's 18th front launched a major attack against Castano's personal headquarters in southern Cordoba department. The guerrillas tortured and decapitated noncombatant civilians Norbey Guarneli Ruiz, Nicolas Caballero Leyva, and Reinoldo Gutierrez Pastrana; dismembered and castrated Adolfo Adisal Cordero; and shot to death Maria Elena Vargas, Johnny Maria Sanchez, and Milady Isabel Montalvo, as well as a 3 year-old and an infant. The FARC publicly admitted to the killings and decapitations, which it attempted to justify with allegations that the civilians were paramilitary supporters. In July the Government discontinued its practice (begun in December 1994) of organizing and registering civilian rural defense cooperatives, known collectively as "Convivir," which were to provide counterinsurgency intelligence to local police and military commanders. The human rights Ombudsman had voiced opposition to these groups, and in November 1997 the Constitutional Court ruled that while the groups were a constitutional means to combat guerrillas, they must relinquish rifles, machine guns, and other restricted weaponry in their possession. (Although the authorities originally intended these groups to be unarmed, they subsequently authorized an undetermined number to carry small arms in self-defense.) Other Convivir groups clearly were operating outside the terms of the law, as they were armed with rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and other weaponry, much of it authorized, sold, or otherwise provided to them by the military. On July 25, Convivir president Carlos Alberto Diaz announced the disbanding of 289 of the program's 414 officially recognized rural security cooperatives. However, credible outside observers place the total number of such groups at over 700; many Convivir groups were organized but never licensed by the Government. There were credible charges that some cooperative members committed serious abuses while fighting alongside, or as members of, paramilitary units. In August more than 200 members of 39 disbanded cooperatives in northwestern Colombia announced that their communities would join the illegal AUC network of paramilitary units, citing a need to defend themselves from guerrillas. Some local army and police commanders tacitly tolerated--and sometimes aided and abetted--the activities of paramilitary groups, despite the public pronouncements of the Government and the new armed forces high command that they intended to combat paramilitary violence. At times, individual commanders and troops at local levels armed, coordinated actions with, or shared intelligence with paramilitary groups, although such behavior was less pervasive than in previous years. Some military commanders effectively afforded paramilitary groups protection by allowing them to establish their base camps in areas generally under military control. Paramilitary groups that received such shelter often were able to attack guerrillas with minimal fear of reprisals. On October 18, Vice President Gustavo Bell admitted that despite official policy, "some members of the armed forces have maintained some degree of links to paramilitary groups." He stated that there was no evidence of an "institutional decision" by the armed forces to cooperate with paramilitary groups. Despite the continuing significant rise in paramilitary activity since 1992, the military often has failed to give priority to confronting these illegal groups. On occasion, the military did engage paramilitary groups. On February 8, 23 paramilitary members in the Uraba region ran out of ammunition during a clash with the FARC and surrendered to elements of the army's 17th Brigade, which turned them over to civilian authorities for prosecution. On February 18, police and marines killed 4 members of a paramilitary group and captured 10 others in the same area. In September elements of the 24th Brigade captured eight paramilitary members in Putumayo department and turned them over to the civilian judiciary. They were jailed and the Prosecutor's office was taking action against them at year's end. The Prosecutor General's office and, to a lesser extent, the Attorney General's office, in some instances took action in response to security force members' collaboration with paramilitary groups. On July 23, the Prosecutor General's human rights unit arrested four members of the army's 17th Brigade and charged them with sponsorship and formation of illegal paramilitary groups. The four men were arrested on the basis of testimony from several of the paramilitary members who had surrendered to that brigade in February. The Ministry of Defense reported that during the year the police captured 93 paramilitary members, the military 95, the DAS 4, and the Prosecutor General's technical investigative corps 30. Additionally, it stated that the army killed 23 paramilitary members, the navy 3, the DAS 3, and the police 5. Due to differences in record-keeping and definitions, the Ministry of Defense's statistics fell short of those issued by the Prosecutor General's office, which reported that the police captured 212 paramilitary members during the year, the army 81, and the Prosecutor General's technical investigative corps 125. Both sets of figures represented a substantial increase in army efforts against paramilitary groups over 1997, when the army reported killing 25 paramilitary members and capturing 31. Paramilitary groups on occasion used landmines, and sometimes accepted underage combatants in their ranks. Paramilitary groups attacked hospitals and ambulances and were responsible for multiple violations of the protected status of religious and medical personnel, of the wounded, and of the emblem of the Red Cross. For example, on August 18, members of a paramilitary group pursued a man that they had wounded into a local hospital in Yolombo, Antioquia, and killed him there. Guerrilla organizations continued to pursue strategies that routinely violated citizens' rights. Their tactics consistently included extrajudicial killings, kidnaping, torture, targeting of civilian populations and installations, and the forced recruitment of children under the age of 15. Two main guerrilla armies, the FARC and the ELN, as well as the much smaller EPL, ERP, ERG, and Jaime Bateman groups, commanded an estimated total of between 11,000 and 17,000 full-time guerrillas operating in more than 100 semiautonomous groups in 30 of the nation's 32 departments. These groups undertook armed actions in nearly 700 of the 1,073 municipalities. Both the FARC and the ELN systematically attacked noncombatants and violated citizens' rights through the use of tactics such as extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, the mutilation of bodies, FARC attacks on ambulances, and ELN executions of patients in hospitals. Guerrillas killed members of indigenous communities (see Section 5). According to CODHES, guerrillas were responsible for approximately 29 percent of forced displacements. Guerrillas used landmines both to defend static positions (such as base camps, cocaine laboratories, and sites at which kidnap victims were held) and as indiscriminate weapons of terror. Landmines planted by guerrillas or disguised as everyday items such as soccer balls or paint cans often resulted in the killing or maiming of civilian noncombatants; thousands of displaced persons were unable to return to their homes due to the presence of antipersonnel mines. Although the ELN agreed to halt recruitment of children under the terms of the June 28 Mainz "Heaven's Gate" agreement, both it and the larger FARC regularly pressed children into their ranks (see Section 5). Once recruited, child guerrillas are virtual prisoners of their commanders and subject to various forms of abuse. Sexual abuse of young girls is a particular problem. On August 3-5, guerrillas attacked army and police posts in 18 different departments. The most serious defeat of government forces occurred at Miraflores, Guaviare department, where a counternarcotics base shared by the army and the National Police was overrun and destroyed. The guerrillas captured 73 army and 56 police personnel and kidnaped several humanitarian workers, including 1 priest, 1 medical doctor, and 3 nurses, as well as several other civilians. FARC national military commander Jorge Briceno directed the attack from the Miraflores public hospital. Car bombs in Cucuta and Medellin destroyed private homes. In some areas, guerrillas shut down basic utility services, such as electricity and water, and attacked infrastructure facilities such as hydroelectric plants and power lines. On November 1, hundreds of FARC guerrillas overran the Vaupes departmental capital of Mitu razing several city blocks, including private homes, a church, and a school. The FARC directed its attack from the hospital and used medical personnel as human shields. After killing at least 16 security force personnel, the FARC took 67 policemen and an undetermined number of soldiers prisoner. The FARC also carried out a selective campaign of killings while it occupied the town, resulting in several civilian deaths. On October 18, the ELN blew up a gas and oil pipeline at Machuca, Antioquia department. The explosion started a fire that killed 74 persons, including 38 children, and injured more than 50 persons. In November the ELN retracted its public accusation that the army had been responsible for the explosion and admitted its own responsibility. ELN guerrillas killed more than 70 other civilians that month, despite an October 12 ELN-civil society meeting to discuss reducing civilian casualties during hostilities. Additionally, ELN and FARC attacks on the Cano Limon-Covenas and other pipelines caused oil spills that resulted in massive environmental damage. On June 15, the ELN kidnaped 15 women, among them 5 children, while they were performing civic action work for the army's 14th Brigade, according to Human Rights Watch. The women were members of the army's "Steel Girls" program, and were wearing army-issued uniforms. The ELN claimed that, by giving the 15 women uniforms, the army had put them at risk of being misidentified as combatants. The ELN released them on July 4. Guerrilla groups also were responsible for multiple violations of the protected status of religious and medical personnel, of the wounded, and of the emblem of the Red Cross. On July 17, members of the FARC fired on a helicopter-ambulance in Amalfi, Antioquia department, causing it to crash. On September 15, FARC guerrillas killed eight public health workers at Mocoa, Putumayo department, who were engaged in a malaria eradication campaign. At times, guerrillas also showed no respect for the sanctity of bodies of the dead. For example, on February 17, two soldiers were killed and five were wounded at the army's artillery school in Bogota when a grenade exploded as the soldiers unloaded the corpses of three soldiers who had died in combat with the FARC. The FARC had booby-trapped one of the bodies. President Pastrana, during his campaign and upon assuming office, placed a high priority upon achieving a lasting internal peace. President-elect Pastrana initiated peace efforts with a July 9 meeting with the FARC leader "Manuel Marulanda Velez". Civil society groups met with the ELN in Mainz, Germany, on June 28 in an attempt to "humanize" the Government-ELN conflict. A second round of ELN-civil society talks was held in Colombia on October 12. In a prenegotiation concession to the FARC, the Government committed to withdraw its military forces from five southern municipalities November 7 for a 90-day period, effectively turning the area over to FARC control. At year's end, the Government and the FARC agreed to begin peace talks at a town in the demilitarized region in January 1999.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of the press; although the Government generally respected this right in practice, there were significant exceptions. Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship. However, the privately owned print media published a wide spectrum of political viewpoints and often voiced harsh antigovernment opinions without fear of administrative reprisals. In 1997 the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the Government's ban on publication of guerrilla communiques by the media. A ban on the publication of evidence pertaining to criminal investigations, based on the secrecy provisions of the Penal Code and an anticorruption statute, remained in effect. The Samper administration had been quick to apply pressure on the media when its core interests were threatened. Self-censorship was common, either to curry favor with the Government or to avoid political or economic retaliation. In August the dean of the Los Andes University law school and the leading daily newspaper El Tiempo filed a legal challenge to the 1997 Constitutional Court decision upholding a 1996 law that gave the Government unprecedented authority over the content of television programming. The plaintiffs asserted that the law was aimed at limiting journalistic freedom of expression. There was no decision on the challenge at year's end. Journalism faculties and students widely criticized a March 18 Constitutional Court ruling that abolished professional licensing requirements for journalists, although it met with the approval of the media and free speech advocates. All citizens have the right to seek a judicial injunction or motion ("tutela") in cases involving violations of constitutional rights. This provides all persons and organizations, including the media, with a mechanism to denounce both governmental and private violations of fundamental rights. Both Colombian and international journalists typically work in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation. Fearing for their safety, journalists often refrain from publishing or airing stories counter to the interests of paramilitary groups, guerrillas, or narcotics traffickers. Unknown assailants murdered at least 13 journalists during the year, although not all the murders apparently were related to the journalists' work. Oscar Garcia, sports reporter for Bogota's second leading daily newspaper, El Espectador, was murdered on February 23, the day before he was to meet with representatives of the Prosecutor General's office, apparently to discuss organized crime links that he had uncovered to the bullfighting industry. On April 16, Nelson Carvajal, a radio announcer and schoolteacher, was killed in front of his school in Pitalito, Huila department. Carvajal's killing was apparently in retaliation for his charges of corruption against a former Pitalito mayor. On May 19, radio and television journalist Bernabe Cortes, who was rumored to have links to organized crime, was murdered in Cali. On August 14, Luz Amparo Jimenez, a television reporter and coordinator of the Cesar and La Guajira department chapters of "Redepaz" (an NGO), was murdered in front of her home in Valledupar. She recently had criticized local police links to paramilitary groups and regularly covered the plight of displaced persons in the region (see Section 4). On September 11, journalist and aspiring politician Nestor Villar Jimenez was killed in Villavicencio. On October 14, the editor of El Panorama magazine, Jose Arturo Guapacha, was murdered in the Valle del Cauca department. He had written exposes on narcotics traffickers. According to Pais Libre, 16 journalists were kidnaped during the year. Most of the incidents appeared to have been related to journalists' work and aimed at intimidation. The trend of concentration of media ownership continued, with large news firms purchasing small, previously independent newspapers. Wealthy families or groups associated with one or the other of the two dominant political parties also continued to expand their holdings of news media, and regional firms continued to purchase local news media outlets. Although the press remained generally free, these trends in news media ownership tended to narrow the range of political viewpoints offered. Despite an attempt by some members of Congress to abolish it, the National Television Commission continued to oversee television programming throughout the year. Detractors charged that it was susceptible to political influence. The Government generally respected academic freedom, and there was a wide spectrum of political activity throughout the country's universities. However, paramilitary groups and guerrillas often targeted teachers at the elementary and secondary levels in areas of conflict. The CPDH reported that slightly more than 10 percent of all victims of politically motivated homicides during the year were public school teachers.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice. The authorities normally do not interfere with public meetings and demonstrations and usually grant the required permission except when they determine that there is imminent danger to public order. In September and October, a lengthy strike by public sector workers resulted in violent confrontations with the police on various occasions in several cities (see Section 6.a.). The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government respects this right in practice. Any legal organization is free to associate with international groups in its field. Membership in proscribed organizations, such as the FARC, the ELN, and the EPL, is a crime.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for complete religious freedom, and the Government respects this right in practice. There is little religious discrimination. Roman Catholic religious instruction is no longer mandatory in public schools, and a 1994 Constitutional Court decision declared unconstitutional any official government reference to religious characterizations of the country. The Government permits proselytizing among the indigenous population, provided that it is welcome and does not induce members of indigenous communities to adopt changes that endanger their survival on traditional lands. The law on the freedom of religion provides a mechanism for religions to obtain the status of recognized legal entities. Both the Constitutional Court (on October 7) and the Council of State (on November 19) found that Jehovah's Witnesses and Mennonite seminarians had been regularly forced into military service, in violation of constitutional and other provisions for conscientious objectors. Both the court and council directed the Government to exempt the two churches' seminarians in the same manner that it exempted Roman Catholic seminarians.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to travel domestically and abroad. Outsiders who wish to enter Indian tribes' reserves must be invited. In areas where counterinsurgency operations were underway, police or military officials occasionally required civilians to obtain safe-conduct passes; paramilitary forces and guerrillas often used similar means to restrict travel in areas under their control. Military counterinsurgency operations, forced conscription by paramilitary and guerrilla organizations, guerrilla incursions, and land seizures instigated by wealthy individuals or narcotics traffickers often forced peasants to flee their homes and farms, and there was a very large population of internally displaced persons (see Section 1.g.). Colombia has had a tradition of providing asylum since the 1920's. During the 1970's, Colombia granted asylum to Argentine, Chilean, Uruguayan, and Paraguayan citizens seeking refuge from dictatorial regimes. The right to asylum, under terms established by law, is provided for in the 1991 Constitution. The Government cooperates with the office of the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and internally displaced persons. The Government reserves the right to determine eligibility for asylum, based upon its own assessment of the nature of the persecution an applicant may have suffered. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of the forced expulsion of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their government, and citizens exercise this right in regularly scheduled elections by secret ballot. Conservative Party candidate Andres Pastrana defeated Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa in a second round of presidential elections on June 21 with heavy voter turnout. Both rounds of presidential elections were free, fair, and transparent despite some threats by paramilitary groups, narcotics traffickers, and guerrillas to the electoral process. Presidential elections are held every 4 years, with the incumbent barred for life from reelection. The Liberal and Conservative parties have long dominated the formal political process with one or the other winning the presidency. Public employees are not permitted to participate in partisan campaigns. Officially, all political parties operate freely without government interference. Those that fail to garner 50,000 votes in a general election lose the right to present candidates and may not receive funds from the Government. However, they may reincorporate at any time by presenting 50,000 signatures to the National Electoral Board. Voting is voluntary and universal for citizens age 18 and older, except for active-duty members of the police and armed forces, who may not vote. Although large numbers of citizens voted in the March 8 election for all 102 members of the Senate and all 161 members of the Chamber of Representatives, voter turnout was significantly lower in guerrilla-controlled areas. In spite of guerrillas' detention of 52 electoral workers and burning of electoral materials and vehicles, normal elections were carried out in more than 90 percent of all municipalities. Although the elections were free, fair, and transparent, several Congressmen publicly identified with narcotics trafficking interests were reelected. Some vote buying and fraud took place, but neither significantly affected the outcome of the elections. There are no legal restrictions, and few practical ones, on the participation of women or minorities in the political process, although both are underrepresented in official and party positions. A female independent presidential candidate, Noemi Sanin, made a strong third-place finish during the first round of the presidential elections in May and was the first-place finisher in most large cities, including Bogota. Voters elected 14 women to the Senate and 19 women to the Chamber of Representatives in March. President Pastrana appointed 2 women to his 16-member Cabinet, to serve as Ministers of Communication and Foreign Trade. Indigenous people are underrepresented in government and politics. Two of 102 Senate seats are reserved for indigenous representatives. Blacks also are underrepresented in government and politics. A 1993 law that set aside two House seats for citizens of African heritage was declared unconstitutional in September 1996 by the Constitutional Court, which nonetheless allowed the incumbents to complete their terms in office. There is one black Senator but no black members of the Chamber of Representatives.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A large and varied nongovernmental human rights community is active, providing a wide range of views. Among the many groups are: the Catholic Bishops Conference, the Colombian Commission of Jurists; the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace; the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights; the Center for Investigations and Popular Research; the Advisory Committee for Human Rights and Displacements; the Latin American Institute for Alternative Legal Services; the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners; the Association of Families of Detained and Disappeared Persons; the Reinsertion Foundation (focused on demobilized guerrillas); the Pais Libre Foundation (focused on the rights of kidnap victims); and the Vida Foundation (focused on the rights of victims of guerrilla violence). Other international human rights organizations in the country that were active include the ICRC and Peace Brigades International. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has an office in Bogota. Although the Government generally did not interfere directly with the work of human rights NGO's, many prominent human rights monitors worked under constant fear for their physical safety. Human rights groups were subjected to surveillance, harassing phone calls, graffiti campaigns, and threats by elements of the military, intelligence, police, paramilitary, and guerrilla forces. Jose Fernando Castro, the national human rights Ombudsman, was harshly critical of the Government's human rights record during his March 20 presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He cited excessive use of force by the military, weak institutions, and harassment of the Ombudsman's office as problems faced by human rights monitors. Castro said that the Government prevented representatives of his office from visiting the scene of fighting that month between the security forces and guerrillas, even to the point of an attack by helicopter on a boat his office was using. NGO's investigated and reported on human rights abuses committed by government forces, various paramilitary groups, and the guerrilla armies. Many NGO's expressed serious concern over the growing paramilitary and guerrilla violence--and the Government's increasingly apparent inability to stop either of them. In particular, a number of NGO, as well as governmental, human rights officials were alarmed by the rapid growth of paramilitary groups, both in terms of their responsibility for an increased proportion of human rights violations and their growing political and military power. The human rights community came under intense pressure during the year. Human Rights Watch/Americas cited a "shocking record" of killings of human rights defenders. Human rights monitors were subject to a systematic campaign of intimidation, harassment, and violence. Human Rights Watch also reported that 6 human rights defenders were killed in the first 10 months of the year, including Jesus Maria Valle in Medellin and Eduardo Umana Mendoza in Bogota (see Section 1.a.). In addition, many human rights workers fled the country for their own safety. On May 13, an urban counterterrorism unit attached to the army's Fifth Division, accompanied by a state prosecutor bearing a legal warrant, raided the offices of the human rights NGO Justice and Peace. The ostensible purpose of the raid was to search for information regarding subversive guerrilla movements and the May 12 assassination of former Defense Minister and commanding General Fernando Landazabal. During the course of the raid, the security forces at least partially copied the NGO's "never again" database of over 40,000 human rights crimes. The search was executed with a valid search warrant issued by the Prosecutor General's office, but the prosecutor who accompanied the army was fired for having conducted the raid in an illegal manner. The armed forces, which have no legal mandate to perform domestic law enforcement functions, retained evidence that by law should have been turned over to the prosecutor. Army commander Major General Jorge Enrique Mora (who was in command of the Fifth Division at the time) told the press that Thirteenth Brigade commander Brigadier General Rito Alejo del Rio (see Section 1.a.) had ordered the raid. Police had no leads in the August 11 murder of Luz Amparo Jimenez, a television reporter and NGO coordinator who criticized local police links to paramilitary groups, in Valledupar, Cesar department (see Section 2.a.). In September the Government indicted five persons in the 1997 murders of two CINEP workers (see Section 1.a.). The ICRC, working with the presidential human rights adviser and the public security forces, helped provide training programs in international humanitarian law. These programs were directed not only at affected civilian populations but also were integrated into the military training curriculum. The security forces sent 26,000 persons to an average of 4.5 hours of training. Many observers credited these programs with having done much to foster a climate of increased respect for human rights and international humanitarian law within the military forces in recent years. The ICRC continued to expand its operations, with an office in Bogota plus 15 offices in various conflict zones. The Government has an extensive human rights apparatus, which includes the Office of the President's Adviser for Human Rights, the Ministry of Defense human rights office, and dependent offices for each of the armed forces. The national human rights Ombudsman and its regional representatives and corps of public defenders, the Attorney General's office and its office for human rights and regional representatives, and the Prosecutor General's office and its human rights unit are all independent institutions, not subject to executive branch direction. In September President Pastrana named Vice President Gustavo Bell to serve concurrently as Presidential Advisor on Human Rights. The human rights Ombudsman's office received 20,101 human rights complaints during 1997 and concluded investigations of 11,047 complaints that year. It also provided 29,406 free legal consultations through its corps of nearly 1,000 public defenders, many of whom work only part time. In 1997 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a field office in Bogota to observe human rights practices and advise the Government. Originally scheduled to end after 1 year, the Government asked that its mandate be extended until April 1999. The office is tasked with monitoring and analyzing the human rights situation throughout the country and with the provision of assistance to the Government, civil society, and NGO's in the field of human rights protection. It submitted reports to the Government and to the United Nations and spoke out publicly on particularly egregious abuses committed by government, paramilitary, or guerrilla forces.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. In practice, however, many of these provisions are not enforced. The killing of homosexuals as part of the practice of social cleansing continued. Women Rape and other acts of violence against women are pervasive in society, and like other crimes, seldom are prosecuted successfully. The quasi-governmental Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) and the Presidential Adviser's Office for Youth, Women, and Family Affairs continued to report high levels of spouse and partner abuse throughout the country. The ICBF conducted programs and provided refuge and counseling for victims of spousal abuse, but the level and amount of these services were dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem. The Institute for Legal Medicine estimated in 1997 that 239,400 persons are victims of sexual abuse annually, 88 percent of them women. The Institute also estimated that 95 percent of all abuse cases are never reported to the authorities. The 1996 Law on Family Violence criminalizes violent acts committed within families, including spousal rape. The law also provides legal recourse for victims of family violence, immediate protection from physical or psychological abuse, and judicial authority to remove the abuser from the household. It allows a judge to oblige an abuser to seek therapy or reeducation. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates sentences of 6 months to 2 years and denies probation or bail to offenders who disobey restraining orders issued by the courts. A 1997 law also made additional, substantial modifications to the Penal Code and introduced sentences of between 4 and 40 years for crimes against sexual freedom or human dignity, including rape, sex with a minor, sexual abuse, induction into prostitution, and child pornography. The law also repealed an old law that fully exonerated a rapist if he subsequently offered to marry the victim and she accepted. However, there was little evidence that this legislation was enforced systematically. The Institute for Legal Medicine's preliminary 1998 statistics state that 25,669 persons were victims of domestic violence. Women also faced an increased threat of torture and sexual assault due to the internal conflict (see Section 1.g.). The Constitution prohibits any form of discrimination against women and specifically requires the authorities to ensure "adequate and effective participation by women at decisionmaking levels of public administration." Even prior to implementation of the 1991 Constitution, the law had provided women with extensive civil rights. However, despite these constitutional provisions, discrimination against women persisted. According to figures published by the United Nations, women's earnings for formal sector, nonagricultural work correspond to approximately 85 percent of men's earnings for comparable work, and women must demonstrate higher qualifications than men when applying for jobs. Moreover, women constitute a disproportionately high percentage of the subsistence labor work force, especially in rural areas. 1997 ICBF data indicated that although working women suffered from a higher rate of unemployment than men, the economically active female population had a higher level of education than did men. However, some 39 percent of working women were employed in minimum wage jobs, compared with 31 percent of men. Despite an explicit constitutional provision promising additional resources for single mothers and government efforts to provide them with training in parenting skills, women's groups reported that the social and economic problems of single mothers remained great. The Constitutional Court ruled in September 1997 that pregnant women and mothers of newborn children under 3 months of age could not be fired from their jobs without "just cause." Bearing children, the Court ruled, was not just cause. Children The Constitution formally provides for free public education, which is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14. Nevertheless, an estimated 25 percent of children in this age group do not attend school, due to lax enforcement of truancy laws, inadequate classroom space, and economic pressures to provide income for the family. Despite significant constitutional and legislative commitments to the protection of children's rights, these were implemented only to a minimal degree. The Constitution imposes the obligation on family, society, and the State to assist and protect children, to foster their development, and to assure the full exercise of these rights. A special Children's Code sets forth many of these rights and establishes services and programs designed to enforce the protection of minors. Children's advocates reported the need to educate citizens with regard to the code as well as the 1996 and 1997 laws on family violence, which had been drafted particularly to increase legal protection for women and children. According to the Institute for Legal Medicine, during 1997, 82 percent of sexual abuse victims were minors. An estimated 25,000 boys and girls under age 18 work in the sex trade. In 1996 legislators passed a law prohibiting sex with minors or the employment of minors for prostitution, and they amended that law in 1997 to provide that conviction for nonviolent sexual abuse of a child under age 14 carries a prison sentence of 4 to 10 years. Conviction for rape of anyone under the age of 12 carries a mandatory sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison. Although enforcement of such laws is lax, crimes against children are being dealt with more severely than in the past. The ICBF oversees all government child protection and welfare programs and funds nongovernmental and church programs for children. In conflict zones, children often were caught in the crossfire between the public security forces, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla organizations. Children suffered disproportionately from the internal conflict, often forfeiting opportunities to study as they were displaced by conflict and suffered psychological traumas. The use of child soldiers was common. Paramilitary groups sometimes pressed children into their ranks. The army estimated that 3,000 children were members of the ELN or FARC (see Section 1.g.). In August the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinating Board admitted that 7 to 10 percent of armed guerrillas were children between the ages of 13 and 17. The ELN agreed to stop forcing children into its ranks as part of its accord with civil society signed on June 28 in Mainz, Germany. People With Disabilities The Constitution enumerates the fundamental social, economic, and cultural rights of the physically disabled, but serious practical impediments exist that prevent the full participation of disabled persons in society. There is no legislation that specifically mandates access for the disabled. According to the Constitutional Court, physically disabled individuals must have access to, or if they so request, receive assistance at, voting stations. The Court also has ruled that the social security fund for public employees cannot refuse to provide services for the disabled children of its members, regardless of the cost involved. Indigenous People There are approximately 80 distinct ethnic groups among the 800,000-plus indigenous inhabitants. The Constitution gives special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous people. It provides for a special criminal and civil jurisdiction, based upon traditional community laws, within Indian territories. The Ministry of Interior, through the Office of Indigenous Affairs, is responsible for protecting the territorial, cultural, and self-determination rights of Indians. Ministry representatives are located in all regions of the country with indigenous populations and work with other governmental human rights organizations, as well as with NGO human rights groups and civil rights organizations, to promote Indian interests and investigate violations of indigenous rights. Nonetheless, members of indigenous groups suffer discrimination in the sense that they traditionally have been relegated to the margins of society. Few opportunities exist for those who might wish to participate more fully in modern life. In addition, indigenous communities suffer disproportionately from the internal armed conflict (see Section 1.g.). According to the National Agrarian Reform Institute (INCORA), 344,505 people live on designated Indian reserves. Traditional Indian authority boards operate some 476 reserves; the boards handle national or local funds and are subject to fiscal oversight by the national Comptroller General. These boards administer their territories as municipal entities, with officials elected or otherwise chosen according to Indian tradition. Indigenous communities are free to educate their children in traditional dialects and in the observance of cultural and religious customs. Indigenous men are not subject to the national military draft. The INCORA estimated that some 40 indigenous communities had no legal title to land that they claimed as their own, and reported that an estimated 400 requests by indigenous communities to establish new reserves remained outstanding at year's end. Members of indigenous communities continued to be victims of all sides in the internal conflict, and a number of them were killed. In August the national human rights Ombudsman stated in his annual report that the indigenous communities most affected by extrajudicial killings during 1996-97 were the Zenu (26 persons reportedly killed by paramilitary groups), the Embera-Katio (9 persons allegedly killed by the army, paramilitary groups, and the FARC), the Paez (8 persons allegedly killed by paramilitary groups and guerrillas), the Koreguaje (23 persons known to have been killed by the FARC), the Los Pastos (1 person reportedly killed by the army), and the Pijao (1 person reportedly killed by the army). In 1997 alone, 63 indigenous leaders and 13 other indigenous community members were killed and 3 disappeared. According to the human rights Ombudsman, the authorities had opened investigations into many of the cases at year's end, but no one had been tried and convicted for these crimes. Occidental Petroleum returned some of its exploration concessions to the Government after attempts to negotiate with the U'wa tribe broke down. The tribe had protested a 1995 award to Occidental and Ecopetrol allowing them to explore lands claimed by the U'wa. The U'wa had filed a complaint before the IACHR. A 1997 OAS joint study with a university recommended the immediate and unconditional suspension of oil exploration or exploitation activities; clarification of the status of U'wa territories and protected reserves; and the development of a formal process of consultation under auspices of the Government. The U'wa had also threatened to commit collective suicide if their wishes were not respected. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Approximately 2 million citizens of African heritage live primarily in the Pacific departments of Choco, Valle del Cauca, and Narino, and along the Caribbean coast. They represent roughly 5 percent of the total population, while the figures of the National Administrative Department of Statistics place the national black population at 16 percent of the total, or 6.4 million. Blacks are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections but traditionally have suffered from discrimination. Blacks are underrepresented in the executive branch, judicial branch, and civil service positions, and in military hierarchies. Despite the passage of the African-Colombian law in 1993, little concrete progress was made in expanding public services and private investment in the Choco or other predominantly black regions. The same law also authorized black communities to receive collective titles to some Pacific coast lands. However, black leaders complained that the Government was slow to issue titles, and that their access to such lands was often inhibited by the presence of armed groups or individuals. Unemployment among African-Colombians ran as high as 76 percent in some communities. Choco department remains the department with the lowest per capita level of social investment and is last in terms of education, health, and infrastructure. It also has been the scene of some of the nation's most unremitting political violence, as paramilitary forces and guerrillas struggled for control of the Uraba region.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution recognizes the rights of workers to organize unions and to strike, except for members of the armed forces and police, and those "essential public services" as defined by law. However, legislation that prohibits all public employees from striking is still in effect, even if often overlooked. Nonemergency government employees staged a 2-day national strike in September to protest low wages, which did not keep up with inflation. That action led to a 3-week long strike in October that brought many public services to a halt, caused violent clashes between strikers and the police, and saw the (possibly strike-related) murders of seven labor leaders. After lengthy negotiations, the Government agreed to a 15 percent average wage increase for all state workers, with teachers to receive a 16 percent increase (slightly below the estimated inflation rate of 17 percent). Union leaders agreed to make up lost workdays, and the Government agreed to withdraw pending legislation to privatize telecommunications and social security in order to obtain more worker input. The 1948 Labor Code (which repeatedly has been amended) provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain at least 25 signatures from potential members and comply with a simple registration process at the Labor Ministry. The law penalizes interference with freedom of association. It allows unions to determine freely internal rules, elect officials, and manage activities, and forbids the dissolution of trade unions by administrative fiat. According to Labor Ministry estimates, approximately 7 percent of the work force is organized in about 2,235 labor unions. The number of unions fell dramatically during 1998 (from a 1997 total of approximately 4,900), reflecting the effects of new legislation that encouraged the consolidation of individual companies' unions into broader, industry-based unions. Some unions also were closed due to the murders of their leaders. Before staging a legal strike, unions must negotiate directly with management and, if no agreement results, accept mediation. By law, public employees must accept binding arbitration if mediation fails; in practice, public service unions decide by membership vote whether or not to seek arbitration. In May the International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed its serious concern at allegations of murders, forced disappearances, death threats, and other acts of violence against trade union officials and members. The ILO documented more than 300 murders of trade unionists during 1995-98. The ILO harshly criticized the Government for failing, since November 1996, to provide it with information on a single case of detention, trial, and conviction of anyone responsible for the murder of unionists. After a 1993 complaint by the ILO regarding the Labor Code's provision that government officials supervise union meetings, the Government discontinued its practice of monitoring such meetings. The Government has not addressed other ILO criticisms of the Labor Code. In 1993 the ILO had complained about the following provisions of the law: the requirement that government officials be present at assemblies convened to vote on a strike call; the legality of firing union organizers from jobs in their trades once 6 months have passed following a strike or dispute; the requirement that contenders for trade union office must belong to the occupation their union represents; the prohibition of strikes in a wide range of public services that are not necessarily essential; various restrictions on the right to strike; the power of the Minister of Labor and the President to intervene in disputes through compulsory arbitration when a strike is declared illegal; and the power to dismiss trade union officers involved in an unlawful strike. Labor leaders throughout the country continued to be targets of attacks by paramilitary groups, guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and their own union rivals. On October 20, a lone gunman shot and killed Jorge Ortega, vice president of the Central Workers' Union (CUT), the country's largest public sector labor organization. Ortega had used his position to denounce paramilitary actions and the paramilitary presence in the country, and his name appeared on a list of nine labor and political leaders allegedly targeted for murder by extreme rightwing elements. However, just before his murder, he had criticized the ELN attack on an oil pipeline in Antioquia that left 74 persons dead (see Section 1.g.). The new Pastrana administration offered a $65,000 (100 million pesos) award for information leading to the arrest of the killer, but no one had been detained at year's end. In December the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions announced in Geneva that at least 50 union members had been killed because of their union activities during 1998. Many of these were targeted by the FARC for their membership in, or sympathy with, the National Syndicate of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintrainagro), a union largely composed of demobilized EPL members. Many of the murdered Sintrainagro members had worked in the banana industry in Uraba region. Other murders of labor leaders were concentrated in Arauca, Antioquia, Casanare, Cesar, Cordoba, and Magdalena departments. Also among those targeted for killing during the year were leaders of the Union of Syndicated Labor (USO), the National Federation of Agricultural Syndicates (Fensuagro), and the Cordoba department Teachers' Association (Ademacor). The National Organized Labor School (ENS) reported in December that 82 unionized workers were murdered during the year, a significant decrease from the 154 murderers it reported in 1997. The ENS attributed the decline to a quieting of tensions in the Uraba region, where leftist banana workers historically have been the targets of paramilitary and guerrilla attacks. The ENS also reported that 28 union leaders had been killed during the year. The 1995 collective work convention between Ecopetrol and the USO expired in November. At year's end, no new agreement had been reached. The accord was the result of the Government's restructuring, rather than privatizing, Ecopetrol to avoid massive layoffs. The USO leadership remained in open conflict with the Government on many issues. USO leaders reported that its members in the oil-producing Magdalena Medio region continued to receive death threats from presumed paramilitary groups, who have accused USO officials of working with the ELN guerrillas waging a sabotage campaign against the nation's oil pipelines. Unions are free to join international confederations without government restrictions.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Constitution protects the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Workers in larger firms and public services have been most successful in organizing, but these unionized workers represent only a small portion of the economically active population. High unemployment, traditional antiunion attitudes, and weak union organization and leadership limit workers' bargaining power in all sectors. The law forbids antiunion discrimination and the obstruction of free association. Government labor inspectors theoretically enforce these provisions, but because there are 260 labor inspectors to cover 1,073 municipalities and more than 300,000 companies, the inspection apparatus is weak. Furthermore, labor inspectors often lacked basic equipment, such as vehicles. The Labor Code calls for fines to be levied for restricting freedom of association and prohibits the use of strike breakers. Collective pacts--agreements between individual workers and their employers--are not subject to collective bargaining and typically are used by employers to obstruct labor organization. Although employers must register collective pacts with the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry does not exercise any oversight or control over them. The Labor Code also eliminates mandatory mediation in private labor-management disputes and extends the grace period before the Government can intervene in a conflict. Federations and confederations may assist affiliate unions in collective bargaining. Labor law applies to the country's nine free trade zones (FTZ's), but its standards often were not enforced in the zones, in part due to lack of political will. Public employee unions have won collective bargaining agreements in the FTZ's of Barranquilla, Buenaventura, Cartagena, and Santa Marta, but the garment manufacturing enterprises in Medellin and Risaralda, which have the largest number of employees, are not organized. National labor leaders claim that in these FTZ's the provisions of the Labor Code dealing with wages, hours, health, and safety are not honored.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution forbids slavery and any form of forced or compulsory labor, and this prohibition is generally respected in practice. The law prohibits forced or bonded labor by children but the Government does not have the resources to enforce this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.d.). Although there were no known instances of forced child labor in the formal economy, some children were forced to serve as paramilitary or guerrilla combatants (see Section 1.g) or to work as prostitutes or coca pickers.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Constitution bans the employment of children under the age of 14 in most jobs, and the Labor Code prohibits the granting of work permits to youths under the age of 18. A 1989 decree establishing the Minors' Code prohibits the employment of children under age 12 and stipulates exceptional conditions and the express authorization of Labor Ministry inspectors for the employment of children between the ages of 12 and 17 (inclusive). However, these requirements largely are ignored in practice, and only 5 percent of those children that work have filed for the required work permits. By allowing children of ages 12 and 13 to work under any conditions, the law contravened international standards on child labor, which set the minimum legal age for employment in developing countries at 14 years. In the formal sector, child labor laws are enforced through periodic review by the Ministry of Labor and by the military, which ensures compliance with mandatory service requirements. However, in the informal labor sector and in rural areas, child labor continues to be a problem, particularly in agriculture and mining. Children as young as 11 years of age work full time in almost every aspect of the cut flower industry as a way to supplement family income. Even children enrolled in school or, in some cases, too young for school, accompany their parents to work at flower plantations at night and on weekends. In the mining sector, coal mining presents the most difficult child labor problem. Many marginal, usually family-run, operations employ their young children as a way to boost production and income. The work is dangerous and the hours are long. Younger children carry water and package coal, while those age 14 and up engage in more physically demanding labor such as carrying bags of coal. Even though these informal mining operations are illegal, the Ministry of Labor has undertaken little or no enforcement action against them. Recent data on child labor were not available. A 1997 study by Los Andes University using 1992 data concluded that at least 1.6 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 worked. Child participation in agricultural work soared at harvest times. The study found that 31 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds are active participants in the labor market, and 784,000 children between the ages of 6 and 11 worked. Twenty-five percent of working children were employed in potentially dangerous activities. According to army estimates, at least 3,000 children were employed by paramilitary groups and guerrillas as combatants (see Section 5). School attendance by working children was significantly lower than for nonworking children. Only 10 percent of child laborers were found to be covered by the health services of the social security system. A 1996 study by the national human rights Ombudsman of child labor in Putumayo department found that 22 percent of the children between the ages of 5 and 18 were full-time coca pickers. In the municipality of Orito, the figure reached 70 percent. The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children but is unable to enforce this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government sets a uniform minimum wage for workers every January to serve as a benchmark for wage bargaining. The monthly minimum wage, set by tripartite negotiation among representatives of business, organized labor, and the Government was about $150 (203,826 pesos) throughout the year. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Because the minimum wage is based on the Government's target inflation rate, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation in recent years. By government estimates, the price of the family shopping basket is 2.4 times the minimum wage. However, 77 percent of all workers earn no more than, and often much less than, twice the minimum wage. The law provides for a standard workday of 8 hours and a 48-hour workweek, but it does not require specifically a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a failing criticized by the ILO. Legislation provides comprehensive protection for workers' occupational safety and health, but these standards are difficult to enforce, in part due to the small number of Labor Ministry inspectors. In addition, unorganized workers in the informal sector fear the loss of their jobs if they exercise their right to criticize abuses, particularly in the agricultural sector. In general, a lack of public safety awareness, inadequate attention by unions, and lax enforcement by the Labor Ministry result in a high level of industrial accidents and unhealthy working conditions. Over 80 percent of industrial companies lack safety plans. The Social Security Institute reported 115,000 work-related accidents for 1995, 17,000 of which resulted in deaths. Informed observers reported that the level of work-related accidents was expected to remain at comparably high levels in 1998, and that the industries most prone to worker accidents were mining, construction, and transportation. According to the Labor Code, workers have the right to withdraw from a hazardous work situation without jeopardizing continued employment.