Department Human Rights Report 2000: Colombia, February 26, 2001
Country Reports on
Human Rights Practices -2000
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy in which the Liberal
and Conservative parties have long dominated politics. Citizens elected
President Andres Pastrana of the Conservative Party and a bicameral legislature
controlled by the Liberal Party in generally free, fair, and transparent
elections in 1998, despite attempts at intimidation and fraud by paramilitary
groups, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers. Similar attempts at intimidation
by illegal armed actors, including killings and kidnapings, threatened
to impair local elections scheduled for October; however, the elections
were generally peaceful. The civilian judiciary is largely independent
of government influence; however, the suborning or intimidation of judges,
witnesses, and prosecutors is common.
The Government continued
to face serious challenges to its control over the national territory,
as longstanding and widespread internal armed conflict and rampant violence--both
political and criminal--persisted. The principal participants in the conflict
were government security forces, paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and
narcotics traffickers. The number of victims of paramilitary attacks during
the year increased. In some areas government forces were engaged in combat
with guerrillas or narcotics traffickers, while in others paramilitary
groups fought guerrillas, and in still others guerrillas attacked demobilized
members of rival guerrilla factions. The 2 major guerrilla groups, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation
Army (ELN), consist of an estimated 11,000 to 17,000 full-time combatants
organized into more than 100 semiautonomous groups. The FARC and the ELN,
along with other smaller groups, exercised a significant degree of territorial
influence and initiated armed action in nearly 1,000 of the country's
1,085 municipalities during the year, which was approximately the same
level as in 1999. Their popular support nationwide remained low, according
to polls and numerous other reports. The major guerrilla organizations
received a significant part of their revenues (in the hundreds of millions
of dollars) from fees levied on narcotics production and trafficking,
as well as kidnaping and extortion. Guerrillas and paramilitary groups
supplanted absent state institutions in many sparsely populated areas.
Peace talks initiated in 1999 between the Government and the FARC continued
in a demilitarized zone ("despeje") consisting of 5 southern
municipalities, with a total population of approximately 100,000 persons.
In the absence of both a state presence and international verification,
FARC human rights abuses inside the zone, as well as outside of it, continued.
Peace talks were complicated by the September 8 hijacking of a commercial
plane by a FARC guerrilla who obtained refuge in the demilitarized zone.
On November 14, the FARC unilaterally suspended negotiations and demanded
concrete government action against the paramilitary groups. On December
6, President Pastrana extended the term of the demilitarized zone until
January 31, 2001, as intense public debate continued over the value of
the existing peace process. The killing of congressional peace commission
chairman Diego Turbay Cote on December 29 cast further doubt on the future
of peace negotiations, although government and FARC negotiators remained
In April the Government
and the ELN agreed in principle on verification within a proposed "encounter
zone" in southern Bolivar and northeastern Antioquia departments,
in which the ELN's national convention could take place. However, progress
stalled when local residents of the proposed zone protested its creation.
Two groups--Asocipaz and the "No to the Despeje" Committee--demanded
active consultation with the Government on the creation of an encounter
zone and on occasion blocked access to the area. Paramilitary groups have
attempted to influence these organizations. The Governments of Spain,
France, Switzerland, Norway, and Cuba took a progressively more active
role in the peace process during the year and committed to provide development
assistance when the zone is implemented. However, the September 17 mass
kidnaping of over 50 Cali residents by the ELN again slowed the peace
process. After negotiation coupled with military pressure, the last of
the hostages were released on November 3. ELN leaders participated in
a mid-October conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, jointly sponsored by
the Government and a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), to
explore solutions to the conflict. (The FARC, although invited, did not
participate in the conference.) On December 15, five hired killers wounded
public employees' union president Wilson Borja, a key member of the civil
society facilitating commission in the Government-ELN peace process. Carlos
Castano, the head of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC)
paramilitary umbrella organization, admitted a role in the attack. The
Christmas release of 42 police and military hostages by the ELN paved
the way for continued negotiations on the encounter zone at year's end.
In open opposition
to the Government, in November the AUC paramilitary group kidnaped seven
members of Congress and demanded that the Government grant the AUC a role
in the peace negotiations with the FARC. Interior Minister Humberto de
la Calle negotiated the hostages' release with Castano, an action that
angered the FARC. The Government refused to accord illegal self-defense
(paramilitary) groups any political status.
Ministry of Defense is responsible for internal security and oversees
both the armed forces (including the army, air force, navy, marines, and
coast guard) and the National Police. In the past, civilian management
of the armed forces has been limited; however, over the past few years,
the professionalism of the armed forces has improved, and respect for
civilian authority on the part of the military has increased. In addition
to the armed forces and the National Police, the public security forces
include armed state law enforcement and investigative authorities, including
the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and the Prosecutor General's
Technical Corps of Investigators (CTI). The DAS, which has broad intelligence
gathering, law enforcement, and investigative authority, reports directly
to the President but is directed by a law enforcement professional. The
police are charged formally with maintaining internal order and security,
but in practice law enforcement responsibilities often were shared with
the army in both rural and urban areas. Many observers maintain that government
action to combat paramilitarism has been inadequate, and in the past security
forces regularly failed to confront paramilitary groups; however, the
security forces improved their efforts to confront and detain members
of paramilitary groups during the year. Nevertheless, members of the security
forces sometimes illegally collaborated with paramilitary forces. The
armed forces and the police committed serious violations of human rights
throughout the year.
Despite years of
drug- and politically related violence, the economy is diverse and relatively
advanced. Crude oil, coal, coffee, and cut flowers are the principal legal
exports. In 1999 the country suffered its first recession in over 60 years,
with a decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) of 4.5 percent and record
unemployment of over 20 percent. Although the economy recovered with 3
percent growth during the year, the level of unemployment remained unchanged
and was at 19.7 percent by year's end. The inflation rate at year's end
was 8.75 percent. Since September 1999, the Government has adopted fiscally
austere budgets and floated the peso. High levels of violence greatly
inhibit business confidence. Narcotics traffickers continued to control
large tracts of land and other assets and exerted influence throughout
society, the economy, and political life. Income distribution is highly
skewed; much of the population lives in poverty. Per capita GDP was approximately
human rights record remained poor; there were some improvements in the
legal framework and in institutional mechanisms, but implementation lagged,
and serious problems remain in many areas. Government security forces
continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
Despite some prosecutions and convictions, the authorities rarely brought
higher-ranking officers of the security forces and the police charged
with human rights offenses to justice, and impunity remains a problem.
Members of the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that
committed abuses, in some instances allowing such groups to pass through
roadblocks, sharing information, or providing them with supplies or ammunition.
Despite increased government efforts to combat and capture members of
paramilitary groups, often security forces failed to take action to prevent
paramilitary attacks. Paramilitary forces find a ready support base within
the military and police, as well as among local civilian elites in many
On August 12, the
revised Military Penal Code went into effect, which provides for an independent
military judicial corps and for legal protection for troops if they refuse
to carry out illegal orders to commit human rights abuses; the code also
precludes unit commanders from judging subordinates. A series of military
reform decrees signed by the President on September 14 provided greater
facility for the military to remove human rights abusers or paramilitary
collaborators from its ranks and provided for the further professionalization
of the public security forces. The military judiciary continued to demonstrate
an increased willingness to turn cases involving security force officers
accused of serious human rights violations over to the civilian judiciary,
as required by a 1997 Constitutional Court ruling and the new Military
Penal Code; in August a presidential directive reinforced these legal
Police, prison guards,
and military forces tortured and mistreated detainees. Conditions in the
overcrowded and underfunded prisons are harsh; however, some inmates use
bribes or intimidation to obtain more favorable treatment. Arbitrary arrest
and detention, as well as prolonged pretrial detention, are fundamental
problems. The civilian judiciary is inefficient, severely overburdened
by a large case backlog, and undermined by intimidation and the prevailing
climate of impunity. This situation remains at the core of the country's
human rights problems. The Superior Judicial Council (CSJ) estimated,
based on a 1997 survey, that 63 percent of crimes go unreported, and that
40 percent of all reported crimes go unpunished. On April 6, the Constitutional
Court overturned much of the 1999 law that had created the specialized
jurisdiction (which had replaced the anonymous regional courts system
on July 1, 1999).
The authorities sometimes
infringed on citizens' privacy rights. Journalists typically work in an
atmosphere of threats and intimidation, primarily from paramilitary groups
and guerrillas, which appeared to worsen during the year; journalists
practice self-censorship to avoid reprisals. There were some restrictions
on freedom of movement, generally because of security concerns. Violence
and instability in rural areas displaced between 125,000 and 317,000 civilians
from their homes during the year. Almost one-fourth of these movements
occurred in massive displacements. (Exact numbers of displaced persons
are difficult to obtain because some persons were displaced more than
once, and many displaced persons do not register with the Government or
other entities.) The total number of internally displaced citizens during
the last 5 years may exceed 1 million. There were reports that security
force members harassed or threatened human rights groups. Violence and
extensive societal discrimination against women, abuse of children, and
child prostitution are serious problems. Extensive societal discrimination
against the indigenous and minorities continued. Child labor is a widespread
problem. Trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution
is a problem. "Social cleansing" killings of street children,
prostitutes, homosexuals, and others deemed socially undesirable by paramilitary
groups, guerrillas, and vigilante groups continued to be serious problems.
and guerrillas were responsible for the vast majority of political and
other killings during the year. Throughout the country, paramilitary groups
killed, tortured, and threatened civilians suspected of sympathizing with
guerrillas in an orchestrated campaign to terrorize them into fleeing
their homes, thereby depriving guerrillas of civilian support and allowing
paramilitary forces to challenge the FARC and the ELN for control of narcotics
cultivations and strategically important territories. Paramilitary forces
were responsible for an increasing number of massacres and other politically
motivated killings. They also fought guerrillas for control of some lucrative
coca-growing regions and engaged directly in narcotics production and
trafficking. The AUC paramilitary umbrella organization, whose membership
totaled approximately 8,150 armed combatants, exercised increasing influence
during the year and fought to extend its presence through violence and
intimidation into areas previously under guerrilla control while conducting
selective killings of civilians it alleged collaborated with guerrillas.
The AUC increasingly tried to depict itself as an autonomous organization
with a political agenda, although in practice it remained a mercenary
vigilante force, financed by criminal activities and sectors of society
that are targeted by guerrillas. Although some paramilitary groups reflect
rural residents' desire to organize solely for self-defense, most are
vigilante organizations, and still others are actually the paid private
armies of narcotics traffickers or large landowners. Popular support for
these organizations grew as guerrilla violence increased in the face of
a slowly evolving peace process. The Government continued to insist that
paramilitary groups, like guerrillas, were an illegal force and increased
efforts to apprehend paramilitary members; however, the public security
forces' record in dealing with paramilitary groups remained mixed. In
some locations the public security forces increasingly attacked and captured
members of such groups; in others elements of these entities tolerated
or even collaborated with paramilitary groups.
The FARC and the
ELN regularly attacked civilian populations, committed massacres and summary
executions, and killed medical and religious personnel. The FARC continued
its practice of using gas canisters as mortars to destroy small towns,
indiscriminately wounding government officials and civilians in the process.
Guerrillas were responsible for the majority of cases of forcible recruitment
of indigenous people and of hundreds of children; they also were responsible
for the majority of kidnapings. Guerrillas held more than 1,000 kidnaped
civilians, with ransom payments serving as an important source of revenue.
Other kidnap victims were killed. At year's end, the FARC and ELN reportedly
held 527 soldiers and police. In many places, guerrillas collected "war
taxes," forced members of the citizenry into their ranks, forced
small farmers to grow illicit crops, and regulated travel, commerce, and
other activities. In March the FARC announced "Law 002," which
demanded that anyone with assets of $1 million pay taxes to the FARC or
risk kidnaping. The FARC routinely committed abuses against citizens who
resided in the despeje zone. Numerous credible sources reported cases
of murder, rape, extortion, kidnaping, robbery, threats, detention, and
the forced recruitment of adults and children, as well as impediments
to free speech and fair trial and interference with religious practices.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN
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. An estimated 4,000 citizens
died in such acts, committed principally by nonstate agents. Members of
the security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings.
An analysis of data
from the Center for Investigations and Popular Research (CINEP), published
by the Colombian Commission of Jurists (an NGO), indicated that there
were 20 reports of extrajudicial killings attributable to state forces
in the period from October 1999 to March, including deaths that resulted
from police abuse of authority. However, the military claimed that six
of the deaths resulted from confrontations with guerrillas; four alleged
deaths (of which only one was confirmed) resulted from a panic when the
army tear-gassed an indigenous protest (see Sections 2.b. and 5); and
five were attributed by other groups to paramilitary forces. CINEP calculated
37 similar cases in 1999, which also included deaths that resulted from
police abuse of authority. Most of the incidents cited by the Commission
were under investigation by military and civilian authorities at year's
end. The number of cases of military personnel accused of human rights
violations who were tried in civilian courts increased. There were some
reports that police and former security force members committed social
According to the
Human Rights Ombudsman's office, there were 235 massacres (defined as
the simultaneous or nearly simultaneous killing of 3 or more persons outside
of combat at a single location or at several nearby locations) during
the first 6 months of the year. An estimated 1,073 persons were killed
in these massacres; the Ministry of Defense attributed none of these deaths
during this period to public security forces. The Central Directorate
of the Judicial Police reported 1,286 persons killed in 216 massacres
(defined as 4 or more persons killed in the same incident) during the
year and attributed none of these massacres to security forces. The Ombudsman's
office recorded 509 massacres in 1999, in which 2,262 persons were killed,
and attributed 20 killings to public security forces.
On August 15, an
army unit mistakenly killed 6 children; the Prosecutor General's office
determined that the act was unintentional harm caused in the course of
duty and referred the case to the military justice system (see Section
The human rights
delegate of the Attorney General's office, which oversees the performance
of all public sector employees, received 201 complaints and cases during
the first 6 months of the year and concluded 26 disciplinary investigations.
Among the complaints were 20 complaints of massacres. The Attorney General's
office received 78 complaints related to massacres and forced disappearances
during the year. Approximately 75 percent of these complaints involved
the army (particularly in Putumayo, Antioquia, and southern Bolivar departments);
the other 25 percent implicated police or DAS officials. During the year,
the Attorney General's office concluded 13 investigations of massacres
and forced disappearances attributed to state agents and sanctioned 50
members of the security forces (including 10 members of the National Police,
35 members of the army, and 5 members of the DAS). The office exonerated
20 accused persons. Contrary to previous years, the office referred all
cases involving human rights violations to the Prosecutor General for
criminal investigation. Five generals were under investigation by the
Attorney General during the year for failure to prevent paramilitary massacres
in 1998 and 1999.
At year's end, the
human rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office reported that it
had approximately 918 open investigations of human rights violations,
in which 1,379 individuals are under investigation. This number includes
286 members of the military and police, 573 presumed members of paramilitary
groups, 353 presumed guerrillas, and 187 other civilians. The unit arrested
302 persons during the first 6 months of the year, and other state entities
arrested a further 70 persons against whom the unit had cases. As of November,
another 676 arrest warrants for persons against whom the unit had cases
remained outstanding, of which 37 are for military personnel, 20 are for
police, and 3 are for members of the DAS. The authorities detained 38
members of the army, 41 police, 5 members of the DAS, and 5 members of
the CTI during the year.
The Central Directorate
of the Judicial Police announced that 25,660 murders occurred during the
year, compared with 24,358 murders in 1999. The press reported that on
average one person was killed every 20 minutes. The police and the Prosecutor
General's office have insufficient resources to investigate most killings
adequately. The Superior Judicial Council estimated based on a 1997 survey
that 63 percent of crimes go unreported and that 40 percent of all reported
crimes go unpunished.
According to a March
report by the Ministry of Defense, during the first half of the year,
the military judiciary convicted and sentenced 206 members of the National
Police, army, and navy for serious offenses that the Ministry identified
as violations of human rights: homicide, bodily injuries, rape, attempted
murder, illegal detention, and abuse of authority. Of the total of 206
convictions, 66 were for homicide and 113 were for bodily injuries. The
average sentences issued in 1998 were 58 months' imprisonment for homicide
and 15 months' imprisonment for bodily injuries, although sentences ranged
from 2 years to 64 years for homicide, and 2 months to 2 years for bodily
injuries. The military judiciary convicted and sentenced 206 persons for
serious crimes in 1999. The civilian Criminal Procedure Code authorizes
restriction to a military base as an acceptable substitute for imprisonment
when military jails or prisons are unavailable.
In August 1997, the
Constitutional Court more narrowly defined the constitutional provision
that crimes by state agents unrelated to "acts of service" must
be tried in civilian courts (see Section 1.e.). Since then the military
judiciary has turned 1,307 cases, of which an estimated 41 percent are
for possible human rights violations, over to the civilian judiciary for
investigation and possible prosecution, including cases involving high-ranking
officers. During the year, the military judiciary turned 496 cases over
to the civilian judiciary, compared with 79 cases in 1999 and 266 cases
in 1998. The new Military Penal Code reiterates that the crimes of forced
disappearance, torture, and genocide must be tried in civilian courts.
President Pastrana reaffirmed these new legal norms in an August directive
sent to the military high command and the commander of the National Police
(see Section 1.e.).
in civilian courts against army Major David Hernandez, Captain Diego Fino
Rodriguez, Sergeant Edgardo Varon, and Privates Carlos Escudero, Ferney
Cardona, and Raul Gallego, members of the Fourth counterguerrilla battalion
(Fourth Brigade), for the March 1999 murder of Antioquia peace commissioner
(and former Vice Minister for Youth) Alex Lopera and two other persons.
However, in March Captain Fino escaped military detention; four soldiers
are under investigation for complicity in his escape. Major Hernandez
had escaped in June 1999 and was still at large at year's end. Following
Fino's escape, the military announced that all military detainees would
be transferred to the military stockade at Tolemaida to prevent further
escapes; however, it was not clear that this was implemented in all cases.
On April 1, the Attorney
General's office publicly stated that it had found insufficient evidence
to bring charges against retired army Colonel Jorge Plazas Acevedo, former
chief of intelligence of the army's 13th Brigade, for the October 1998
kidnaping and later murder of Jewish business leader Benjamin Khoudari.
The Attorney General's office announced that it was dropping its administrative
investigation and publicly asked the Prosecutor General's office to drop
its criminal investigation. However, the Prosecutor General's office continued
its prosecution of Colonel Plazas and civilians Jhon Alexis Olarte Briceno
and Guillermo Lozano Guerrero, who were on trial at year's end. The Prosecutor
General's office has 11 other arrest warrants pending in the case; 1 lieutenant
was ruled out as a suspect.
During the year,
the Attorney General sanctioned eight service members in connection with
the May 1998 Barrancabermeja massacre, of which three--army Captain Oswaldo
Prada Escobar, Lieutenant Enrique Daza and Second Lieutenant Hector Guzman
Santos--were discharged. A police lieutenant colonel, captain, and lieutenant,
as well as two DAS agents were suspended. On July 12, Elizabeth Canas
Cano, a key eyewitness to the massacre, was killed by two unidentified
gunmen. In May the Prosecutor General's office ordered the preventive
detention of four paramilitary suspects in the case; the investigation
was still in progress at year's end. The Attorney General's office also
was conducting an inquiry into the death of Canas.
In December the Attorney
General's office charged 17 police and 9 army officials with collusion
with paramilitary groups in approximately 160 social cleansing murders
by members of paramilitary groups in northeastern Antioquia (near the
communities of La Ceja, Guarne, and El Penon) during 1995-98. The Attorney
General also charged two municipal officials with omission. The Prosecutor
General's office pressed criminal charges against 3 of the 26 officials
charged by the Attorney General; police Captain Luis Alfredo Castillo
Suarez Juan Carlos Valencia Arbalaez and Carlos Mario Tejada Gallego were
on trial in Medellin at year's end. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jesus Maria
Clavijo Clavijo, Staff Sergeant Javier Gomez Herran, and soldier Carlos
Mario Escudero are under investigation in the killings. Clavijo was arrested,
suspended from duty, and placed in military detention on March 17. Although
the army challenged jurisdiction, arguing Clavijo's actions were related
to acts of service, the CSJ ruled that the case should be tried in civilian
On March 3, the ongoing
civilian prosecution of retired Colonel Bernardo Ruiz Silva, former commander
of the army's now disbanded 20th Brigade (military intelligence), for
allegedly organizing the November 1995 Bogota killing of Conservative
Party opposition leader Alvaro Gomez Hurtado suffered a major setback
when key witness Luis Eduardo Rodriguez Cuadrado retracted his previous
testimony before a Bogota judge. However, the testimony of another key
witness helped the prosecution. The trial continued at year's end. Also
on trial are army intelligence agents Henry Berrio Loaiza and Carlos Gaona
Ovalle, retired army warrant officers Omar Berrio Loaiza and Franklin
Gaona Ovalle, and civilian accused killers Hector Paul Florez Martinez,
Manuel Mariano Montero Perez, Gustavo Adolfo Jaramillo Giraldo, and Hermes
In 1999 the human
rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office formally indicted marine
Colonel Jose Ancizar Molano Padilla, then-commander of the 2nd Marine
Infantry Battalion, as well as marine Corporals Javier Fernando Guerra,
Eduardo Aristides Alvarez, and Jose Milton Caicedo for the 1995 social
cleansing killings of alleged thieves Sifredy and Fredy Arboleda. On May
25, the Prosecutor General ordered the detention of marine Sergeant Francisco
Duarte Zuniga, who was still at large at year's end. A disciplinary investigation
by the Attorney General was still underway at year's end.
In October 1998,
the Attorney General's office severely reprimanded marine Lieutenant Colonel
Rodrigo Alfonso Quinones, along with 4 others, for colluding with paramilitary
groups in the murders of at least 50 persons in Barrancabermeja, Santander
department, in 1992-94, although he was exonerated by a military tribunal
in 1994. Quinones appealed the reprimand, but Attorney General Jaime Bernal
recused himself from the case, and Congress never appointed anyone else
to adjudicate the matter. The statute of limitations on the case expired
during the year, leaving the reprimand standing. During the year, Quinones
was promoted to brigadier general.
In July 1999, the
Prosecutor General's office indicted paramilitary Nicolas Antonio Gomez
Zapata for participation in the January 1994 "La Chinita" massacre,
which resulted in the deaths of 35 persons. Among the 50 service members
sanctioned by the Attorney General during the year were persons accused
of involvement in this massacre. No progress has been reported in the
Prosecutor General's case.
At year's end, three
army noncommissioned officers sought in connection with the April 1991
massacre of bus passengers at Los Uvos remained at large.
In August a civilian
court absolved retired army Colonel Hernando Navas of involvement in the
November 1988 Nuevo Segovia massacre in which over 100 persons were killed
or wounded. The authorities have charged 8 military officials, 1 police
officer, and 10 civilians in the case. Among these, Lieutenant Colonel
Alejandro Londono Tamayo and Lieutenant Colonel Marco Baez Garzon continued
to appeal civilian court convictions related to the massacre. Londono
remained in detention, but was still on active duty, although he has been
deprived of command responsibilities. Baez Garzon also was deprived of
command responsibility and remained in military custody in Bogota.
On June 29, the Constitutional
Court instructed the CSJ to reconsider its 1996 decision referring the
case of the 1987 forced disappearance, torture, and death of a member
of the M-19 guerrilla group, Nydia Bautista, by accused retired General
Alvaro Velandia Hurtado to military courts. Upon the stipulated review,
the CSJ reversed itself and assigned jurisdiction to the civilian courts
at the end of July, pointing out that the acts were not related directly
to military service. The Prosecutor General's office continued its investigation.
There was no information
available regarding the pending trial of Lieutenant Colonel Jose Vincente
Perez Berrocal for the 1987 killing of a Liberal mayor.
No motives or suspects
have been identified in the September 1998 killing of Congressman Jorge
Humberto Gonzalez. The investigation remained open at year's end.
of cooperation with paramilitary groups, including instances of both silent
support and direct collaboration by members of the public security forces,
in particular the army, continued. Evidence suggests that there were tacit
arrangements between local military commanders and paramilitary groups
in some regions, and paramilitary forces operated freely in some areas
that were under military control or despite a significant military presence.
Individual members of the security forces actively collaborated with members
of paramilitary groups--passing them through roadblocks, sharing intelligence,
providing them with ammunition, and allegedly even joining their ranks
The military high
command, under the leadership of Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez
and General Fernando Tapias, stated repeatedly that it would not tolerate
collaboration between military personnel and paramilitary groups and that
the army would combat paramilitary groups; however, security force actions
in the field were not always consistent with the leadership's positions.
Credible reports persisted of paramilitary installations and roadblocks
near military bases; of contacts between paramilitary and military members;
of paramilitary roadblocks unchallenged by military forces; and of military
failure to respond to warnings of impending paramilitary massacres or
selective killings. Military entities often cited lack of information
or resources to explain this situation. Impunity for military personnel
who collaborated with members of paramilitary groups remained common.
In September the
President signed military decrees that allowed for the dismissal of members
of the public security forces who were complicit in paramilitary or other
illegal activities; government agencies actively investigated allegations
of collaboration or complicity with paramilitary groups by members of
the security forces. A total of 388 members of the military were dismissed
in October; however, it was not known how many of these were dismissed
for collaborating with paramilitary groups in such abuses (see Section
Both the Peasant
Self-Defense Groups of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), the largest of the seven
major paramilitary organizations of the AUC umbrella group, and the army's
Fourth Brigade claimed responsibility, but in different circumstances,
for the January 23 killings of two long-demobilized guerrillas. The ACCU
claimed that it killed Uberney Giraldo and Jose Evelio Gallo, both leaders
of the Socialist Renewal Current (CRS), and two others after abducting
them from the village of San Antonio, Antioquia department. On January
24, the army's Fourth Brigade announced that it had killed two "ELN
guerrillas" in combat, but civilian autopsies identified them as
the two missing CRS leaders. On January 26, gunmen stole the bodies from
the morgue but left the autopsy reports behind. At year's end, investigations
by the Attorney General's office and the Prosecutor General's office were
On February 19-20,
a large group of AUC paramilitary attackers killed an estimated 37 persons
whom they suspected of being guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers at El
Salado, Bolivar department. The navy reportedly set up a roadblock shortly
after the killings began, which prevented human rights and relief groups
from entering; some groups accepted the navy's explanation that access
was not possible due to fighting in the area. The Ministry of Defense
denied charges that the navy blocked NGO's from entering or colluded with
paramilitary forces, and an investigation by the Prosecutor General was
underway at year's end. A military investigation did not find any substantiation
for these charges.
group reportedly had been in the town since February 16, and had a list
of names of persons they suspected of being guerrilla supporters. The
victims included a 6-year-old girl and an elderly woman, and some victims
were tortured or raped. The attackers also burned several homes. On February
19, the paramilitary group flew in a helicopter to rescue an injured member.
According to Human Rights Watch, 30 minutes after the paramilitary forces
withdrew, government forces entered the town.
On February 22, members
of the 3rd Marine Infantry Battalion captured 11 members of the paramilitary
group suspected of participating in the El Salado massacre, killed 2 of
them, and downed a paramilitary helicopter. According to NGO's and press
reports, the massacre at El Salado and a February 15-16 paramilitary massacre
at nearby Las Ovejas, Sucre department, displaced approximately 3,000
persons. By year's end, 16 paramilitary suspects were under arrest, and
the Prosecutor General's investigation into the paramilitary group's responsibility
for the massacre was concluded.
Members of the San
Jose de Apartado "peace community" in Uraba region, Antioquia
department, as well as NGO's, accused the 17th Brigade of involvement
in 2 paramilitary massacres in February and July in which 11 persons were
killed. On February 19, unidentified perpetrators widely believed to be
members of the ACCU paramilitary group attacked San Jose de Apartado.
They selectively killed five persons, and wounded three others. There
were reports that the men wore the insignia of the 17th Brigade on their
uniforms and that army troops were seen on the outskirts of the city several
hours before the massacre. On July 8, approximately 20 paramilitary assailants
murdered 6 peasants in La Union, part of San Jose de Apartado. The attackers
reportedly gave the citizens 20 days to leave the town. NGO's alleged
that the 17th Brigade was complicit in both attacks and that army members
were near La Union prior to the July 8 attack. There were allegations
that a military helicopter hovered over La Union during the massacre;
however, these allegations were never confirmed. The military investigation
rebutted the charges. The Prosecutor General was investigating both incidents
at year's end. There were at least two visits during the year by joint
commissions of inquiry including representatives from the Prosecutor General's
office, the Human Rights Ombudsman's office, and international NGO's.
Human rights NGO's and members of the peace community of San Jose de Apartado
reported 11 additional deaths in separate incidents during the year, half
of which they attributed to paramilitary forces. They also reported frequent
paramilitary roadblocks, intimidation, theft, and the restriction of incoming
In February Human
Rights Watch issued a report that stated that the army maintains close
operational ties to paramilitary groups. The report highlighted incidents
of collaboration by officers of the army's Third, Fourth, and 13th Brigades.
It stated that according to evidence from government investigators, the
army's Third Brigade based in Cali provided weapons and intelligence to
the paramilitary "Calima Front." The report also detailed ties
between the army's Fourth Brigade and paramilitary groups and ties between
the 13th Brigade (intelligence) and paramilitary groups. The report also
detailed threats received by various government agents while they investigated
Vice President Gustavo
Bell responded to the Human Rights Watch report and said that while the
Government has never denied residual ties between individual members of
the public security forces and paramilitary groups, it has moved to break
those ties and punish those responsible. Bell said that the suggestion
that there was a "deliberate, institutional will to help and support"
paramilitary groups was untrue. Bell noted that much of the information
in the report came from the Prosecutor General's office, demonstrating
that the Government was investigating military crimes.
In March the Attorney
General's office ordered that Vice First Sergeant Jose Maria Cifuentes
Tovar, of the 45th Battalion, be removed from the army for having failed
to obey orders to install a roadblock to prevent the escape of members
of paramilitary groups from Barrancabermeja following a February 1999
massacre that left nine persons dead. On March 18, 1999, police arrested
paramilitary leader Mario James Mejia ("el Panadero") for killing
a taxi driver; he then was charged in Bogota with leading the February
1999 Barrancabermeja massacre and was still under investigation at year's
end. Pedro Mateo Hurtado Moreno and three other paramilitary suspects
in the massacre remained at large at year's end. Politically motivated
killings and related unrest continued in Barrancabermeja at a very high
rate throughout the year.
In March the human
rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office ordered the detention of
army Captain Luis Fernando Campusano Vasquez and sought the capture of
15 other civilians, including Carlos Castano, who remained at large. They
are suspected of being affiliated with area units that collaborated with
a 300-person paramilitary group based at Vetas, Norte de Santander department,
which committed 15 massacres in and around the towns of La Gabarra and
Tibu between May 29 and September 1, 1999. More than 145 persons whom
the attackers claimed were guerrillas or guerrilla supporters were killed.
Nearby elements of the army's 46th counterguerrilla battalion (Tibu) and
Fifth mechanized group (Cucuta), as well as police, did not intervene.
In July the Attorney
General announced an investigation into retired army Brigadier General
Alberto Bravo Silva, Colonel Roque Sanchez, and three other army officers
for failing to prevent a paramilitary massacre of 27 persons in August
1999 in La Gabarra. The investigation was still in progress at year's
end. Bravo retired in August 1999 on the orders of President Pastrana.
Two of the three army officers are still members of the public security
forces. Colonel Sanchez, the regional police commander at the time of
the killings, was on trial at year's end. In October the Attorney General's
office also charged Colonel Sanchez. On May 3, the Prosecutor General's
office formally charged AUC paramilitary chief Carlos Castano with masterminding
the May 29 and August 21 La Gabarra massacres in 1999.
In March the Prosecutor
General issued formal indictments against eight security force members,
including Tibu military base Commander Mauricio Llorente Chavez, for complicity
in a paramilitary massacre that took place in Tibu in July 1999. Five
members of the police were charged in May and subsequently were arrested.
On June 20, the Prosecutor General's office arrested six members of the
National Police--Arturo Velandia, Luis Toloza, Miguel Hernandez, Alfonso
Ortiz, Gustavo Lobo, and Jose Ordonez.
In April 1999, President
Pastrana formally retired from service Brigadier Generals Fernando Millan
Perez and Rito Alejo del Rio; both had links to paramilitary groups. The
Government stated only that it "was no longer convenient" for
them to continue their military service. The military judiciary announced
no new developments during the year in its ongoing investigation of General
Millan regarding allegations that he armed and equipped a paramilitary
group in Lebrija, Santander department, in 1997. The group was believed
responsible for at least 11 killings. In October 1998, the Superior Judicial
Council had determined that Millan's alleged actions constituted an act
of service and turned the case over to the military judiciary for prosecution,
effectively cutting off the prosecutor's investigation. Millan had denied
the charges. In June 1999, the Attorney General's office opened a disciplinary
investigation of Millan, which still was in progress at year's end.
At year's end, General
del Rio, former commander of the 13th Brigade, remained under preliminary
investigation by the human rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office
for allegedly establishing illegal paramilitary groups in Medellin in
1987, and in Uraba in 1996. General Del Rio is also under preliminary
investigation by the Attorney General's office.
On July 27, the Attorney
General's office formally charged five army officers, including four generals,
for failing to protect the residents of Puerto Alvira, Meta department,
when paramilitary forces killed 19 persons in May 1998, despite repeated
requests by the Human Rights Ombudsman. The five charged are former commanders
of the army's Fourth Division, retired General Augustin Ardila Uribe and
General Jaime Humberto Cortes Parada (the army's Inspector General); former
commander of the 7th Brigade, retired Brigadier General Jaime Humberto
Uscategui; commander of the 2nd Brigade, General Fredy Padilla de Leon
(former head of the Seventh Brigade); and commander of the "Joaquin
Paris" battalion, Colonel Gustavo Sanchez Gutierrez. Those involved
denied the charges. The Attorney General's investigation was still in
progress at year's end. In June a first instance military court recommended
closing the investigation of the case; the Superior Military Tribunal
was considering this recommendation at year's end. At year's end, the
human rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office had detained three
members of paramilitary groups and had outstanding arrest warrants for
five more, including brothers Carlos and Fidel Castano.
In August air force
Commander Hector Fabio Velasco called for the renewed detention and a
first instance hearing of Brigadier General Jaime Uscategui and Lieutenant
Colonel Hernan Orozco in connection with the July 1997 AUC paramilitary
massacre of dozens of persons at Mapiripan, Meta department. Army Commander
General Jorge Mora had recused himself from Uscategui's case due to personal
ties and was replaced by Velasco. A military tribunal was still considering
the issue at year's end. In May 1999, Uscategui was arrested on civilian
charges connected with the case, but in August 1999, the CSJ had ruled
that the case should be tried in the military courts. Uscategui was released
after 180 days when the military investigation produced no action, although
the investigation continued. Early in 1999, Uscategui sought to retire
from the military effective in January; however, his effort was thwarted
by the Attorney General, who ordered Uscategui dismissed from the military
in November 1999 for dereliction of duty in the October 1997 judicial
convoy massacre in San Juan de Arama, Meta department. A military trial
of Brigadier General Uscategui and Lieutenant Colonel Orozco still was
in progress at year's end.
In August 1999, the
CSJ had sent the cases of all other defendants in the Mapiripan case to
the civilian courts for action, including charges against Lieutenant Colonel
Lino Hernando Sanchez Prada for facilitating the massacre, which was determined
not to be an act of service. As of February 29, the Prosecutor General's
human rights unit had completed its investigations of Lieutenant Colonel
Sanchez and the five other defendants (two noncommissioned officers and
three commercial pilots) in the civilian judiciary. In November the Prosecutor
General indicted in a separate process Lieutenant Colonel Sanchez, two
army sergeants, and eight members of paramilitary groups (including two
civilian pilots). All the cases were on trial by year's end. In addition
to Sanchez, and the five other defendants, two more presumed paramilitary
group members (who also were still in detention) were indicted in December.
In May the Attorney
General's office, which in 1999 formally had accused five officers, three
noncommissioned officers, and five civilian officials of possible complicity
or participation in the July 1997 Mapiripan massacre, dropped the charges
against and closed the investigation of Lieutenant Colonel Lino Sanchez
Prada. The other cases remained under investigation at mid-year.
The case of retired
army Colonel Jose Ancizar Hincapie Betancurt for collaboration in 1993-94
with a paramilitary group that killed 10 persons remained pending before
civilian courts at year's end.
In July Ivan Cepeda,
the son of murdered Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas, was forced to flee the
country due to death threats that he suspected were a reaction to his
activism in pursuing justice for his father's 1994 death. In testimony
before the Senate, the Attorney General had stated that the Senator had
been killed as the result of a joint operation between some senior army
officers and members of paramilitary groups. In 1999 the Attorney General's
office severely reprimanded army First Sergeant Justo Gil Zuniga Labrador
and Vice First Sergeant Hernando Medina Camacho, then members of the army's
20th Brigade, for the killing of Senator Cepeda, who was the leader of
the Patriotic Union (UP) party. The army discharged both men from service,
and in December 1999 they each were sentenced to 43 years' imprisonment
for their roles in Cepeda's murder.
committed numerous extrajudicial killings, primarily in areas where they
competed with guerrilla forces for control, and often in the absence of
a strong government security force presence. The frequency of paramilitary
massacres continued to increase significantly. Several major paramilitary
campaigns during the year involved a series of orchestrated massacres
in Uraba, Norte de Santander, and Barrancabermeja. At mid-year the Human
Rights Ombudsman attributed 93 massacres, which claimed 512 victims, to
paramilitary groups. In 1999 the office received 1,467 complaints against
members of paramilitary groups. The Ministry of Defense attributed 52
percent of the estimated 1,073 deaths that occurred in the 235 massacres
reported by the Human Rights Ombudsman's office during the first 6 months
of the year. In December the Ministry of Defense reported that paramilitary
forces killed 983 civilians in massacres during the year. The Colombian
Commission of Jurists attributed 657 killings and 118 social cleansing
killings to paramilitary groups in the period from October 1999 through
March. Paramilitary activities also included kidnaping, intimidation,
and the forced displacement of persons not directly involved in hostilities
(see Sections 1.b. and 1.g.). Paramilitary groups targeted teachers (see
Section 2.a.), human rights activists (see Section 4), labor leaders (see
Section 6.a.), community activists, national and local politicians (including
President Pastrana), peasants, and other persons whom they accused of
supporting or failing to confront guerrillas. Paramilitary forces killed
members of indigenous groups (see Section 5).
groups were suspected of hundreds of selective killings throughout the
country, especially in Choco, Santander, Valle del Cauca, and Antioquia
departments. The FARC, the ELN, or both, had a strong presence in these
areas as paramilitary forces vied with them for control of territory or
resources, including coca cultivation. Paramilitary groups continued to
kill political leaders and peace activists, including peace community
leader Freddy Gallego, former Aguachica mayor and peace activist Luis
Fernando Rincon, and former Cucuta mayor (and current mayoral candidate
at the time of his death) Pauselino Camarga. Fourteen members of the CTI
were killed during the year in various parts of the country. Both paramilitary
forces and guerrillas were suspected of responsibility in these killings.
at Las Ovejas, Sucre department, and El Salado, Bolivar department, were
part of an ongoing paramilitary effort to wrest control of the Montes
de Maria region from guerrillas. On February 15-16, approximately 150
ACCU members staged attacks in 5 neighborhoods of Las Ovejas. They killed
at least 20 persons whom they suspected of being guerrillas or guerrilla
sympathizers, burned dozens of homes, and displaced a large number of
On April 6, approximately
50 paramilitary attackers massacred 21 men whom they suspected of being
guerrillas or guerrilla collaborators at Tibu, Catatumbo region, Norte
de Santander department, in a continuation of a series of 15 massacres
in the region in 1999.
On May 11, a paramilitary
group that identified itself as the "Calima Front" claimed responsibility
for the killings of 12 civilians in the village of Sabaletas, just outside
Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca department. The group also claimed to have
killed 14 other persons it suspected of being guerrillas in the same area.
According to Human Rights Watch, the army's Third Brigade created and
supports the Calima Front, which Human Rights Watch believes is responsible
for at least 200 killings between July 1999 and July 2000, as well as
the displacement of over 10,000 persons.
In August the AUC
paramilitary movement claimed that it had killed the leader and six members
of the "la Terraza" gang of hired killers based in Medellin.
The AUC was known to have contracted the gang to conduct killings.
In a series of attacks
on the night of November 22, paramilitary forces killed 15 fishermen in
Nueva Venecia, in the region of La Cienaga de Santa Marta, Magdalena department,
and kidnaped another 22 persons whose bodies later were discovered. Human
Rights Ombudsman Eduardo Cifuentes issued a December 14 resolution that
reported that 45 persons were killed and that 25 had disappeared, criticized
slow government action to assist those displaced as a result of the incident,
and called for immediate investigation of reports of a paramilitary base
in the area. The Prosecutor General's office was investigating the 37
confirmed deaths at year's end.
Other examples of
paramilitary massacres included the killing of 7 persons in Estados Unidos
in January, the November killings of 15 persons in Granada in the western
part of the country, and the killing in November of 7 persons in Barrancabermeja.
past killings and massacres proceeded slowly. In many cases there was
no progress in ongoing investigations. Progress during the year included
the issuance of warrants of arrest for five suspects involved in murder
and extortion as members of the El Corral Convivir (self-defense group)
in 1991 in Arauca department. Other members of paramilitary groups investigated
and indicted included Luis Arnulfo Tuberquias, who was linked to kidnaping
and theft on behalf of such groups; among those captured were Jose Luis
Hernandez and Ruben Isaza, nephew and son respectively of paramilitary
leader Ramon Isaza, and Dario Zapata Hernandez, allegedly the second in
command of the AUC in the Puerto Boyaca area, Caldas department.
On May 3, the Prosecutor
General's office formally charged AUC paramilitary leader Carlos Castano
with the August 1999 killing of renowned journalist, political comedian,
and peace and human rights activist Jaime Garzon Forero in Bogota. On
January 13, members of the CTI captured La Terraza gang member Juan Pablo
Ortiz Agudelo in Medellin on suspicion of having been the gunman in the
attack against Garzon. Ortiz remained in detention in Bogota at year's
end. In December a group of men claiming to represent the "La Terraza"
criminal organization said publicly that they were hired by Castano to
kill Jaime Garzon and human rights activists Elsa Alvarado, Mario Calderon,
Jesus Maria Valle, and Eduardo Umana Mendoza. They offered to turn themselves
in and provide proof of Castano's involvement in return for security guarantees
from the Government. There was no public response from the authorities
by year's end.
In December 1999,
Spain complied with a government request and extradited paramilitary Lubin
de Jesus Morales Orozco, who was arrested in Madrid in June 1999 on unrelated
charges, for the April 1998 killing of Eduardo Umana Mendoza, perhaps
the country's best-known and most controversial human rights lawyer. Five
persons, including Morales, remained in detention and were on trial in
a civilian court at year's end.
On June 14, the trial
of 10 persons suspected of the February 1998 killing of human rights activist
Jesus Maria Valle began in Medellin. Valle was the president of the Antioquia
Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. Charges were brought
against suspected killers Jorge Eliecer Rodriguez Guzman, Alvaro Goez
Meza, Gilma Patricia Gaviria Palacios, Elkin Dario Granada Lopez, Alexander
Vallejo Echeverry, and Carlos Alberto Bedoya Marulanda for direct participation
in the crime. In August 1999, the Prosecutor General's office issued arrest
warrants for AUC paramilitary leader Carlos Castano and Juan Carlos Gonzalez
Jaramillo for planning the crime. Castano was indicted in September 1998
for the killing. According to press reports, the first police agent on
the case was killed soon afterward; the prosecutor fled the country; and
another investigator was killed in September 1999.
On November 22, a
Bogota judge convicted paramilitary Juan Carlos Gonzalez Jaramillo (alias
"El Colorado") and Walter Jose Alvarez Rivera in the May 1997
murders of two CINEP workers, Mario Calderon and Elsa Alvarado, as well
as Alvarado's father, Carlos Alvarado. Jaramillo was sentenced to 60 years
in prison, and Alvarez Rivera was sentenced to 45 years. The judge determined
that soccer magnate Gustavo Adolfo Upegui Lopez was not implicated in
the murders but ordered a review of evidence presented during the CINEP
trial that connected Upegui with paramilitary groups. Upegui remained
under arrest in Medellin on separate charges at year's end. The judge
also convicted two other men connected to the case for the illegal use
of telecommunications equipment and exonerated two other men accused of
organizing the murders. An arrest warrant for paramilitary leader Carlos
Castano in connection with this case remains outstanding.
Ivan Urdinola Grajales remained detained in connection with the 1989-90
"Trujillo I" massacres in Valle department, and also is implicated
in the 1994 "Trujillo II" massacre. Prosecutors also have an
outstanding warrant for the detention of one other paramilitary member
in the Trujillo I case. In May a court upheld charges against paramilitary
Norberto Morales Ledesma for involvement in the Trujillo II massacre.
Paramilitary member Reynel Gomez Correa, detained in 1999 in connection
with Trujillo II, was murdered in prison in December, before he could
be brought to trial. Two other members of paramilitary groups implicated
in both Trujillo I and Trujillo II remain at large. One such person has
been detained, and another is being sought in the Trujillo I massacre.
One paramilitary member has been convicted and another detained for the
1994 Trujillo II massacre. Investigations continue in both cases.
In July the superior
court of Cundinamarca department exonerated Jose Tellez and his wife Nancy
Lozano, who were accused of participating in the 1989 killing of Liberal
presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan. Another suspect, Alberto Hubiz
Hazbun, who was accused of planning the crime, was absolved in 1993. The
only person to have been convicted of the crime is John Jairo Velazquez
Vasquez, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1997.
No suspects have
been identified in the September 1999 killing of academic and peace activist
There was no information
available on the investigation into the May 1998 killing of former Defense
Minister General Fernando Landazabal Reyes.
While an estimated
507 members of paramilitary groups were believed to be in jail at year's
end, known paramilitary leaders largely remained beyond the reach of the
law. Government figures indicated that from 1997 through October 2000,
934 members of paramilitary groups have been captured, and 150 members
have been killed. The Ministry of Defense reported that during the year
the security forces killed 89 members of paramilitary groups and captured
315 members. In 1999 the army reported that it killed 26 members of paramilitary
groups and captured 102 during that year.
Paramilitary forces killed members of indigenous groups (see Section 5)
and members of trade unions (see Section 6.a.).
The guerrillas of
the FARC, the ELN, and the People's Liberation Army (EPL) continued to
commit killings, often targeting noncombatants in a manner similar to
that of paramilitary groups. The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported
that guerrillas were responsible for 236 political killings in the period
of October 1999 through March. The Ministry of Defense attributed 880
civilian deaths in massacres to guerrillas during the year. The Human
Rights Ombudsman attributed 22 massacres to the FARC during the first
6 months of the year and 9 massacres to the ELN. The Ombudsman also attributed
89 killings to the FARC and 31 killings to the ELN during the first 6
months of the year. Local elected officials and candidates for public
office, teachers, civic leaders, business owners, and peasants opposed
to their political or military activities were common targets. The Federation
of Colombian Municipalities reported that 17 mayors were killed during
the year; guerrillas were the principal suspects (see Section 3). For
example, in November unknown gunmen killed Carlos Julio Rosas, mayor of
Orito, Putumayo department. In addition, in the run-up to the October
municipal elections, 19 mayoral candidates were killed. Police and military
personnel were targeted for selective and combat killings (see Section
1.g.). Guerrilla groups also killed religious leaders (see Section 2.c.),
members of indigenous groups (see Section 5), and labor leaders (see Section
6.a.). Some communities controlled by guerrillas also experienced social
cleansing killings of criminal or other "undesirable" elements.
Guerrilla campaigns around the demilitarized area, in the Norte de Santander,
Antioquia, and southern departments often involved significant civilian
casualties and prompted significant displacements (see Section 1.g.).
According to military
statistics, FARC and ELN guerrillas killed as many as 200 children during
the year (see Sections 1.g. and 5).
The human rights
unit of the Prosecutor General's office reported in November that it is
conducting ongoing investigations into the detention, disappearance, and
deaths of 92 off-duty army personnel. Police suspected 22nd FARC front
commander "Geovanni" of ordering the February 27 killing of
retired army General Crispiniano Quinones (a former commander of the 13th
Brigade) by unidentified gunmen at La Vega, Cundinamarca department. According
to the press, Geovanni and two other FARC members were killed shortly
thereafter in a confrontation with police.
On March 25 and 26,
at least 21 police officers and 8 civilians (including the mayor of Vigia
del Fuerte and 2 children) were killed when the FARC overran the twin
towns of Vigia del Fuerte, Antioquia department, and Bellavista, Choco
department. The FARC held captive at least seven more police officers.
The FARC tortured many of the policemen before killing them outside of
combat. In April the authorities issued an arrest warrant for FARC member
Luis Fernando Zapata Hinestroza.
In May six men who
participated in roadblocks protesting a possible demilitarized zone for
the ELN in southern Bolivar and Antioquia departments were killed in the
Magdalena Medio region. The ELN was suspected of the killings.
On May 7, FARC guerrillas
attacked a public bus in Gigante, Huila department, with an explosive
device; the driver lost control and hit a tree. FARC members shot at the
occupants of the bus and burned the vehicle; four occupants were still
inside when the bus was set on fire and are presumed dead.
In June the FARC
massacred at least 11 civilians at Nutibara, Antioquia department, and
injured 15 other persons. The army's 14th Brigade responded to this and
other FARC attacks, reportedly killing 14 guerrillas.
On July 10, in Huila
department, two unidentified gunmen killed General Saulo Gil Ramirez,
former Director of the National Police from 1958-65. The press speculated
that guerrillas were responsible for the killing.
On July 1, 1 person
was killed and approximately 40 were wounded when several explosive devices
exploded at the El Valle police command in Cali. Authorities attributed
the explosion to subversive groups. On the same day, ELN guerrillas attacked
the police's Simon Bolivar Carabineer Academy in southwestern Cali.
On July 14, the FARC
entered the town of Roncesvalles in Tolima department and killed 13 policemen
(see Section 1.g.).
An August offensive
by the FARC resulted in the deaths of more than 20 civilians and military
In August FARC guerrillas
killed secretary general of Rio Blanco Milciades Luis Garabito after accusing
him of paramilitary ties.
According to press
reports, also in August an ELN guerrilla squad tortured and killed eight
residents of Sardinita, including one child and one teacher.
In early October,
the FARC attacked the remote village of Ortega and killed eight persons,
including two women and two children. The guerrillas also burned 20 homes,
a school, and a church.
On October 18, guerrillas
attacked Bagado and Dabeiba in the Choco department, killing 1 police
officer; 17 were missing. Much of Bagado was destroyed.
On November 23, suspected
guerrillas killed 12 persons in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca department.
At least some of the victims reportedly were linked to paramilitary groups.
Two women were injured. Also on November 23, FARC guerrillas killed nine
peasants suspected of collaborating with paramilitary groups in Antioquia
reported killings by FARC members within and on the periphery of the demilitarized
zone continued. On December 29, congressional peace commission chairman
Diego Turbay Cote, his mother councilwoman Ines Cote, and five other persons
were killed in Caqueta department (near the FARC demilitarized zone).
The killings placed the future of the peace process in doubt as the Prosecutor
General, army, and police alleged that the FARC were responsible. There
was no reported progress in the Prosecutor General's investigation into
the May 1999 killings in Vereda Perlas Altas, Puerto Rico, Caqueta department.
According to press reports, the FARC have executed approximately 20 residents
in the despeje zone.
citizens using bombs and artillery and continued their practice of using
gas canisters to attack small towns, thereby killing civilians indiscriminately
(see Section 1.g.).
On May 1, FARC spokesman
Raul Reyes said that a FARC "revolutionary tribunal" exonerated
FARC eastern bloc commander German Briceno Suarez ("Grannobles")
of involvement in the March 1999 killings of kidnaped American citizen
indigenous activists Terence Freitas, Lahe'ena'e Gay, and Ingrid Washinawatok
near Saravena, Arauca department. In July 1999, the Prosecutor General's
office ordered the arrest of Briceno; army efforts to apprehend him and
other FARC members accused of the crime had not been successful at year's
end. Reyes said that investigations of other FARC members suspected of
the killings would continue. In September the Prosecutor General's office
sought to question Nelson Vargas Ruedas, a FARC guerrilla imprisoned in
Bogota, for information about the crime. U'wa tribe member Gustavo Bocota
Aguablanca, who also was indicted for the crime in December 1999, was
still at large at year's end. The investigation of the case continued
at year's end.
In December a Medellin
court ruled that Wilson Eusebio Garcia Ramirez, commander of the ELN's
"Carlos Alirio Buitrago" front, should be tried in absentia
for the September 1998 killings of CTI members Edilbrando Roa Lopez and
John Morales Patino at Mesopotamia, Antioquia. The two had been investigating
a 1998 massacre of nine persons at the nearby town of Sonson.
At year's end, the
authorities had not yet captured two members of the FARC's 32nd Front,
including Arley Leal and Milton de Jesus Tonal Redondo ("Joaquin
Gomez" or "Usurriaga"), head of the FARC's southern bloc,
in connection with the September 1998 murder of Father Alcides Jimenez
The Ministry of Defense
reported that security forces killed 970 guerrillas and captured 1,556
guerrillas during the year. The Prosecutor General's office reported that
at year's end, it had open investigations of 353 guerrillas, had 53 guerrillas
in custody, and had 252 warrants for the arrest of guerrilla leaders.
cases regarding Colombia were before the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights (IACHR) at year's end. The great majority involved violations
of the right to life. At year's end, the IACHR was expected to make a
decision about whether to move a case involving paramilitary and military
involvement in the 1996 killing of 19 merchants to the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights.
The IACHR continued
the process of trying to reach an amicable settlement of the Patriotic
Union's 1996 complaint charging the Government with "action or omission"
in what the UP termed "political genocide" of the UP and the
Communist Party. As part of the process, since June the Government has
provided protection through the Interior Ministry to surviving UP and
Communist Party members. Despite these efforts, at least two UP members
reportedly were killed during the year.
There continued to
be incidents of social cleansing--including attacks and killings--directed
against individuals deemed socially undesirable, such as drug addicts,
prostitutes, transvestites, homosexuals, beggars, and street children.
The Colombian Commission of Jurists did not attribute any social cleansing
killings to security forces during the period from October 1999 through
March; it attributed 118 social cleansing killings to paramilitary groups
and 2 such killings during this period to the guerrillas.
The 1991 Constitution
and the law explicitly prohibit "forced disappearance;" however,
it continued to be a problem. On May 30, Congress codified forced disappearance,
genocide, torture, and forced displacement as crimes, permitting such
cases to be tried in the civilian judiciary. On July 6, President Pastrana
signed the law, and it entered into effect immediately. Human rights activists
noted that the final law did not include a draft article stipulating that
the four crimes, as serious human rights violations, must be tried in
the civilian, rather than the military judiciary, when military defendants
are involved, according to a 1997 Constitutional Court decision. However,
advocates of the bill noted that the reformed Military Penal Code, which
entered into effect August 12, did include such a stipulation. More than
3,000 cases of forced disappearance have been reported formally to the
authorities since 1977; very few have ever been resolved. Many of the
victims disappeared in the course of various confrontations between armed
groups or with the State. The great majority of victims of forced disappearance
were never seen or heard from again.
The Attorney General's
office, which oversees the performance of all public sector employees,
received 78 complaints related to massacres and forced disappearances
during the year; approximately 75 percent of these complaints involved
the army (particularly in Putumayo, Antioquia and southern Bolivar departments);
the other 25 percent implicated police or DAS officials. A report of three
persons who allegedly disappeared due to actions by the army has not been
There were no reported
results from the trial in a civilian court of police Major Manuel de Jesus
Lozada Plazas, the former deputy commander of the Government's elite antikidnaping
squads known as the GAULA, at year's end. The authorities had suspended
him from duty and placed him on half-pay following his arrest in March
1997. There also have been no results reported in the investigation into
cooperation between these squads and illegal paramilitary groups.
In May the Prosecutor
General indicted retired Colonel Gonzalo Gil Rojas, former commander of
the 20th Brigade, for responsibility in the 1989 kidnaping of Amparo Tordecillo
Trujillo, a former EPL member; in December the charges were dismissed.
The Prosecutor General also indicted in absentia former 20th Brigade members
retired Captain Mario Raul Rodriguez Reynoso and three noncommissioned
officers; they remained at large at year's end.
The law prohibits
kidnaping; however, it remained an extremely serious problem. Reforms
to the Penal Code enacted in June increased the minimum sentence for simple
kidnaping from 6 to 8 years; the maximum is 20 years. Police figures for
the year, corroborated by Free Country Foundation (Fundacion Pais Libre),
registered 3,706 kidnapings during the year, compared with 3,201 in 1999.
Paramilitary groups kidnaped 280 persons, while criminals kidnaped 371
persons and another 944 persons were kidnaped by unknown persons or groups.
Guerrilla groups were responsible for 2,104 cases. An estimated 164 minors
were in captivity at year's end. GAULA members and other units of the
security forces freed 507 persons during the year (including at least
48 children); 285 of the rescued victims were held by the ELN, 82 by the
FARC, 44 by the EPL (Popular Liberation Army), and the remaining 96 by
either paramilitary groups or common criminals. The GAULA reported that
173 people died in captivity during the year, a 33 percent increase over
1999. Arrests or prosecutions in any kidnaping cases were rare.
The Colombian Commission
of Jurists attributed 145 forced disappearances to paramilitaries in the
period from October 1999 through March. In many instances persons kidnaped
by paramilitary groups later were found dead.
On March 9, a paramilitary
group led by Jhon Jairo Esquivel Cuadrado kidnaped seven members of the
CTI at Minguillo, Cesar department. Esquivel was captured in July and
remained detained pending formal charges at year's end. There were no
indications that the abducted investigators were still alive.
In May paramilitary
forces kidnaped and raped journalist Jineth Bedoya (see Section 2.a.).
On June 19, Carlos
Castano's AUC paramilitary group kidnaped Antioquia Deputy Guillermo Leon
Valencia Cossio, brother of the Government's negotiator in the peace process
with the FARC, Fabio Valencia Cossio, but released him on June 23.
In October the AUC
paramilitary group kidnaped seven members of Congress, including former
Senate President Miguel Pineda and Zulema Jattin, a member of a congressional
peace commission, and demanded that the AUC be consulted in the peace
process. The Government refused to open discussions with the AUC, but
Interior Minister Humberto de la Calle negotiated the hostages' release
to be an unambiguous, standing policy and major source of revenue for
both the FARC and ELN. In April the FARC announced "Law 002,"
which required persons with more than $1 million in assets to volunteer
payment to the FARC or risk detention. According to Pais Libre, politicians,
cattlemen, children, and businessmen were guerrillas' preferred victims.
The FARC often purchased victims kidnaped by common criminals; the FARC
then negotiated ransom payments with the family.
On March 22, the
FARC kidnaped 9-year-old Clara Oliva Pantoja and did not release her until
December 19. On April 7, the FARC kidnaped 3-year-old Andres Felipe Navas;
he had not been released by year's end. Both children reportedly were
held in the FARC demilitarized zone. Several released kidnaped victims
claim that the FARC is holding more than 200 persons in the despeje zone.
In March the ELN
kidnaped 25 electrical company workers at Guatape, Antioquia. The kidnapings
were part of the ELN's campaign against the country's civilian electrical
On September 17,
the ELN kidnaped over 50 patrons of Cali restaurants. Roughly a dozen
were released within a few days. After combined negotiation and military
pressure, the remaining survivors were released by November, although
three had died while in captivity due to illness after lengthy forced
marches while the kidnapers attempted to evade the army. Over the objections
of the army commander in charge of rescue, the Government allowed the
captors to remain free in return for release of the remaining hostages.
Brigadier General Jaime Canal Alban, commander of the 3rd Brigade, resigned
to express his disagreement with the Government's decision.
On November 28, unknown
assailants kidnaped 18-year-old Juliana Villegas, daughter of the head
of the National Association of Industrialists, a strong supporter of the
peace process; guerrillas were suspected.
to kidnap political leaders. For example, in October the FARC kidnaped
a gubernatorial candidate in northern Choco department, Senator Juan Mesa,
and Antioquia assemblyman Alvaro Velasquez. The Federation of Colombian
Municipalities reported that at least 20 mayors were kidnaped during the
year, nearly all by guerrilla groups. Many more unreported kidnapings
of short duration may have been carried out. In response to this situation,
some rural mayors fled to major cities, where they continued to conduct
municipal business via telephone and facsimile. Guerrillas also kidnaped
journalists (see Section 2.a.).
The FARC, the ELN,
and other guerrilla groups regularly kidnaped foreign citizens throughout
the year; some were released after weeks or months of captivity. For example,
in July a representative of Doctors without Borders was kidnaped by a
fringe guerrilla group and had not been heard from at year's end. In August
the ELN captured and held 26 university professors and students, including
several foreigners, for several days before releasing the group.
On April 8, the DAS
captured ELN leader Ovidio Antonio Parra Cortes, who had been sought for
his role in directing the May 1999 kidnaping of 174 persons from Cali's
La Maria Catholic Church. The army's Third Brigade also arrested seven
men believed to have helped carry out the La Maria hostage-taking.
By year's end, all
of the 41 occupants of an airplane hijacked by the ELN in April 1999 had
been released; 1 died in captivity in 1999 due to a lack of needed medications.
search efforts and continued pressure by the Government on the FARC to
account for three American missionaries kidnaped by FARC guerrillas in
January 1993, their whereabouts and condition remained unknown.
c. Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
and criminal law explicitly prohibit torture, as well as cruel, inhuman,
or degrading treatment or punishment; however, police and military torture
and mistreatment of detainees continued. On May 30, Congress codified
torture as a crime (see Section 1.b.), and the reformed Military Penal
Code directed that cases of torture involving military and police defendants
be tried in the civilian, rather than the military, courts. The Attorney
General's office, which only can sanction administratively or refer to
the Prosecutor General's office those it finds guilty, did not sanction
any security force members for torture during the year. Contrary to previous
years, the Attorney General's office, which received 119 complaints of
torture in 1998, did not receive any complaints of torture by state agents
during the year. The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported one case
in the period from October 1999 to March. During the first 9 months of
the year, CINEP reported that 79 persons were injured by state forces.
During the year, the Military High Court convicted 52 service members
for causing injuries.
The Colombian Commission
of Jurists reported that from October 1999 through March, 136 corpses
of persons presumed killed by paramilitary forces showed signs of torture;
there were 14 similar cases attributed to guerrillas; one case attributed
to an unidentified unarmed group; and none by the State. Of victims who
survived torture, the Commission attributed one case to public security
forces and four cases to paramilitary groups. In March the Ministry of
Defense reported that the Superior Military Tribunal convicted 53 service
members for inflicting bodily injuries.
On March 10, a Bogota
prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for four policemen for allegedly beating
detainees Jorge Amilkar Murcia, Juan Antonio Rodriguez Ochoa, and a third
unnamed victim, taking them to a bridge, and forcing them to jump. Rodriguez
survived and reported the crime to the authorities; Murcia's body was
According to Human
Rights Watch, on June 18, troops from the Rebeiz Pizarro Battalion fired
upon a car carrying six adults and two children; all occupants were wounded.
In December the Prosecutor
General's human rights office indicted Colonel Jose Ancizar Molano Padilla
(then-commander of the 2nd Marine infantry battalion), Captain Alvaro
Hernando Moreno, Captain Rafael Garcia, Lieutenant Carlos Eduardo Jaramillo,
and four noncommissioned officers for torturing 12 marines with asphyxiation
and electric shocks in December 1995. The victims were tortured to determine
the whereabouts of two lost assault rifles. Colonel Molano and his accused
subordinates remained in detention and are expected to be tried in a civilian
court. In December the Attorney General's office concluded its investigation
of the same incident and ordered a 3-month suspension from duty for Colonel
Molano. It also suspended Captain Moreno, Lieutenant Jaramillo, seven
noncommissioned officers, and one private.
arrested in May 1999 in the course of a military antiguerrilla operation
who subsequently claimed that the 3rd army Special Forces Battalion tortured
and inflicted other cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment against them
were remanded to the custody of the Venezuelan Embassy and finally allowed
to return to Venezuela. The Venezuelan Government also asked for an investigation
in relation to five other persons who were with these four men at the
time of their capture. The bodies of two of these five persons subsequently
were found in a river; the other three allegedly disappeared following
increasingly used threats both to intimidate opponents and to raise money.
Letters demanding payment of a war tax and a threat to mark victims as
a military target if they failed to pay were typical. In 1999 CINEP reported
that nearly half of those threatened were public school teachers and that
approximately half of all threat recipients were residents of Antioquia
also tortured and abused persons. The bodies of many persons detained
and subsequently killed by guerrillas showed signs of torture and disfigurement.
For example, one soldier captured by the FARC was subjected to several
machete blows to the head until the entire left side of his head was destroyed.
While he was still alive, his genitalia were cut off and acid was poured
on his face. The military reported that another soldier and his brother
were captured by the FARC while on a bus, subsequently were tortured and
decapitated, and their heads were sent to their father inside a box. The
Colombian Commission of Jurists reported 17 cases of torture by guerrillas
during the period from October 1999 to March.
Guerrillas also routinely
used threats, both to intimidate opponents and to raise money, and--like
the paramilitary groups--sent letters demanding payments of a war tax,
along with threats to make persons military targets. Guerrillas also killed,
kidnaped, and threatened mayoral candidates (see Section 3).
According to press
reports, in July explosive devices damaged three businesses in downtown
Barrancabermeja, Santander department. The authorities stated that the
ELN demanded that local businessmen attend a mandatory meeting and that
the bombs were punishment against those who failed to attend. In April
the FARC announced "Law 002," which required persons with more
than $1 million in assets to volunteer payment to the FARC or risk detention.
In August the FARC bombed as many as 13 businesses in Medellin in retaliation
for nonpayment of a FARC-imposed "war tax."
are harsh, especially for those prisoners without significant outside
support. Severe overcrowding and dangerous sanitary and health conditions
remained serious problems. In December 1997, a visiting IACHR mission
declared that the living conditions in Bogota's La Picota prison constituted
"cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the inmates," and
these problems continue. Prison guards from the INPEC report to the Ministry
of Justice. There are approximately 7,000 prison guards. Guards and prison
staff frequently are untrained or corrupt. In response to what was called
a "disciplinary emergency," INPEC's disciplinary office reported
in September that it had removed 159 prison guards and was investigating
651 INPEC officials for irregularities in performing their duties. Prisoners
are suspected of killing or ordering the killing of 22 guards in 1999.
According to the
Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, a majority of prisoners'
food was provided by outside, private sources. In 1999 INPEC reported
that the daily food allowance for each prisoner was $1.44 (2,700 pesos).
According to INPEC, the country's prisons and jails held approximately
50,702 inmates at year's end, significantly more than their capacity of
31,000 persons. The addition of a new prison in Valledupar, Cesar department,
and the renovation of other facilities added 3,000 spaces over the past
3 years but was offset by an increase of approximately 10,000 prisoners
over the same period. According to the Ministry of Defense, 20 percent
of the country's inmates are in the 10 most crowded prisons, which have
an average occupancy rate of 200 percent. In a number of the largest prisons,
overcrowding was severe. Medellin's Bellavista prison, the country's largest,
was built to house 1,800 inmates; at year's end, it housed 6,575 inmates.
Bogota's La Modelo prison had a 169 percent occupancy rate, and the Palmira
prison outside Cali held 192 percent above its planned capacity.
In February the Justice
Ministry announced a plan to renovate prisons and build 11 other new prisons
over the next 3 years, expanding prison capacity by 18,000 persons. In
July Congress approved the financing of the remaining announced facilities.
Only 8,000 prisoner accommodations met international standards. A total
of 17.8 percent of the country's prisons were between 40 and 80 years
old, 3.5 percent were between 80 and 201 years old, and 2.4 percent were
more than 201 years old.
In November approximately
12,000 women and children, who were visitors to the prisons, protested
prison conditions by spending 72 hours inside 7 prisons, including Bogota's
La Modelo. The Government negotiated with inmate representatives and human
rights NGO's to ensure the peaceful exit of the protesters by agreeing
to convoke the National Roundtable on Penitentiary Work, an intersectoral
commission that includes inmate representatives, in December.
An estimated 42 percent
of all prison inmates are pretrial detainees. The remaining 58 percent
are split roughly between those appealing their convictions and those
who have exhausted their appeals and are serving out their terms. There
are no separate facilities for pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners.
According to the Ministry of Defense, 4,145 persons (8 percent of inmates)
are in pretrial detention in police stations. Despite an August 1999 Constitutional
Court ruling which obligated the transfer of detainees from overcrowded
police station holding cells to prisons, Bogota's 21 police stations still
hold 1,657 prisoners awaiting transfer to prisons.
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.
There are separate
prison facilities for women, and in some parts of the country, separate
women's prisons exist. Conditions at women's prisons are similar to those
at men's prisons but are far less violent. According to the Criminal Procedures
Code, no one under the age of 18 may be held in a prison. Juveniles are
held in separate facilities operated by the Colombian Institute for Family
The reformed Penal
Code requires sentences of 3 to 6 years for prison escapes. Escapes from
prison continued to be a problem. There were six major riots in prisons.
On February 3, six prisoners were killed and two were wounded during a
confrontation between members of paramilitary groups and guerrillas at
Bogota's La Picota Prison.
In April members
of paramilitary groups and guerrillas engaged in a 12-hour battle inside
Bogota's La Modelo prison, ending a 2-month truce, and employed a wide
variety of firearms and other weapons. Thirty-two inmates were killed,
and 35 were wounded. In response, 1,200 members of the National Police
entered La Modelo prison to retake control. Among prohibited items found
were cellular telephones, handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, hand grenades,
explosives, dogs trained to attack, illicit drugs, and alcohol. Police
found a sauna and gym in a FARC commander's cell and also discovered a
working brothel. Authorities brought a variety of charges, including homicide
and rape, against 20 prisoners. In July Jorge Ospina Trujillo, reportedly
a member of a paramilitary group, escaped from the Bellavista prison in
Medellin, Antioquia department. According to the authorities, Ospina was
one of the prisoners responsible for the April massacre in La Modelo prison
several attacks against prisons holding guerrilla prisoners, facilitating
numerous escapes. For example, during its April 2-3 offensive, the ELN
attacked a prison at Cucuta, Norte de Santander department, initiating
the attack with a car bomb. Some 75 prisoners, including approximately
50 ELN and FARC guerrillas, escaped. Four prisoners were killed and four
prisoners were wounded in the fighting.
Key narcotics traffickers
and some guerrilla leaders obtain 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. In July the
authorities dismantled a sophisticated telecommunications center in the
district and Picalena prisons in Ibague, Tolima, department. Forty-six
prisoners between the 2 prisons used cellular telephones to extort money
or negotiate ransom. To prevent this type of activity, on July 27, President
Pastrana announced that he would issue a resolution making it mandatory
for telephone companies to provide caller identification service to all
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to have routine access to
most prisons and police and military detention centers.
The ICRC continues
to have ad hoc access to civilians held by paramilitary groups and guerrilla
forces. However, it has not been granted access to members of the police
or military who are held by guerrilla groups.
d. Arbitrary Arrest,
Detention, or Exile
includes several provisions designed to prevent illegal detention; however,
there continued to be instances in which the authorities arrested or detained
The law prohibits
incommunicado detention. Anyone held in preventive detention must be brought
before a prosecutor within 36 hours to determine the legality of the detention.
The prosecutor must then act upon that petition within 36 hours of its
submission. Despite these legal protections, instances of arbitrary detention
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
the FARC, pressed the Government and Congress to adopt a permanent prisoner
exchange law. Initiating regular prisoner exchanges remained a top guerrilla
priority and featured prominently in the FARC's negotiating points at
the peace talks. Neither the Congress nor the Government attempted to
pass such legislation, and there was minimal popular support for it during
much of the year. On September 27, the Attorney General proposed the implementation
of an existing law that allows for the exchange of prisoners during armed
conflict. In October the public debate on prisoner exchange revived when
photographs emerged of 261 police and military hostages being held in
outdoor fenced enclosures. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
(UNHCHR) expressed deep concern for the well-being of the hostages and
called on the FARC to permit ICRC access. At year's end, 527 soldiers
and police are presumed held by the FARC and ELN, and the ICRC had not
been permitted access to them.
prohibits exile, and forced exile is not practiced by the State. However,
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, farmers, and others. The threats came from various quarters:
some individual members of the security forces, paramilitary groups, guerrilla
groups, narcotics traffickers, other criminal elements, or combinations
of the above.
e. Denial of Fair
The civilian judicial
system, reorganized under the 1991 Constitution, is independent of the
executive and legislative branches both in theory and in practice; however,
the suborning or intimidation of judges, witnesses, and prosecutors by
those indicted or involved is common. The Human Rights Ombudsman's office
reported receipt of 773 complaints of denial of the right to due legal
process during 1999, the most recent year for which statistics were available.
The office received 1,353 complaints in 1998.
The judiciary includes
the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, and the Council of
State, the Superior Judicial Council, and lower courts. The Prosecutor
General's office is an independent prosecutorial body that brings criminal
cases before the courts. Article 234 of the new Military Penal Code states
that the Supreme Court (not the Superior Military Tribunal) has first
instance jurisdiction in cases involving criminal acts by generals, admirals,
major generals, vice-admirals, brigadier generals, rear admirals, and
magistrates and prosecutors of the Superior Military Tribunal. Cases that
already were in their trial phase by August 12, 1999, must continue under
the old military penal code; however, this article applies to all cases
brought to trial after that date, regardless of when the crime was committed.
Article 234 also states the Supreme Court is the court of second instance
review of rulings by the Superior Military Tribunal, effectively asserting
the authority of the Supreme Court--a body composed entirely of civilian
magistrates--over the military judiciary. The Council of State is the
appellate court for civil cases. The Constitutional Court adjudicates
cases of constitutionality, reviews all decisions regarding writs of protection
of fundamental rights ("tutelas"), and reviews all decisions
regarding motions for cessation of judicial proceedings. Jurisdictional
clashes among the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, the
Council of State, and the Superior Judicial Council were common, due to
the lack of a single supreme judicial authority capable of deciding issues
of jurisdiction or constitutional interpretation.
The CSJ, which oversees
the administration of the judiciary, also has the responsibility of determining
whether individual cases involving members of the security forces are
to be tried in civilian or military courts. On August 17, President Pastrana
issued a directive to the armed forces and the police that stated that
the new Military Penal Code "excludes from military criminal jurisdiction
the crimes of genocide, torture, and forced disappearance" and that
"acts against humanity do not fall under the jurisdiction of the
military courts." The directive also "raises to the category
of law" a 1997 Constitutional Court decision that serious human rights
violations and other crimes not directly related to acts of service must
be tried by civilian courts.
On April 6, the Constitutional
Court overturned much of the 1999 law that had created the specialized
jurisdiction (which had replaced the anonymous ("faceless")
regional courts system on July 1, 1999). The Constitutional Court found
that defendants have the right to know the identity of their accusers
and that elements of the law that permitted some prosecutors and witnesses
to remain anonymous under exceptionally dangerous circumstances were unconstitutional.
The Court ruled that specialized jurisdiction judges and prosecutors no
longer could transfer cases to other colleagues when they believed their
own security to be at risk. The Court also ruled that persons detained
for any of the crimes designated in the legislation may request to be
confined in their homes and may request special permission to go to work,
as is the case in the regular civilian judiciary. The Court permanently
closed the appeals court for the specialized jurisdiction. The remaining
first instance specialized jurisdiction courts continued to have responsibility
for trying certain crimes, including crimes of kidnaping, hijacking, paramilitarism,
narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and human rights abuses. Specialized
jurisdiction prosecutors still are permitted 12 months to investigate
and develop cases, rather than the 6 months afforded to regular civilian
As part of the Ministry
of Defense, the military judiciary falls under the executive branch, rather
than under the judicial branch. The armed forces commander is also the
president of the military judiciary. The workings of the military judiciary
lack transparency and accountability, contributing to a generalized lack
of confidence in the system's ability to bring human rights abusers to
justice. On August 12, a new Military Penal Code replaced the outdated
one, which predated the 1991 Constitution and did not contemplate some
contemporary crimes. (President Pastrana signed it into law in August
1999.) The Constitutional Court ruled that no implementing legislation
was needed and instructed the Ministry of Defense to implement the new
Military Penal Code. Provisions of the new code include the following:
unit commanders no longer may judge their subordinates; an independent
military judicial corps is to be created; and service members are to be
protected legally if they refuse to carry out illegal orders to commit
human rights abuses. The reformed code states that torture, genocide,
and forced disappearance could never be related to "acts of service,"
which is the constitutional standard for trying crimes in the military
judiciary, and stipulates that these crimes therefore always must be tried
in the civilian judiciary (see Sections 1.a. and 1.b.). The reformed Military
Penal Code also gives representatives of the civilian judiciary the right
to be present at military trials of military personnel.
The new military justice system is composed of magistrates of the Military
Court of Appeals, lower military court judges, investigating judges, prosecutors,
and judge advocates (auditor de guerra) at the General Inspector, division,
and brigade levels. Brigadier General Jairo Pineda was appointed to head
the Executive Directorate of the military penal justice system and is
to report directly to the Minister of Defense, a civilian. Military prosecutors
report to Brigadier General Pineda, not to unit commanders as under the
According to press
reports, on August 16, the Military Penal Tribunal appointed its first
three prosecutors as part of the new Military Penal Code. New prosecutors
also were appointed for the military forces as a whole and one for each
branch of the military and the police. On August 17, the prosecutors began
to analyze and rule in military proceedings.
A 1997 Constitutional
Court decision directed the military judicial system to relinquish to
the civilian judiciary the investigation and prosecution of serious human
rights violations and other alleged crimes not directly related to acts
of service--the 1991 constitutional standard for determining whether a
case should be tried by the military or civilian judiciary. The CSJ assigned
most cases involving high-level military personnel to the military courts,
where convictions in human rights-related cases were the rare exception.
According to the 1991 Constitution, general-rank officers are to be tried
by the Supreme Court; however, that provision was ignored in practice.
No definitive court ruling has resolved various judicial interpretations
of the provision; however, a majority of decisions appear to suggest that
this provision applies only to full generals. The Court ruled that military
justice was the exception to the general rule and that, in the case of
doubt, jurisdiction should be assigned to the civilian system. In determining
which alleged crimes were to be tried by military tribunals, the CSJ sometimes
employed a broad definition of acts of service, thus ensuring that uniformed
defendants of high rank, particularly the most senior, were tried in military
tribunals. During the year, the CSJ assigned two key cases to civilian
jurisdiction: the case against Major Clavijo and the Nydia Bautista case
(see Section 1.a.). In addition, CSJ figures quoted by the Ministry of
Defense indicated that, where conflicts of jurisdiction arose, the total
number of cases assigned to military courts dropped from 50 percent in
1992 to approximately 15 percent in 2000, while cases assigned to civilian
jurisdiction rose from 40 percent in 1992 to 60 percent over the same
According to figures
released by the Ministry of Defense in December, since the 1997 Constitutional
Court decision, the military judiciary has transferred 1,136 cases to
the civilian judicial system; there was no information available as to
how many of these cases dealt specifically with human rights abuses or
violations of international humanitarian law, nor how many cases remained
in the military judicial system. However, a March report by the Ministry
of Defense reports that 41 percent of the cases transferred involved serious
crimes such as homicide, torture, illegal detentions, and infliction of
bodily injuries; the rest were common crimes. Out of the total of 1,307
police and military cases transferred, 496 cases were transferred during
the year, 79 in 1999, 266 in 1998, 295 in 1997, and 171 cases were transferred
on an unknown date. According to year-end report of the Ministry of Defense,
the military judiciary during the year found 122 members guilty of violating
"human or fundamental rights." The average prison sentence was
58 months for homicide and 15 months for inflicting bodily injury.
The military judiciary
demonstrated an increased willingness during the year to turn cases of
military officers who were accused of human rights violations or criminal
activities over to the civilian judiciary; however, such officers generally
were of lower rank. A July CSJ ruling suggested that it considered itself
bound by the Constitutional Court's 1997 decision that certain human rights
violations could not be considered acts of service and therefore must
be tried in civilian courts. Between January and November, 80 cases were
In October 1998,
the CSJ had determined that Brigadier General Fernando Millan Perez's
alleged organization of a paramilitary group constituted an act of service
and therefore had turned General Millan's case over to the military judiciary
for prosecution (see Section 1.a.). In reaching its decision, the CSJ
had determined that it was not bound by the Constitutional Court's narrow
1997 interpretation of the 1991 constitutional standard of relation to
acts of service. The CSJ's decision effectively ended the Prosecutor General's
investigation into whether General Millan had provided weapons and intelligence
to paramilitary groups in Santander department.
On September 14,
President Pastrana signed 12 decrees to reform and strengthen the military.
One decree provides for the separation from service of all uniformed members
of the military regardless of their time in service, at the discretion
of the top military commanders. Previously, the Minister of Defense could
at his discretion separate from service only those who had served at least
15 years in the military. Other decrees establish three levels of misconduct
and the crimes classified at each level. A total of 27 crimes are punishable
with immediate dismissal; these include: Torture, forced disappearance,
genocide, facilitating by any means the knowledge of protected information
or access to classified documents without authorization, failure to enter
into combat or to pursue the enemy having the capacity to do so, and retreating
before the enemy or abandoning post without having used elements of defense
that might be available. A higher-ranking officer such as a unit commander
is granted initial authority to issue disciplinary sanctions. Those under
investigation may be suspended for up to 90 days with half pay; those
suspended may perform administrative duties. The decrees also state that
in the event that another authority should be informed of crimes, the
military must inform that authority and provide all relevant information
to it. Another decree states that, with limited exceptions, any officer
sentenced to prison by the military or the civilian justice system is
to be separated from service.
On October 16, the
military dismissed 388 members of the armed forces, including 89 officers.
According to press reports, these included 2 lieutenant colonels and 15
majors. No information was available from the Ministry of Defense regarding
the specific reasons for any of the dismissals, nor were their names announced;
it was not known how many were dismissed due to allegations that they
were responsible for human rights abuses or for collaborating with paramilitary
groups in such abuses.
In cases in which
military officers were tried, convicted, and sentenced for human rights
violations, they generally did not serve prison terms but were confined
to their bases or military police detention centers, as permitted by law.
Military prisoners remain on active duty (and reduced pay) while in detention
but are relieved from command responsibilities. In other cases members
of the military can be suspended pending investigation, as occurred in
the August Pueblo Rico killings (see Section 1.g.). Some perform administrative
functions while in detention. Armed Forces Commander General Tapias cited
a lack of adequate military prison facilities as a primary cause for escapes
from military detention areas. For example, on March 14, suspected Casanare
department paramilitary leader Humberto Caicedo Grosso escaped from military
confinement at the 14th Brigade's headquarters. The authorities detained
five brigade members for failing to stop Caicedo's escape.
provides for a special criminal and civil jurisdiction within Indian territories
based upon traditional community laws (see Section 5).
Judges have long
been subject to threats and intimidation, particularly when dealing with
cases involving members of the public security forces or of paramilitary,
narcotics, and guerrilla organizations. Violent attacks against prosecutors
and judges continued, and prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys continued
to be subjected to threats and acts of violence. On April 3, specialized
jurisdiction prosecutor Margarita Maria Pulgarin Trujillo was killed in
Medellin; AUC members were the prime suspects in her killing. Prosecutors
reported 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. In June Congress
approved Penal Code and Penal Procedural Code reforms that created a number
of new crimes such as genocide (see Section 1.b.), but reduced the sentences
for a number of serious crimes, including kidnaping and extortion, and
the amount of time served necessary for parole. The new Penal Code and
Procedural Code are scheduled to go into effect in 2001. It still was
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.
The Attorney General's
office investigates misconduct by public officials, including members
of the military and police. The Attorney General's office can draw upon
a nationwide network of hundreds of government human rights investigators
covering the country's 1,085 municipalities. The office received 78 complaints
related to massacres and forced disappearances during the year. Approximately
75 percent of these complaints involved the army (particularly in Putumayo,
Antioquia and southern Bolivar departments); the other 25 percent implicated
police or DAS officials. Its constitutional mandate only provides for
the imposition of administrative sanctions; it has no authority to bring
criminal prosecutions or impose criminal sanctions but can refer all cases
to the Prosecutor General's office for investigation. Contrary to previous
years, the Attorney General's office referred all cases of human rights
violations received during the year to the Prosecutor General for investigation.
The Attorney General's office reported that the majority of these cases
are investigated by the Prosecutor General's office.
In August a judge
convicted of "corrupt practice" for her 1999 exoneration of
billionaire emerald magnate Victor Carranza on charges of paramilitarism
was released after serving less than half of her 46-month term. Carranza
remained in prison due to his prior convictions for homicide and kidnaping.
The Supreme Court
elects the Prosecutor General for a 4-year term, which does not coincide
with that of the president, from a list of three candidates chosen by
the President. The Prosecutor General is tasked with investigating criminal
offenses and presenting evidence against the accused before the various
judges and tribunals. However, this office retains significant judicial
functions and, like other elements of the civilian judiciary, it is struggling
to make the transition from a Napoleonic legal system to a mixed one that
incorporates an adversarial aspect.
In an attempt to
deal with impunity, the Prosecutor General in 1995 created a special human
rights unit as part of the regional courts system. The unit has achieved
significant results; as of November, its group of 30 anonymous prosecutors
had handled 918 cases involving massacres, extrajudicial killings, kidnapings,
and terrorism during the year. These prosecutors have issued arrest warrants
against members of the security forces and of paramilitary, guerrilla,
and drug trafficking organizations. The unit arrested 192 suspects during
During the year,
the human rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office investigated,
indicted, or prosecuted 286 security force members, including at least
11 officers, on a variety of charges including homicide, torture, kidnaping,
and sponsorship of paramilitary groups. The Attorney General's office
and the security forces demonstrated a greater willingness to follow up
with instructions that those ordered arrested be removed from their duties,
denied the right to wear a uniform, or turned over to civilian judicial
authorities. However, impunity continued to be very widespread.
specifically provides for the right to due process. Judges determine the
outcome of all trials; 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. In mid-1999, the CSJ's administrative chamber reported
that the civilian judiciary suffered from a backlog of approximately 3,069,000
cases (including approximately 604,000 penal cases) and that there were
approximately 338,000 outstanding arrest warrants. Approximately 223,000
writs for protection of fundamental rights ("tutelas") were
before the Constitutional Court for its legally mandated review.
Defendants in trials
conducted by the regular courts have the right to be present and the right
to timely consultation with an attorney. Regular court defendants and
their attorneys have the right to question, contradict, and confront witnesses
against them, to present witnesses on their own behalf, and to have access
to government evidence relevant to the case. The country's judiciaries,
including regular civilian, specialized jurisdiction, and military, continue
to be overwhelmingly Napoleonic in character; everything is processed
in writing. Public trials are still rare, and there are no juries; however,
cross-examination of witnesses does occur. Defendants also have the right
to appeal a conviction to a higher court.
In addition to providing
public defense attorneys in criminal cases, the Human Rights Ombudsman's
34 departmental and regional offices throughout the country provide a
legal channel for thousands of complaints and allegations of human rights
violations. However, in practice, the Ombudsman's operations are underfunded
and understaffed, slowing its development of a credible public defender
Within the FARC-controlled
despeje zone, local FARC leaders effectively supplanted judicial authorities
and declared the establishment of an alternative, FARC-run "justice
system." Residents of the zone regularly were denied the right to
a fair trial. In the face of FARC intimidation, all elements of the civilian
judiciary fled the zone. In 1999 Prosecutor General Alfonso Gomez Mendez
publicly said that they would return only "when accompanied by the
security forces." In September the FARC gave haven to a FARC guerrilla
who had hijacked an airplane and refused to release him to government
authorities. Continuing concern about arbitrary FARC justice in the zone
led the authorities to stress that governmental justice must be present.
The Government states
that it does not hold political prisoners. The ICRC reported that it monitored
approximately 3,900 cases of imprisoned citizens accused of terrorism,
rebellion, or aiding and abetting the insurgency, which are crimes punishable
f. Arbitrary Interference
with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides
for the protection of these rights; however, at times the authorities
infringed upon them. The law generally requires a judicial order signed
by a prosecutor for the 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. Due to intimidation, corruption, or the absence of evidentiary
proof collected directly by prosecutors, guerrilla suspects captured by
the security forces in or out of combat and turned over to the judicial
authorities routinely were set free.
A judicial order
or the approval of a prosecuting attorney is required to authorize the
interception of mail or the monitoring of either landline or cellular
telephones. This protection extends to prisoners held in jails. However,
various state authorities sometimes monitored telephones without obtaining
prior authorization. There were unconfirmed reports by some human rights
groups that members of the security forces subjected them to surveillance,
harassment, or threats.
A preliminary investigation
begun by the Prosecutor General's anticorruption unit in December 1999
determined that elements of the Administrative Department of Security
had engaged in illegal wiretapping in Bogota over the course of several
years. As of April, eight DAS officers were in custody, and another officer
was sought. Having found sufficient evidence, on June 20, the Prosecutor
General opened a formal investigation. This was the first instance in
which the Prosecutor General pressed charges against a state entity for
interference with privacy. The investigation continued at year's end.
Guerrillas also used
wiretaps and accessed bank accounts of citizens at roadblocks in order
to select kidnap victims.
There are some child
soldiers among the paramilitary groups, who were recruited forcibly (see
Sections 1.g. and 5).
forcibly recruited children and indigenous people to serve as soldiers
(see Sections 1.g and 5).
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 international humanitarian law. Government security
forces at times violated international humanitarian law and continued
to commit serious human rights abuses, although the great majority of
serious abuses were committed by paramilitary groups and guerrillas.
In October the ICRC
suspended evacuations of wounded combatants after the murder of a wounded
guerrilla by paramilitary forces near Apartado, Uraba region, Antioquia
department, and of a wounded member of a paramilitary group by guerrillas
in Putumayo. In both cases the victims forcibly were taken from ICRC vehicles.
The ICRC resumed medical evacuations of combatants in December.
On February 24, the
Government announced the creation of an interagency intelligence committee,
chaired by the Minister of Defense and including members of the police,
the Prosecutor General's office, the Attorney General's office, and the
DAS, to improve the State's ability to track down and engage or capture
members of paramilitary groups. However, at year's end there was little
tangible evidence that the committee was functioning.
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. However,
impunity remains a problem. According to military sources, local commanders
typically preferred to transfer or discharge soldiers accused of serious
human rights violations, rather than initiate legal proceedings. On May
30, Congress passed legislation that codified forced displacement as a
crime and provided for sentences of between 15 and 40 years' imprisonment;
the legislation also codified genocide and forced disappearance as crimes
(see Section 1.b). Departing from the historical, internationally accepted
definition of genocide, and in response to the killings of thousands of
members of the Patriotic Union leftist coalition (see Section 1.a.), the
law codified "political genocide" as a crime. However, it stipulated
that political genocide could be committed only against members of legally
constituted (i.e., nonguerrilla) groups.
On August 15, an
army unit of 30 soldiers operating near Pueblo Rico, Antioquia, mistook
a party of schoolchildren for a guerrilla unit and opened fire, killing
6 children between the ages of 6 and 10, and wounding 6 others. According
to press interviews, the soldiers did not realize at the time that the
persons that they were shooting were children. On September 28, a military
justice panel provisionally disassociated 14 of the soldiers and allowed
them to return to duty. The remaining 16 soldiers, including patrol commander
Sergeant Jorge Enrique Mina Gonzalez, remained under investigation at
year's end. On December 22, the Attorney General charged Sergeant Mina,
and corporals Avilio Pena Tovar and Ancizar Lopez, stating that the three
confused a 15-year-old girl in the group with a guerrilla but that they
willfully used indiscriminate force. The Attorney General's office exonerated
the other 27 soldiers involved in the incident. The Prosecutor General's
office determined that the act was unintentional harm caused in the course
of duty and referred the case to the military justice system, where it
remained at year's end.
In May the human
rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office recommended that the air
force reopen its investigation into the December 1998 Santo Domingo, Arauca
department, incident in which an air force helicopter was accused of bombing
civilians in the course of combat with the FARC. A total of 19 civilians
were killed, and 25 others were wounded. The Prosecutor General's office
based its recommendation on new evidence after the office subpoenaed three
helicopter crew members and obtained an analysis of metal shards. An air
force commander reportedly charged the FARC with planting shards at the
scene. In December the air force revisited the zone prior to making a
decision on whether to open formally an investigation. In November the
Attorney General's office charged air force lieutenants Johan Jimenez
Valencia and Cesar Romero Pradilla (the pilot and copilot of the helicopter)
and flight technician Hector Mario Hernandez Acosta with indiscriminate
use of force.
According to the
Independent Advisory Committee for Human Rights and Displacements (CODHES),
317,340 displacements of civilians from their homes occurred during the
year; government sources estimate that 125,000 persons were displaced.
(Exact numbers of displaced persons are difficult to obtain because some
persons were displaced more than once, and many displaced persons do not
register with the Government or other entities.) According to CODHES,
approximately 288,000 displacements occurred during 1999. As many as 1
million citizens may have been displaced since 1996. The ICRC provided
emergency assistance to 135,000 displaced persons during the year. An
alliance of human rights, religious, and aid organizations stated that
an estimated 2 million persons had been displaced by political violence
since 1985. CODHES states that some persons have been displaced for as
long as 10 years, but it is unable to identify a typical timeframe for
displacement. Some persons return to their homes within days or weeks,
others within months, and some never return. Some displaced persons move
several times after fleeing their original home, making tracking difficult.
The Government does not consider persons to be displaced after 2 years.
CODHES estimated that perhaps 65 percent of displacements became permanent.
In an attempt to determine the true scope of the problem, the Government,
in cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), developed
a computerized system for collecting data on the displaced and estimating
The vast majority
of displaced persons are peasants who have been displaced to cities, which
have had difficulty integrating large numbers of persons into their infrastructure.
According to CODHES, in 1999 approximately 53 percent of displaced persons
were women and girls, 32 percent of displaced households were headed by
women, and 70 percent of the displaced population were children. The Human
Rights Ombudsman's office reported that only 15 percent of displaced children
have access to schools. Many displaced persons settle on the outskirts
of Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena, where conditions are overcrowded and
unsanitary, and smaller municipalities have been overwhelmed by the need
for services. Malnutrition among displaced children is a problem. Many
displaced persons lost access to health care, employment, and education
(see Section 5). CODHES estimates that only 34 percent of displaced households
have access to health services. According to the UNHCR, approximately
one-third of displaced persons are indigenous people or blacks; these
groups represent only 11 percent of the population. In 1999 the office
of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights received reports of threats and
attacks against displaced communities and their leaders; threats against
individuals and groups working with the displaced increased in 1999, especially
in the regions of Magdalena Medio and Uraba.
groups and guerrillas used forced displacements to gain control over disputed
territories and to weaken their opponents' base of support. In some cases,
entire towns were abandoned after paramilitary or guerrilla attacks. The
authorities sometimes encouraged civilian populations to move back to
their homes before security situations had normalized.
response to the needs of the displaced population continued to be inadequate.
The Government has no systematic program or budget to make adequate provisions
for humanitarian assistance to the displaced, although it is required
by law and court decisions to do so. Conditions at the Government's two
camps for displaced persons in Uraba, at Pavarando and Turbo, were poor
and unhygienic; health care remained poor, and there were few educational
or employment opportunities. However, conditions at a temporary government
shelter for displaced persons at the stadium at Cucuta, Norte de Santander
department, were much better. The Government provides assistance through
the Solidarity Network, the ICBF, the Health Ministry, and other state
entities. The Solidarity Network was neither designed nor prepared for
emergency humanitarian assistance work, and it usually provided such assistance
only to refugees returning to the country. In March 1999, the Government
estimated that the ICRC provided 70 percent of humanitarian assistance
received by displaced persons. Private estimates were higher. Most displaced
citizens receiving ICRC emergency humanitarian assistance received it
for only 90 days. The Government also tries to limit assistance to 90
days; however, some displaced persons in the camps at Turbo and Pavarando,
and in a stadium in Cucuta, received aid for a longer period. During the
year, ICRC provided emergency assistance to 130,000 internally displaced
Hundreds of displaced
persons also fled to Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela, where they often
were denied refugee status, treated as illegal immigrants, and denied
protection or assistance, and often were returned to Colombia. The UNHCR
has an office in Bogota to address the problem and opened field offices
in Barrancabermeja in 1999 and in San Jose de Apartado, Uraba and in Puerto
Asis, Putumayo during the year.
On January 4, a group
of internally displaced persons violently took over the ICRC's Bogota
offices; they injured 3 local ICRC employees and detained 37 ICRC workers
for 13 hours, then allowed most staff to leave the building. On February
22, such a group again forcibly detained members of the ICRC staff, a
representative from the Attorney General's office, and two journalists
for 9 hours. Also on that day, members of the same group tried to occupy
the Bogota headquarters of the Social Solidarity Network; the police arrested
them. In April the ICRC abandoned offices in Bogota that had been occupied
by approximately 60 internally displaced persons since December 1999.
Despite a December Constitutional Court ruling that the Government should
assist the group, at year's end, the group still occupied the old ICRC
According to the
Vice President's office, there are more than 70,000 antipersonnel landmines
in the country, located throughout 135 municipalities in 23 departments.
Some 20,000 mines are maintained by the military to defend static positions.
According to the International Campaign Against Mines, 63 persons were
killed by mines in 1999. The Ministry of Defense reported that 10 military
personnel were killed or wounded by antipersonnel mines during the first
7 months of the year. There is no generalized mine clearance program.
However, in January the army deactivated 20 guerrilla landmines in southern
Bolivar. Four civilians had been injured recently by landmines in the
area. In August the military cleared two mine fields in Cundinamarca department.
From 1998 to mid-2000, the Ministry of Defense reported that the military
had cleared 120 FARC minefields and 39 ELN minefields.
The Human Rights
Ombudsman's office reported continued violence against women, especially
in war zones. It noted that most female victims in zones of conflict chose
not to report the abuses they had suffered, in part due to a lack of confidence
in the efficacy of governmental institutions to address their problems.
The Ombudsman noted that female leaders of political and peasant organizations
in the Uraba-Antioquia region were increasingly the targets of persecution,
threats, torture, and executions. According to the Ombudsman's 1999-2000
report, intrafamilial violence, sexual assault, and murder of women remained
serious problems throughout the country (see Section 5). More than 30
percent of FARC members are female.
Contrary to previous
years, there were no reports during the year that the Government militarized
public hospitals in conflict areas, which increased the risk that the
hospitals would become targets of guerrilla attack. In March the Constitutional
Court ruled that state security forces could not maintain installations
(such as police stations) next to schools, so as to not endanger the lives
of students in case of guerrilla attack. The Ministry of Defense later
announced a proposal to relocate police stations outside of city centers;
however, this had not been implemented by year's end. In contrast to the
previous year, there were no reports that the State refused medical treatment
The many paramilitary
groups are diverse in their motivations, structure, leadership, and ideology.
The 1997 establishment of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia as
a national umbrella organization was designed both to provide a national
structure and to develop a more coherent political culture for the country's
local and regional paramilitary groups. The AUC paramilitary umbrella
group comprises an estimated 8,000 combatants, who are members of 7 major
organizations. The largest of these organizations is the ACCU, which is
based in Cordoba department and the Uraba region of Antioquia department.
The AUC also has as many as 4,000 of its own combatants. Carlos Castano
heads both the AUC and the ACCU. Although illegal, some paramilitary groups
reflected rural citizens' legitimate desire to defend themselves from
the guerrilla threat. Other groups were actually the paid, private armies
of drug traffickers or large landowners. Many members of paramilitary
groups are former security force members or former guerrillas. Some local
army and police commanders tacitly tolerated--and sometimes aided and
abetted--the activities of paramilitary groups, despite the public pronouncements
of the Government and the public security forces high command that they
intended to combat paramilitary violence. Elements of political and economic
elites in these areas also supported paramilitary groups. The President,
other government officials, the UNHCHR, and various NGO's noted increased
popular support for paramilitary groups during the year. AUC leader Carlos
Castano admitted publicly that his group receives funding from both legitimate
businesses and from narcotics trafficking, and that the group is financed
by "dominant businesses" in the regions in which it operates.
used selective killings and systemic massacres to force displacements
and punish civilians for perceived ties to the guerrillas (see Section
1.a.). Paramilitary groups also launched several offensive campaigns characterized
by a series of massacres linked by time or location.
The Fifth Brigade
reported that in March troops of its 13th and 56th Battalions captured
25 suspected AUC members at San Rafael de Lebrija, Santander department.
During the operation, the troops captured a significant amount of war
material. Also in March, elements of the army's 46th Battalion, based
at Tibu, Norte de Santander department, captured another three suspected
members of paramilitary groups and killed one. One soldier was killed
in the action. In February the National Police and the DAS captured north
coast paramilitary chief Adan Rojas Ospino in Barranquilla, Atlantico
department. Rojas, a key aid to AUC paramilitary chief Carlos Castano,
was sought in connection with a series of massacres dating back to the
1980's, as well as to the 1994 killing of a congressman. On February 24,
the DAS also announced the capture of Arnoldo Segundo Meza de la Rosa,
the alleged chief of intelligence and finance operations for the paramilitary
fronts operating in Sucre and Bolivar departments. Additionally, the DAS
announced the capture in Monteria, Cordoba department, of an ACCU paramilitary
on occasion used landmines and sometimes forced underage combatants into
their ranks. Paramilitary forces failed to respect the injured and medical
personnel. For example, in November members of a paramilitary group reportedly
killed a patient on an ambulance driving from Tibu to Cucuta, Norte de
Santander department, and declared the Tibu hospital a "military
objective," causing several support staff to flee. In late October,
presumed members of a paramilitary group kidnaped the same hospital's
director, who later was found dead. In late September, paramilitary forces
in the Uraba region dragged a wounded FARC member from a Red Cross ambulance
and shot and killed her. In early October, the FARC stopped a Red Cross
ambulance carrying a wounded paramilitary member and killed him. In response,
on October 4, the ICRC suspended all assistance to wounded combatants.
The ICRC resumed evacuation of wounded combatants in late December.
continued to pursue strategies that routinely led them to commit abuses
against citizens. Their tactics consistently included killings, kidnaping,
torture, targeting of civilian populations and installations, including
medical facilities, and the forced recruitment of children as young as
10 years old. In response to President Pastrana's August 1999 call to
all armed groups to obey international humanitarian law (the rules of
war), the FARC responded that it would not abide by, and was not bound
by, international humanitarian law.
Two main guerrilla
armies, the FARC and the ELN, as well as the much smaller EPL and other
groups, commanded an estimated total of between 11,000 and 17,000 full-time
guerrillas operating in more than 100 semiautonomous groups throughout
the country. These groups undertook armed actions in nearly 1,000 of the
1,085 municipalities. Both the FARC and the ELN systematically attacked
noncombatants and violated citizens' rights through the use of tactics
such as killings, forced disappearances, the mutilation of bodies, attacks
on churches, attacks on hospitals, attacks on ambulances, and executions
of patients in hospitals. Guerrilla groups also were responsible for multiple
abuses of religious and medical personnel with protected status and of
the wounded. Indiscriminate attacks on police stations resulted in high
numbers of civilian casualties. Guerrillas also killed religious leaders
(see Section 2.c.) and indigenous people (see Section 5).
Guerrillas used landmines
both to defend static positions (such as base camps, cocaine laboratories,
and sites at which kidnap victims were held) and as indiscriminate weapons
of terror. According to the Vice President's office, the FARC and ELN
have laid indiscriminately 50,000 mines in rural areas. Landmines planted
by guerrillas or disguised as everyday items such as soccer balls or paint
cans often resulted in the killing or maiming of civilian noncombatants;
thousands of displaced persons were unable to return to their homes due
to the presence of antipersonnel mines. According to press reports, guerrilla
bases in the despeje zone are surrounded by landmines. The FARC used sulfuric
acid in the gas canisters that it employed as artillery, and continued
its practice of using these canisters to attack small towns. Scores of
soldiers, police, and civilians were burned indiscriminately as a result.
For example, on August 19, two girls aged 13 and 14 years old, were killed
when FARC guerrillas threw an explosive device into a hardware store in
El Carmen de Bolivar, Bolivar department. In mid-December, a 9-year-old
girl died buried in rubble when a gas canister destroyed her home in San
Alfonso, Huila department, during a FARC attack. A 15-year-old female
guerrilla also was killed in combat during the same attack.
Although the ELN
agreed to halt recruitment of children under the terms of the June 1998
Mainz "Heaven's Gate" agreement, both it and the larger FARC
regularly forced children into their ranks (see Section 5). Once recruited,
child guerrillas are virtual prisoners of their commanders and subject
to various forms of abuse. Sexual abuse of girls is a particular problem,
and former child guerrillas have testified to this in the press. According
to one press report, the Roman Catholic Church documented one case of
a 13-year-old girl who was recruited by the guerrillas and used for sex
before a nun persuaded them to release her. Child soldiers, including
girls, were seen in guerrilla ranks in the despeje, and reports from various
sources indicate that the guerrillas recruited at least 120 minors in
the despeje. In addition, many families reportedly left the despeje (or
have been displaced from other regions) to escape forcible recruitment
of their children. According to press reports, in April FARC military
commander Jorge Briceno Suarez ("Mono Jojoy") admitted that
the FARC often had committed serious abuses against civilians and that
the FARC made regular use of child combatants.
violence left a string of civilian casualties in the wake of ongoing targeted
or massive killings by both sides. For example, in Barrancabermeja paramilitary
and guerrilla elements killed 160 persons during the first 6 months of
the year, the highest total in 5 years for this area. On December 11,
the army's Human Rights Office posted on placards in Bogota's central
square the names of 3,289 civilians, of whom 11,596 persons were killed
by paramilitary groups, and 693 persons by guerrillas. The names of more
than 200 children were listed.
The FARC staged many
attacks against municipalities outside of the despeje, possibly in a de
facto effort to expand the demilitarized zone. According to the Ministry
of Defense, between January and October, 74 guerrilla attacks on towns
left 3,515 civilians dead. On July 12, the FARC attacked four towns in
Huila and Tolima departments, destroying police stations, churches, schools,
businesses, and homes. Four FARC groups attacked Alpujarra in southern
Tolima department, and Colombia, Timana, and Vegalarga in Huila department.
The attacks left 4 civilians dead and more than 15 persons wounded. The
FARC attacked Vegalarga again 8 days later. As a result, more than 2,000
persons from Vegalarga, Colombia, Algeciras, and other towns fled to Neiva,
capital of Huila department. On July 14, the FARC entered the town of
Roncesvalles, Tolima department, and killed 13 policemen. According to
press reports, the FARC attacked the mayor's office, various commercial
buildings, a dozen homes, and the police station. After the police ran
out of ammunition defending the station, they were killed upon surrendering.
Ending its unilaterally
declared Christmas truce, on January 12, the FARC attacked four towns
in Narino department. The attackers destroyed police stations, town halls,
and a water plant. The FARC killed three policemen and one civilian and
kidnaped three other civilians. During the course of the attacks, FARC
members also stole an ambulance and bombed the Trans-Andean oil pipeline
near Ipiales, causing an oil spill. On January 15, approximately 500 guerrillas
attacked four different points along the Bogota-Villavicencio highway.
In confrontations among the army, the National Police, and the FARC, at
least five civilians and five security force members were killed. The
army reported that it killed 44 FARC combatants in action. Also on January
15, four National Police stations in southern Bogota were destroyed; one
11-year-old girl was killed by a grenade, and seven other civilians were
reported wounded. The National Police suspected that the FARC was responsible
for the attacks. According to press reports, in January the ELN kidnaped
15 persons southwest of Cartagena and then reportedly used 8 of its victims
as human shields in confrontations with the police and the marines. One
19-year-old woman was killed in the crossfire.
During a January
attack on the town of El Castillo, Meta department, indiscriminate FARC
use of homemade artillery resulted in the destruction of the town church,
hospital, school, town hall, and at least 20 homes. Eight FARC guerrillas,
all estimated to be between the ages of 13 and 15, were killed during
the attack. Nine civilians were killed, and four civilians were wounded.
On February 4, a
car bomb in Puerto Asis, Putumayo department, killed 2 persons and wounded
10 other persons. On March 3, the FARC detonated a car bomb in the town
square at Cachipay, Cundinamarca department; 3 civilians were killed and
19 were wounded. On March 30, the FARC detonated another bomb in front
of the mayor's office in Cachipay, which killed 3 persons and wounded
20 others. On March 26, the FARC detonated another car bomb in the town
square at Girardot, Cundinamarca department, killing 1 policeman and wounding
10 civilians. Many believed that the Girardot bombing was a FARC admonishment
to local merchants who were late in making extortion payments. Other FARC
car bombings in Cundinamarca department at Soacha (a southern neighborhood
of Bogota) on February 24 and at Anapoima on January 16 caused property
damage but did not result in any deaths.
During a March FARC
artillery attack on the Medellin base of the army's Fourth Brigade, 2
civilians were killed and 18 injured when the FARC's gas cylinder-bombs
exploded prematurely in a civilian neighborhood. A total of 45 homes and
2 civilian buildings were destroyed.
On July 29, approximately
400 members of the FARC guerrilla group attacked the town of Arboleda,
Caldas department, killing 12 policemen and 4 civilians. The attack lasted
for 2 days. Guerrillas detonated explosives in front of town buildings,
including the police station and a church. Most of the village was damaged
On August 2, the
FARC 14th front killed five hostages with shots to the head and left a
sixth person for dead. The survivor, a farmer named Fernando Jimenez Hurtado,
had been kidnaped in June in Caqueta department, south of the FARC demilitarized
zone, and had been chained for 2 months to another hostage. He was forced
to drag the victim's body almost 1 kilometer to the nearest police station.
Jimenez Hurtado reported being held with 50 other kidnaped persons under
reported that, on November 18, the FARC killed 6 farmers who were former
EPL guerrillas, burned 20 houses, and displaced 30 persons in a rural
area of Frontino, west of Medellin. Unconfirmed reports indicated that
another five persons may have disappeared.
From late September
to early December, the FARC banned all road traffic in the southern department
of Putumayo, following an offensive by paramilitary forces in the area
of La Hormuga. The guerrillas' ban on road traffic, which was criticized
by NGO's and local officials, led to severe shortages in food and medicine
despite government efforts to fly in supplies and to secure key roads.
The FARC also reportedly restricted the movement of ambulances.
According to the
Federation of Colombian Municipalities, paramilitary and guerrilla attacks
damaged or destroyed the installations of 64 municipal governments during
the year, and paramilitary groups and guerrillas kidnaped 20 mayors and
18 mayoral candidates (see Sections 1.b. and 3).
The FARC committed
numerous abuses against civilians in the despeje zone. The FARC was responsible
for killings, alleged cases of forced disappearance, rape, arbitrary detention,
infringement of the rights to free speech, freedom of religion (see Section
2.c.), and fair trial (see Section 1.e.), forced political indoctrination,
and the forced recruitment of hundreds of children. According to press
reports, the FARC has stated publicly that all persons between the ages
of 13 and 60 in the despeje zone are liable for military service with
the guerrillas; families fleeing the zone reported that they were asked
to surrender children to the FARC as of their 14th birthday.
the ELN, destroyed 434 electrical pylons in the period from January 1999
to September 2000, causing massive damage to the country's power industry
and increases in electricity rates for consumers. Guerrilla attacks on
oil pipelines caused considerable environmental damage.
According to press
reports in September, the ELN had held an internal trial of participants
in the 1998 Machuca fireball incident in which over 80 persons were killed
and 17 were injured as a result of an ELN pipeline bombing. According
to the reports, the ELN claimed to have expelled guerrillas from its ranks
for involvement in the crime.
Section 2 Respect
for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech
provides for freedom of the press; and the Government generally respected
this right in practice; however, journalists regularly practiced self-censorship
to avoid retaliation and harassment by various groups. The privately owned
print media published a wide spectrum of political viewpoints and often
voiced harsh antigovernment opinions without fear of reprisals. A ban
on the publication of evidence pertaining to criminal investigations,
based on the secrecy provisions of the Penal Code and an anticorruption
statute, remained in effect. Journalists typically work in an atmosphere
of threats and intimidation, primarily from paramilitary groups and guerrillas,
which appeared to worsen during the year. Fearing for their safety, journalists
often refrain from publishing or broadcasting stories counter to the interest
of paramilitary groups, guerrillas, or narcotics traffickers.
In October 1999,
the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur for Freedom
of Expression stated that the "press freedom situation in Colombia
is a serious source of concern" and that, in addition to the killings
of journalists, "Colombian journalists endure constant threats and
The human rights
unit of the Prosecutor General's office reported in November that it had
32 open cases involving murders, kidnapings, and threats against journalists.
Twelve journalists were killed during the year, although not all of the
killings could be attributed directly to the journalists' work.
On September 9, members
of a paramilitary group murdered Carlos Jose Restrepo Rocha, the publisher
of TanGente newspaper in Tolima, a municipal council candidate, and a
former member of the now-inactive M-19 terrorist group. Ten men who identified
themselves as members of a paramilitary group seized Restrepo during a
community meeting in San Luis de Ibague, Tolima department, and Restrepo
was found dead hours later, with paramilitary pamphlets placed on his
On November 15, unidentified
assailants shot and killed local radio reporter Gustavo Rafael Ruiz Cantillo
in the Pivijay municipality marketplace, Magdalena department. Many observers
believe that he was killed by paramilitary forces, who reportedly have
a strong presence in Pivijay; however, the FARC also are known to operate
in the region. An investigation continued at year's end.
On November 30, unidentified
assailants killed reporter Guillermo Leon Agudelo in his home in Florencia,
Caqueta department. On December 13, two persons on a motorcycle shot and
killed Alfredo Abad Lopez, director of the Voice of the Jungle radio station,
a Caracol affiliate, as he left his home in Florencia, Caqueta department.
The authorities formed a special investigative unit to establish whether
the two murders are connected, and the Florencia mayor's office offered
a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests in these cases.
In May 1999, the
Prosecutor General's office created a new subdivision to handle investigations
of crimes that targeted journalists. On May 3, investigations also produced
arrest warrants against AUC leader Carlos Castano and three other persons
who allegedly killed journalists Alberto Sanchez and Luis Alberto Rincon.
In July the Prosecutor
General's Human Rights Unit indicted Rodolfo Nelson Rosado Hernandez (alias
"El Pichi") and Jorge Eliecer Espinal Velasquez ("El Parce")
in the September 1999 murder of newspaper editor Guzman Quintero Torres
in Valledupar, Cesar department. The two have been in police custody since
September 1999 and are thought to be members of a group of killers working
for area paramilitary forces. Quintero's editorials had criticized state
forces in the area, and he reportedly had been threatened before his death.
There was also progress
in the investigation of murdered journalist Jaime Garzon (see Section
the ELN, were responsible for the kidnaping of 15 journalists during the
year. Guerrillas abducted many of them to bear witness to crimes committed
by paramilitary forces or to deliver messages to local authorities. Eleven
journalists reported death threats during the year.
In January the FARC
kidnaped journalist Guillermo "la Chiva" Cortes; in August security
forces rescued him, along with six other hostages.
On May 25, Jineth
Bedoya Lima, a reporter for the El Espectador newspaper, was kidnaped
and raped over a period of 10 hours while on her way to interview a convicted
paramilitary leader at the Modelo prison in Bogota. Two days prior to
her kidnaping, El Espectador received threatening letters against her
and other journalists. Carlos Castano, leader of the AUC paramilitary
organization, denied that the AUC was involved in the kidnaping.
On December 16, the
ELN reportedly kidnaped Caracol television journalist Winston Viracacha
in Tumaco, Narino department. Viracacha had traveled with his cameraman
and an assistant to meet members of the ELN's "Comuneros del Sur"
front, who retained Viracacha but released his companions.
left the country during the year. In March Francisco "Pancho"
Santos, editor of the family-run El Tiempo, the country's largest newspaper,
and founder of the Pais Libre antikidnaping organization and the national
"No More" antiviolence civic campaign, fled the country after
announcing that he was the target of a FARC guerrilla group plot to kill
him. Santos remained in exile at year's end. Also in March, television
personality Fernando Gonzalez Pacheco fled the country after receiving
threats from the FARC. In June Ignacio Gomez Gomez, a journalist for El
Espectador, fled the country after receiving threats against his life.
Press Society opened a rapid action unit office in Bogota to help the
Prosecutor General's office investigate crimes against journalists. On
August 18, President Pastrana issued a decree establishing a program for
the protection of journalists. In October the Minister of Interior announced
the inauguration of the program, which is to provide armor for cars, escorts,
and transportation. The Government consulted with journalism organizations
to identify journalists at special risk but has not had the resources
to provide protection. The Ministry of the Interior supported an alerts
network organized for journalists by providing a small number of radios
and an emergency telephone hot line.
On December 20, a
specialized court judge in Neiva, Huila department, absolved contractor
Fernando Bermudez Ardila and two other defendants accused of the April
1998 murder of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal; the judge cited weak
evidence in the case. Bermudez had been accused of hiring the two other
men to kill Carvajal, because Carvajal would not agree to stop negative
reporting about a development project built by Bermudez's firm. Prosecutors
appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the
Media ownership remains
highly concentrated. Wealthy families or groups associated with one of
the two dominant political parties have consolidated their holdings of
news media, and regional firms continued to purchase local news media
outlets. As a result of the general economic downturn, large press conglomerates
closed radio stations and newspaper offices in certain provinces and reduced
staff. Although the press remained generally free, economic problems and
the concentration of media ownership limited the media's resources, causing
the media to rely heavily on a smaller pool of advertisers, including
the Government, which the media often chose not to criticize.
The National Television
Commission continued to oversee television programming throughout the
The FARC restricted
the movement of journalists in the despeje through blockades and random
identity checks and on at least three occasions stopped El Tiempo trucks
and burned all of the newspapers that they carried.
The Government generally
respected academic freedom, and there was a wide spectrum of political
activity throughout the country's universities. However, paramilitary
groups and guerrillas maintain a presence on many university campuses,
aimed at generating political support for their respective campaigns.
They use both violent and nonviolent means towards political ends. Both
paramilitary groups and guerrillas also regularly targeted public school
teachers at the elementary and secondary levels for politically motivated
In August the National
University was closed, and its premises were searched after a policeman
was killed during a protest. Students held a referendum against violent
groups operating on the university campus.
In April schools
in Chalan and Ovejas, in Sucre department, were suspended due to death
threats against 50 teachers. More than 3,000 students were affected. Threats
also were made against teachers in Coloso, Morroa, Toluviejo, San Onofre,
Los Palmitos, and San Antonio de Palmito in Sucre department. All of the
major guerrilla organizations and the paramilitary groups maintain a presence
in the region.
On October 5, Universidad
del Atlantico professors Luis Meza Almanza Alfredo Martin Castro Hayder
were killed in Barranquilla on October 5 and August 26, respectively.
Both were known for leftist views and had been under consideration for
rector positions at the University. Castro was reportedly on a death threat
into four 1999 attacks against prominent academics. Jesus Antonio Bejarano,
a former government peace commissioner; Doctor Dario Betancur, head of
the social sciences faculty of Bogota's Universidad Pedagogica; and Doctor
Hernando Henao, an anthropologist who published on the subject of displaced
persons, all were killed in 1999. In December 1999, Professor Eduardo
Pizarro Leongomez, director of the political studies and international
affairs institute at the National University, was shot twice by unknown
attackers; he survived but fled the country. As a result of these incidents,
academic leaders have chosen to assume a lower profile; many have taken
up residence outside the country.
b. Freedom of Peaceful
Assembly and Association
provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects
this right in practice. The authorities normally do not interfere with
public meetings and demonstrations and usually grant the required permission
except when they determine that there is imminent danger to public order.
There were large
demonstrations on several occasions by citizens throughout the country;
the authorities generally did not interfere.
In February police
sought to remove an U'wa road block by using tear gas to disperse the
crowd; the U'wa claimed that four children were killed in the ensuing
panic (see Sections 1.a. and 5). Press reports indicated that only one
body was recovered. In April numerous indigenous groups blocked routes,
freeways, and city streets throughout the country to demand respect for
their life and territory and to support the Embera-Katio and U'wa tribes
in their disputes against the Urra hydroelectric project and Occidental
Petroleum respectively (see Section 5). On September 10, thousands of
persons across the country, including business leaders, union activists,
and ordinary citizens, marched in support of peace and respect for human
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, the ELN, the EPL, and the AUC, is a crime.
c. Freedom of Religion
provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects
this right in practice. Roman Catholic religious instruction is no longer
mandatory in public schools, and a 1994 Constitutional Court decision
declared unconstitutional any official government reference to religious
characterizations of the country. Although the Catholic Church was separated
from the State by the 1991 Constitution, it retains a de facto privileged
status. The law on the freedom of religion provides a mechanism for religions
to obtain the status of recognized legal entities. Accession to the 1997
public law agreement between the State and non-Roman Catholic religious
entities currently is required for any religion that wishes to minister
to its adherents via any public institution. Local governments may exempt
from taxes religiously affiliated organizations such as schools and libraries;
however, in practice, local governments often exempt only organizations
that are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. 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.
sometimes target representatives and members of the Roman Catholic Church
and evangelical Christian churches, generally for political reasons.
The FARC has placed
religious restrictions on persons within the despeje zone. The FARC also
levied "war taxes" on Roman Catholic and evangelical churches
and schools in the despeje and elsewhere.
The FARC and ELN
guerrilla movements regularly target representatives and members of the
Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Christian churches, generally for
political reasons, and committed acts of murder, kidnaping, and extortion,
as well as inhibited the right to free religious expression. For example,
according to one evangelical movement, guerrillas regularly attacked rural
evangelical Christians and their churches.
According to the
Christian Union Movement, the FARC murdered 46 of the movement's affiliated
preachers between January 1999 and June 2000. As of June, the FARC had
forced the closure of over 300 evangelical churches in Meta, Guajira,
Tolima, Vaupes, Guainia, Guaviare, Vichada, Casanare, and Arauca departments.
Additionally, the movement claimed that the FARC extorted and, in many
cases, forced the closure of rural evangelical schools. Faced with threats
by guerrillas or paramilitary forces, many evangelical preachers were
forced to refrain from publicly addressing the country's internal conflict.
Guerrillas were suspected
of the April massacre of 2 evangelical preachers and 12 church members
at Hato Nuevo, Carmen de Bolivar, Bolivar department.
On March 27, unidentified
perpetrators killed Roman Catholic priest Hugo Duque Hernandez at Supia,
There were no new
developments in the November 1999 killings of Roman Catholic priest Jorge
Luis Maza and Spanish aid worker Inigu Egiluz in Choco department; security
forces had arrested nine members of a paramilitary group in conjunction
with the crime.
The human rights
unit of the Prosecutor General's Office reported in November that it had
34 open cases of killings of members of evangelical groups.
The Bishops' Conference
of the Roman Catholic Church reported that paramilitary forces, the ELN,
and the FARC sometimes threatened rural priests with death for speaking
out against them. It also reported that Roman Catholic churches in Huila,
Tolima, Cauca, and Antioquia departments were destroyed during guerrilla
attacks on towns and police stations.
On April 11, at least
three Mormon temples in Cali were bombed. No one was injured in the attacks,
which damaged buildings. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks.
leaders estimated that as many as 20 percent of the country's Jewish community
had fled the country as of July 1999. Among the principal causes was a
string of kidnapings, assaults, and murders affecting Jewish business
d. Freedom of Movement
Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
provides citizens with the right to travel domestically and abroad, and
the Government generally respects this right in practice, with some exceptions.
Outsiders who wish to enter Indian tribes' reserves must be invited. In
areas where counterinsurgency operations were underway, police or military
officials occasionally required civilians to obtain safe-conduct passes;
paramilitary forces and guerrillas often used similar means to restrict
travel in areas under their control. At times the Government implemented
curfews. Military counterinsurgency operations, forced conscription by
paramilitary and guerrilla organizations, and guerrilla incursions often
forced peasants to flee their homes and farms, and there was a very large
population of internally displaced persons. According to CODHES, approximately
317,000 displacements of persons occurred during the year; the vast majority
of displaced persons are peasants who have been displaced to cities (see
Throughout the year,
frequent road blockades erected by paramilitary groups, the FARC, ELN,
and peasant farmers inhibited transportation, communication, and commerce
throughout the country. Social organizations also resorted to road blockages,
some of them prolonged, to protest government actions or policies. Almost
every major artery in the country was closed at some point during the
year. From late September to early December, the FARC banned all road
traffic in the southern state of Putumayo, following an offensive by paramilitary
forces in the area of La Hormiga (see Section 1.g.).
Press reports indicate
that more than 300,000 citizens emigrated during the last 2 years, due
principally to the deteriorating security situation and economic recession.
provides for the right to asylum, under terms established by law in accordance
with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its
1967 Protocol. The country has had a tradition of providing asylum since
the 1920's. At year's end, 239 refugees had legal asylum status, and 12
applications for asylum were pending.
The Government cooperates
with the offices of the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in
assisting refugees and internally displaced persons. The Government reserves
the right to determine eligibility for asylum, based upon its own assessment
of the nature of the applicant's suffering. The issue of the provision
of first asylum did not arise during the year. There were no reports of
the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect
for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
provides for the right of citizens to change their government, and citizens
exercise this right in regularly scheduled elections by secret ballot.
In 1998 voters elected Conservative Party candidate Andres Pastrana President
in elections that were free, fair, and transparent, despite some threats
to the electoral process by paramilitary groups, narcotics traffickers,
and guerrillas. The Liberal Party controls the legislature.
are held every 4 years, with the incumbent barred for life from reelection.
The Liberal and Conservative parties long have dominated the formal political
process with one or the other 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. However,
they may reincorporate at any time by presenting 50,000 signatures to
the National Electoral Board. Voting is voluntary and universal for citizens
age 18 and older, except for active-duty members of the police and armed
forces, who may not vote.
Prior to local elections
in October, both paramilitary and guerrilla organizations sought to dissuade
some potential candidates from running for office or restrict their ability
to campaign. The Colombian Federation of Municipalities reported to the
press that armed groups threatened candidates in more than half of the
country's 1,085 municipalities. By year's end, the Federation reported
that 19 mayoral candidates were killed, 20 were kidnaped, 12 reported
threats, and as many as 53 candidates for mayoral and municipal council
posts withdrew their candidacies. For example, on September 23, guerrillas
kidnaped the mayor of Samaniego, a Liberal Party candidate for that office,
and six other mayoral candidates from this southern town in Narino. On
September 9, members of a paramilitary group forced Carlos Restrepo, a
leftist activist and publisher who was planning to run for a local office,
from a community meeting; his body later was found outside San Luis. However,
the October 29 elections were generally peaceful.
In April the FARC
announced the formation of a political party--the Bolivarian Movement
for a New Colombia--before a gathering of thousands of persons. FARC leader
Manuel Marulanda announced that the party would operate secretly.
There are no legal
restrictions, and few practical ones, on the participation of women or
minorities in the political process; however, both are underrepresented
in official and party positions. In March a quota law to increase the
number of women in high-level public positions went into effect. The quota
law requires that a minimum goal of 30 percent of nominated positions,
including seats on the high courts and ministerial positions, be allotted
to women. The quota law does not apply to publicly elected positions,
such as seats in Congress. Before the end of each year, the Government
must report to Congress the percentage of women in high-level governmental
positions. Voters elected 14 women to the 102-seat Senate and 19 women
to the 161-seat House of Representatives in March 1998. At year's end,
there were 4 women in the 16-member cabinet--they serve as the Ministers
of Health, Culture, Communications, and Foreign Trade. There were no women
among the 23 Supreme Court justices, 1 woman among 9 Constitutional Court
magistrates, and 3 women out of 13 magistrates of the Superior Judicial
are underrepresented in government and politics. Two Senate seats are
reserved for indigenous representatives. In October voters in Cauca elected
Floro Tunubala, the country's first indigenous governor. Blacks also are
underrepresented in government and politics. In 1996 the Constitutional
Court declared unconstitutional a 1993 law that set aside two house seats
for citizens of African heritage, although the ruling nonetheless allowed
the incumbents to complete their terms in office. There is one black senator,
but there are no black members of the Chamber of Representatives.
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, and provides a wide
range of views. Among the many groups are: The Colombian 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 (dedicated to defending accused guerrillas);
the Association of Families of Detained and Disappeared Persons; the Reinsertion
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). Other international humanitarian
and human rights organizations in the country that were active include
the ICRC (with 16 offices across the country) and Peace Brigades International.
Although the Government
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. There were unconfirmed reports that security forces harassed
or threatened human rights groups. In August the Prosecutor General's
office opened an investigation against retired Brigadier Generals Millan
and Del Rio for bribing witnesses to testify falsely against a leading
NGO organizer and a labor leader. Human rights groups were subjected to
surveillance, harassing phone calls, graffiti campaigns, and threats by
paramilitary, guerrilla, and other unidentified groups. At least four
human rights activists had been killed as of October; there were three
forced disappearances of human rights activists.
In October Angel
Quintero and Claudia Patricia Monsalve, members of ASFADDES (an association
for relatives of the disappeared) were kidnaped in Medellin by persons
claiming political motives. There has been no news of the victims since
October, and no arrests have been made. The authorities continued their
investigation at year's end.
In August the Government
launched an effort to improve its dialog with NGO's on human rights, the
peace process, the Government's comprehensive strategy known as "Plan
Colombia," and other issues. In October the Government jointly hosted
with an NGO umbrella group an international gathering on these issues
which included the participation of the ELN.
and reported on human rights abuses committed by government forces, various
paramilitary groups, and the guerrillas. Many NGO's expressed serious
concern over the growing paramilitary and guerrilla violence and the Government's
apparent inability to stop either group. In particular, a number of NGO's,
as well as governmental human rights officials, were alarmed by the rapid
growth of popular support for paramilitary groups, and their increasing
political and military power.
The human rights
community remained under intense pressure during the year. Human rights
monitors were subjected to a systematic campaign of intimidation, harassment,
and violence. According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, five human
rights advocates were killed during the year; three human rights workers
disappeared. A total of 49 human rights workers have been killed or have
disappeared in the past 5 years. On numerous occasions during the year,
paramilitary groups in several municipalities circulated lists of the
names of persons they considered "military targets," which included
the names of local human rights activists, labor organizers, and politicians.
In addition, approximately
35 human rights workers left the country, either temporarily or permanently,
for their own safety. For example, in July human rights activists Ivan
Cepeda and his wife Claudia Giron left the country after receiving threats
against their lives.
The Government, through
the Ministry of the Interior and the DAS, allocated approximately $4.3
million (8 billion pesos) to its 2-year-old program to protect human rights
advocates and labor activists associated with 88 different human rights
NGO's and unions. The funds were designated for security measures for
individuals as well as for the headquarters of the NGO's, an emergency
radio network, and funding for travel abroad for individuals who faced
a particular threat; however, human rights groups stated that the protection
programs are inadequate to address the crisis, and called for increased
efforts to combat impunity.
The new forced disappearance
law provides for a maximum penalty of 60 years for cases involving human
rights activists (see Section 1.b.).
Armed groups targeted
regional ombudsmen. Fourteen regional ombudsmen have been killed since
1998. In July Jose Manuel Bello, the municipal human rights ombudsman
in Vigia del Fuerte, Atrato, Antioquia department, reportedly was kidnaped,
killed, and dragged into the Atrato River by members of the FARC guerrilla
group. In July unidentified, armed men killed Yemil Fernando Hurtado Castano,
the human rights ombudsman in Narino municipality, southeastern Antioquia
department. The regional ombudsman of Lourdes municipality, Norte de Santander
department, was kidnaped and held for 3 days by paramilitary forces. Garcia
and two other municipal human rights officials were forced to leave Norte
de Santander department due to continued paramilitary threats.
The criminal organization
La Terraza publicly admitted to killing at least five human rights advocates
and stated that the killings had been ordered by Carlos Castano (see Section
There was no reported
progress in the investigation of the September 1999 killing of the Human
Rights Ombudsman's representative for San Juan Nepomuceno, Carlos Arturo
Pareja, and his assistant.
A preliminary investigation
by the Prosecutor's national human rights unit indicated common criminals
were responsible for the January 1999 killings of Everardo de Jesus Puerta
and Julio Ernesto Gonzalez, both members of the Committee for Solidarity
with Political Prisoners (CSPP). The case was referred to the Medellin
prosecutor's office for further investigation.
to investigate the November 1999 AUC killings of southern Bolivar department
peasant leaders Edgar Quiroga and Gildardo Fuentes.
On November 22, a
Bogota judge convicted two members of a paramilitary group for the 1997
murders of two CINEP workers and one other person. Arrest warrants remained
outstanding for Carlos Castano and four other members of paramilitary
groups (see Section 1.a.).
leader Libardo Humberto Prada was linked by NGO's to the August 15 murder
of peace activist and former mayor Luis Fernando Rincon Lopez in Aguachica,
Cesar department. The case remained under investigation at year's end.
In April 1999, the human rights unit of the Prosecutor General's office
formally indicted Prada and paramilitary Cielo Lobo Ascano in the August
1998 killing in Valledupar of local Redepaz coordinator Amparo Leonor
In February a lower
civilian court convicted four Colombian human rights activists arrested
by the army in 1997 for allegedly funneling international human rights
assistance intended for displaced persons to the ELN guerrilla movement.
The court sentenced them each to 5 years' imprisonment.
The Ministry of Defense
reported that in the past 5 years, 97,894 security force members received
human rights training during the year, including 1,994 human rights trainers.
Such training is provided by the ICRC, the Colombian Red Cross, the Roman
Catholic Church, elements of the Government and security forces, and foreign
governments. 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.
The Government has
an extensive human rights apparatus, which includes the office of the
President's Adviser for Human Rights, headed by Vice President Gustavo
Bell. Human rights expert Reinaldo Botero was named Director of the presidential
program for human rights and international humanitarian law in September.
The executive branch's efforts on human rights are supported by the Ministry
of Interior, the human rights office of the Ministry of Defense, and dependent
offices for each of the public security forces. The office of the national
Human Rights Ombudsman, its regional representatives and corps of public
defenders, the Attorney General's office and its delegate for human rights
and regional representatives, and the Prosecutor General's office and
its human rights unit are all independent institutions, not subject to
executive branch direction.
The House of Representatives
elects the Public Ministry's National Ombudsman for Human Rights for a
4-year term, which does not coincide with that of the President. The office
has the constitutional duty to ensure the promotion and exercise of human
rights. The Ombudsman provides public defense attorneys and a channel
for complaints of human rights violations (see Section 1.e.). However,
the Ombudsman lacks sufficient funding and staff. In August the House
of Representatives named former Constitutional Court Judge Eduardo Cifuentes
Munoz as Human Rights Ombudsman.
The Human Rights
Ombudsman's office processed 13,951 complaints in 1999 (the latest year
for which figures were available); 8,562 cases (61 percent) were against
government entities. Of the 7,272 cases concluded in 1999, the Ombudsman's
office obtained favorable or partially favorable conclusions in 2,867,
or forty percent. Another 1,436 were referred to the competent authority.
The office also provided 40,656 free legal consultations through its corps
of more than 1,000 public defenders, many of whom work only part-time.
Early in the year,
the Government established a high-level commission to coordinate policy
on human rights and international humanitarian law, which is headed by
Vice President Gustavo Bell.
In August 1999, the
Vice President enunciated the Government's human rights policy; however,
some aspects of implementation have been slow to materialize. The Government's
national human rights plan called for the respect, promotion, and assurance
of human rights. It promised increased government attention to the consequences
of human rights abuses and called on all armed factions to respect international
humanitarian law. The plan asserted that security forces would combat
both guerrilla and paramilitary forces. One of the plan's most important
provisions permitted the armed forces commander to remove from service
summarily any military member whose performance in combating paramilitary
forces he deemed "unsatisfactory or insufficient." In September
President Pastrana signed 12 decrees to reform and strengthen the military;
one decree provides for the separation from service of all uniformed members
of the military regardless of their time in service, at the discretion
of the top military commanders (see Section 1.e.).
The U.N. High Commissioner
for Human Rights and the UNHCR have offices in Bogota. In 1997 the UNHCHR
opened a field office in Bogota to observe human rights practices and
advise the Government; its mandate was extended through April 2002. 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
reports to the Government and to the U.N. In March the UNHCR report, which
covered 1999, noted that "the continued existence of direct links
between some members of the security forces and paramilitary groups, revealed
by disciplinary and judicial investigations, is a cause of great concern."
The report also noted that in 1999 "in some regions of the country,
these links were strengthened and the authorities responsible for penalizing
them failed to take decisive action." In April UNHCHR Mary Robinson
noted "reports indicating that members of the military forces participate
directly in organizing new paramilitary groups and in disseminating threats.
The President, other government officials, the UNHCHR, and various NGO's
noted increased popular support for paramilitary groups and a polarization
of political opinion with concern.
Section 5 Discrimination
Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability,
language, or social status; however, in practice, many of these provisions
are not enforced. The killing of homosexuals as part of the practice of
social cleansing continued.
Rape and other acts
of violence against women are pervasive in society, and like other crimes,
seldom are prosecuted successfully. According to the Ombudsman's 1999-2000
report, intrafamilial violence, sexual assault, and murder of women were
increasing problems. The governmental Institute for Family Welfare 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. In 1999 the Institute for Forensic Medicine reported 62,123
cases of domestic violence, of which 41,528 were conjugal violence, 9,896
were child abuse, and 10,699 were cases of abuse by other family members.
The ICBF conducted programs and provided refuge and counseling for victims
of spousal abuse; however, the level and amount of these services were
dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem. For example, ICBF's 530 family
ombudsmen handle approximately 1,160 cases per year.
The Institute estimated
that 95 percent of all abuse cases are never reported to the authorities
and reported 13,703 cases of probable rape during the year.
The 1996 Law on Family
Violence criminalizes 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 restraining orders
issued by the courts. 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. However, there
was little evidence that this legislation was enforced systematically.
The reforms to the Penal Code approved in June reduced the maximum sentence
for violent sexual assault from 20 to 15 years; the minimum sentence is
8 years. The National Institute for Forensic Medicine reported 19,859
cases of spousal abuse during the first half of 1999. The overwhelming
majority of victims were women. First Lady Nohra Pullana de Pastrana is
on the board of directors of the ICBF and works with the "Make Peace"
program, which provides support to women and children who were victims
of domestic violence.
is a problem.
Women also faced
an increased threat of torture and sexual assault due to the internal
conflict (see Section 1.g.).
The forced disappearance
law provides for a maximum penalty of 60 years for cases involving pregnant
women (see Section 1.b.).
Trafficking in women
is a problem (see Section 6.f.).
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. However, despite these constitutional provisions,
discrimination against women persists. A study by the University of Rosario
released during the year concluded that women faced hiring discrimination
and that women's salaries were generally incompatible with their education
and experience. The salary gap between men and women widened in the last
decade, reaching a high point in 1999 as the country's economy declined.
The study also noted that women were affected disproportionately by unemployment.
Government unemployment statistics for the year indicated that the unemployment
rate for men was 16.9 percent, while the rate for women was 24.5 percent.
According to the March report of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human
Rights, women earn 28 percent less than men. The National Statistics Institute
reported that a higher percentage of women were employed in minimum wage
jobs. According to U.N. statistics, 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. Female rural workers are affected most by wage discrimination and
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. In September 1997, the Constitutional Court ruled
that pregnant women and mothers of newborn children under 3 months of
age could not be fired from their jobs without "just cause."
The court ruled that bearing children was not just cause.
On October 25, the
Constitutional Court struck down a law that had prohibited pregnant women
who are divorced or separated from their partners from remarrying before
giving birth. The law also had imposed a 270-day "waiting period"
for women who wanted to remarry.
formally provides for free public education, which is compulsory between
the ages of 6 and 15. 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.
The Government provides for the cost of primary education, but many families
face additional expenses related to education, such as matriculation fees,
books, school items and transportation costs (which are significant in
rural areas where children may live far from school). These costs can
be prohibitive, especially for the rural poor.
constitutional and legislative commitments for 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. The 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
Abuse of children
is a problem. The National Institute for Forensic Medicine reported 9,896
cases of child abuse during the year; there were 9,713 reported cases
in 1999. According to the March report of the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights, sexual abuse is prevalent, particularly of children between the
ages of 5 and 14 years of age. In 70 to 80 percent of cases, children
know their abusers.
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 they amended that law in 1997 to provide that conviction
for nonviolent sexual abuse of a child under age 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. Enforcement of such
laws is lax. The ICBF oversees all government child protection and welfare
programs and funds nongovernmental and church programs for children.
Trafficking in girls
is a problem (see Section 6.f.).
Child labor is a
significant problem (see Section 6.d.).
In conflict zones,
children often were caught in the crossfire between the public security
forces, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla organizations. For example,
on August 15, six children were killed and several others injured by members
of the army's Fourth Brigade who mistook the children for a guerrilla
unit (see Section 1.g.). Ministry of Defense figures indicated that approximately
200 children were killed due to the conflict during the year. At mid-year,
UNICEF reported that 460 children had been killed over the past 4 years
by various armed groups and that 789 had been kidnaped. Children suffered
disproportionately from the internal conflict, often forfeiting opportunities
to study as they were displaced by conflict and suffered psychological
traumas. According to UNICEF, over 1 million children have been displaced
from their homes over the past decade. The Human Rights Ombudsman's office
estimated that only 15 percent of displaced children attend school. In
July 1999, the Government announced that no one under the age of 18 could
enter military service, even with the consent of a parent; previously,
individuals over 16 years of age but below age 18 could volunteer to join
the military with parental permission but were barred from serving in
sometimes impressed children into their ranks, and the use of child soldiers
by guerrillas was common. According to press reports, in August members
of the FARC killed a school rector in Meta department for criticizing
the recruitment of his students. The Government estimates that approximately
6,000 children are engaged as combatants by both paramilitary groups and
guerrillas. In May 1999, the FARC promised visiting Special Representative
of the U.N. Secretary General on Children in Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu
that it would stop forcing children into its ranks; however, it continued
the practice. The Roman Catholic Church reported that the FARC lured or
forced hundreds of children from the despeje zone into its ranks. It engaged
in similar practices in other areas under its control. For example, according
to press reports, in June the FARC recruited at least 37 youths, including
minors, in the municipality of Puerto Rico in southern Meta department.
According to one NGO, in Putumayo the FARC instigated compulsory service
of males between the ages of 13 and 15 and was recruiting in high schools.
Once recruited, child guerrillas are virtual prisoners of their commanders
and subject to various forms of abuse. Sexual abuse of girls is a particular
problem. Although the ELN agreed to halt recruitment of children under
the terms of the June 1998 Mainz "Heaven's Gate" agreement,
it also regularly impressed children into its ranks. Some 57 child guerrillas
were captured or deserted during the year, and 27 children were killed
during FARC-military clashes.
According to press
reports, families from the demilitarized zone, as well as from Arauca,
Valle del Cauca, and Antioquia departments have fled their homes because
guerrilla groups have tried to recruit their children forcibly. On May
4, a woman from Norte de Santander department, with the help of the Colombian
military, delivered her 12-year-old son to the ICBF to protect him from
the FARC, which was trying to recruit him forcibly.
Children were also
among the preferred kidnaping targets of guerrillas (see Section 1.b.).
Pais Libre reports that the number of children kidnaped annually has increased
in recent years, from 131 in 1998 to 206 in 1999, and as of November 12,
265 children had been kidnaped in 2000. According to one press report,
more than 200 children were kidnaped during the year. For example, the
FARC kidnaped 9-year-old Clara Oliva Pantoja on March 22 and 3-year-old
Andres Felipe Navas on April 7 and held both in the despeje zone. Clara
Olivia Pantoja was released in December(see Section 1.b.). In April three
armed men kidnaped 9-year-old Dagberto Ospina Ospina from his school bus
in southern Cali. No group has been identified or claimed responsibility.
People with Disabilities
enumerates the fundamental social, economic, and cultural rights of the
physically disabled; however, serious practical impediments exist that
prevent the full participation of disabled persons in society. There is
no legislation that specifically mandates access for the disabled. According
to the Constitutional Court, physically disabled individuals must have
access to, or if they so request, receive assistance at, voting stations.
The Court also has 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.
There are approximately
80 distinct ethnic groups among the country's more than 800,000 indigenous
inhabitants. These groups are concentrated in the Andes mountains, Pacific
Coast lowlands, the Guajira peninsula, and Amazonas department. According
to the National Organization of Colombia's Indigenous (ONIC), 93 percent
of indigenous people live in rural areas; 25 percent are on reservations,
and approximately 115,000 indigenous people are without land.
gives special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous people.
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 traditionally have been relegated
to the margins of society. Few opportunities exist for those who might
wish to participate more fully in modern life. The March report of the
U.N. Commission on Human Rights noted that an estimated 80 percent of
the indigenous population live in conditions of extreme poverty, that
74 percent receive wages below the legal minimum, and that their municipalities
have the highest rates of poverty. In addition, indigenous communities
suffer disproportionately from the internal armed conflict (see Section
1.g.). Members of indigenous communities often flee together in mass displacements,
relocating to another indigenous community.
According to the
National Agrarian Reform Institute (INCORA), 68,245 indigenous families
live on designated Indian reserves. Indigenous groups' rights to their
ancestral lands are by law permanent. INCORA reports that approximately
80 percent of these lands have been demarcated. However, armed groups
often violently contested indigenous land ownership. According to ONIC,
roughly 95 percent of the country's resources are found on indigenous
reservations and claimed territories. Traditional Indian authority boards
operate some 519 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.
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.
that some 200 indigenous communities had no legal title to land that they
claimed as their own. INCORA reported that at mid-year some 488 requests
by indigenous communities to establish new reserves remained outstanding.
According to INCORA, more than 75 million acres have been recognized legally
as Indian lands. It is buying back much of this land, which has been settled
by mestizo peasants, and returning it to indigenous groups.
provides for a special criminal and civil jurisdiction within Indian territories
based upon traditional community laws. However, some observers asserted
that these special jurisdictions were subject to manipulation, and that
punishments rendered by such community courts were often much more lenient
than those imposed by regular civilian courts.
Members of indigenous
communities continued to be victims of all sides in the internal conflict,
and a number of them were killed. The national Human Rights Ombudsman
stated in its 1999-2000 annual report that among the indigenous communities
most affected by extrajudicial killings, threats, and regional combat
were the Corebaju in Caqueta, the Puinave in Guaviare, the Embera-Katio
of Alto Sinu, the Embera-dobida of Choco, the Paez in Cauca, the Emaer-katio
in Antioquia, the Guayabero on the Guaviare-Meta border, the Tule in Choco,
and the U'wa in Boyaca and Casanare. The Human Rights Ombudsman's office
reported 33 killings in indigenous communities in 1999; 22 of these victims
were community leaders.
According to press
reports, in June members of a paramilitary organization killed Joselito
Bailarin, Embera-Katio governor of the community of Canaverales in Murri
de Frontino in Antioquia department. On December 25, Embera leader Armando
Achito reportedly was killed by paramilitary forces in Jurado municipality,
There were no new
developments in the 1996 murder of Indians Dagoberto Santero Bacilio,
Carlos Arturo Solano Bernal, and Sergio (Manue) in San Antonio de Palmito
in Sucre department, allegedly by paramilitary groups.
According to press
reports, in early May, the FARC announced that it would execute seven
Embera-Katio indigenous leaders in the town square at Frontino in Murri,
Antioquia department, as retribution for the May 26 deaths of two indigenous
brothers at the hands of paramilitary forces. The FARC believed that the
indigenous leaders had laid a trap for the brothers by identifying them
as guerrilla collaborators. The FARC stated that the indigenous leaders
took too long (8 days) to report the crime. The Indigenous Organization
of Antioquia (OIA) attributed the delay to difficulties in communicating
from a rural zone to Medellin. The OIA called for a humanitarian commission
to protect the leaders; however, on May 24, the FARC killed one of the
leaders, a 30-year-old teacher named Hernando de Jesus Bailarin.
guerrilla groups have been known to force indigenous people, including
children, into their ranks. Some guerrilla groups reportedly favored indigenous
people as guides and communicators, due to their knowledge of the geography
of their historical lands and knowledge of generally unfamiliar languages.
On May 10, approximately
3,000 Kankuama tribe members from the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta region
in Magdalena department were pressured to leave their community by the
AUC paramilitary organization. The AUC was fighting the FARC, ELN, and
EPL guerrilla organizations in the region. On March 2, indigenous leader
Jairo Bedoya Hoyos disappeared. The OIA held the AUC responsible. In an
open letter, the AUC stated that it did not have Bedoya in its custody.
U'wa protests against
initial drilling by Occidental Petroleum in an area near but not on their
reserve continued. The U'wa filed several court challenges to drilling,
and succeeded in winning brief delays before appeal courts ruled in favor
of the Government's arrangement with Occidental. U'wa repeatedly sought
to block road access to the drilling site; in one instance in February,
police sought to remove an U'wa road block by using tear gas to disperse
the crowd; in an ensuing panic the U'wa claimed that four children were
killed (see Sections 1.a. and 2.b.). Press reports indicated that only
one body was recovered. Indigenous Senator Jesus Pinacue announced a hunger
strike to pressure Occidental Petroleum to leave U'wa land. Indigenous
Senator Francisco Rojas Birri and Representatives Leonardo Caicedo and
Jhonny Aparicio supported the hunger strike. A 1997 OAS joint study with
a university 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 the auspices of the Government. The U'wa
also had threatened to commit collective suicide if their wishes were
not respected. In August 1999, the Government increased the U'wa reserve,
from 100,000 acres to 1.25 million acres. The area has estimated oil reserves
of up to 1 billion barrels. In August a technical working group including
the Ministries of Interior and Environment, as well as an advisor to the
U'wa, reported that the Government and Occidental Petroleum are complying
with all applicable regulations. The U'wa broke off talks in September,
in response to a ruling by the Government's agrarian reform agency authorizing
the state oil company to purchase lands to create a buffer zone around
the drilling area. Talks remained suspended at the end of the year.
Beginning in early
January, 167 indigenous members of the Embera-Katio tribe occupied the
grounds of the Ministry of the Environment in Bogota for 4 months to protest
the flooding of their lands by the Urra hydroelectric project. In 1998
the Constitutional Court ruled that the human rights of the Embera had
been violated by Urra because it had not consulted the Embera on the project.
There is little religious
discrimination. The Roman Catholic Church and some evangelical churches
reported that some indigenous leaders were intolerant of nontraditional
forms of worship.
Three Mormon temples
were bombed in April, and members of the Jewish community were victims
of abuse (see Section 2.c.).
According to the
Ministry of the Interior, citizens of African heritage live primarily
in the Pacific departments of Choco (370,000), Valle del Cauca (1,720,257),
Cauca (462,638), and Narino (261,180), as well as along the Caribbean
coast. Although estimates vary widely, blacks represent approximately
10 percent of the total population.
Blacks are entitled
to all constitutional rights and protections; however, they traditionally
have suffered from discrimination. Blacks are underrepresented in the
executive branch, judicial branch, and civil service positions, and in
military hierarchies. Despite the passage of the African-Colombian law
in 1993, little concrete progress was made in expanding public services
and private investment in Choco department or other predominantly black
regions. The same law also authorized black communities to receive collective
titles to some Pacific coast lands. However, black leaders complained
that the Government was slow to issue titles, and that their access to
such lands often was inhibited by the presence of armed groups or individuals.
Unemployment among African-Colombians ran as high as 76 percent in some
communities. The March report of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights noted
that an estimated 80 percent of African-Colombians live in conditions
of extreme poverty, that 74 percent receive wages below the legal minimum,
and that their municipalities have the highest rates of poverty. Choco
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 country's most enduring political violence,
as paramilitary forces and guerrillas struggled for control of the Uraba
Section 6 Worker
a. The Right of Association
recognizes the rights of workers to organize unions and to strike, except
for members of the armed forces, police, and those "essential public
services" as defined by law. However, legislation that prohibits
all public employees from striking is still in effect, although it often
is overlooked. In practice violence towards trade unionists and antiunion
discrimination are obstacles to joining and engaging in trade union activities.
Labor leaders throughout the country continued to be targets of attacks
by paramilitary groups, guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and their own
union rivals. Union leaders contend that perpetrators of violence against
workers, particularly members of paramilitary groups, operate with virtual
The 1948 Labor Code
(which has been amended repeatedly) 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; however,
the International Labor Organization (ILO) has received reports that this
process was slow and sometimes took years. The law penalizes interference
with freedom of association. It allows unions to determine internal rules
freely, elect officials and manage activities, and forbids the dissolution
of trade unions by administrative fiat. In 1999 President Pastrana approved
Law 584, which limits government interference in a union's right to free
association. The law reflects recommendations made by the ILO Direct Contacts
Mission and corresponds to international labor legislation. Previous requirements
that were repealed under this law include the requirement that in order
for a trade union to be registered, the labor inspector must certify that
there is no other union. The law also amends the requirement that labor
authorities must be present at general assemblies convened to vote on
calling a strike (the trade unions now have the choice of having labor
authorities present or not). However, the law added the requirement that
when there is a request for information from an interested party, Ministry
of Labor officials can require trade union leaders or members to provide
relevant information on their work, including books, registers, plans,
and other documents. The ILO Committee of Experts considers that this
amendment is not in conformity with the freedom of association convention
since control by an administrative authority should be used only for carrying
out investigations when there are reasonable grounds that an offense has
According to estimates
by the Ministry of Labor and various unions, 6 to 7 percent of the work
force is organized. According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists,
89 percent of those organized are public sector workers. There are approximately
2,500 registered unions, 87 to 95 percent of which are organized in one
of three confederations: The center-left United Workers' Central, with
which 45 to 50 percent of unions are affiliated; the Maoist/Social Christian
Colombian Democratic Workers' Confederation, with which approximately
30 percent of unions are affiliated; and the Liberal Party-affiliated
Confederation of Colombian Workers (CTC), with which 12 to 15 percent
of unions are affiliated. Unions and Ministry of Labor officials report
that union membership has declined in recent years.
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 early
August leaders of some unions called for a 24-hour strike by an estimated
700,000 state workers, including the Sindicated Union of Workers (USO)
oil workers, the main public sector employees' union, telecommunications
workers, teachers, and health workers, to protest government austerity
workers and high unemployment.
groups, debtors, students, and others continued to both protest and negotiate
with the Government over the latter's inability to confront the country's
economic downturn, soaring unemployment, and a Labor Code reform bill
which may eliminate several popular worker benefits. On August 3, a general
strike organized by various unions, including the United Workers' Central
(CUT) and the General Confederation of Democratic Workers (CGTD), protested
economic policies, privatizations, unemployment, new taxes, and social
security reforms in Bogota and other cities throughout the country. Union
strikers were joined by bank employees and state workers, such as teachers
and health employees.
Labor leaders throughout
the country continued to be targets of attacks by paramilitary groups,
guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and their own union rivals. Labor leaders
and NGO's reported that 105 union members were killed during the year;
U.N. officials reported 54 murders of labor leaders during the first 10
months of the year. According to the National Labor School (ENS), approximately
1,500 union members have been murdered since 1991, and unions face widespread
societal hostility because they are seen by some observers as "subversive."
Trade union leaders allege that 90 percent of victims were killed by paramilitary
groups. Other victims were targeted by the FARC for their membership in,
or sympathy with, the National Syndicate of Agricultural Industry Workers
(Sintrainagro), a union largely composed of demobilized EPL members. Many
of the murdered Sintrainagro members had worked in the banana industry
in the Uraba region. The ILO Direct Contact Mission preliminary report
in March noted that "cases where the instigators and perpetrators
of the murders of trade union leaders are identified are practically nonexistent,
as is the handing down of guilty verdicts." The ENS also reported
that in the last 5 years, 47 unionists have been the victims of forced
disappearances, 60 unionists were kidnaped, and 1,573 unionists received
death threats. The USO reported that at least 600 trade union leaders
were displaced during the first 10 months of the year.
In May 1998, the
ILO expressed serious concern over allegations of murders, forced disappearances,
death threats, and other acts of violence against trade union officials
and members. The ILO documented more than 300 murders of trade union members
during 1995-98. The ILO criticized the Government for failing, since November
1996, to provide it with information on a single case of detention, trial,
and conviction of anyone responsible for the murder of union officials
In February an ILO
Direct Contacts Mission, which had been approved by the ILO Governing
Body and accepted by the Government in November 1999, visited the country
to examine alleged abuses of workers' rights to life, free association,
and collective bargaining. In March the Direct Contacts Mission presented
a preliminary report to the Governing Body's committee on freedom of association,
which noted that the Government was "making sincere efforts"
to address these problems. The report expressed concern over the number
of killings, kidnapings, death threats, and other violent assaults on
trade union leaders and unionized workers and stated that killings of
trade union leaders and unionized workers were a "regular" occurrence.
to overcome impunity include the establishment of 25 special human rights
investigative subunits, one of which is responsible for cases of human
rights violations of trade unionists, and a 49 percent increase in the
legal budget for judicial employees. To protect trade unionists from violence,
in 1999 the Government developed the Program for the Protection of Human
Rights Defenders and Trade Union Leaders. As of November, the program
provided protection for 41 trade union premises and protection for 116
leaders and activists. These individuals are provided with bulletproof
vests, bodyguards, and in some cases vehicles. Trade unionists complain
that these measures are insufficient to protect adequately the large number
of trade unionists who are threatened, and continue to press for more
efforts to break the impunity with which most of these acts are committed.
The ILO's recommendations
included an urgent and global inquiry into the participation of public
officials in the creation of self-defense or paramilitary groups; an increase
in government budgetary allocations to protect trade union officials;
and an increase in efforts to combat impunity. After a contentious debate
at the June International Labor Conference, the Government and worker
delegations agreed to a compromise offered by the ILO Director General
Juan Somovia: the establishment of an ILO office in Bogota to be headed
by his personal representative. Rafael Alburquerque was appointed ILO
Special Representative to Colombia and began work in October. In November
Alburquerque reported to the ILO Governing Body that the situation continues
to be grave; the Special Representative's next report is expected in March
On May 4, Javier
Suarez, the leader of a truck drivers' union, was shot and killed near
his home in Buenaventura. Union leaders suspected that paramilitary groups
In early August,
Carmen Emilio Sanchez Coronel, a trade unionist with the teacher's union
in Norte de Santander department, was killed along with seven other trade
unionists at a paramilitary roadblock. The CUT also blamed paramilitary
forces for the August 2 death of Antioquia union worker Luis Rodrigo Restrepo.
The CUT alleged that paramilitary groups were targeting its rank and file
members as well as union leaders.
On December 15, five
men seriously wounded Wilson Borja, president of public employees' union
FENALTRASE, when they fired on his car at a stoplight in an apparent attempt
to kill him. The attackers killed a 30-year-old female street vendor and
wounded one of Borja's two bodyguards. Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano
publicly admitted ordering the attack and claimed that he meant to "detain"
Borja. Most observers connected the attempt, which followed press reports
of progress toward establishing an ELN "encounter zone," with
Borja's role in facilitating the ELN peace process. Police detained one
suspected gunman and a possible paramilitary accomplice within days of
outstanding warrants for the arrest of paramilitary members Temilda Rosa
Martinez and Eduardo Manrique Morales in the February 1999 killing of
72-year-old Julio Alfonso Poveda, a CUT founder.
In December the Prosecutor
General's office arraigned three hired killers alleged to have murdered
CUT vice president Jorge Ortega in 1998.
There were no leads
in the August 1999 bomb incidents at both the Sincelejo, Sucre department
offices of the Association of Rural Land Users (which was destroyed by
a bomb) and at the Medellin office of the USO, where a bomb was defused.
According to the ENS, there have been 14 bombing attempts against union
offices in the last 3 years.
The Government still
has not addressed a number of ILO criticisms of the Labor Code. In 1993
the ILO had complained about the following provisions of the law: The
requirement that government officials be present 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.
The expired 1995
collective work convention between Ecopetrol and the USO was replaced
by a new agreement in May 1999. USO leadership remained in open conflict
with the Government on many issues. USO leaders reported 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 country's oil pipelines.
Unions are free to
join international confederations without government restrictions.
b. The Right to Organize
and Bargain Collectively
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, traditional
antiunion attitudes, a large informal economic sector, and weak union
organization and leadership limit workers' bargaining power in all sectors.
The requirement that trade unions must cover the majority of workers in
each company as a condition for representing them in sectoral agreements
further weakens workers' bargaining power.
The law forbids antiunion
discrimination and the obstruction of free association; however, according
to union leaders, both discrimination and obstruction of free association
occurred frequently. Government labor inspectors theoretically enforce
these provisions, but because there are 271 labor inspectors to cover
1,085 municipalities and more than 300,000 companies, the inspection apparatus
is weak. Furthermore, labor inspectors often lacked basic equipment, such
as vehicles. Guerrillas sometimes deterred labor inspectors from performing
their duties by declaring them military targets.
The Labor Code calls
for fines to be levied for restricting freedom of association and prohibits
the use of strike breakers.
between individual workers and their employers--are not subject to collective
bargaining and typically are 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
Labor law applies
to the country's 15 free trade zones (FTZ's), but its standards often
were not enforced in the zones. 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.
Labor unions do not exist in any of the zones.
c. Prohibition of
Forced or Compulsory Labor
forbids slavery and any form of forced or compulsory labor, and this prohibition
generally is respected in practice in the formal sector; however, women
were trafficked for the purpose of forced prostitution (see Section 6.f.).
and guerrilla groups forcibly conscripted indigenous people (see Section
5). There were some reports that the guerrillas used forced labor to build
The law prohibits
forced or bonded labor by children; however, the Government does not have
the resources to enforce this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.d.).
Although there were no known instances of forced child labor in the formal
economy, several thousand children were forced to serve as paramilitary
or guerrilla combatants (see Section 1.g.), to work as prostitutes (see
Section 5), or in some instances as coca pickers.
Trafficking in girls
for the purpose of forced prostitution is a problem (see Section 6.f.).
d. Status of Child
Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
prohibits 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; however, child labor is a significant problem, particularly
in the informal sector. A 1989 decree established the Minors' Code and
prohibited the employment of children under age 12. It also stipulated
exceptional conditions and the express authorization of Labor Ministry
inspectors for the employment of children between the ages of 12 and 17
years. Children under age 14 are prohibited from working, with the exception
that those between the ages of 12 and 14 may perform very light work with
the permission of their parents and appropriate labor authorities. All
child workers (anyone under the age of 18) must receive the national minimum
wage for the hours they work. Children between the ages of 12 and 14 can
work a maximum of 4 hours a day; children between the ages of 14 and 16
can work a maximum of 6 hours a day; and children between the ages of
16 and 18 can work a maximum of 8 hours a day. All child workers are prohibited
from working at night, or performing work in which there is a risk of
bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. A number of
specific occupations are prohibited for children as well, such as mining
and construction. However, these requirements largely are ignored in practice,
and only 5 percent of those children who work have filed for the required
work permits. By allowing children between the ages of 12 and 13 to work,
even under restricted conditions, the law contravenes international standards
on child labor, which set the minimum legal age for employment in developing
countries at 14 years.
In the formal sector,
child labor laws are enforced through periodic review by the Ministry
of Labor and by the military, which ensures compliance with mandatory
service requirements. However, in the informal labor sector and in rural
areas, child labor continues to be a problem, particularly in agriculture
and mining. Children as young as 11 years of age work full-time in almost
every aspect of the cut flower industry as a way to supplement family
income. Even children enrolled in school or, in some cases, those too
young for school, accompany their parents to work at flower plantations
at night and on weekends. In the mining sector, coal mining presents the
most difficult child labor problem. Many marginal, usually family-run,
mining operations employ their young children as a way to boost production
and income; it is estimated that between 1,200 and 2,000 children are
involved. The work is dangerous and the hours are long. Younger children
carry water and package coal, while those age 14 and up engage in more
physically demanding labor such as carrying bags of coal. These informal
mining operations are illegal. The Ministry of Labor reported that, by
the end of 1999 an interagency governmental committee had removed approximately
80 percent of child laborers from the informal mines and returned them
to school. The law prohibits the employment of minors for prostitution;
however, child prostitution is a problem. In August the Prosecutor General's
Specialized Sex Crimes and Human Dignity Unit reported that from August
1999 to August 2000 it opened 41 cases in which a child under age 14 was
induced or lured into prostitution.
A Catholic Church
study conducted in May 1999 reported that approximately 2.7 million children
work, including approximately 700,000 who worked as coca pickers. This
represented a sharp increase from 1992, when according to a 1997 study
by Los Andes University, approximately 1.6 million children (between the
ages of 12 and 17) worked. One observer noted that the recent economic
downturn might increase the number of children working, especially in
rural areas. Child participation in agricultural work soared at harvest
times. According to the Ministry of Labor, working children between the
ages of 7 and 15 earned on average between 13 and 47 percent of the minimum
wage. An estimated 26 percent of working children had regular access to
health care; approximately 25 percent were employed in potentially dangerous
activities. The ICBF estimated that paramilitary and guerrilla groups
employed 6,000 children as combatants (see Section 5). School attendance
by working children was significantly lower than for nonworking children,
especially in rural areas. The health services of the social security
system cover only 10 percent of child laborers. 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.
The Labor Ministry
has an inspector in each of the 33 departments responsible for certifying
and conducting repeat inspections of workplaces that employ children;
however, this system has few resources and covered only the 20 percent
of the child work force employed in the formal sector of the economy.
In 1995 the Government established a National Committee for the Eradication
of Child Labor, made up of representatives from the Ministries of Labor,
Health, Education, and Communications, as well as officials from various
other government offices, unions, employer associations, and NGO's. Under
the Action Plan, the Government distributed funds during the year to member
organizations of the committee for child labor eradication projects. The
Government also obtained commitments from the country's leading trade
associations and unions to implement child labor eradication programs
with the jointly ILO's IPEC program, these programs were in the preparatory
stages at year's end. During the year, the Government formulated a 2000-02
Action Plan which gives priority to direct intervention on behalf of domestic
child workers, child miners, sexually exploited children, children in
trade activities and children in the agricultural sector. It has also
designed a project, for which it is seeking funding, to collect more reliable
national data on child labor.
The Government is
taking steps to incorporate into national law, ILO Convention 182 concerning
the prohibition of and immediate action for the elimination of the worst
forms of child labor.
The Government prohibits
forced and bonded labor by children; however, it is unable to enforce
this prohibition effectively, and trafficking in girls for the purpose
of forced prostitution and the forced recruitment of child soldiers are
problems (see Sections 1.f., 1.g., 6.c., and 6.f.).
e. Acceptable Conditions
The Government sets
a uniform minimum wage for workers every January to serve as a benchmark
for wage bargaining. The monthly minimum wage, set by tripartite negotiations
among representatives of business, organized labor, and the Government
was about $150 (322,500 pesos) throughout the year. 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 real inflation in recent years. A total
of 70 percent of all workers earn wages that are insufficient to cover
the costs of the Government's estimated low-income family shopping basket.
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 require specifically a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a
failing criticized by the ILO.
comprehensive protection for workers' occupational safety and health;
however, these standards are difficult to enforce, in part due to the
small number of
Labor Ministry inspectors.
In general, a lack of public safety awareness, inadequate attention by
unions, and lax enforcement by the Labor Ministry result in a high-level
of industrial accidents and unhealthy working conditions. Over 80 percent
of industrial companies lack safety plans. The Social Security Institute
reported 53,408 work-related accidents during the year, which resulted
in 417 deaths. There were 243 cases of work-related illness. The industries
most prone to worker accidents were mining, construction, and transportation.
According to the
Labor Code, workers have the right to withdraw from a hazardous work situation
without jeopardizing continued employment. However, unorganized workers
in the informal sector fear the loss of their jobs if they exercise their
right to criticize abuses, particularly in the agricultural sector.
f. Trafficking in
There are no laws
that specifically address trafficking in persons, and the country is a
source for trafficking in women and girls to Europe, the United States,
and Asia. In June Congress approved a new Criminal Code, which provides
for a prison term of 6 to 8 years and a fine up to the equivalent of 100
times the minimum legal monthly salary for any person who "promotes,
induces, compels, facilitates, collaborates, or in any other way participates
in the entry or exit of people into or from the country without complying
with all legal requisites." While intended to combat alien smuggling
in general, the law could be used to prosecute traffickers as well. The
law is scheduled to enter into effect in January 2001.
A government committee
composed of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Interpol,
the DAS, the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General's office, the Prosecutor
General's office, and the presidency meets once every 2 months to discuss
trafficking in persons. In November the Ministry of Justice, the Organization
for International Migration, and NGO Hope Foundation held the first national
conference on trafficking in persons.
The DAS reported
at that conference that Colombia is the third most common country of origin
of trafficking victims, and that the majority of Colombian women trafficked
for prostitution go to the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Singapore, and Hong
Kong. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a
report on trafficking in persons in September 1999, which stated that
women and girls from Colombia also are trafficked to North America. According
to press reports, more than 50 percent of women from Colombia who enter
Japan are trafficking victims forced to work as prostitutes. According
to the DAS, 126 Colombian trafficking victims have been rescued abroad
by Interpol during 1998-2000, and 115 victims were rescued by the National
Police during 1999-2000. According to police, the majority of international
trafficking operations are managed by Colombians and have ties to narcotics
First Lady Nohra
Pastrana, in conjunction with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Interpol,
participated in a public relations campaign to alert citizens, in particular
women, to the risks of immigrating illegally to other countries.
On June 23, a Colombian
woman trafficked to Denmark was granted asylum in Denmark after testifying
against Colombian and Danish traffickers. In August police in Andalucia,
Spain, detained 51 persons and broke up a ring that trafficked women from
Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador for purposes of prostitution.
As of February 26,
2001, this document was also available online at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/wha/index.cfm?docid=741