Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state and government: Álvaro Uribe Vélez (replaced Andrés Pastrana in August)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

Peace talks initiated in 1999 between the government and the main armed opposition group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, collapsed on 20 February. Attempts to initiate negotiations between the government and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), National Liberation Army, had stalled by the end of the year. The armed conflict between the security forces, acting in conjunction with paramilitary groups, and guerrilla groups, intensified following the break-down of peace talks with the FARC. This resulted in a marked deterioration in the human rights situation. More than 500 people "disappeared" and more than 4,000 civilians were killed for political motives. Forced internal displacement continued to grow dramatically. Over 2,700 people were kidnapped, at least 1,500 of whom were kidnapped by guerrilla groups and paramilitary forces. This cycle of political violence was exacerbated by the security policies of the new government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez which took office in August. The main victims of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continued to be the civilian population, including the internally displaced, peasant farmers, and members of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities living in conflict zones. Colombia's largest paramilitary group, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia, declared a unilateral cease-fire on 1 December and in the same month the government announced its intention to initiate negotiations with army-backed paramilitaries. There was concern that government measures to facilitate negotiations with illegal combatant groups and government legislative initiatives might result in impunity for members of the paramilitary groups, the armed forces or the guerrillas responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law.

State of emergency and security legislation

On 11 April, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Defence and National Security Law, which accorded judicial police powers to the armed forces, was unconstitutional. The new government of Álvaro Uribe declared a state of emergency on 11 August. This was followed on 9 September by Decree 2002 which again granted judicial police powers to the armed forces. Decree 2002 also gave the military special powers and restricted certain rights in designated security zones called Rehabilitation and Consolidation Zones. Foreigners wishing to enter these zones were required to seek prior authorization or risk expulsion from the country. Several foreign human rights workers were deported from Colombia prior to and following the creation of the Rehabilitation and Consolidation Zones.

On 25 November, the Constitutional Court declared that parts of Decree 2002 were unconstitutional, notably those parts granting judicial police powers to the military. The government stated that it wished to make permanent some of the provisions contained in the state of emergency and Decree 2002. The government announced it would submit legislative proposals to Congress in 2003 to grant judicial police powers to the security forces after proposed reforms enabling the Attorney General to grant such powers to the security forces were blocked in Congress in December.

The authorities announced the creation of a million-strong network of civilian informers, who are expected to assist the security forces in their counter-insurgency strategy, and began recruiting "peasant soldiers", who will live within their own communities. There were concerns that this would drag the civilian population further into the conflict and strengthen paramilitarism.

The government also suggested that it would reform the 1991 Constitution, in particular some of its important human rights mechanisms and safeguards.


There were reports that the Attorney General's Office was seeking to block or hinder investigations into human rights violations in which senior military officers were implicated. Prosecutors working on such cases were removed from the investigations or dismissed from their posts, while others faced death threats; at least one was killed. Several high-profile human rights investigations were also dropped with no apparent justification.

  • On 6 February, Oswaldo Enrique Borja Martínez, a public prosecutor investigating the 2001 massacre in Chengue, Sucre department, was killed in Sincelejo, Sucre department. On the same day, Mónica Gaitán, another public prosecutor investigating the massacre, was reportedly forced to resign. Her removal followed the formal initiation, in 2001, of criminal investigations against Rear-admiral Rodrigo Quiñónez Cárdenas for dereliction of duty in failing to prevent the massacre, allegedly carried out by paramilitaries. In March, Rear-admiral Quiñónez was summoned for questioning by the Attorney General's Office. In the same month, his appointment as military attaché at the Colombian Embassy in Israel was announced. In October, he received a medal while still under criminal investigation. Rear-admiral Quiñónez offered his resignation from the armed forces on 26 November following a decision by the USA to withdraw his entry visa because of his alleged involvement in drug trafficking. On 12 November, a lower court cleared a navy sergeant of complicity in the massacre and ordered his provisional release from detention.
  • In November, criminal investigations against former generals Rito Alejo del Río and Fernando Millán were terminated. They had been under investigation for involvement in paramilitary activity.
Armed opposition groups

Armed opposition groups were responsible for numerous and repeated violations of international humanitarian law, including hostage-taking and the killing of civilians. In May, the FARC issued "resign or die" threats to judges, mayors and local councillors. The FARC subsequently killed several local officials and civilians they accused of collaborating with their opponents.
  • On 5 June, the Mayor of Solita in the southwest of Caquetá department, Luis Carlos Caro Pacheco, was killed. According to press reports, the Colombian Federation of Municipalities attributed responsibility for his death to the FARC.
  • On 14 March, four peasant farmers were taken from their homes and allegedly killed by ELN guerrillas in Sotomayor, Nariño department.
  • On 26 April, nine banana plantation workers were reportedly killed by the FARC in Apartadó municipality, Antioquia department.
The FARC carried out numerous disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks which resulted in the deaths and wounding of many civilians.
  • On 2 May, during armed combat between the FARC and paramilitaries in Bojayá, Chocó department, a gas cylinder mortar fired by the FARC hit a church, killing around 119 civilians taking refuge in the building. An investigation in Colombia by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights held guerrilla forces, paramilitaries and also the state partly responsible, since it did not prevent the arrival of the paramilitaries in the area.
Armed forces

There were reports of direct involvement by the security forces in serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, "disappearances" and killings.
  • On 24 September, Monguí Jérez Suárez was seriously injured and her husband, Florentino Castellares Zetuián, and her nine-year-old son, Nilson Hernández, were both reportedly killed when soldiers of the Nueva Granada Battalion forced their way into her house in Brisas de Yanacué, Cantagallo municipality, Bolívar department. Reportedly, this military operation was carried out after information was provided to the security forces by civilian informers. Although the military claimed that the two were killed in combat, the Regional Ombudsman reportedly stated that the victims were unarmed.
  • On 29 October, the security forces reportedly entered the El Salado area of Comuna XIII in Medellín and took Blanca Lilia Ruiz Marín, John Fredy Sánchez, and Dany Ferney Quiroz Benitez from their homes. A witness stated that he had seen the three detainees in the IV Brigade army base, and that they had been beaten. By the end of the year, the families of the three "disappeared" had not been able to establish their whereabouts.

Paramilitary groups continued to spread and consolidate their presence throughout the country, particularly in areas with a heavy military presence. Paramilitaries operating in collusion with the security forces were responsible for the vast majority of "disappearances" and killings of civilians.
  • On 4 August, paramilitaries reportedly killed three members of an indigenous community, including indigenous leader Obencio Germán Crillo Queta, from the Valle del Guamuez reservation in Hormiga, Putumayo department.
  • On 26 November, paramilitaries reportedly killed at least four peasant farmers in Matal de Flor Amarillo, Arauca municipality, Arauca department, which is part of the Rehabilitation and Consolidation Zone. The paramilitaries were reportedly looking for several people included on a list in their possession.

There was a significant number of high-profile kidnappings, as well as mass kidnappings, mainly by armed opposition groups. Guerrilla groups were responsible for most of the 1,500 kidnappings carried out by armed opposition groups and paramilitaries.
  • On 23 February, the FARC kidnapped presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt near San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá department. She remained held at the end of the year.
  • On 25 February, Gilberto Torres Martínez, a leader of the Oil Workers' Union, was reportedly kidnapped by the AUC in Monterrey municipality, Casanare department. He was released on 7 April.
  • On 20 August, 26 Colombian tourists were kidnapped, allegedly by the ELN, in Bahía Solano on the Pacific coast, Chocó department. Most of the detainees had been released by the end of the year.
Persecution of human rights defenders

Under the new government, human rights activists were killed, "disappeared", detained, threatened and harassed. While expressing an interest in maintaining dialogue with non-governmental organizations, in practice officials and some sectors of the media frequently treated human rights defenders as subversives, targeting them during intelligence and counter-insurgency operations.

Official and unofficial restrictions on movement meant that human rights defenders were not always able to gain access to areas where human rights violations were reported to have taken place. Some activists, journalists and humanitarian workers were interrogated or arbitrarily detained during attempts to reach people in conflict zones cut off from the rest of the country. During raids carried out in so-called intelligence and counter-insurgency operations, individual personal details and valuable information regarding the involvement of members of the security forces in human rights violations was seized from social organizations. On 11 December, the offices of the development organization Terre des Hommes-Italie, a project financed by the European Union and established to address the needs of young people affected by the conflict, was raided by state agents allegedly looking for arms, but who also copied information from computers.

Human rights activists from all sectors of society were targeted.
  • On 3 September Oswaldo Moreno Ibague, a human rights worker in Villavicencio, Meta department, was reportedly killed by paramilitaries.
  • José Rusbell Lara, a local activist working in Tame municipality, Arauca department, was reportedly shot dead by paramilitaries on 8 November.
By the end of the year, more than 170 trade unionists had reportedly been killed, the majority by paramilitaries. Several indigenous leaders and journalists were also killed.
  • Radio journalist Efraín Varela Noriega, a critic of all sides in the long-running civil war, was pulled from his car and shot dead on 28 June in Arauca department by people believed to be paramilitaries.
Civilians in conflict zones

Peasant farmers, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities living in conflict zones or areas of economic interest continued to be among the main victims of violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed by the security forces and their paramilitary allies and by guerrilla forces. Over 350,000 people were internally displaced in the first nine months of the year as a result of threats and killings of civilians committed by both sides in the conflict.
  • In October, some 800 members of the Embera Katío Alto Sinú reservation were forcibly displaced from their homes following death threats made against indigenous communities by the FARC and the killing of an indigenous leader.
  • Between December 2001 and early 2002 paramilitary incursions in the municipalities of El Tarra and Teorama, Norte de Santander department, led to the forced displacement of more than 10,000 civilians, many of whom fled to regional municipal capitals.
International Criminal Court

Colombia ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 5 August. On the same day, President Andrés Pastrana invoked Article 124 of the Rome Statute. This allows a country not to submit those accused of war crimes to the ICC for seven years. Once this period is over, only war crimes committed after the seven-year moratorium can be submitted to the ICC.

In August, the US government called on the Colombian government to sign an immunity agreement to ensure that US security force personnel in Colombia would not be submitted to the authority of the ICC. However, Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco stated that this was unnecessary since US security force personnel and US citizens providing technical assistance would continue to benefit from a 1962 agreement with the USA.

US military aid

Colombia continued to be one of the main recipients of US military aid. The US Congress passed an emergency supplemental spending bill in July that included around US$27.5 million in additional assistance for Colombia. Included in this package was US$6 million to begin training a special unit to protect the Caño Limón oil pipeline. The supplemental bill also lifted a previous requirement that limited aid to counter-narcotics efforts so that military aid approved to date can also be used to combat activities by organizations designated as "terrorist" organizations, such as the FARC, ELN, and AUC. AI continued to oppose the provision of US military aid in a context in which the Colombian authorities failed to meet US congressional human rights conditions for the aid or to implement UN human rights recommendations.

Intergovernmental organizations

The UN Commission on Human Rights again condemned the grave and persistent breaches of international humanitarian law committed mainly by paramilitaries and guerrillas. It also strongly condemned the persistence of impunity and expressed concern at the links between the armed forces and the paramilitaries. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted that military courts launched or continued with investigations into human rights violations despite recommendations to the Colombian authorities to ensure that all cases of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law should be excluded from military courts.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Colombia in March, April, May, September, October and December.

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