Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - Colombia
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||1 January 1993|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - Colombia, 1 January 1993, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca63c.html [accessed 31 March 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Events of 1992
Human Rights Developments
Peace talks between the government and leftist guerrillas floundered in May amid mutual accusations of bad faith. In their wake, military operations increased throughout the country. President César Gaviria has increased funding to the armed forces and police by levying a special "war tax" in an effort to destroy the guerrillas militarily. Far from retreating, however, guerrillas mounted two nationwide offensives in late May and October. Abuses by both sides have led to a dramatic worsening of an already serious human rights situation, among the worst in the hemisphere.
On November 8, President César Gaviria declared a "state of internal commotion" after guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's largest guerrilla organization, killed 26 policemen guarding an oil pumping station near Orito, Putumayo and staged a wave of bombing attacks in several cities, including Bogotá. The Colombian constitution allows the president to invoke emergency powers in case of foreign attack or serious threat to public order, but in neither case does it permit the suspension of any right established in the constitution. Such a prohibition notwithstanding, President Gaviria announced several new executive decrees that do restrict certain civil rights. One prohibits broadcast journalists from disseminating any information received from the guerrillas. The executive decrees also authorize military intelligence to investigate suspects and present evidence against civilians in court, a responsibility previously reserved for the Judicial Technical Police.
Although the emergency measures were taken to strengthen counterinsurgency efforts, Colombian human rights groups noted the extreme dangers inherent in giving the Army the power to investigate and bring cases before the courts. Army involvement in investigations is highly suspect; on repeated occasions, the Army has detained, murdered and disappeared civilians they suspected of guerrilla sympathies, and has later presented the victims as "guerrillas killed in action." Human rights groups also fear for their work, especially since the Army has frequently accused them of being "guerrilla fronts" and now has additional powers to investigate and bring cases against them.
Although the government asserts that human rights violations decreased in 1992, local human rights groups recorded noticeable increases over 1991. In the first eight months of 1992, there were 91 massacres carried out by state security forces, guerrillas and paramilitary groups, causing 477 deaths, the majority peasants, youths and workers, according to the Permanent Committee in Defenseof Human Rights. This figure represents a 20 percent increase over 1991. The total number of victims of political violence threatens to increase in 1992, surpassing last year's record of over 10 victims per day. By September, the number of unresolved disappearances had climbed to 75.
Overall, the Andean Commission of Jurists-Colombian Section found that 40 per cent of the cases of political killings reported by September were attributable to state agents, 30 per cent to paramilitary groups acting in collusion with the security forces, 27.5 per cent to guerrillas, and the remaining 2.5 per cent to others including drug traffickers. In addition to its substantial role in committing these murders, the government remains unable to investigate crimes and punish perpetrators satisfactorily. Despite apparently good intentions and a stated willingness to introduce reforms, little has so far been accomplished.
To the contrary, Colombia's new constitution put the military and police, the leading agent of human rights violations, further from civilian control by reaffirming the jurisdiction of military courts over crimes committed by members of the armed forces and extending that jurisdiction to the National Police. The new constitution also permits officers to employ the defense of obedience to superior orders to avoid responsibility for their abusive acts. Military courts have yet to produce credible inquiries or fair trials. Instead, abusers remain in their posts and impede other investigations in a twisted example of esprit de corps.
As part of the peace accord in 1991 with the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Revolutionary Workers' Party (PRT) and the Quintín Lame guerrillas, the government funded a Commission on Ways to Overcome Violence, composed of respected academics, human rights monitors and former officials. In its massive report, the commission concluded that because violence has different origins and manifestations in different parts of Colombia, efforts to overcome it must be applied according to each region's particular history and social landscape. While valuable and representing the best efforts of civil society to come to grips with political violence, the commission's report threatens to be forgotten in a new militarization of Colombian society. Other structural reforms may in the long-term produce improvements, but have yet significantly to alter a tragic record; these include the appointments, for the first time ever, of civilians as Minister of Defense and head of the Administrati ve Department of Security (DAS), a law enforcement and intelligence body under the president's control.
Americas Watch continues to be concerned about governmental measures that restrict basic freedoms. For instance, in 1992 the Gaviria administration proposed to Congress a law to regulate states of exception that was justifiably criticized by Colombian human rights groups. The bill would allow local police chiefs to order the administrative detention of any person for up to 36 hours; this in effect does away with the requirement that no one be arrested without a judicial warrant unless caught in the act of committing a crime. The proposed law also gives the executive branch extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of speech,movement, and assembly, and to ban strikes.
The victims of political violence are a cross-section of Colombian society, including members of leftist political parties, suspected guerrilla sympathizers, civilians caught in conflict zones, teachers and members of the judiciary, and those killed in "social cleansing" campaigns. "Social cleansing" murders of the homeless, drug addicts, petty thieves, and homosexuals can properly be classified as political violence because they are widely believed to be carried out by police agents acting as death squads or by gunmen who enjoy protection from the police. The Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) estimates that there were 338 victims of "social cleansing" killings between January and September 1992.
Particularly hard hit was the Patriotic Union (UP), a legally authorized political party that is loosely linked to the FARC. According to the UP, over 2200 party members have been killed since 1985, 28 of them in the first nine months of 1992. A strongly worded report by the office of the Defensor del Pueblo (ombudsman) released in October revealed that, of over 700 killings of UP members investigated by the courts, convictions resulted in only ten cases.
As counterinsurgency operations have increased in the wake of failed political dialogue, the brunt of the government offensive has been led by Army Mobile Brigades, elite counterinsurgency units made up of professional soldiers. The Mobile Brigade operates by isolating an area where guerrillas are active, "softening up" suspected bases by bombardment and strafing from the air, and then sending in units for ground pursuit. Mobile Brigade soldiers are known by the population as carapintadas (painted faces) or bolsillones (deep pockets, since they carry money to buy information).
In practice, however, the Mobile Brigade strategy has meant terror for the civilian population. While guerrilla units withstand or evade the siege, civilians are trapped in a hellish war zone, subject to attacks, detention as "suspected subversives," torture, rape and on-the-spot executions. In the department of Meta, for example, a campaign by Mobile Brigade I against the FARC resulted in a flood of human rights abuses. One letter from the local authorities of La Uribe listed nine separate acts over a 14-day period in February, including the torture and disappearance of two men from El Tigre village; the sacking of a peasant house in Las Gaviotas village; and bombardment and strafing of five separate villages. On May 13, an 11-year-old girl was shot and killed by soldiers in Santander village. Press reports indicate that a large number of women were among the injured during the May campaign, shot as they fled the cross fire. That month, an official commission investigating Brigade abuses in Meta was led by a delegate from the Procuraduría, an independent investigatory body that prosecutes disciplinary actions against state agents. The commission was fired upon by an Army helicopter, although no one was injured.
Civilians have been forced to act as guides, to wear Army uniforms, and to walk in front of soldiers to detonate mines planted by guerrillas. Often, civilians are prevented from leavingthe area or transporting more than a day's worth of food for their families. In Dabeiba, Antioquia, the press reported that five young civilian men detained by soldiers were later found dead, claimed by military authorities to have been "guerrillas killed in action."
Mobile Brigade actions cause massive internal displacement. Peasants hide in the hills until they can flee to larger city centers. For instance, in the Magdalena Medio, 1,700 people fled San Vicente de Chucurí on February 10 after intense air bombardment by Mobile Brigade II in a campaign against the National Liberation Army (ELN). Although military authorities claim peasants are free to report abuses to local authorities for investigation, witnesses in practice are threatened, caused to disappear and killed.
In their wake, Mobile Brigades leave increased violence and fortified "self-defense," or paramilitary, organizations, even though such organizations were supposedly outlawed in 1989. Paramilitary agents, directed and paid by large landowners and drug traffickers and acting with the collusion of the police and Army, attack community activists, union leaders, human rights monitors, peasant and indigenous leaders, and people linked to leftist political parties, particularly the Patriotic Union and the Communist Party. Despite government assertions that such organizations are on the wane, many serious cases involving paramilitaries were reported in 1992, suggesting that in some areas, particularly Meta and the Magdalena Medio, this activity is on the increase. For example, a preliminary investigation by the Procuraduría in late 1992 found that an Army general and six other officers had promoted and supported paramilitary groups in Santander department.
In addition, on June 3, a paramilitary band ambushed and killed five UP members – including the former mayor, the current mayor, and three municipal officials – and their driver near El Castillo, Meta. Witnesses later reported that the attackers wore Army clothing and used fragmentation grenades. Human rights monitors believe this killing and many others were orchestrated by Victor Carranza, an emerald dealer and large landowner who is said to boast of maintaining the largest private contingent of armed men in the country. In 1989, Camilo Zamora Guzmán, one of his hired killers, testified to a judge that Carranza had ordered the killings of UP members, suspected guerrillas, and community leaders; these were then carried out in cooperation with the police, Army officers and police and military intelligence agents. In addition, in October, Carranza reportedly offered a bounty of 8 million pesos, about $12,000, for the murders of three leading members of the UP in Meta. Nevertheless, Carranza is not currently charged with any crime.
According to the Regional Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), which covers the Magdalena Medio, the paramilitary group known as mas (Muerte a Secuestradores, Death to Kidnappers) is gaining in power, and now controls towns like El Carmen de Chucurí. mas members, or "Masetos," charge monthly "war taxes" and force peasants to patrol under threat of death. Despite decrees cracking down on paramilitary groups, the mas has continued to enjoy open support from the police and military, which supplies them with weapons, munitions and uniforms.
In one revealing incident, an official delegation led by judicial officials and protected by elite police units flew to El Carmen de Chucurí on March 29 to arrest 27 paramilitary agents implicated in 183 murders over a five-year period. Far from assisting the commission, the Army and police based there actively hampered their search and roused the population to attack them. Commission members were finally forced to flee for their safety with only one detainee.
Peasants who flee the Magdalena Medio often must pay handsomely. One family told the Intercongregational Commission for Peace and Justice that the Masetos charged 200,000 pesos, about $300, for "permission" to abandon their farms. Such payments are levied at paramilitary checkpoints, set up with the consent and often protection of the military and police. Some families that have attempt to return discover that members of paramilitary groups have taken over their homes and farms. Since opening in 1988, a CREDHOS-sponsored shelter for the displaced in nearby Barrancabermeja received over 2,000 people, but the shelter had to be closed in June 1992 because of frequent threats, harassment and unauthorized searches. Violence does not stop in the countryside. In Barrancabermeja, there were 273 violent deaths in the first six months of 1992, more than one a day in a city of only 158,000 inhabitants.
Only rarely do paramilitary agents or their handlers in the security forces face justice. For instance, in August, the Procuraduría released the results of an investigation linking an Army colonel, officer and non-commissioned officer to the paramilitary murder of 20 peasants on March 4, 1988 at the La Negra and Honduras ranches in Urabá. Public Order Court 103, presided over by a "faceless" judge, had already convicted 13 civilians of carrying out the massacre, including Henry de Jesús Pérez, the president of the Association of Cattlemen and Agricultural Producers of the Middle Magdalena (ACDEGAM), a notorious paramilitary group, and Fidel Castaño, alias "Rambo," a paramilitary leader from Córdoba. However, neither Pérez nor Castaño was detained. Pérez was later murdered in circumstances that suggest an internal feud within ACDEGAM. Castaño, who is also wanted in relation to other massacres, remains at large and is reportedly protected by Army officers on active duty.
Originally, the Public Order Court also indicted Major Luis Felipe Becerra Bohórquez and two junior officers attached to the Voltígeros Battalion in the Urabá massacre. However, in 1991 a military tribunal assumed jurisdiction, on the grounds that the soldiers were duty-bound to prevent the massacre and thus could be tried for "dereliction of duty." Even though Major Becerra was supposed to be under arrest, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, traveled to the United States to attend a training course, and at last report was serving in the Department of Public Relations (E-5) at the General Command of the Army.
Another case, involving the 1988 massacre of 43 peasants in Segovia, Antioquia by paramilitary groups in league with soldiers assigned to the Bomboná Battalion, resulted in a similarly mild reaction from the Procuraduría's Delegate for the Armed Forces: a 30-day suspension from active duty for two officers who had printedand distributed flyers threatening the population and announcing the imminent arrival of a paramilitary group that would kill "guerrilla sympathizers." Lieutenant Colonel Hernando Navas Rubio, the Army brigade intelligence commander at the time of the Segovia massacre, was subsequently named to head Colombia's prison system. A warrant for his arrest was issued on October 24 in connection with the escape from prison of drug king-pin Pablo Escobar.
Other well-known cases that remain unpunished include the 1987 murder of Alvaro Garcés Parra, the mayor of Sabana de Torres, Santander; the murder of journalist Sylvia Duzán Sáenz and three peasant leaders in 1990; and the massacre of at least 20 Páez Indians in 1991.
Guerrillas committed frequent atrocities and serious violations of the laws of war, including summary executions, kidnappings, indiscriminate bombings, attacks on the press and the levying of exorbitant "war taxes." According to the police, guerrillas were responsible for 165 kidnappings in the first five months of 1992; Colombian human rights groups have reported a far lower figure, approximately 90 for the first nine months of the year. For example, units of the FARC reportedly kidnapped Japanese businessman Koji Nakagawa in early 1992, releasing him only after receiving what police said was a ransom of $500,000. A dissident faction of the EPL, some of whose members accepted a government amnesty and formed a political party in 1991, continues to murder former colleagues. At least 90 ex-combatants who belong to the Hope, Peace and Liberty party have been killed since the amnesty, by paramilitaries, members of the FARC and dissident EPL members. In addition, guerrillas co ntinue to carry out killings of civilians who they claim are Army informants or paramilitary supporters.
From January to September 1992, the ELN attacked the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline more than 30 times, causing deaths and serious injuries to workers and other civilian non-combatants. Repairmen have been attacked and killed, while others have been blinded and maimed by "foot-breaker" mines (quiebrapatas) left by guerrillas. In February, an ELN bomb killed two children and injured one in San Vicente de Chucurí, Santander. In May and June, the ELN kidnapped at least seven police officers, disarmed them, and then killed them, a clear violation of the laws of war protecting those who are hors de combat.
Continuing political violence by both sides took place in the context of rampant criminal violence, much of it linked to drug trafficking. Despite the intensity of political violence, politically motivated killings probably represent only 13 percent of murders nationwide. In Colombia, there are roughly seven murders a year for every 10,000 people, as compared to the U.S. rate of one murder for every 11,000 people.
The surrender of Escobar and 14 associates on June 19, 1991 was at first billed as a victory of President Gaviria's policy of negotiating with rather than threatening traffickers with extradition to the United States. But Escobar's escape with nine associates on July 22 revealed that in fact it was he, not his supposed captors, who ran the specially built prison. An investigation of the escape revealed that it had been arranged with the collusion of guards and some of the more than 400 soldiersstationed outside the prison walls. Investigations resulted in the resignations and dismissals of at least 40 officials, including the deputy justice minister, four senior military officers, two wardens, and eleven soldiers and prison guards. Although most of Escobar's colleagues had surrendered a second time by the time by the end of November, he remained at large.
After Escobar escaped, the press reported that throughout his incarceration, Escobar maintained control of his cocaine empire; he even ordered the kidnapping of rivals for hearings in a makeshift prison "court," then ordered their murders. After his escape, a stepped-up campaign by the Medellín cartel against police cost the lives of 19 police detectives in September alone. In apparent retaliation, local human rights groups noted that agents described as off-duty police officers would fire into groups of young men gathered on street corners in the poor neighborhoods, or comunas, where the cartel recruits young hired killers known as sicarios. These attacks and counterattacks are not new. Between November 1991 and March 1992, one Medellín-based human rights group documented 184 killings linked to the Judicial Technical and National Police.
The generally grim human rights picture in Colombia does have some encouraging aspects. For instance, the new Code of Criminal Procedures categorically prohibits incommunicado detention, typically the time when torture and disappearance occur. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to military and police detention centers for the first time; previously, it could only visit prisons run by the Ministry of Justice. The Procuraduría set up regional offices in Bogotá and Medellín to respond to human rights charges within these cities. A proposal to create a similar office in Barrancabermeja, pooling resources from several state agencies, has been approved, but has yet to be implemented.
In departments like Putumayo, violence has receded after concerted local action, including initiatives by mayors, city councils, the Catholic Church and neighborhood communal action groups. Local residents told the Andean Commission of Jurists that 1,000 people were murdered in the Putumayo region in 1990 and 1991, the equivalent of one murder for every 500 people; although not all of these deaths were political killings, the state made no effort to investigate or put a stop to them. Through nonviolent grassroots protests and marches against the mas and their military handlers, the community mounted a successful effort to expel the most notorious hired killers this year. By June, the number of murders had fallen by over two-thirds. In October, community leaders met in a departmental forum to find ways to continue to solidify a respect for human rights. But the fragile peace disappeared in November after new clashes between the government and the guerrillas, demonstrating the futility of local efforts to combat violence in the absence of national political will.
To its credit, the Gaviria administration has attempted to protect judges investigating controversial cases. Despite these measures, however, the Colombian judicial system continues to be undermined by attacks on those who dare probe cases involving drug-traffickers and human rights abusers. After his escape, Pablo Escobar unleashed a new wave of attacks against rivals, police and the "faceless judges" responsible for prosecuting him and his band.On September 18, men allegedly hired by Escobar killed "faceless" judge Miriam Rocío Vélez Pérez and her two DAS bodyguards. Judge Vélez was responsible for the case linking Escobar to the 1986 murder of journalist Guillermo Cano. One previous judge assigned to the case was murdered while two were forced to leave the country after receiving threats.
The Right to Monitor
Agents of the state and paramilitary forces in 1992 continued their relentless persecution of human rights monitors. The Middle Magdalena and Meta Department continue to be the most dangerous areas for human rights advocates. In 1992, two CREDHOS members – Blanca Cecilia Valero de Durán and Julio César Berrío – were murdered in circumstances suggesting official involvement. Two weeks after Valero's murder, General Roberto Emilio Cifuentes, commander of the Fifth Army Brigade, charged that CREDHOS was used by guerrillas to "slander" and undermine the Armed Forces. Dr. Jorge Gómez Lizarazo, director of CREDHOS, was attacked numerous times; although he was assigned seven DAS bodyguards, he was forced to leave the area temporarily for his safety. Another noted defender of human rights, Dr. Eduardo Umaña Mendoza, was forced to leave the country temporarily after receiving threats for his work on the case of the killing of five members of the Palacios family and two other men in Fusagasugá in 1991.
The above-described case of El Carmen de Chucurí is of special concern because of its implications for the human rights community at the national level. In June, after the failed attempt to arrest alleged paramilitary members, two national newspapers, El Tiempo and La Prensa, published articles claiming that the official commission had actually been arranged by the ELN to target innocent people. El Tiempo went on to suggest that human rights groups – including the Intercongregational Committee for Justice and Peace, CINEP, the Human Rights Commission, the Solidarity Committee with Political Prisoners, and various associations of the detained and disappeared – were "guerrilla sympathizers."
In an unpublished rebuttal sent to El Tiempo, Father Javier Giraldo of Justice and Peace accused the journalists of publishing uncorroborated information from the military, an opinion widely shared by Colombian human rights groups. Several monitors felt so threatened by being labelled guerrilla sympathizers that they left the country.
In Meta, citizens who support the Civic Committee for Human Rights were systematically harassed and threatened by paramilitary agents controlled by Víctor Carranza and members of the B-2, Army intelligence. Some human rights monitors are wary of asking for police bodyguards, because they fear that the guards, rather than protect them, will gather intelligence on their movements for a future attack. Such suspicions are not unfounded. For instance, on the day the five El Castillo officials were killed, their one police bodyguard had mysteriously not shown up for work.
There have been important developments in the case of Alirio Pedraza, a human rights lawyer who disappeared after his arrest by security forces in Bogotá on July 4, 1990. After an investigation by the Procuraduría, two detectives in the Judicial TechnicalPolice were arrested and charged with the abduction. Their superior, a former DAS officer who most recently was Chief of Investigations in the Attorney General's office (the Fiscalía), has been dismissed from his job but not yet criminally charged.
During 1992, Colombia's human rights record largely avoided scrutiny by the Bush administration due to its strong support for Colombia's anti-narcotics efforts. With the exception of loud complaints over the escape of Pablo Escobar and the official opposition to extradition, the U.S. government has generally submerged human rights criticisms in the name of fighting the drug war.
During fiscal year 1992, $50 million in Economic Support Funds were obligated for Colombia, with a similar amount planned for fiscal year 1993. In fiscal year 1992, $47 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) were obligated for Colombia, with $58 million requested for 1993 – more than any other Latin American country. Colombia also receives approximately $2.5 million in International Military and Education Training assistance each year. In addition to FMF, the bulk of which goes to the National Police and Air Force, the police also receive International Narcotics Control assistance for training. In fiscal year 1992, that assistance amounted to $23.4 million; $22 million has been requested for fiscal year 1993.
During the fall debate over the International Narcotics Control Act (INCA) of 1992, the Bush administration opposed conditioning aid to Colombia on respect for human rights by threatening to veto the bill if conditions were included, as they had been in the 1990 INCA. Congress capitulated and human rights conditions were not included.
The U.S. government continued to fund the six-year, $36 million Administration of Justice, Justice Sector Reform Project during fiscal year 1992, with $12.5 million obligated for the program. The project's stated goal is to improve the effectiveness of the Colombian judicial system so that narcotics traffickers can be brought to justice without extradition to the United States. While Americas Watch understands the severe security constraints faced by members of the Colombian judiciary, we remain concerned that the special courts supported by this program, with so-called "faceless" judges, violate due process norms. For instance, in these Public Order courts, the prosecution can present evidence and witnesses that are kept secret from defense lawyers, who cannot cross-examine. According to the respected Colombian human rights group CINEP, however, the Colombian government has used the Public Order courts in a wide variety of circumstances having little to do with terrorism or drug trafficking, including to punish those who have engaged in or organized nonviolent protests such as strikes, work stoppages, and demonstrations.
On the first day of the Drug Summit held in late February 1992 in San Antonio, Texas, Colombia proclaimed that only the National Police, not the Army, would receive U.S. anti-narcotics security assistance. The announced change was reportedly agreed to by the U.S. government and Colombian officials because of the Army'sunwillingness to participate in counter-narcotics activities or to meet the human rights and other requirements attached to that aid the previous year. As John Walters, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, noted at a congressional hearing in July, "there were some questions about whether the resources provided to the Colombian Army initially were adequately dedicated to counternarcotics, given other concerns the Colombians had." Americas Watch supported the announced termination of assistance to the Colombian Army in light of its history of human rights violations during counterinsurgency operations.
Even though U.S. officials directed anti-narcotics aid away from the military, press reports in 1992 consistently stated that Mobile Brigades were equipped with many of the type of weapons donated and sold to the Colombian military. And, although both the Colombian military and U.S. officials deny that U.S. war materiel, including A-37 airplanes and Blackhawk and Iroquois helicopters with M-60 artillery, are being used against leftist insurgents, the monitoring of the ultimate user of U.S. security assistance to Colombia remains woefully deficient. In addition, the Colombian military has repeatedly stated that, despite U.S. restrictions on the use of anti-narcotics aid, their main mission remains combatting guerrillas.
It is revealing that the only public statements made by the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá on human rights during 1992, apart from the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991, issued in January 1992, were standard human rights paragraphs included in weapons contracts signed with the Army. Beginning with the Country Reports and continuing throughout the year, the State Department repeatedly mischaracterized the sources of human rights violations in Colombia. For example, when responding to a question about the human rights situation in Colombia during a March congressional hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter replied that the problem is "presented by, number one, the insurgencies, and number two, by narcotics traffickers." Secretary Schifter failed to mention any abuses by government forces.
The State Department's Country Reports also de-emphasized the security forces' responsibility for violations, but did contrast starkly with Secretary Schifter's refusal to acknowledge official violations. The report noted that "members and units of the army and the police participated in a number of human rights violations. Particularly in areas of guerrilla violence and little civilian government presence, members of the armed forces committed various abuses, including massacres, 'disappearances' and torture."
One important exception to U.S. disinterest in human rights violations has been the attention shown to the threats against CREDHOS. Embassy officials met with leaders of CREDHOS and assured them that they would discuss their plight with Colombian officials.
Pablo Escobar's escape from prison never appeared to threaten seriously Bush administration support for continued security assistance for Colombia, but it did evoke harsh criticism from administration and congressional officials. In the days following the escape, the U.S. government sent electronic surveillance gear and six Air Force and dea intelligence-gathering aircraft toColombia to help search for Escobar, but emphasized they would honor the Colombian constitution and had no plans to abduct Escobar for trial in the United States. Despite outrage from Colombians over the violation of sovereignty, the U.S. continued air surveillance through at least through November.
Despite Colombia's shocking record of human rights abuse and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible, both the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States have been slow to act in bringing the Colombian government to task for violations by state agents. In 1989, Americas Watch, the Andean Commission of Jurists-Colombian Section and CREDHOS filed a joint complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the disappearance at the hands of soldiers of rural teachers Isidro Caballero and María del Carmen Santana near San Alberto, César. In October 1992, the IACHR finally determined that the Colombian government had violated the rights to life, personal security, and due process, and submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – the first Colombian case to be heard by the Court. The Commission has not acted on several other Colombian cases, including the 1990 disappearance of Alirio Pedraza, discussed above. In addition, despite two recent visits to Colombia, the Commission has yet to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation there.
The Work of Americas Watch
In April, Americas Watch published Political Murder and Reform in Colombia: The Violence Continues, a comprehensive overview of the status of human rights, the peace process, the drug war, institutional reforms, and U.S. policy. Americas Watch registered frequent protests with Colombian government officials about innumerable human rights cases in 1992. Together with the Andean Commission of Jurists Colombian Section and the Center for Justice and International Law, Americas Watch continued to represent past victims of abuse by pressing cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Americas Watch representatives made four trips to Colombia during the year, meeting with Colombian and U.S. Embassy officials, human rights groups, and political and community leaders.