More than 1,000 civilians were extrajudicially executed by the security forces and paramilitary groups operating with their support or acquiescence. Many victims had been tortured. Human rights activists were repeatedly threatened and attacked. More than 120 people "disappeared" after detention by the armed forces or paramilitary groups. "Death squad"-style killings of people regarded as "disposable" continued in urban areas. Several army officers were charged in connection with human rights violations, but many others continued to evade accountability for thousands of extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" in recent years. Guerrilla groups were responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including scores of deliberate and arbitrary killings and the taking and holding of hundreds of hostages. In April and May, under provisions of the state of emergency, the government issued Decree Laws 0717 and 0900 providing for the creation of "Special Public Order Zones". Designated zones were placed under the direct authority of regional military commanders with additional powers to enforce public order. In July, the Constitutional Court ruled that three of the provisions of these decrees were unconstitutional, including the obligatory registration of residents and preventive detention. Nevertheless, the armed forces continued to exercise these powers in the more remote areas of the country. The state of emergency introduced in November 1995 was lifted in July, as required by the Constitution, but emergency measures remained in effect for a further 90 days. In August, the government introduced a constitutional reform bill which, among other things, would grant certain judicial police powers to the military and would remove the Constitutional Court's control over the declaration of states of emergency, thereby increasing the likelihood of extended periods of emergency rule and the suspension of constitutional guarantees. The Senate Chamber of Congress added a number of provisions to the constitutional reform bill designed to eliminate civilian judicial and disciplinary controls over the armed forces. Other Senate proposals included the reintroduction of administrative detention and the re-legalization of paramilitary forces by creating a civilian "national militia" to act as an auxiliary force to the military. Congress gave the bill a partial preliminary approval in December. The long-running armed conflict spread and intensified. More than 1,000 people were killed as a result of combat during the year. In August and September, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), National Liberation Army, launched military offensives on a scale unprecedented in recent years. At least 200 people died as guerrilla forces attacked economic and military targets. In August, FARC guerrillas took Las Delicias military base on the border between Caquetá and Putumayo departments in southern Colombia. Dozens of soldiers were killed and injured and 60 soldiers were captured. Despite intense negotiations to secure their release, the soldiers remained in captivity at the end of the year. Between July and September, strikes and mass demonstrations were staged by peasant farmers in the departments of Caquetá, Putumayo and Guaviare. The demonstrations had been called to protest against the destruction of coca plantations. The security forces' response frequently involved excessive use of force; at least 12 unarmed civilians died and scores of protesters and journalists were seriously injured. The demonstrations ceased when the government agreed a program of voluntary eradication and crop substitution. Paramilitary organizations, declared illegal in 1989, continued their territorial expansion through military offensives characterized by widespread human rights violations. Torture, political killings and "disappearances" of civilians by these groups escalated dramatically in several areas of the country, including the departments of Antioquia, Chocó, Cesar, Sucre and North Santander. Paramilitary forces frequently acted under the direction, or in complicity with the Colombian armed forces. In April, a group of heavily armed men entered bars in the La Paz, Tigrito and Borbollón districts of the town of Segovia, Antioquia department. They forced those inside to lie face down, and shot dead 15 people, including four teenagers, and injured another 15 people. The drivers of one of the vehicles commandeered by the paramilitary, "disappeared". Although local civilian authorities informed the police and military authorities when the attack began, the security forces took no action. In May, an army captain attached to the Bomboná Battalion of Brigade xiv was arrested when judicial investigations established that he had assisted the gunmen to travel to Segovia. Following the attack, Segovia and neighbouring Remedios were declared "Special Public Order Zones". Despite increased military presence, paramilitary threats and attacks against Segovia's residents continued throughout the year. The April attack bore many similarities to the massacre of 43 Segovia residents in 1988, which remained unresolved despite evidence that armed forces' personnel were responsible (see Amnesty International Report 1989). The government's failure to take action to halt paramilitary abuses was starkly illustrated by events on the Bellacruz ranch, Cesar department, in northern Colombia where peasant farmers were persecuted for several months by a paramilitary group operating in complicity with the Colombian armed forces. In March, more than 280 families were forcibly expelled from the Bellacruz ranch by a paramilitary group operating on behalf of a family which claims ownership of the land. Several peasants were beaten and otherwise ill-treated during the eviction and their homes were burned. In the months following the eviction, at least eight of their leaders were killed and five were made to "disappear" by the paramilitary forces. Despite numerous official guarantees that the evicted families could safely return, no action was taken by the authorities to execute arrest warrants against paramilitaries responsible for the killings or to remove them from the Bellacruz ranch. Civilians continued to be the principal victims of the conflict between guerrilla forces and army-backed paramilitary groups in the Urabá region of Antioquia department. Most attacks were directed against civilians presumed to support rival armed groups, although children were also among the victims. In August, paramilitary forces reportedly decapitated 12-year-old César Augusto Rivera in front of scores of school children in Apartadó, Urabá, who were assembled for a peace meeting to be addressed by Apartadó's mayor. Human rights defenders faced a growing campaign of harassment, intimidation and violent assaults. In October, Josué Giraldo Cardona was shot dead in the presence of his two young daughters by an unidentified gunman outside his home in Villavicencio, Meta department. Josué Giraldo, President of the Comité Cívico por los Derechos Humanos en el Meta, Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights, and an activist with the legal left-wing Unión Patriótica (UP), Patriotic Union, had received repeated death threats in recent years which he attributed to members of the Colombian armed forces (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a resolution requiring the Colombian Government to adopt urgent measures to protect the life and physical integrity of Josué Giraldo's family and other members of the Meta Civic Committee; to guarantee that they would not be persecuted or threatened by state agents; and to investigate the murder of Josué Giraldo and other acts against members of the Meta Civic Committee and to punish those responsible. More than 120 people "disappeared" after being detained by the security forces or paramilitary groups. In rural conflict areas, paramilitary forces were responsible for scores of "disappearances" of civilians suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. In October, paramilitary gunmen raided the community of Media Luna, municipality of San Diego, Cesar department. Six people, including an eight-year-old boy, were killed outright. Seven others were abducted. One was later found dead, bearing signs of torture. The other six, including a 13-year-old boy, remained "disappeared", with two other inhabitants of Media Luna who were seized in the nearby town of Valledupar. A paramilitary group left graffiti in the town identifying themselves as members of the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (ACCU), Peasant Farmer Self-Defence Group of Córdoba and Urabá, and threatening other residents. At least 15 close relatives of guerrilla commanders were kidnapped and held hostage by ACCU paramilitary forces. In public statements, ACCU said the relatives would only be released when the FARC and the ELN released their hostages (see below). At least five of the relatives remained in captivity at the end of the year. The killing of so-called "disposables" by police-backed "death squads" and urban militias linked to armed opposition groups continued in many cities and towns. Victims included vagrants, petty delinquents and drug dealers. In July, the Regional Ombudsman based in Manizales, Caldas department, publicly called on the police to investigate the deaths of more than 80 people in the first six months of the year in the town of Chinchiná, in circumstances suggesting they were victims of "social cleansing". Investigations by the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General's Office into illegal paramilitary activities led to criminal charges against more than 200 people, including several members of the armed forces. In October, retired army General Farouk Yanine Díaz was arrested and charged in connection with the creation of paramilitary groups responsible for widespread human rights abuses in the central Magdalena Medio region in the 1980s. An imprisoned paramilitary leader, who confessed to responsibility for several hundred political killings in the Magdalena Medio region in the late 1980s, testified that General Yanine Díaz had orchestrated paramilitary activity in the area and tacitly approved human rights violations such as the torture and killing in 1987 of 19 merchants suspected of collaborating with guerrilla groups. In November, the military justice system was granted jurisdiction over the case. Military courts have persistently failed to impartially investigate and bring to justice members of the armed forces responsible for human rights violations. In September, two members of the army's Brigade ix were arrested and charged in connection with the killing of UP Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas in August 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). Twenty-seven members of the army, including three officers, were formally charged by a military court in October in connection with the murder of 13 peasant farmers in Riofrío, Valle de Cauca department, in October 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1994). In November, the Procurator Delegate for Human Rights announced that during the previous 15 months his office had imposed disciplinary sanctions, including 50 dismissals, against 126 military and police personnel for violations of human rights. In the same period, the Procurator Delegate had opened more than 600 cases against members of the security forces involving 1,338 victims of massacres, torture and "disappearance". Guerrilla groups continued to commit grave human rights abuses including deliberate and arbitrary killings. In response to the continuing paramilitary offensive in Urabá, FARC guerrillas killed dozens of suspected paramilitary supporters. In May, 16 people, including six women, were killed when the FARC attacked the villages of Pueblo Bello and Alto de Mulatos, Urabá. The victims were taken from their homes and shot or hacked to death with machetes. Marden Betancur Conda, a leader of the Paez indigenous community of Jambaló, Cauca department, was killed in August by presumed members of the Cacique Calarcá unit of the ELN which had publicly accused him of organizing army-backed vigilante squads in the area. Five Paez indians, who were tried under the community's traditional laws for complicity in the killing, were sentenced to 60 lashes, later commuted to exile from the community. At least 500 people were kidnapped and held hostage, principally by the FARC and the ELN. Victims included landowners, industrialists, business people and foreign nationals. Some were released after ransoms were paid or other demands met. However, others were killed when ransoms were not paid or during escape attempts. According to eye-witnesses, 65-year-old Isaac Durán Blanco was shot dead in August when he tried to escape a kidnap attempt by members of the ELN and the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), Popular Liberation Army, near La Esperanza, Norte de Santander department. Some of his relatives subsequently received death threats from the EPL. Other kidnap victims were held hostage for more overtly political motives, either to pressurize the authorities to accede to guerrilla proposals or to demand publicity for guerrilla policies. Local officials, including several mayors, accused by armed opposition groups of corruption were kidnapped and held hostage and subjected to "popular trials" of their administration. Juan Legarda Noguera, Mayor of Ricaurte, Nariño department, was released by the ELN after 63 days in captivity. He reported having been subjected to a "popular trial" because of alleged irregularities in his administration. At least 12 other mayors were kidnapped and held hostage during the year. Amnesty International raised its concerns about Colombia at the 52nd session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. These were addressed in a statement by the Chairman of the Commission about endemic violence, violations of the right to life, "disappearances", torture and impunity; the need to strengthen the civilian judicial system and to exclude crimes against humanity from military jurisdiction; and insufficient government efforts to implement the recommendations of UN thematic mechanisms. The Commission asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a permanent office in Colombia mandated to help the authorities develop policies and programs for the promotion and protection of human rights, to observe violations of human rights in the country, and to submit analytical reports to the High Commissioner. After several months of negotiations between the Colombian Government and the High Commissioner, an agreement for the establishment of the office was signed in November. However, the office was not functioning by the end of the year. An Amnesty International delegation, led by the organization's Secretary General, visited Colombia in May and hosted an international conference on the protection of human rights defenders in Latin America. The conference appealed to the Organization of American States to adopt a declaration on the right to defend human rights and called on governments to adopt effective protection mechanisms for human rights defenders. Amnesty International's delegates met President Ernesto Samper, government ministers and victims of human rights violations and their relatives. Amnesty International urged the government to honour its commitments to ensure respect for human rights, to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all extrajudicial executions and "disappearances", to bring those responsible to justice in civilian courts and to dismantle paramilitary organizations. Amnesty International appealed to opposition groups to end deliberate and arbitrary killings and to release all hostages.

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