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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Colombia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Colombia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa8017.html [accessed 2 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

COLOMBIA

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy, in which the Liberal and Conservative parties have long dominated politics. The presidency was weakened throughout the year by continued controversy arising from substantial, credible public evidence that President Ernesto Samper personally sought and accepted an illegal $6 million contribution from the Cali-based narcotics trafficking cartel during his 1994 electoral campaign. This enduring controversy significantly diminished the President's moral authority and political ability to govern. 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 separate military judicial system has been long accountable only to the uniformed military leadership, but in August the Constitutional Court directed it to relinquish to the civilian judiciary the investigation and prosecution of allegations of human rights abuses committed by police and military personnel.

The control of the central Government over the national territory has been increasingly challenged by longstanding and widespread internal armed conflict and rampant violence--both criminal and political. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 full-time guerrillas, belonging to three distinct communist rebel armies operating in more than 100 separate guerrilla fronts spread across the nation, represented a growing threat to government security forces. The Government has been forced into an essentially defensive posture and its forces rarely initiate military action. The guerrillas exercised a significant degree of influence in about 57 percent of the country's 1,071 municipalities. Some guerrilla groups, especially in rural regions in the southern and eastern parts of the country, continued to collaborate with narcotic traffickers. Such criminal activities produced revenues estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the guerrilla groups. A diverse collection of regional-based paramilitary forces assumed a dominant role in the internal conflict, greatly expanding their political and military influence into a number of geographic areas previously dominated by the guerrillas.

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 security forces is limited. The Department of Administrative Security (DAS), with broad intelligence gathering, law enforcement, and investigative authority, reports directly to the President. The armed forces and the police committed numerous, serious violations of human rights, although significantly fewer than in 1996.

Colombia has a mixed private and public sector economy. The Government continued to privatize institutions, although at a slower rate than the peak in 1995. Crude petroleum replaced coffee as the nation's principal legitimate export in 1996. Narcotics traffickers continued to control large tracts of land and other assets and exerted undue influence throughout society and political life. The country suffers from a highly skewed distribution of income, with a per capita gross domestic product of $2,225.

The Government's human rights record continued to be poor, although there were some improvements in certain areas. Government forces continued to commit numerous serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings; however, they were responsible for fewer such killings than in the previous year. During the first 9 months of the year, government forces committed 7.5 percent of all politically motivated extrajudicial killings. There were targeted killings by elements of the Army, notably the 20th Intelligence Brigade. Security forces were responsible for several instances of forced disappearance, and police and soldiers continued to torture and beat some 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 conditions. Arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as prolonged pretrial detention, are fundamental problems. The judiciary is severely overburdened and has a case backlog estimated at greater than 1 million cases. Less than 3 percent of all crimes committed nationwide are successfully prosecuted. 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.

Although the number of human rights violations by government forces declined somewhat from the previous year, the executive branch and Congress continued to be unable to eliminate those abuses. At year's end, the military exercised jurisdiction over many cases of military personnel accused of abuses, a system that has established an almost unbroken record of impunity.

Inefficiency, intimidation, and impunity in both the civilian and military courts remain at the core of the country's human rights problems. The Prosecutor General's office, however, increased efforts to prosecute high-profile human rights cases involving serious violations such as killings, massacres, and kidnapings committed by government forces, paramilitary groups, and guerrillas. The Government permitted the continued existence of special public order zones in some locations, in which military commanders in areas of high conflict directed all government security efforts--including the imposition of curfews, check-points, and requirements for safe conduct passes.

The Government and its backers in Congress increased pressure on the media to influence reporting. Although the Constitutional Court struck down portions of a 1996 government-backed media law, which permitted censorship, it left intact other key aspects of the law. This action left the Government in a position to reward its political backers, punish its opponents, and fundamentally influence the electronic media. Journalists practiced self-censorship. 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.

The many paramilitary groups increasingly took the offensive against the guerrillas, often by perpetrating targeted killings, massacres, and forced displacements of the guerrillas' perceived or alleged civilian support base. During the first 9 months of the year, members of paramilitary groups committed 69 percent of all politically motivated extrajudicial killings. The Government took no significant action to restrain these powerful paramilitary groups. The public security forces' relations with paramilitary groups varied considerably, ranging from noncooperation, to turning a blind eye to paramilitary activities, to some instances of active collaboration. There was no credible evidence of any sustained military action to constrain the paramilitary groups. While the President announced on December 1 a series of measures to combat paramilitary forces, including a task force to hunt down their leaders, these measures had not been implemented by year's end.

The Government's National Human Rights Ombudsman argued that the government-sponsored, rural self-defense groups known as Convivir directly involved citizens in the armed conflict, converting them into targets of guerrilla attack. It became increasingly clear that paramilitary groups and their leaders were largely beyond the control of the State, which had initially promoted the development of such groups in response to rising guerrilla actions. Many paramilitary groups have far stronger ties to regional or local political and economic elites--including narcotics traffickers--than they do to the military. This development significantly heightened the risks to a society in which fragile national institutions were already reeling from rebel attacks, narcotics-related corruption, a judicial system crippled by impunity and inefficiency, a disgraced administration and a disconnected, self-absorbed political class.

An active policy of depopulation, pursued by some paramilitary groups against communities suspected of guerrilla support, was the primary cause of the growing internal displacement problem. The breakdown of public order in many rural areas, sparked by the continuing conflicts among paramilitary, guerrilla, and narcotics trafficking organizations; economic interests; and the police and the armed forces, has prompted the internal displacement of more than 525,000 citizens during the years 1995 to 1997. It remained unclear, however, how many of these were temporary rather than permanent displacements.

Guerrilla forces continued to be responsible for numerous killings; during the first 9 months of the year, they committed 23.5 percent of all politically motivated extrajudicial killings. Guerrilla forces also were responsible for disappearances, as well as more than 50 percent (867) of all formally reported kidnapings. As the October 26 gubernatorial and local elections approached, guerrillas targeted political officeholders, candidates, and election workers as military objectives--part of their declared campaigns to destabilize the country and delegitimize the Government. They killed or kidnaped more than 200 candidates and elected officials during the year and forced more than 2,000 political candidates to withdraw from electoral campaigns. Despite the widespread violence generated by guerrilla forces, the Government carried out elections in the vast majority of municipalities and citizens turned out in sizable numbers and voted overwhelmingly in favor of national peace talks in a nonbinding plebescite.

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. More than 3,500 citizens died in such acts, committed by both state and nonstate agents. Members of the security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings, albeit at a reduced rate. According to multiple, credible reports, the security forces were responsible for approximately 7.5 percent of political killings during the first 9 months of the year in which the perpetrators could be identified. This represented a continuation of the steady and substantial decline since 1993, when the military was deemed responsible for 54 percent of such killings. The total number of extrajudicial killings directly attributable to the security forces continued to decline, from 126 in 1996 to 80 in the first 9 months of 1997. The police reportedly committed some social cleansing killings. Government and military officials give credence to reports of isolated killings during the year conducted by members of at least one army unit, the 20th Intelligence Brigade.

The Government's independent National Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo) received 253 complaints in 1996 against the army alleging murder, forced disappearances, and threats (compared with 219 in 1995). The same report cited 226 complaints against the police for murder, disappearances, and threats (compared with 169 in 1995). The Attorney General's office (Procuraduria) reported that of the 3,000 complaints against public officials received between June 1995 and October 1996, it opened administrative proceedings in 1,338 cases, including 28 massacres and 202 homicides. Some of the other cases did not involve public officials and were passed on to other government investigative bodies. It is unclear how many of the cases have since resulted in convictions or have otherwise been closed.

The Institute for Legal Medicine reported a 1997 homicide rate of 66 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. The police and the judiciary 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 Government Commission on Public Spending similarly placed the impunity rate for all crimes at 99.5 percent.

Two intelligence agents, an army private, and several civilians--all associated with the 20th Intelligence Brigade--were arrested in May and placed in preventive detention for their presumed involvement in the November 2, 1995, assassination of opposition Conservative Senator Alvaro Gomez Hurtado and his assistant. A regional court judge ruled in November that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the continued detention without bail of two of the detainees, who nonetheless remain under active investigation. By year's end, civilian prosecutions against four of the others were complete, awaiting only the judge's ruling and sentencing. Four field-grade intelligence officers with ties to the brigade were passed over for promotion in November, effectively ending their careers. The authorities were investigating one of them, the brigade commander, for the murder of several of the brigade's own informants. The Government also forcibly retired a former commander of the brigade.

On April 4, the Superior Military Tribunal ordered the arrest in Cartagena of five members of the National Police for the September 3, 1995, death of Italian tourist Giacomo Turra from beatings while in detention. The military trial of police Sergeant Raymundo Llanos Vasquez and four subordinates on the charge of premeditated homicide began in October.

Army Captain Rodrigo Canas Flores was arrested on May 19, along with a paramilitary leader, for the April 22, 1996, massacre of 15 persons in the town of Segovia, Antioquia department. The Supreme Court upheld in December the convictions of 6 former police officers for conspiracy and aggravated homicide in the 1991 killings of 18 persons in Villas del Rosario, Santander del Norte department. The court, which sentenced the six former policemen to between 14 and 26 years in prison, determined that they were members of an illegal paramilitary group operating in that department.

In November 1996, the Superior Council of the Judiciary transferred to the military justice system the case of General Farouk Yanine Diaz and three other senior military codefendants on trial for the 1987 massacre of 19 local merchants. This transfer directly contravened constitutional requirements that such trials be conducted exclusively by civilian courts. On June 18, then-Commanding General of the Army Manuel Jose Bonett (who had initially attempted to recuse himself from the case) personally cleared General Yanine Diaz and his military codefendants of homicide and kidnaping charges. Meanwhile, a civilian regional court tried three civilian codefendants on the basis of the same evidence, convicted them on June 25, and sentenced them to 30 years in prison for their roles in the massacre of the 19 merchants. Several human rights groups submitted a complaint against Yanine Diaz to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has it under review. General Yanine Diaz and four other retired army generals remain under investigation by the Prosecutor General's office for their roles in the development of paramilitary death squads in the Middle Magdalena region.

In October 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. UP leader Senator Hernan Motta, Cepeda's successor, left the country with his family in October, following increasing threats to their safety.

In late June, the Government approved compensation for the relatives of members of the April 19th Movement (M-19) guerrilla group who died during an army operation in the southeast area of Bogota on September 30, 1985. This decision followed a recommendation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In May a regional judge in Medellin sentenced in absentia accused narcotics trafficker Fidel Castano, cofounder of the largest paramilitary coalition, to 30 years in prison for the January 1990 massacre of 43 peasants in Pueblo Viejo, Antioquia, and for the 1988 kidnaping and killing of Conservative Senator Alfaro Ospina. In January Castano's codefendant and fellow paramilitary leader Jose Anibal Rodriguez Urquijo was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the two crimes.

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. Most of these incidents were attributed to paramilitary groups and criminal gangs; elements of the police, however, were believed responsible for a number of such incidents, as well. Criminal or antisocial elements were sometimes similarly cleansed from communities under the sway of the guerrillas.

Killings by paramilitary groups (also known as self-defense groups) increased significantly, many times with the complicity of individual soldiers or military units, or with the knowledge and tacit approval of senior military officials. The number of such killings attributed to paramilitary forces increased significantly (from 751 in 1996 to 752 during the first 9 months of 1997). The Ombudsman, the Prosecutor General's office, and the Presidential Exploratory Peace Commission all agreed that some cases indicated that members of the armed forces actively collaborated with paramilitary groups. The September 9 report by the Exploratory Peace Commission declared that, given the nation's historically ambivalent policy towards such groups, the State in its entirety bears an important degree of responsibility for the creation and expansion of the self-defense groups. The report also noted that there was a clear relationship between local political and economic elites in some regions of the country and the self-defense groups, both in the financing of such groups and in the direction of their activities.

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 to generate controversy. Military commander General Bonett categorically denied that such cooperation existed, but tacit arrangements between local military commanders and paramilitary groups did occur in some regions. Government authorities and academic analysts asserted that paramilitary groups freely operated in some areas that were under military control. For example, army commander Major General Mario Hugo Galan denied to the press in October that the army had institutional or operational contact with paramilitary groups, but admitted that there had been individual cases of army personnel cooperating with members of such groups. General Yanine Diaz, former commander of the army's Second Division based in Bucaramanga, was accused of establishing and expanding paramilitary death squads in the Middle Magdalena region, as well as ordering dozens of disappearances, multiple large-scale massacres, and the killing of judges and court personnel sent to investigate previous crimes. Army Colonel Carlos Alfonso Velasquez, then serving as Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of the Army's 17th Brigade operating in the Cordoba and Uraba region, was forced to retire in January after he privately criticized the Brigade's refusal to confront the paramilitary forces headquartered there.

The statutes of the Self-defense Groups of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), the nation's most powerful paramilitary group, explicitly condoned extrajudicial executions, stating we respect all persons who are outside the conflict, but we do not so consider guerrillas camouflaged as peasants engaged in espionage. This attitude encouraged the widespread and arbitrary use of extrajudicial killing by paramilitary forces. According to credible sources, during the first 9 months of the year, members of paramilitary groups committed 69 percent of all politically motivated extrajudicial killings.

The largest illegal paramilitary groups (centered in Cordoba, Uraba, and the Middle Magdalena regions, plus the eastern plains) announced on April 19 the establishment of a national umbrella organization, the AUC (United Self-defense Groups of Colombia). The growing participation in the conflict by civilians has been prompted in part by the guerrillas' increasing strength and presence in a growing number of municipalities (173 in 1985 compared with 622 in 1995) and in part by the Government's failure to ensure security throughout the country.

Overall, paramilitary killings escalated not only in those areas that have long suffered the greatest concentration of violence, such as Meta, Uraba, Cordoba, and Cesar, but in other regions as well, including parts of Antioquia beyond Uraba, the Magdalena Medio region, and the departments of Sucre, Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo. Such killings reflect the intensified competition between paramilitary and guerrilla organizations for control across a broad sweep of territory (see Section 1.g.).

Paramilitary groups extended their influence into the historically guerrilla-dominated coca-growing areas of Meta department with their July 15-20 takeover of the town of Mapiripan. They singled out at least seven townspeople and executed them, reportedly for supporting the guerrillas. Thousands of townspeople subsequently fled, claiming that the paramilitary forces had killed as many as two dozen others and had thrown their bodies into the Guaviare River. In a September interview in El Tiempo newspaper, paramilitary leader Carlos Castano admitted responsibility for the Mapiripan massacre. The army and the Attorney General opened separate, formal administrative investigations into the possible role of four Army officers, including the Commander of the 7th Brigade, Brigadier General Jaime Humberto Uscategui, and five civilian officials, including the mayor of Mapiripan, in the takeover. The Prosecutor General's office also opened a criminal investigation into the incident. A similar paramilitary incursion into Miraflores, Guaviare, on October 18-20, which left at least five persons dead, also prompted the Prosecutor General to open a criminal investigation into the role of the security forces in supporting the attacks.

With few notable exceptions, known paramilitary leaders remained beyond the reach of the law. The regional court of Medellin sentenced Gerardo Antonio Palacio to 8-1/3 years in prison for forming an illegal paramilitary group. The authorities were also investigating Palacio and others for the group's role in the August 15, 1995, massacre of 18 persons in Chigorodo, Antioquia. On April 26, the police recaptured Luis Alfredo Rubio Rojas, former mayor of Puerto Boyaca and leader of a paramilitary group initially founded by Medellin cartel narcotics trafficker Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, after 7 years in hiding. Rubio had previously been sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the 1986-87 Honduras and La Negra massacres; he is also under investigation in the murder of 19 local merchants, the murder of 12 Fiscalia employees sent to investigate those killings, as well as for hiring British and Israeli mercenaries to train members of paramilitary groups to fight the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and defend narcotics interests.

For the first time since the December 1994 establishment of the government-sponsored civilian rural defense cooperatives known as Convivir, a Convivir leader was found guilty of forming an illegally armed group. A Medellin judge on October 23 sentenced Jose Alirio Arcila Vasquez, director of the Los Sables Convivir, and other Los Sables members to 7 years in prison for the April 1996 murder of three men in Ciudad Bolivar, Medellin. The case against former army Captain Ciro Alfonso Vargas Lancheros for his possible role in the incident remained ongoing.

Former guerrillas who have laid down their weapons following previous peace agreements with the Government were also the targets of attacks--from both paramilitary groups and their former comrades-in-arms. Of the 5,897 guerrillas formally demobilized during 1990-94 from at least 6 rebel armies, 258 had been killed by the end of 1996. An additional 82 reinserted guerrillas had been killed as of August 15, 70 percent of them in Antioquia and Sucre departments. At least 19 members of the Socialist Renovation Current (CRS), which broke with the National Liberation Army (ELN) and demobilized in 1994, were killed during the year. The July murders of William Jaraba and Fredy Fuentes Paternidad, Cordoba regional leaders of the CRS, prompted a rare joint statement by the Ministers of Defense and Interior. They criticized the attacks by illegal armed groups, noted that the CRS was a legally constituted political movement committed to the democratic legal order, and ordered the police and military to provide the CRS with maximum collaboration and protection of its social and political activities.

The leftist coalition party known as the UP continued to be the target of political killings. Unknown assailants shot and killed a policeman early on July 26 as he successfully prevented the detonation of a 110-pound bomb aimed at the UP's Bogota headquarters. The UP has lost more than 3,000 members in a campaign of targeted killings waged against its leadership--a campaign initially precipitated by Rodriguez Gacha and the Medellin Cartel after the UP was formed as part of a 1985 peace accord that permitted several thousand guerrillas to turn in their weapons in exchange for participation in a legal political party. There have been 600 reported murders of UP party members in Meta department alone since the campaign began, including the head of the Meta Committee for Human Rights, Josue Giraldo, who was killed in October 1996.

In 1996 the UP brought a complaint before 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 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 the year. The Government and the UP continued without success in their efforts to reach an amicable solution under the auspices of the IACHR.

The guerrillas of the FARC, the ELN, and the People's Liberation Army (EPL) continued to commit extrajudicial executions, often targeting noncombatants in a manner not unlike the paramilitary groups. 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. Police and military personnel were also targeted for killings, both in and out of combat, but to a lesser degree (see Section 1.g.).

On April 21, a FARC guerrilla squad raided the town of Liborina, Antioquia, held a public revolutionary trial of a local municipal official and four peasants accused of collaborating with the military, and executed them. In September FARC guerrillas killed more than a dozen persons in the San Luis indigenous reserve. In December FARC forces killed a Catholic priest (see Section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

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. An estimated 3,000 cases of forced disappearance have been formally reported to the authorities since 1977; very few have ever been resolved. The U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances reported that it received 133 complaints of forced disappearance in Colombia during the past 4 years.

According to data collected jointly by the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace and the Center for Investigations and Popular Research (CINEP), 136 persons disappeared during the first 9 months of 1997. The army was deemed responsible for 6 of the disappearances and 130 were attributed to paramilitary groups.

On January 29, the Inter-American Human Rights Court found that the Government should pay $89,500 to the families of Isidro Caballero Delgado and Maria del Carmen Santiago, following an earlier Court ruling that the State was responsible for their forced disappearances.

The Judicial Council of State determined in September that the Government should compensate the families of M-19 guerrilla Irma Franco Pineda and 11 civilian cafeteria workers, whose disappearance was attributed to the army's 20th Intelligence Brigade after the army retook Bogota's Palace of Justice following the M-19's November 6, 1985 siege. The Council ordered the Government to pay the equivalent of 2,000 grams of gold to Franco's family.

There has been no progress since the December 1996 decision of the Superior Judicial Council to transfer the criminal investigation of General Alvaro Velandia Hurtado, the former commander of the 20th Intelligence Brigade, who was accused of the 1987 forced disappearance, torture, and murder of M-19 member Nydia Erika Bautista, to the military judicial system. The Prosecutor General's human rights unit was forced to terminate its investigation after it lost jurisdiction over the case. Like many similar cases, this case remained in the military justice system at year's end, despite the August 5 Constitutional Court decision that all such human rights cases be conducted by the civilian courts.

The U.N. Committee on Human Rights found that the Government was directly responsible for the 1990 disappearance and murder of Torres Crespo, Torres Arroyo, and Chaparo Torres, three indigenous leaders.

On April 23, antikidnap czar Alberto Villamizar called for investigation into allegations of cooperation between the Government's elite antikidnap squads (GAULA) and illegal paramilitary groups following the April 22 rescue by paramilitary forces of an oil company employee kidnaped in Bolivar department by the ELN.

Police Major Manuel de Jesus Lozada Plazas, the deputy GAULA commander in Bogota, was arrested on March 10 and charged with the May 19, 1995 kidnaping of three former EPL guerrillas in Cali, where he had previously served as head of the GAULA. In its first such decision following the August 5 Constitutional Court ruling regarding alleged human rights violations by security forces personnel, the Superior Judicial Council determined on August 14 that Lozada would be tried in a civilian court.

On April 18 in Bucaramanga, presumed members of a paramilitary group kidnaped the sister and brother-in-law of Nicolas Rodriguez, the reputed deputy commander of the ELN. This kidnaping was part of a campaign begun in 1996 by paramilitary groups to give guerrillas a taste of their own medicine. Military courts opened an investigation into military complicity, however, after army Sergeant Jesus Antonio Sanchez Morales testified that General Rafael Hernandez, Second Division commander, ordered him to take part in the kidnaping. Sanchez was placed in preventive detention; the kidnap victims never reappeared.

Guerrillas were deemed responsible for over 50 percent (involving 867 victims) of the 1,693 kidnaping cases formally reported to the National Police during 1997, according to the Pais Libre foundation. Arrests or prosecutions in any of these cases were rare. Foreigners accounted for approximately 5 percent of those kidnaped, and represented attractive targets for both the FARC and the ELN, which generally demanded exorbitant ransom payments for their release.

The body of Vassily Lojkin, a Russian cyclist endeavoring to circumnavigate the globe, was found on March 7 in Apartado; he had been kidnaped, then executed, by the FARC.

From August to October, FARC and ELN guerrillas waged a massive kidnaping campaign against candidates for the October 26 departmental and local elections. Hundreds of persons were kidnaped, held for several days or weeks, lectured, and subsequently released, typically after promising to withdraw their candidacies. Some 2,000 candidates nationwide withdrew (see also Section 3). Two Catholic bishops were kidnaped in October and November, one by the FARC and the other by the ELN (see Section 1.g.).

There has been no confirmation for nearly 4 years that three American missionaries kidnaped by FARC guerrillas in Panama on January 31, 1993, and immediately moved to Colombia, were still alive. The FARC and other guerrilla groups regularly kidnaped foreign citizens; some were released after months of captivity, while others remained in captivity at year's end. The tortured body of American geologist Frank Thomas Pescatore, kidnaped on December 10, 1996, by FARC guerrillas, was found on February 23.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution explicitly prohibits torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Reports of incidents of police and military torture or mistreatment of detainees nevertheless continued. The Office of the Attorney General for Human Rights reported investigating 462 cases of torture committed by the police, DAS, army, prison officials, and other agents of the State during the period from June 1995 to October 1996. There has been no appreciable subsequent decrease in cases of torture committed by various government security agencies. These abuses often occurred in connection with illegal detentions in the context of counter-insurgency or counter-narcotics operations.

Paramilitary and guerrilla groups were also responsible for many instances of torture; the bodies of a great many persons detained and subsequently killed by these illegal groups showed signs of torture and disfigurement.

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 a visiting IACHR mission declared that the living conditions in Bogota's La Picota prison constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the inmates. The nation's 168 prisons and jails held 43,221 inmates in December, 52 percent more than planned capacity. In a number of the nation's largest prisons, the overcrowding reached even higher levels. Medellin's Bellavista prison, the nation's largest, was built to house 1,700 inmates; in December, it housed some 5,050 inmates--triple its designed capacity. Bogota's La Modelo and the Palmira prison outside Cali were both at 250 percent of designed capacity.

Forty-six percent of all prison inmates are pretrial detainees. The remaining 54 percent are roughly split between those appealing their convictions and those who have exhausted their appeals and are serving out their terms.

Prison conditions prompted an unprecedented total of 50 uprisings and hostage-takings by inmates in the first 6 months of the year. Three guards and a prisoner were killed at Valledupar prison in April after common prisoners and detained ELN members took more than 15 hostages. Guards, who typically have no riot control equipment, training, or capability, also went on strike at several facilities. Instances of abuse by and corruption among prison staff, as well as ongoing criminal activities by inmates, were so serious that judicial authorities announced on April 1 the transfer of control of the maximum security wings of La Picota, La Modelo, Palmira, and Medellin's Itagui prisons from the civilian National Prisons Institute to the National Police.

Political detainees and prisoners are typically housed with common prisoners. There are no separate facilities for pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. Key narcotics traffickers and some guerrilla leaders, however, 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 began to obtain more frequent access, although still on an ad hoc basis, to prisoners privately 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 judge within 36 hours to determine the legality of the detention. The judge must then act upon that petition within 36 hours of its application. Despite these legal protections, instances of arbitrary detention continued; the Human Rights Ombudsman reported 509 formal complaints of arbitrary or illegal detention in 1996, far more than the 374 cases reported in 1995. The CINEP and Justice and Peace, using different reporting criteria, received 51 reports of arbitrary detention during the first 9 months of 1997.

An estimated 46 percent of the nation's prison inmates were being held in various forms of pretrial detention. At the time of the April Valledupar prison uprising, the facility's population approached five times its official capacity; 341 of the 578 inmates were being held in pretrial detention.

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.

Forced exile is not formally practiced, although 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 rural farmers. The threats came from various quarters: Elements of the military, paramilitary groups, guerrilla groups, narcotics traffickers, and other criminal elements.

In more than 150 cases, the Office of the Presidency actively assisted the international relocation of threatened persons, including the provision of financial support, when it was decided that the Government was unable to ensure their security anywhere within the country. Richard Velez, a television cameraman who was beaten severely by several army troops while filming a 1996 peasant protest by coca-leaf pickers in Caqueta department, fled the country along with his family in October. Velez had received a number of threats, culminating in an early October armed assault (see also Section 2.a.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The civilian judicial system, reorganized under the 1991 Constitution, is largely 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 judiciary includes the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, the Council of State, the Superior Judicial Council, tribunals, and courts. The Prosecutor General's office is an independent prosecutorial body.

The judiciary has long been subject to threats and intimidation when dealing with cases involving members of the armed forces or of paramilitary, guerrilla, and narcotics organizations. Although the number of instances of violent attacks against prosecutors and judges declined with the abatement of drug-related terrorism in the late 1980's--and as extradition of citizens was halted in 1991--prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys continued to be subjected to threats and acts of violence. Prosecutors reported, moreover, 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.

Corruption and intimidation are believed responsible for the relatively light prison terms that Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, longtime leaders of the multi-billion dollar Cali-based narcotics trafficking cartel, received in January (10-1/2 and 9 years, respectively). A court subsequently sentenced Miguel Rodriguez to 23 years in prison for other crimes. The Rodriguez Orejuelas are credibly believed to continue to operate their business from Bogota's La Picota prison.

The Constitutional Court struck several blows against impunity during the year. In August it directed the separate military judicial system, long accountable only to the uniformed military leadership, to relinquish to the civilian judiciary investigation and prosecution of human rights violations and other alleged crimes not directly related to acts of service. On September 23, the Constitutional Court declared null and void a statute of the Penal Code (dating from the 1930's) that prohibited punishment of politically motivated rebels for any criminal acts committed in combat, except those that constituted acts of savagery or barbarism.

Prior to the August Constitutional Court decision, most cases involving high-level military personnel were transferred to the military courts, where convictions in human rights-related cases were the rare exception (see also Section 1.a.). One significant exception to the military's routine exertion of exclusive jurisdiction was the June 12 decision by the Superior Judicial Council to deny the military's request and remand to the civilian courts the criminal case against army Colonel Hernando Navas Rubio. Navas Rubio, one-time Deputy Commander of the 14th Brigade at Puerto Berrio, Antioquia, in the Magdalena Medio region, was charged in connection with the November 11, 1988, massacre at Segovia, Antioquia, which left 50 persons dead and 49 wounded. Most significantly, the military courts had already obtained jurisdiction for the trials of three of Navas Rubio's own subordinates, who had been charged earlier in connection with the same crimes.

The Attorney General's office is part of the Public Ministry. It investigates misconduct by public officials and orders administrative sanctions as applicable. The Attorney General for Human Rights investigates some allegations of human rights abuses by members of the state security apparatus, drawing upon a nationwide network of hundreds of government human rights investigators covering the nation's 1,071 municipalities.

The Public Ministry's National Ombudsman for Human Rights is elected by the House of Representatives to a 4-year term and 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 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 severely underfunded and continued to labor under significant staffing shortages in an effort to develop a credible public defender system. The 1996 budget, for example, was sufficient to employ 558 public defenders (compared with the official goal of 2,000), providing only minimal coverage for just 70 percent of the nation's municipalities. None of the public defenders were permanent members of the civil service; all were contract employees.

The Prosecutor General is elected by the Supreme Court of Justice from a list of three candidates chosen by the President and is tasked with investigating criminal offenses and presenting evidence against the accused before the various judges and tribunals.

The October strike by 41,000 judicial branch employees interrupted the prosecution of hundreds of cases, and led to the release of some criminal detainees whose habeas corpus rights were violated because they were not brought before a judge for arraignment during the required period after their initial detention.

The Constitution specifically provides for the right to due process. The outcome of all trials is determined by judges; 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. As in past years, the judiciary remained overburdened and often in a state of chaos, staggering under a backlog estimated at over 1 million cases. The new Prosecutor General announced in May the establishment of a commission to analyze the backlog and make recommendations as to how to reduce the case load and streamline procedures.

Trials conducted by the regular courts are public. Defendants have the right to be present and the right to timely consultation with an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question or contradict (although not directly confront) witnesses against them, to present witnesses on their own behalf, and to have access to government evidence relevant to the case. Defendants also have the right to appeal a conviction to a higher court.

The civilian justice system continued to incorporate 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 is typically 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 was still 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.

Prosecutors, judges, and witnesses generally maintained that the protection of anonymity provided by the faceless system is essential to the successful investigation and prosecution of cases in a country where violence is endemic and acts of revenge against those prosecuting violent crime may be expected. Domestic and international human rights groups, President Samper, the Prosecutor General, and military forces Commanding General Bonett, however, all publicly stated during the year that the anonymous court system violates basic legal norms and procedural rights and requires stricter controls and limits. Some of the most vocal congressional critics of the regional courts, however, have themselves been implicated in those courts' investigations into the purchase of political protection by the Cali narcotics cartel.

The U.N. Committee on Human Rights and the IACHR urged the Government to abolish the regional judicial system and ensure that all trials adhere to due process norms. The Legal Statute of Justice sets a June 1999 deadline to disband the regional court system.

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. They issued arrest warrants against members of the public security forces, paramilitary, guerrilla, and drug trafficking organizations and successfully arrested dozens of those suspects by year's end, including those charged with the May 19 CINEP murders (see Sections 1.a. and 4).

Paramilitary groups and guerrillas continued to target and kill judicial and criminal investigative employees for their efforts to enforce the rule of law. In August the Bogota regional court indicted in absentia 24 national and regional leaders of the FARC on charges of rebellion, terrorism, and kidnaping. Although top military leaders hailed the cases brought against guerrilla leaders, they strongly objected, and in some cases tried to obstruct, prosecution of cases against members of the armed forces and of paramilitary organizations.

The Government states that it does not hold political prisoners. The ICRC reported that it monitored approximately 3,000 cases of imprisoned citizens accused of terrorism, rebellion, or aiding and abetting the insurgency, which are crimes punishable under law. It is likely, however, that a number of those persons were convicted by regional courts without the full due process benefits of a fair public trial.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law generally requires a judicial order for 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. Defense Ministry officials complained, however, that in the absence of evidentiary proof collected directly by prosecutors, guerrilla suspects the security forces capture in or out of battle and turn over to judicial authorities are routinely freed due to a lack of juridically acceptable evidence.

A judicial order or the approval of a prosecuting attorney is required to authorize the interception of mail or monitoring of either landline or cellular telephones. This protection extends to prisoners held in jails. However, various state authorities sometimes monitor telephones without obtaining prior authorization.

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 and guerrilla groups, 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. A persistent emphasis by the army on body counts as a means of assessing field performance is a main contributing cause of government violations of international humanitarian law. With rare exceptions, 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 U.N. Committee on Human Rights noted in May that, although the decree authorizing public order zones had expired in November 1996, the public security forces in some cases continued to exercise special powers over the civilian population and authorities, including judicial authorities. The Committee expressed particular concern for the fact that the military exercise the functions of investigation, arrest, detention and interrogation.

In zones where the guerrillas were active, such as the Sierra Nevada and Valle de Cauca, the public security forces often suspected the indigenous population of complicity with narcotics traffickers and guerrillas. In September and October, the military conducted a sustained joint air-land operation against the FARC, primarily in the Yari region of Meta, Guaviare, and Caqueta departments. On September 5, Escolastico Ducuara, the indigenous governor of the Pijao ethnic community, criticized the aerial bombardment of an indigenous community near San Vicente del Chagran, Caqueta department. Although General Gabriel Eduardo Contreras publicly rejected the reports as rumors, a subsequent field investigation by the National Human Rights Ombudsman confirmed that there had been indiscriminate bombings by the military in the indigenous communities of Pijao, Piratapuyo, and Tucano.

Data compiled by the System of Information on Households Displaced by Violence (SISDES) showed that in 1996 the public security forces were responsible for 16 percent of forced displacements.

The Government initiated a program in December 1994 to organize and register civilian rural defense cooperatives, known collectively as Convivir, which were to provide counter- insurgency intelligence to local police and military commanders. The Government acknowledged approximately 440 such groups in 21 of the nation's 32 departments by mid-year. Credible outside observers, however, placed the number at more than 700. 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 were clearly 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.

Antioquia's governor testified before the U.N. Human Rights Commission in July in support of the Convivir groups as a legal manifestation of the civilian population's legitimate right to self-defense in the face of rising guerrilla violence. A number of observers and officials also argued that the Government's efforts to combat the guerrillas would inevitably be less discriminate, and result in greater human rights abuses, without the active participation of members of the public, especially in providing intelligence information to the police and military.

The Ombudsman's 1997 report to Congress, however, reiterated his office's opposition to the Convivir program, on the grounds that it involved citizens in the armed conflict, stripped them of their protected status, and converted them into legitimate targets of attack. Both President Samper and the official in charge of registering and overseeing the Convivir conceded in August that state oversight of the Convivir was both necessary and lacking. In a 4-to-5 ruling on November 7, the Constitutional Court determined that the Convivir were a constitutional means for combating guerrillas, but that the Convivir must relinquish rifles, machine guns, and other restricted weaponry in their possession.

The many paramilitary groups are diverse in their motivations, structure, leadership, and ideology, although the April establishment of the United Self-defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) as a national umbrella organization was clearly 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 victims of paramilitary killings were typically unarmed, noncombatant civilians. 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 of towns and villages, town council members, and, above all, peasants whom they accused of supporting the leftist guerrillas. A number of these victims included members of indigenous communities, and paramilitary forces were responsible for the July massacre of 15 indigenous persons. Despite the continuing, alarming rise in paramilitary activity since 1992, the military has failed to give priority to confronting these illegal groups.

According to the independent Advisory Committee for Human Rights and Displacements, some 257,000 persons were forcibly displaced from their homes by violence during 1997; the total number of internally displaced citizens during 1995-97 exceeds 525,000. It remains unclear, however, how many displacements become permanent. Some people return home within a few days or weeks, while an undetermined number are permanently displaced and forced to resettle in other regions of the country. Forced displacement of civilian populations has become an integral part of the strategy employed by some paramilitary forces. They employed terror campaigns in some cases to depopulate communities believed to be loyal to leftist guerrillas; in other cases, the paramilitary groups loyal to large economic interests (often including narcotics traffickers) displaced populations so that valuable land and economic assets could then be purchased very cheaply.

Data compiled by the SISDES showed that in 1996 paramilitary organizations were responsible for 32 percent of forced displacements. According to the Colombian Red Cross, some 75 percent of the urban population of Riosucio, Choco department, and various nearby hamlets--some 15,000 persons in all--were forcibly displaced during March and April. The Uraba region of Antioquia and Choco departments suffered the greatest displacements on a per capita basis. According to the Advisory Committee for Human Rights and Displacement, mass displacements occurred in 208 municipalities in 27 departments, with residents of Antioquia constituting 31 percent of all displaced persons. More than 120,000 citizens were internally displaced during the first 7 months of 1997. On July 2, the Archbishop of Santa Fe de Antioquia criticized the paramilitary order not to sell foodstuffs to the residents of Frontino, Dabeiba, and Canas Gordas, declaring that 12,000 persons were being put at risk of having to relocate in order to obtain food--the clear intent of the paramilitary edict.

Paramilitary groups and 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. 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. Guerrillas also were responsible for the continuing indiscriminate deployment of landmines, often resulting in the killing or maiming of civilian noncombatants.

SISDES data showed that in 1996 guerrilla organizations were responsible for 26 percent of forced displacement of civilians. Three main communist guerrilla armies--the FARC, the ELN, and EPL--commanded an estimated total of 10,000 to 15,000 full-time guerrillas operating in more than 100 fronts in an estimated 30 of the nation's 32 departments. Tied loosely into the Simon Bolivar Coordinating Group, these groups exercised a degree of influence in 57 percent of the nation's 1,071 municipalities.

On September 3, FARC forces attacked the Guatape hydroelectric facility, one of the nation's largest power plants. The attackers included a large number of child guerrillas; according to plant employees and other witnesses, some were as young as 8 years of age. As part of their attempts to disrupt the October 26 elections, ELN guerrillas attempted to use a 9-year-old child to deliver a 33-pound bomb to a polling place in Cucuta on election day (see also Section 3).

A FARC car bomb placed in front of the El Pescador Hotel in Apartado, Antioquia, on February 27 killed 11 persons and wounded 53. Two ELN car bombs on March 16 in Cucuta killed an 18-month-old child and injured four other persons. Another ELN car bomb the same day in Saravena, Arauca, killed four persons and wounded five.

A FARC letter bomb sent on April 14 to former EPL leader Mario Agudelo Vasquez in Antioquia killed his son when the youth opened the package. A second letter bomb, sent the next day to a former EPL member since elected to the Apartado city council, was defused by police. The bombings were part of the FARC's continuing revenge campaign against former guerrillas who had signed peace accords with the Government.

The Caqueta departmental ombudsman announced on September 12 that the FARC had killed nine members of the Koreguaje tribe from the San Jose del Cuerazo indigenous reserve, including Alejandro Piranga, governor of the reserve. The southern bloc of the FARC had previously threatened 64 Koreguaje with death for their supposed support for the army. In August the FARC killed 13 Koreguaje leaders from the nearby San Luis and Aguas Negras reserves. Ombudsman Jose Fernando Castro, who noted that the remaining survivors of the San Luis reserve consisted only of 2 adult men, 19 women, and some 100 children, reiterated his appeal to the guerrillas that they respect the neutrality of the indigenous communities and not involve them in the armed conflict.

Both paramilitary and guerrilla groups 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 several occasions during the year, paramilitary forces in Putumayo forcibly entered ambulances and hospitals in order to kill wounded persons receiving medical care. Several ambulances were fired upon, stolen, and subsequently used to transport armed paramilitary members or guerrillas. On October 30, the police deactivated an ambulance filled with 220 pounds of explosives. The FARC, which had stolen the vehicle earlier in Colon, Putumayo, had rigged the explosives to detonate when the ignition key was turned. On October 25, Catholic priest Antonio Bedoya was killed in the doorway to his church in San Francisco, Antioquia, after ELN guerrillas opened fire on the departing helicopter of the department's governor. That same day, FARC guerrillas in Meta department announced the kidnaping of Hector Julio Lopez, the Catholic Bishop of Ariari.

ELN guerrillas kidnaped the Bishop of Tibu, Norte de Santander (along with the mayor and mayor-elect) in November, releasing all three in December. On December 9, the FARC killed Catholic priest Damuel Calderon in El Calvario, Meta.

According to statistics compiled by CINEP and Justice and Peace, guerrillas were responsible for killing at least 256 civilians outside of combat during the first 9 months of the year. In the continuing struggle for control of the narcotics and arms smuggling Uraba corridor, the guerrillas' retaliation for paramilitary successes in driving them from a longtime position of unrivaled dominance involved the regular victimization of innocent civilians, although some direct clashes with paramilitary units did occur. To justify summary executions of civilians, guerrillas typically claimed that their victims either were military informants or that they simply refused to support the guerrillas' operations.

The FARC released 70 soldiers and marines on June 15 through the good offices of the ICRC and the Catholic Church-backed National Conciliation Commission. The 60 soldiers had been held since August 31, 1996, when the guerrillas overran the military base at Las Delicias, Putumayo department. The 10 marines were captured on January 17 in Choco department. The release of the military personnel came about only after the President yielded to the guerrillas' demand to demilitarize for 1 month an estimated 5,000 square miles of Putumayo and Caqueta departments dominated by the guerrillas and the production of coca.

After months of being in the crossfire between the army, paramilitary forces, and FARC, ELN, and EPL guerrillas, the inhabitants of San Jose de Apartado, Uraba, and 22 outlying hamlets, with the support of the Catholic Church, declared themselves on March 23 to be a neutral peace community--off-limits to all participants in the armed conflict. The threats from the army, paramilitary groups, and guerrillas came almost immediately; by March 31, 10 inhabitants had been killed. On July 4, citizens identified several persons debarking from army helicopters as frequent watchstanders at the paramilitary roadblock on the edge of town, including the man responsible for the May 17 detention (and subsequent execution) of Francisco Tabarquino, a member of the peace community's organizing committee.

On October 6, armed members of the FARC's 58th front confronted some 20 residents of San Jose de Apartado and verbally abused them for refusing to provide the FARC with food, lodging, equipment, or intelligence. The guerrillas then ordered the group to depart, but detained Ramiro Correa, a member of the community council, as well as Luis Fernando Espinoza and Fernando Aguirre. The ICRC recovered the bodies of the three local leaders the next morning, bringing the total number killed in San Jose de Apartado to 41 since March 23.

The FARC continued its campaign of killings against the legal Hope, Peace, and Freedom Movement, whose members had left the EPL following the 1991 peace accord signed with the Government.

Guerrillas killed more than 24 mayors or mayoral candidates during the year, compared with 14 in 1996, according to the Colombian Federation of Municipalities. More than 200 incumbents or candidates for public office, of all political orientations, were killed in political violence during the year, as the FARC, ELN, and EPL guerrilla groups all publicly declared their armed opposition to electioneering in areas they controlled--or attempted to control. Guerrillas kidnaped at least 60 mayors or mayoral candidates; many scores of candidates for lesser local offices were also abducted. The FARC, in particular, orchestrated a massive military and terrorist campaign against political candidates and the electoral process. In addition to its traditional objective to undermine the State's presence and authority in contested areas, the FARC in some cases also sought to win control of a number of mayoralties (and municipal coffers) by eliminating competition to candidates who were actually members of the FARC's clandestine political party, the Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia, which was formed in 1993.

The guerrilla groups launched armed strikes, burned public transport vehicles, and targeted political candidates, incumbents, party headquarters, electoral workers, and institutions. On September 8, guerrillas bombed various party headquarters in the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Cucuta, and Puerto Lleras. Guerrillas also attacked or bombed more than 25 offices of the National Electoral Council during August, September, and October, and targeted civilians who had been assigned to serve as officials at voting stations.

Guerrilla threats forced more than 2,000 of the 42,500 candidates nationwide to withdraw, including all 4 candidates for the governorship of Putumayo. The Government refused to accept most of the resignations, however, saying that they came after the August 24 deadline for withdrawing candidacies. According to the Federation of Municipalities, at least 75 municipalities were left without any candidates for mayor. At least 20 municipalities were left without candidates for town council; 18 of these were also without mayoral candidates.

On August 15, the ELN kidnaped the mayor of San Pablo, Bolivar department, along with three mayoral candidates and eight city council members. The same day in Simiti, Bolivar, the FARC and ELN jointly kidnaped eight of nine city council members, a mayoral candidate, a candidate for city council, and the town's treasurer. The Simiti council members plus 23 candidates were freed on August 26 after being offered a choice: withdraw from politics or die. They withdrew.

The mayor of Simiti, Ubaldo de Jesus Lopez, had fled the town in July, following the June 30 joint assault on the town by FARC and ELN guerrillas, which resulted in the deaths of three policemen and the abandonment of the town by the police and the army. Lopez, as well as the mayors of Tiquisito, Rio Viejo, and Morales, all relocated to Cartagena, following threats from paramilitary groups and from guerrillas. Paramilitary representatives threatened to depopulate the towns, which they considered guerrilla support bases. At least 10 mayoral candidates and 68 council candidates withdrew in Bolivar, primarily in the southern part of the department.

Following similar FARC kidnapings and threats, candidates for mayor and councils in 10 of Caqueta's 16 municipalities withdrew on August 29, and appealed for the national Government to postpone the elections until security could be ensured. A total of 298 council members in Cesar department withdrew their candidacies the same week.

In a move opposed by military commander General Bonett, Antioquia's governor temporarily appointed four military officers as mayors on September 2, following the FARC kidnaping of the elected mayors, who were released several days later. Eastern Antioquia was particularly affected. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sonson-Rio Negro announced in September that of the 21 municipalities in the diocese, guerrilla threats forced all the candidates to withdraw in 13 municipalities.

ELN guerrillas killed Liberal Party Senator Jorge Cristo and his bodyguard in Cucuta, Norte de Santander, on August 8. Following the paramilitary takeover of Mapiripan, Meta department, in July, all candidates for local elections withdrew their names.

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 practiced self-censorship. However, the privately owned print media published a wide spectrum of political viewpoints and often voiced harsh antigovernment opinions without administrative reprisals. The media continued to operate under a government ban against publication of the text of guerrilla communiques.

The Samper administration was 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. The Ministers of Communications and Mining were forced to resign on August 19, after a leaked tape recording revealed that they had conspired to reward 40 of 80 FM radio licenses to political supporters of the President. In October the Directorate of Prisons (a direct dependency of the Office of the Presidency) forcibly obstructed a television interview with a recently released prisoner, Santiago Medina, President Samper's former campaign treasurer, who accused Samper of having sought and accepted $6 million from the Cali drug cartel. (The interview was subsequently conducted from the open window of an apartment building adjacent to Medina's apartment.)

In a 5-to-4 decision on July 29, the Constitutional Court gave its approval to most of the December 1996 law that granted the Government and Congress unprecedented powers over national television programming. Although the Court struck down the most restrictive provision of the law--which directed the Government's National Television Commission (CNTV) to evaluate the license holders of television news programs on the three national (government-owned) channels and sanction those that did not meet the Government's vaguely defined standards of objectivity--it upheld the rest of the law. Senator Martha Catalina Daniels, leader of Samper's supporters in Congress, publicly boasted that the newscasts and other television contractors are not free... Thus the intervention of the State in this field ensures truthful and impartial news reporting.

The 1996 television law includes a number of elements clearly designed to eliminate troubling news coverage of a scandal-ridden administration, to reward the administration's powerful backers for remaining loyal, and to influence news coverage during the 1997-98 electoral season. The law also terminated the contracts for 10 private news programs before the end of 1997 and required them to bid again for the right to continue broadcasting. It opened the door to the creation of two new private television channels, which are expected to fall under the ownership of economic conglomerates that have historically paid for a privileged relationship with whatever government is in power.

The dissenting judges noted that the abrupt termination of the existing contracts for news programs, which had been established with the assumption of their eventual extension for up to 12 years, would discourage private investment in television and punish those who had already made substantial investments on the basis of their renewable--now abrogated--contract. This sudden change of rules, they argued, violated the fundamental principle of good faith between the State and the citizenry.

The new television law--originally launched by Samper supporters in Congress widely believed to be in the pay of the Cali Cartel-- is regarded as political retaliation for media investigations into narcotics corruption in the Samper administration, particularly President Samper's ties to the Cali Cartel. The co-owner of QAP News, Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, called the television law fundamentally a smokescreen to destroy or expropriate QAP. In the wake of the FM radio licensing scandal, QAP News announced its intention to refuse to pursue its proposal to renew its television broadcast license, convinced that the Samper administration would never authorize it.

On October 27, the CNTV fined QAP $80,000 (100 million pesos) for having withdrawn its application. That same day CNTV not only awarded 5 of the 10 news licenses--including the most lucrative slots--to families of former presidents, but also gave 3 of the licenses to close personal friends of President Samper.

Other government efforts to influence the media included occasional calls on patriotic grounds to limit negative reporting that might hurt the country's image in the world. The Government imposed some restrictions on electronic media coverage of incidents of public disorder and of drug-related or terrorist activity and reserved the right to prohibit coverage of certain news events that could affect state security.

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 or private violations of fundamental rights.

Both Colombian and international journalists typically work in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation. The body of Freddy Elles, a photographer for Bogota's El Espectador newspaper, was found on March 19 in Cartagena; he had been handcuffed, tortured, and stabbed to death. Gerardo Bedoya Borrero, editorial director of Cali's El Pais newspaper, was shot and killed on March 20. Bedoya, a former congressman and the cousin of General Harold Bedoya, then Acting Defense Minister, had criticized President Samper for accepting Cali drug cartel money and was a vocal critic of the corrosive influence of the drug trade on all facets of Colombian life. That same day, an anonymous caller threatened to kill Francisco Santos, an editor of Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper, and blow up the newspaper's office. Santos, who had been kidnaped and held for several months in 1990 by the Medellin drug cartel, attributed the threats to drug traffickers angry with the paper's coverage. A car bomb containing approximately 550 pounds of dynamite was deactivated on September 3 in front of the offices of Medellin's El Mundo newspaper. The narcotics traffickers collectively known as The Extraditables claimed responsibility and threatened to conduct more such attacks if extradition--then under consideration by the Congress--were reinstated. Seven journalists were killed in separate attacks during the year.

The Jaime Bateman Cayon movement, a small splinter group of the long-demobilized M-19 movement, claimed responsibility for the kidnaping on December 4 in Bogota of William Parra, the President's press spokseman, and Luis Eduardo Maldonado, a prominent radio journalist. The FARC kidnaped four other journalists on December 13, the same day that the Jaime Bateman Cayon group released Parra and Maldonado.

The Government generally respected academic freedom, and there exists a wide spectrum of political activity throughout the country's universities. Paramilitary groups and guerrillas, however, often targeted teachers at the elementary and secondary levels in areas of conflict. The National Federation of Educators reported that 23 teachers had been killed and another 6 disappeared in the first half of 1997, primarily in Antioquia and Cordoba departments. University-level academics engaged in study of either the internal conflict or human rights were also similarly targeted.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects these rights in practice. The authorities do not normally interfere with public meetings and demonstrations and usually grant the required permission except when they determine that there is imminent danger to public order.

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, ELN, and 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 state 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 cults provides a mechanism for religions to obtain the status of recognized legal entities.

Both Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mennonite Church encountered problems because of the pacifist nature of their churches. Jehovah's Witnesses complained of inability to perform alternative service to military conscription, despite the military's own legal procedures providing for it. In April the Ministry of Education temporarily suspended a December 1996 order to close the Mennonite biblical seminary and Justapaz, a church-sponsored human rights group. By year's end, however, Mennonite seminarians still were being forced into military conscription.

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 counter- insurgency operations were underway, police or military officials occasionally required civilians to obtain safe-conduct passes; guerrillas and paramilitary forces often used similar means to restrict travel in areas under their control. Guerrilla incursions, military counter-insurgency operations, forced conscription by paramilitary and guerrilla organizations, and land seizures instigated by wealthy individuals or narcotics traffickers often forced peasants to flee their homes and farms.

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 in their own countries. The right to asylum, under terms established by law, is provided for in the 1991 Constitution.

The Government cooperates with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and internally displaced persons. In June the Government formally invited the UNHCR to establish an ongoing presence in the country. 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. Some 58 individuals from 13 nations applied for refugee status during the first half of the year. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of the forced expulsion of persons having a valid claim to refugee status to a country where they feared persecution.

With the assistance of the Colombian Government, some 325 Colombians were forcibly returned in April from Panama, where they had fled to escape paramilitary and guerrilla activities in the neighboring Colombian departments of Choco and Antioquia.

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. However, critics question if elections have been fair, point out that vote buying has been a regular feature of elections in some regions, and that President Samper's 1994 election campaign solicited and received contributions from drug traffickers.

Presidential elections are held every 4 years, with the incumbent barred for life from reelection. The Liberal and Conservative parties have long monopolized the formal political process with one or the other customarily 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. They may reincorporate at any time, however, by presenting 50,000 signatures to the National Electoral Board. Voting is voluntary and universal for citizens aged 18 and older, except for active-duty members of the police and armed forces.

Two of the Senate's 102 seats are reserved for representatives of the nation's indigenous communities, while the 100 other senators are elected on the basis of national at large balloting. Two seats in the 165-member House of Representatives are reserved for each department and the capital district; additional representation is apportioned through the use of a complex population-based formula.

On October 26, citizens voted for departmental governors and deputies, municipal mayors, and members of town councils and local administrative boards. Due to security constraints, however, elections could not be held in at least 33 of the nation's 1,071 municipalities, including the rural Sumapaz zone of the capital district, Santa Fe de Bogota. Electoral results were distorted in at least 15 percent of the nation's municipalities, as the guerrillas' campaign of threats, kidnapings, and murders forced the withdrawal of some 2,000 candidates for public office (see Section 1.g.).

The campaign period was marred by a high level of paramilitary violence, and an even higher level of guerrilla violence, designed to intimidate both voters and candidates, despite the Government's efforts to provide electoral security. Vote-buying and ballot-box stuffing, common features of elections in some regions, continued. On October 1, National Elections Registrar Orlando Abello publicly criticized the fact that vote manipulation, in and of itself, was not punishable as a crime. The AUC paramilitary movement declared a ban on electioneering by those candidates it determined were in league with the guerrillas, but urged the citizenry to vote. The AUC said that it interpreted abstention as a vote for the guerrillas and threatened reprisals.

The demobilized guerrillas of the Revolutionary Workers Party were unable to file a formal list of candidates in Sucre department, as seven of the party's candidates had been killed. Despite a revenge campaign waged by the FARC against their former revolutionary allies, demobilized EPL guerrillas won the mayoralties of Apartado, Carepa, and Turbo--the three key municipalities of Uraba's banana-growing region, an area considered forcibly cleaned of the FARC's long-time presence by a sustained offensive by paramilitary forces.

The Government invited the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union to send international observers to monitor the elections. ELN guerrillas, however, kidnaped two of the OAS observers and a Colombian colleague on October 23 in Antioquia, only releasing them on November 1. Despite the security limitations, the results were widely accepted by most citizens and international observers. The electorate also voted overwhelmingly in favor of a mandate for peace, a nonbinding plebescite calling for national peace talks and strict adherence to human rights norms in the nation's armed conflict. The relatively high voter participation (about 55 percent) was, given the violence and intimidation from both right and left, seen as a manifestation of the public's ability and willingness to exercise their political rights.

There are no legal restrictions, and few practical ones, on the participation of women or minorities in the political process, although they are underrepresented in official and party positions. Seven female senators and 19 female representatives served among the 267 members of the 2 chambers of Congress, including the second vice president of the Senate. Women served in a number of key cabinet posts during the year, including Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Agriculture, Education, and Health. The President's advisers for human rights, for juridical affairs, for Bogota, for Antioquia department, and for public administration affairs were also women, as was the director of the National Prisons Institute.

Indigenous people are underrepresented in government and politics; 2 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 term in office.

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 Reinsercion 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). International human rights organizations in the country include the Peace Brigades International and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Nongovernmental organizations (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 a significant proportion of human rights violations and their growing political and military power.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a field office in Bogota in April to operate through April 1998. 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 private reports to the Government and to the U.N. and occasionally spoke out publicly on particularly egregious abuses committed by government, paramilitary, or guerrilla forces.

The human rights community came under intense pressure during the year. Although the Samper administration 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 military, intelligence, police, paramilitary, and guerrilla forces. Senior military officials, including General Harold Bedoya, then-Commanding General of the military forces, sometimes publicly voiced feelings of frustration and outright hostility toward the NGO community, or publicly accused particular groups or individuals of working on behalf of the guerrillas.

At least 10 governmental and NGO human rights workers were killed during the year; over a dozen others were forced to relocate within the country, or flee abroad, following threats. Many others were forced to restrict their travel sharply, particularly in the countryside. The Bogota-based representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights requested special protection for nongovernmental human rights workers and organizations.

Two CINEP workers, Mario Calderon and Elsa Alvarado, along with Elsa's father Carlos Alvarado, were killed in their Bogota home during the predawn hours of May 19. Five armed individuals, dressed in uniforms of the Fiscalia's Criminal Investigative Team, stormed their apartment and shot them. Elsa's mother, who was seriously wounded, survived the attack, as did the couple's 18-month-old child. No group claimed responsibility for the killings. Army commander General Bonett strenuously denied public suggestions that the army might have been involved. The Prosecutor General's Human Rights Unit arrested five Medellin-based hired killers and charged them with the crimes. The authorities dropped charges against one of the detainees in October and held the other four for trial. The investigation into who ordered the killings continued.

There was no progress in investigating the October 1996 murder of the head of the Meta Committee for Human Rights, Josue Giraldo, who was then under the protection of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court asked the Government in February to prosecute anyone targeting human rights advocates for murder and emphasized the special importance of effectively investigating Giraldo's murder as a means of protection for others so targeted.

Paramilitary groups stormed or otherwise attacked the offices of some human rights groups. Two presumed paramilitary members killed Victor Julio Garzon, founder of the Meta Department Civic Committee for Human Rights, and an active defender of Meta coca-growing peasants, on March 7 in the Bogota offices of the Federation of Agricultural Workers. A small bomb exploded on June 4 at the Medellin office of the Colombian Red Cross when the ICRC was in the final stages of coordinating the June 15 release of 70 government troops held by the FARC. The Medellin offices of the ASFADDES were the target of a June 24 dynamite attack. Following increasing threats, Yanette Bautista, judicial coordinator of ASFADDES, fled the country with her family on September 9. Bautista is the sister of missing M-19 guerrilla Nydia Erika Bautista; the prosecution of those responsible for her 1987 disappearance, torture, and murder has been stymied by the military courts (see Section 1.b.). At least one human rights group was forced to close its Bogota office after receiving direct threats from presumed paramilitary groups.

The Government made a strong formal response to the September Amnesty International report on the crisis caused by the forced internal displacement of civilian populations. The Government claimed the AI report lacked complete and current information, lamented the presentation of what it termed inexact information, invited AI to visit, and recounted steps it said had been taken to deal with the situation, including a national fund for populations at risk and a national information network.

The Government has an extensive human rights apparatus, which includes the office of the President's Adviser for Human Rights, the National Human Rights Ombudsman and its regional representatives, the Attorney General's office for human rights and its regional representatives, and a human rights unit within the Prosecutor General's office. Nevertheless, the corps of government human rights advisers and monitors was often unsuccessful in getting its recommendations adopted on government policy issues.

According to September congressional testimony by the Minister of Defense, during the first 8 months of the year, the Attorney General's Office of Human Rights filed only one human rights case against a member of the military services, down from 34 cases in all of 1996, and the 1993 peak of 138 cases. Of the 15 cases closed by the military justice system or the Attorney General's office between January and August, 8 of the accused were absolved, 4 received temporary suspensions, 2 were fined, and 1 case was closed due to the death of the accused. None were permanently separated from service, compared with 12 in 1996. The director of the Attorney General's human rights office reported in mid-November that the office had received only 463 formal human rights complaints against members of the military forces, compared with 2,000 such complaints in 1996. The Attorney General has jurisdiction to carry out disciplinary investigations and administratively punish military officials who improperly conduct criminal proceedings; it is not known, however, if this power has ever been successfully employed.

As part of the Defense Ministry's efforts to protect the rights of citizens, the military services and police have established 225 human rights offices throughout the nation since 1994. These offices accept and investigate public complaints of abuse and coordinate human rights training programs for public security personnel.

An IACHR delegation visited in February to study the status of friendly settlement proceedings in a number of other cases brought before the Commission. On September 9, President Samper announced that the Government had compensated the families of 89 victims of human rights violations, under the terms of the compensation law approved in 1996. The IACHR acknowledged such steps but called on the Government to create effective mechanisms for ensuring compliance with all the recommendations of the Commission and other international human rights bodies, not only those which recommend financial compensation.

Several international human rights organizations conducted official trips to Colombia in December. For the second time in 5 years, the IACHR commissioners carried out an intensive on-site analysis of the human rights situation. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Americas also visited, conducting investigations and meeting with government, military, and NGO representatives, as well as with other independent observers.

The ICRC continued to expand operations, with an office in Bogota plus 11 offices in various conflict zones. 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 were also integrated into the military training curriculum. 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.

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. In May the U.N. Committee on Human Rights criticized the continuing practice of social cleansing, directed against street children, homosexuals, prostitutes, and criminals, noting that the Government had still not instituted adequate and effective measures to guarantee the full protection of the rights of these groups, above all the right to life.

Women

Rape and other acts of violence against women are pervasive in society, and like other crimes, are seldom 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 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 authorities.

The 1996 Law on Family Violence criminalized 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 court restraining orders. 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.

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. Despite these constitutional provisions, however, discrimination against women persists. 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.

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. Some 39 percent of working women were employed in minimum wage jobs, however, 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 on September 25 that pregnant women and mothers of new-born 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, inclusive. 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, 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 in 1997 that law was amended to provide that conviction for nonviolent sexual abuse of a child under 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 were also often caught in the crossfire between the public security forces, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla organizations.

People With Disabilities

The Constitution enumerates the fundamental social, economic, and cultural rights of the physically disabled, but serious practical impediments exist that prevent disabled persons' full participation in society. There is no legislation that specifically mandates access for people with disabilities. According to the Constitutional Court, physically disabled individuals must have access to, or if they so request, receive assistance at, voting stations. The Court has also 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 82 distinct ethnic groups among the 800,000 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 have traditionally 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.).

Traditional Indian authority boards operate some 334 designated Indian 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.

Most threats or attacks on members of indigenous communities stemmed from land ownership disputes concerning the designated Indian reserves. The National Land Reform Institute estimated that some 40 indigenous communities had no legal title to land they claimed as their own, and that an estimated 100 additional groups had title claims that were not recognized or reconciled.

In October the National Public Order Tribunal overruled the October 1995 decision of an Antioquia regional judge and found William Alberto Tulena Tulena guilty of ordering the May 27, 1994, killing of three Zenu Indian leaders and their driver, after they had filed a lawsuit regarding a land dispute in San Andres de Sotavento, Cordoba. The Tribunal found that Tulena had the men killed to prevent the valid pursuit of Zenu claims to the lands, which dated back more than two centuries in favor of the Zenus. The Tribunal ordered Tulena to serve 55 years in prison and pay 2,000 grams of gold to the family of each of his victims. Tulena owns extensive land holdings in Cordoba, was implicated in the activities of some local paramilitary forces, and is the nephew of a former president of the Senate.

A contract that Ecopetrol, the national oil company, awarded to Occidental Petroleum in 1995 continued to cause conflict with the 5,000-member U'wa indigenous community. After a Bogota superior court issued an injunction against further exploration by Occidental and Ecopetrol on lands claimed by the U'wa, the Supreme Court and the Council of State issued separate, contradictory decrees in the matter. In May the U'wa filed a complaint before the IACHR. The community claimed that there was insufficient prior consultation, and that the person, cultural, economic, and environmental rights of the community's members had not been respected. That same month, the Government requested that the OAS sponsor a joint investigation with a university of the dispute. That study subsequently 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.

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 have traditionally suffered from economic discrimination. 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. Unemployment, for instance, 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 guerrillas and paramilitary forces struggled for control of the Uraba region.

Allegations of discrimination and hazing by the military against African-Colombians continued. The navy makes little effort to recruit African-Colombians, despite their traditional ties to the sea and maritime commerce. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Racial Discrimination noted in a 1996 report that The responses received were confused or an uncomfortable silence when one asked questions regarding the number or percentage of African-Colombians who serve in the army, the navy, the diplomatic corps, or in the Catholic Church hierarchy, as if these were unusual or inappropriate questions.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1991 Constitution recognizes the rights of workers to organize unions and strike, except for members of the armed forces and police, and those essential public services as defined by law. However, legislation that prohibits public employees from striking is still in effect, even if often overlooked. The Labor Code 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 4,900 labor organizations.

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 1993 the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized 10 provisions of the law, including: The supervision of the internal management and meetings of unions by government officials; the presence of officials 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 the target of attacks by the military, police, paramilitary groups, guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and their own union rivals. In June the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions announced in Geneva that 98 union members had been killed because of their union activities in 1996, many of them employed in the banana industry of the Uraba region. Members of paramilitary groups and the FARC guerrillas both carried out a number of massacres in Uraba during the year, often targeting the same groups of organized workers. Many of the victims of the FARC massacres were former EPL guerrillas, targeted for their participation in, or sympathy with, the National Syndicate of Agro-Industry Workers, a labor union closely associated with the Hope, Peace, and Freedom Movement made up of demobilized EPL guerrillas.

A collective work convention signed in 1995 between Ecopetrol and the Union of Syndicated Labor (USO) remained in effect. That 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 further 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. In November the Prosecutor General charged 20 USO members--including the union's former president--with conspiracy to perpetrate dynamite attacks on the Cano Limon oil pipeline.

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 (about 14 percent), 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 of the small number of inspectors and workers' fears of losing their jobs, the inspection apparatus is weak. 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 are typically 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 seven free trade zones (FTZ's), but its standards are difficult to enforce. 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 effectively enforce this prohibition (see Section 6.d.)

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children but is unable to enforce this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).

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 demands exceptional conditions and the express authorization of Labor Ministry inspectors for the employment of children between the ages of 12 and 17 (inclusive). These requirements are largely ignored in practice, however, and only 5 percent of those working have filed for the required work permits.

A 1996 Labor Ministry study determined that 28 percent of all children between the ages of 12 and 17 worked. Some 15 percent of urban 12- to 17-year-olds worked, as did fully one-third of those in rural areas. More than 50 percent of all child workers did not attend school at all. The study also determined that child workers averaged 50 hours of work per week, double the legal limit of 26 hours per week. In rural areas, the study determined that 75 percent of child workers received, on average, one-fourth of the minimum wage, while 25 percent received no pay at all. 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.

Child workers are exposed to the same risks that affect adult workers, including exposure to toxic substances and accidental injuries, all of which contribute to impaired physical development. The ICBF continued its outreach campaign to inform child laborers of their rights and where to turn for help. No statistics were available to measure the impact of this effort.

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 was $139.25 (172,682 pesos) throughout 1997. 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 specifically require 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 denounce abuses, particularly in the agricultural sector. According to the Labor Code, workers have the right to withdraw from a hazardous work situation without jeopardizing continued employment. In general, a lack of public safety awareness, inadequate attention by unions, and lax enforcement by the Labor Ministry result in an a very high level of industrial accidents and unhealthy working conditions. Over 80 percent of industries lack industrial security 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 1997.

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