Amnesty International Report 2005 - Colombia
|Publication Date||25 May 2005|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2005 - Colombia , 25 May 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/429b27dc20.html [accessed 30 March 2015]|
Covering events from January - December 2004
Negotiations between the government and the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), an army-backed paramilitary umbrella organization, led to the reported demobilization of over 2,500 AUC combatants in 2004. Serious concerns remained about the process, principally over the issue of impunity, violations of the AUC ceasefire and continuing serious and widespread human rights violations by paramilitaries. The process also raised fears that paramilitaries were being "recycled" into the conflict.
AI continued to document strong links between the security forces and paramilitaries. Despite a fall in certain indicators of political violence such as kidnappings and massacres, reports of extrajudicial executions carried out directly by the armed forces increased in 2004. Cases of "disappearances" and torture remained high. Civilians were targeted by all sides in the armed conflict – the security forces, paramilitaries and armed opposition groups. In the first half of 2004, at least 1,400 civilians were killed or "disappeared". During the year, around 1,250 people were kidnapped and 287,000 were forced to flee their homes. Hundreds of civilians were subjected to mass and often irregular detentions by the security forces.
The government continued to make statements equating the defence of human rights with the promotion of "terrorism". In December the government pardoned 23 prisoners belonging to the armed opposition group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), but the FARC refused to release any of its hostages in return. Talks to initiate peace talks with the smaller National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) continued. The FARC and ELN were responsible for serious and widespread breaches of international humanitarian law, including hostage-taking and the killing of civilians.
Negotiations between the government and the AUC, which purportedly aimed to demobilize up to 20,000 AUC combatants by the end of 2005, continued despite the fact that the whereabouts of AUC leader Carlos Castaño, missing since 16 April, remained unknown. On 13 May, the AUC and the government signed the Santa Fe de Ralito agreement, under which a "concentration zone" was set up in Tierralta, Córdoba Department. Security forces were withdrawn from the zone and arrest warrants against AUC leaders residing in the zone were suspended. An Organization of American States (OAS) mission, set up in January to verify the AUC ceasefire, oversaw the concentration of paramilitaries in the zone.
Over 2,500 paramilitaries were reportedly demobilized in 2004 in various parts of the country. But concerns remained that paramilitaries were being "recycled" into the conflict. On 31 August, the government published Decree 2767, which enabled demobilized paramilitaries to "cooperate" with the security forces in return for payment.
After national and international criticism, the government withdrew the Justice and Reparation Bill, which would have created a legal framework for the demobilization of illegal armed groups. The Bill, which failed to respect the right of victims to truth, justice and reparation, could have guaranteed impunity for human rights violators. The government objected to a new draft presented by Congress members which addressed some of these concerns and said it would present a new draft in 2005. Most paramilitaries who reportedly demobilized benefited from Decree 128, which may have granted de facto amnesties to human rights abusers. Its continued application raised doubts about the government's commitment to confronting impunity.
The paramilitaries also continued to violate their self-declared ceasefire, announced in December 2002. More than 1,800 killings and "disappearances" carried out since the ceasefire were attributed to the paramilitaries. Paramilitaries were also responsible for serious human rights violations in areas where they had reportedly demobilized and continued to operate with the support and collusion of the armed forces.
- On 19 May, some 11 peasant farmers were killed, reportedly by paramilitaries, in Tame Municipality, Arauca Department.
- On 18 April, at least 12 people from the indigenous Wayúu community were killed by suspected paramilitaries in Bahía Portete, La Guajira Department. Although the security forces were informed about the possibility of a paramilitary incursion and were alerted during the incursion, no attempt appeared to be taken to intervene. Reports suggested that some of the victims were handed over to paramilitaries after their abduction by army soldiers.
The Office of the Attorney General failed to advance criminal investigations into human rights violations implicating high-ranking officers. In January it closed the investigation of General Álvaro Velandia Hurtado, accused of the "disappearance" and killing of Nydia Erika Bautista in 1987; in 2003, the Office of the Procurator General had ruled that criminal investigations against the former general should continue. In March, the investigation of General Rito Alejo del Río, accused of links with paramilitarism, was also closed.
The military justice system continued to claim jurisdiction over cases of potential human rights violations committed by members of the security forces, despite the 1997 ruling of the Constitutional Court that such cases must be investigated by the civilian justice system.
'Anti-terrorism' – activists targeted
In August, the Constitutional Court declared the Anti-Terrorist Statute, approved at the end of 2003, null and void. The statute would have allowed the military to arrest individuals, raid homes and offices and intercept communications without judicial warrant.
The government continued to undermine human rights defenders through statements equating their work with the promotion of "terrorism". On 16 June, President Uribe said that by "not having the courage to denounce Amnesty International, we have allowed it to legitimize terrorism internationally". These accusations were publicly rejected as unfounded and unacceptable by AI, other human rights non-governmental organizations and members of the international community.
As part of the government's "war on terror", hundreds of civilians, especially peasant farmers, human rights defenders, community leaders and trade unionists, were subjected to mass and often irregular detentions by the security forces. Many of these detentions were carried out solely on the basis of information provided by paid informants. The use of mass detentions was questioned by the Office of the Procurator General, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Judicial officials who released those detained in mass arrests were themselves investigated. In May, the Office of the Attorney General ordered the arrest of Judge Orlando Pacheco. In November 2003 he had released over 120 people detained in Sucre Department on conflict-related charges due to lack of evidence. In June, the Office of the Attorney General ordered the recapture of those freed by Judge Pacheco.
Many of those detained and subsequently released were threatened or killed.
- On 6 October, community leader Teresa Yarce was shot dead by suspected paramilitaries in the Comuna 13 neighbourhood of Medellín. She had been detained without charge by the security forces in November 2002, and subsequently threatened, after she reported human rights violations committed during a security force operation in the area.
- On 17 September, sociologist Alfredo Correa was killed by alleged paramilitaries in Baranquilla, Atlántico Department. He had been detained by the security forces in June and released in July after claims that he was a member of the FARC proved unfounded.
Trade unionists continued to be targeted. Although the number of killings fell in 2004, over 60 trade unionists were killed. Death threats against trade unionists continued unabated. In August reports emerged of an alleged plot, known as Operation Dragon, to kill trade unionists and left-wing political leaders. An investigation into the alleged plot by the Office of the Attorney General led to the discovery of an intelligence document reportedly written by the army's III Brigade labelling trade unionists in Cali as subversive.
The security forces continued to kill, torture, and "disappear" civilians, either directly or in collusion with paramilitaries. There were increased reports of extrajudicial executions carried out directly by the army, with victims often portrayed as guerrillas killed in combat.
- On 5 August, three trade unionists were killed by soldiers of the XVIII Brigade in Saravena Municipality, Arauca Department. The army claimed they were guerrillas killed in combat, but evidence emerged that they were unarmed and shot in the back.
- On 10 April, five civilians, including a six-month-old baby, were killed in Cajamarca Municipality, Tolima Department, by soldiers of the Pijaos Battalion. The soldiers claimed the victims died in combat. Reports suggested that no combat took place and that at least one of the victims was shot at point-blank range.
- On 19 March, seven police officers from the Unified Action Group for Personal Freedom and four civilians were killed by soldiers of the Boyacá Battalion in Guaitarilla Municipality, Nariño Department. The army claimed the police failed to stop at a checkpoint and opened fire forcing them to return fire. There was evidence that at least one of the victims had been shot at point-blank range.
In October, the government announced it had destroyed all the military's stockpile of anti-personnel landmines, in accordance with the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
Armed opposition groups
Armed opposition groups were responsible for repeated and serious breaches of international humanitarian law, including hostage-taking and the killing of civilians.
- On 15 June, the FARC allegedly killed 34 coca gatherers in Tibú Municipality, Norte de Santander Department.
- On 15 February, the ELN reportedly killed a teacher, Janeth del Socorro Vélez Galeano, and a peasant farmer, Robeiro Alfonso Urrego Ibarra, in Remedios Municipality, Antioquia Department.
The FARC also carried out attacks using disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons which resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians.
- On 19 September, four civilians were killed and 17 others injured, including 10 children, when the FARC allegedly detonated a mine and opened fire on a civilian vehicle in San Carlos Municipality, Antioquia Department.
In October, President Uribe offered to begin negotiations on a humanitarian agreement with the FARC which could lead to an exchange of FARC prisoners for hostages held by the armed opposition group. No agreement had been reached by the end of the year, although in December the government pardoned 23 FARC prisoners. There was a lack of clarity about how the government had ensured that those pardoned were not implicated in human rights abuses.
The ELN and the government reportedly established contact to discuss opening formal peace talks. In May, President Uribe asked Mexican President Vicente Fox to act as "guarantor" for any future process. In July, Mexican officials held talks with jailed ELN commander Gerardo Bermúdez, alias "Francisco Galán".
Violence against women
Women and girls were raped, killed, "disappeared" and mutilated by all parties to the conflict. They were targeted for a variety of reasons, including to sow terror, wreak revenge on adversaries and accumulate "trophies of war".
- On 15 July, two girls aged 16 and 17 were allegedly gang raped by more than 10 army soldiers attached to the IV Brigade in Sonsón Municipality, Antioquia Department. The girls and their families were reportedly threatened by some of the soldiers involved after they reported the rape to the Office of the Attorney General.
- On 8 October, the FARC allegedly killed four women, one of whom was pregnant, and a man in a house in Colosó Municipality, Sucre Department. The FARC had reportedly accused the women of having relations with security force members.
Armed opposition groups and criminal gangs accounted for most kidnappings; paramilitary groups were also responsible. There was a further fall in the number of kidnappings in 2004; from at least 2,200 in 2003 to around 1,250 people in 2004. Over 400 of these kidnappings were carried out by armed opposition groups, at least 120 by paramilitaries and around 350 by criminal gangs; those responsible could not be identified in over 300 cases.
- On 24 July, the ELN reportedly kidnapped the Bishop of Yopal in Morcote on the border of Boyacá and Casanare Departments. He was released a few days later.
- On 27 June, paramilitaries reportedly kidnapped former senator José Gnecco and members of his family on a highway in Santa Marta Municipality, Magdalena Department. They were all released a few days later.
- On 21 May, the FARC allegedly kidnapped 11 people, including four women, in Algeciras Municipality, Huila Department. They were released on 10 June.
Abuses against civilians
Peasant farmers, internally displaced people and Afro-descendent and indigenous communities living in areas where armed groups were active and with a heavy military presence were at particular risk of attack. Over 287,000 people were forced from their homes in 2004, compared to some 207,000 in 2003. Moreover, there were increasing reports that armed groups in control of particular areas sought to prevent people from leaving their communities, often blocking access to food and services.
Certain government security measures continued to drag civilians further into the conflict. These included the network of civilian informants which, according to the government, involved more than 2.5 million people by August, and the army of peasant soldiers, who unlike regular soldiers often operated in their own communities and sometimes lived at home, thus placing their families at increased risk of revenge attacks by armed opposition groups.
- On 22 August, the FARC allegedly killed a peasant soldier and his mother at their home in Corinto Municipality, Cauca Department.
Indigenous communities continued to face a serious human rights crisis.
- On 3 August, suspected paramilitaries killed a Kankuamo leader, Freddy Arias Arias, in Valledupar, Cesar Department.
- On 6 November, the FARC allegedly killed an Arhuaco leader, Mariano Suárez Chaparro, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Magdalena Department.
US military aid
US security assistance amounted to an estimated US$550 million in 2004. The US Congress also approved an additional US$629 million in security assistance for 2005, including training for the security forces, weapons, and spare parts. In October the US Congress increased the ceiling on US troops in Colombia from 400 to 800, and on private contractors from 400 to 600. Congress also renewed the annual human rights certification process whereby the Secretary of State is required to certify Colombia's progress on specific human rights practices such as investigations and prosecutions of alleged human rights violations by security forces, and efforts to sever ties between the Colombian armed forces and paramilitary forces. Congress did not include specific limitations on US assistance for the paramilitary demobilization process, but did note that current US law prohibits assistance to "foreign terrorist organizations", such as the AUC.
The UN Commission on Human Rights condemned the failure of the security forces, paramilitaries and guerrillas to respect international humanitarian law and condemned the recruitment of children by armed groups. It reiterated its concern regarding the climate of hostility generated by government officials regarding the work of human rights defenders; condemned reports of continued collusion of state agents with paramilitary groups; and noted the increase in complaints about forced "disappearances", mainly by paramilitaries, but also by the security forces. The Commission also expressed concern at increased reports of arbitrary and mass detentions. It called for the implementation of UN human rights recommendations.
AI delegates visited Colombia in March, May, August and October.