The Commission's delegation will be composed of Ambassador John S. Donaldson, Chairman of the Commission; Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, First Vice Chairman; Professor Robert K. Goldman, Second Vice Chairman; Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Dean Claudio Grossman, and Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Commission Members; Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Executive Secretary of the Commission; Dr. David J. Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Drs. Relinda Eddie, and Elizabeth Abi-Mershed human rights attorneys at the Commission Secretariat; Ms. Tania Hernández and Mrs. Gabriela Hageman, administrative staff; and Ms. Miriam Deutsch and Ms. Nancy Rocha, interpreters.
The Commission is an autonomous body of the OAS which was created to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization pursuant to Article 106 of the OAS Charter, as amended. Article 106 also provides that "an inter-American convention on human rights shall determine the structure, competence, and procedure of this Commission, as well as those of other organs responsible in these matters." The Commission thus derives its authority from the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as its Statute and its Regulations. These instruments define the human rights of the peoples of the Americas under international law and provide mechanisms for their protection.
The Commission appreciates the openness with which the Government of Canada extended the invitation to carry out this visit.
Washington D.C., October 17, 1997.
Today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded its on-site visit in Canada for the purpose of observing the refugee determination process and the domestic remedies available to refugee claimants in Canada. The visit, the Commissions first to Canada, was undertaken at the invitation of the Government and commenced on October 20, 1997.
The Commission's delegation was composed of Ambassador John S. Donaldson, Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, First Vice-Chairman, Professor Robert K. Goldman, Second Vice-Chairman, Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Dean Claudio Grossman, and Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Commission Members; Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Executive Secretary, Dr. David J. Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary, Drs. Relinda Eddie and Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, human rights attorneys; Ms. Tania Hernandez and Mrs. Gabriela Hageman, administrative staff; Ms. Miriam Deutsch and Ms. Nancy Rocha, interpreters.
The Commission is an autonomous organ of the OAS which was created to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization pursuant to the OAS Charter. The seven members of the Commission are elected by the General Assembly of the OAS for a period of four years. They serve in their individual capacity and represent all the member countries of the OAS. The Commission derives its authority from the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, its Statute and Regulations. These instruments define the human rights of the peoples of the Americas under international law and provide mechanisms for their protection.
During its stay in Canada, the Commission's delegation met with the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Foreign Affairs Minister and the Hon. Lucienne Robillard, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The Commission also met with Janice Cochrane, Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Greg Fyffe, Assistant Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Policy, and other Government representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Citizenship and Immigration, and the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The Commission also met with the following Members of the Federal Court of Canada: Chief Justice Julius Isaac, Mr. Justice William McKeown, and Ms. Allison Small, Executive Officer.
In addition, the Commission held discussions with Mr. Yilma Makonnen, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ottawa.
Moreover, the Commission met with representatives from non-governmental organizations including the Inter-Church Committee for Refugees, Ligue des Droits et Libertes (FIDH), Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Bar Association, Community Coalition on Immigration, Canadian Convention of Ontario and Quebec, Toronto Refugee Affairs Committee, Documenting the Undocumented, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, The Sanctuary Group, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Tamil Elam Society, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Native African Inmates and Friends Association, Metro Toronto, Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic, South Etobicoke Community Legal Services, members of the private bar in Ottawa and Toronto, and others.
The Commission visited the Metro Toronto West Detention Centre in Toronto, the Laval Holding Centre and the Dorval Airport in Montreal where it observed the process of receiving claims from refugees upon their entry into Canada.
During its stay in Canada, the Commission received a great deal of information on issues relevant to the purpose of its visit. This information included, inter-alia, the eligibility requirements and procedures for obtaining refugee status, the grounds and scope of judicial review, issues relating to family unification and the detention and exclusion of persons on public danger grounds. The Commission will continue to study all of the information it has received and will prepare a report in due course under its general authority.
The Commission wishes once more to thank the Government of Canada, its officials and members of the non-governmental organizations for their cooperation and assistance during its visit.
Canada, October 22, 1997
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has learned that the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian guerrilla organization, has taken hostage two electoral observers sent by the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as Mr. Juan Diego Ardila, Colombia, who was accompanying the observers at the moment of their capture. The OAS monitors, Raul Martinez and Manfredo Marroquin, are participating in an electoral mission made up of 36 persons that were invited by the Government of Colombia, to observe the Municipal elections to be held this Sunday, October 26, 1997 in that country.
The right to electoral and political participation is a human right guaranteed by article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR condemns the actions of the ELN that interferes with the free exercise of this important right that constitutes the fundamental basis for the functioning of democratic systems.
The IACHR also points out that international law also protects the right to personal safety and integrity, and prohibits hostage taking under any circumstance. In this case, the kidnaping of persons deserves particular repudiation, since it affects members of the international community who were engaged in an impartial observation mission in the aforementioned electoral process.
The IACHR would like to underscore once again that the most diverse currents of thoughts have agreed with that legal and ethical doctrine that, even in situations of conflict, expresses a recognition of the essential values of human dignity. The IACHR, with absolute independence and objectivity, has constantly, coherently and uniformly, expressed that same position, both with governments of the hemisphere as well with the actions of non governmental groups. This has occurred, as the public is aware, in situations that have occurred in different member States of the Organization, including Colombia.
In accordance with its irrevocable practice in favor of human rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, through this Press Release, urges the group that holds Raul Martinez, Manfredo Marroquin and Juan Diego Ardila, to respect their lives, safety and health, and to free them immediately.
Washington, D.C., October 24, 1997
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced in its Press Release No. 13 on October 17, 1997, issued and the conclusion of its 97th regular period of sessions, that it had been invited by the Government of Nicaragua to carry out a promotion activity on the inter-american system for the protection of human rights on October 30 and 31 in Managua.
The IACHR would like to inform that aid activity ha been postponed by the Government of Nicaragua.
Washington, D.C. October 31, 1997
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sitting at its 97th Regular Period of Sessions, ordered the publication of the followings reports pursuant to Article 51 of the Convention and Article 48 of the Commission's Regulations.
Washington, D.C., November 7, 1997
At the invitation of the Government of Colombia, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is beginning an on-site visit on December 1, 1997, to observe the overall human rights situation in the country. The visit will take place from December 1 to 8, 1997.
The IACHR is an intergovernmental organ of the OAS responsible for promoting the observance and defense of human rights in the Hemisphere. Its seven members are elected in a personal capacity to four-year terms by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). The functions of the IACHR derive basically from the American Convention on Human Rights and the OAS Charter, instruments ratified by the Republic of Colombia.
The IACHR delegation will be composed of its Chair, Ambassador John S. Donaldson; its First Vice-Chair, Professor Carlos Ayala Corao; its Second Vice-Chair, Professor Robert K. Goldman; and the other Commission members, Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, and Dean Claudio Grossman. The Commission will be advised by Dr. Hélio Bicudo and will receive technical support from the Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana; the Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David J. Padilla; and attorneys Osvaldo Kreimer, Denise Gilman, and Mario López. The administrative support staff will consist of Ms. Gabriela Hageman, Ms. Gloria Hansen, and Ms. Martha Keller.
During its stay in Colombia, the IACHR delegation will meet with government officials and with different sectors of the population, such as human rights organizations, community groups, church representatives, labor leaders, and alleged victims of human rights violations. The Commission will also visit various prisons and travel to different regions of the country.
The Commission's visit is within the competence established by the American Convention on Human Rights and the Commission's Regulations and, within that legal framework, the states parties pledge to furnish all necessary facilities for the IAHCR to carry out its observer mission. The Commission is confident that all sectors of Colombian society will respect the Commission's mandate and thus allow it to observe the human rights situation in Colombia in complete freedom and security.
As is customary during these visits, during its stay in Colombia the IACHR is prepared to receive complaints from any persons alleging, directly or through their representatives, that their human rights have been violated. It shall also receive pertinent information from individuals with cases before it. To this end, an office is available in the Hotel Tequendama, located at Calle 108 A #25-76, Bogotá. It will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. from December 1 to 6.
The Commission appreciates the cooperation and facilities provided by the Government of Colombia and by nongovernmental organizations, community organizations, and international organizations in preparing for this visit.
At the conclusion of the visit, the Commission will hold a press conference in the Hotel Tequendama in Bogotá, Colombia, on Monday, December 8, 1997, at 11:00 a.m.
Washington D.C., November 24, 1997
1. Today, 8 December 1997, marks the end of the on-site visit which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("IACHR" or the "Commission") paid to Colombia at the invitation of its Government for the purpose of observing the human rights situation in that country. The following members of the Commission were part of the visiting team: Ambassador John S. Donaldson, Chairman; Professor Carlos M. Ayala Corao, First Vice-Chairman; Professor Robert K. Goldman, Second Vice-Chairman; Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Dean Claudio Grossman and Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé. Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, also a member of the Commission, did not participate in the visit, in accordance with the Commission's rules, since he is of Colombian nationality. Dr. Hélio Bicudo, a member elect of the Commission, joined the team as an adviser. The Commission benefited from the assistance of Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Executive Secretary; Dr. David J. Padilla, Deputy Executive Secretary; and the attorneys of the Executive Secretary, Drs. Osvaldo Kreimer, Denise Gilman and Mario López Garelli; and received administrative support from Gloria Hansen, Gabriela Hageman and Martha Keller.
2. The Commission is a principal organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), which is responsible for promoting respect for and the defence of human rights in the hemisphere in an impartial manner. The Commission's attributes are derived mainly from the American Convention on Human Rights ("American Convention") and from the Charter itself of the OAS, instruments which have been ratified by the Republic of Colombia. To that end, it investigates and rules on denunciations of human rights violations, carries out on-site inspections (such as the present one to Colombia), prepares draft treaties and declarations on human rights, as well as reports on the human rights situation in the countries of the region. The seven members of the Commission are elected in their personal capacities by the General Assembly of the OAS for a period of four years. The present on-site visit is the third of its kind which the Commission has paid to Colombia.
3. During the visit, the Commission met with the President of the Republic, Dr. Ernesto Samper Pizano. Its members also interviewed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. María Emma Mejía Vélez; the Minister of the Interior, Dr. Carlos Holmes Trujillo; the Minister of Justice, Dr. Almabeatriz Rengifo Lopez; and the Minister of Defence, Dr. Gilberto Echeverri Mejía. The Commission also met with senior officials in the Office of the President, including the Presidential Adviser on Human Rights, Dr. Sonia Eljach Polo, and with the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace. In addition, members met with the Attorney-General of the Republic, Dr. Alfonso Gómez Méndez; the Procurator General of the Republic, Dr. Jaime Bernal Cuéllar; the Public Defender, Dr. José Fernando Castro Caycedo; with judges on the Constitutional Court and on the Higher Council of the Judicature; and with the Commission of Human Rights of the Chamber of Representatives. On the side of the forces of law and order of the Colombian State, the Commission met with senior officials, including the following: Commander of the military forces, General Manuel José Bonett; Commanders of the three branches of the armed forces; Director of the National Police, General Rosso José Serrano; Deputy Director of the Administrative Department of Security, Dr. Mario Acevedo Trujillo; and other officials of the armed forces.
4. During the course of its visit, the Commission pursued its program of work in Santafé de Bogotá, Medellín, Urabá, Puerto Asis and Villvicencio, where it went to meet with Government, departmental and local authorities, as well as with representatives of civil society. During these visits, the Commission met with Dr. Alvaro Uribe Veléz, Governor of Antioquia, with Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Bautista, Governor of Meta, and with Dr. Galo Torres, Secretary of the Interior of the Governorship of Bolivar. The Commission also visited the territory of the indigenous people of U'wa in Boyacá.
5. The Commission also took the opportunity to meet with numerous non-governmental human rights organizations and with church officials, political leaders, businessmen, representatives of the news media, trade unionists and representatives of civil society, including, for example, the Commission on National Conciliation. The Commission also held meetings with representatives of international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
6. As is usual during such visits, the Commission received complaints from individuals who, directly or through their representatives, alleged that they had been victims of violations of their human rights. The Commission also met with persons who wished to provide additional information on cases currently receiving the attention of the Commission.
7. The Commission wishes to emphasize that it enjoyed complete freedom to meet with persons of its choice and to travel to any place in the territory which it considered useful. The Government of Colombia provided to the Commission its full assistance and cooperation in all areas, in order to facilitate the discharge of the Commission's tasks.
8. The present visit, which has taken place five years after the previous on-site visit by the Commission to Colombia, has helped to deepen the relationship with the State and with the civil society so that they can continue to work together in the ongoing task of protecting and promoting human rights. The Commission's program of activities allowed it to evaluate (for the time being and of necessity a preliminary and provisional evaluation) the general situation of human rights in Colombia.
9. The wide-ranging and complex information received will be analyzed in depth at the next regular meeting which the Commission is due to hold at its headquarters in February 1998, for the purpose of elaborating a report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It is important to point out that, on receiving, processing and making decisions on the individual petitions of persons who denounced violations of human rights, the Commission is discharging jurisdictional functions. As a result, the Commission refrains from making specific pronouncements that might prejudice the substance of the individual cases submitted for its consideration.
10. Without prejudice to the foregoing, now that it has completed its visit, the Commission wishes to make the following general observations:
11. Colombia is in the grip of a tragic spiral of violence which affects all sectors of society, undermines the very foundations of the State and is disturbing to the international community as a whole. The internal armed conflict, the activities of dissident armed groups, State agents, paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and organized crime, with their sequel of violations of fundamental rights and international humanitarian law, are the principal causes of a situation of violence which every year causes a tragic number of deaths, including approximately 3,000 deaths that are directly linked to the political violence, as well as nearly one hundred and fifty thousand displaced persons each year, among other equally tragic effects.
12. With regard to the human rights situation, the Commission is especially concerned by the following issues:
13. The Commission has noted that there are numerous institutions and State offices devoted to the protection and promotion of human rights, the majority of which are engaged in a serious and continuous effort to improve the situation of human rights in Colombia. Attention should be drawn, for example, to the work of the Human Rights Unit in the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic, a body which has succeeded in making some progress in combating impunity in cases of human rights violations and in overcoming the obstacles that have arisen.
14. The Commission attaches great importance to the program for the protection of defenders of human rights and other threatened persons. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Human Rights, the Office of Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the 1290 Commission and the Office of the Public Defender, also deserve recognition as institutions engaged in work in this field, with seriousness and commitment. Institutions of this nature should be given the necessary support, both from the Government and from civil society, so that they could carry out their work even more effectively and efficiently.
15. The Commission also considers that the tasks being undertaken by public bodies in defence of human rights will be carried out more effectively if the Colombian State were to ratify the additional instruments, such as the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons.
16. The Commission was able to observe that, despite the efforts of many State agencies, a deplorable situation of violence and human rights violations exists. The Commission understands that there are many actors who contribute to this situation of violence in Colombia and that the State is not internationally responsible for all the harm caused to its citizens by non-State agents.
17. In this connection, during its visit, the Commission observed that dissident armed groups or guerrillas are one of the main sources of violence. Despite not having jurisdiction, under the American Convention, to consider individual complaints of violations by such groups of the rights protected under that Convention, the Commission has repeatedly condemned the abuses committed by guerilla groups in Colombia. During its visit, the Commission received numerous substantiated complaints, which indicate that these groups continue to commit violations of international humanitarian law, including summary executions, hostage taking, kidnapping for ransom, indiscriminate use of land mines and the recruitment of minors.
18. The Commission expressly condemned in its press communique issued on the occasion of the kidnapping of two electoral observers of the OAS the actions of dissident armed groups which interfered with the right of political participation in the elections held on 26 October 1997. Similarly, the Commission condemns all kidnappings committed by these groups, which violate international humanitarian law, and in particular the case of José de Jesús Quintero, the bishop of Tibú, a department to the North of Santander, and that of the current mayor and mayor-elect of the same municipality, which were committed on 24 November last. The Commission hopes that all kidnapped persons will soon be released. The American Convention, for its part, requires the State to respect human rights and to guarantee to all persons within its territory the free enjoyment and exercise of those rights. These responsibilities cannot be waived, even in situations of emergency. This is why, even though the State has the power and duty to combat dissident armed groups, it must respect human rights and fully observe international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict.
19. The Commission received information that both the military forces and the national police have organized large-scale training programs for their members in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law. The Commission wishes to draw special attention to the positive efforts being made by the national police authorities to strengthen the protection of human rights, professionalize its personnel and dismiss members of the force against whom there is evidence of responsibility for criminal acts and violations of human rights.
20. Despite this, the Commission continues to receive numerous complaints and information about violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law, including torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and indiscriminate attacks, committed by agents of the State acting with the powers conferred by their official status. Sources, including State sources, acknowledged to the Commission that State agents, mostly from the security forces, continue to directly perpetrate violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law. The Commission will investigate these complaints.
21. Similarly, the Commission expresses its rejection and condemnation of paramilitary groups in Colombia. The visit of the Commission coincided with various massacres which have been attributed to these groups in different parts of the country. According to information received from various sources by the Commission, illegal paramilitary groups are responsible for most of the abuses against life, personal integrity and freedom, among other rights of the Colombian population.
22. The Commission is of the view that those massacres, like other cases of violations of human rights and/or of international humanitarian law, could constitute crimes of an international character which would incur the individual criminal responsibility of the authors, who may be prosecuted in any State in which they happen to be.
23. The Commission has received information from reliable sources that, while the violations committed by the military forces have decreased in number, the abuses committed by paramilitary forces have increased in recent years. The Commission received concrete, consistent and reliable information from numerous sources that the army in certain cases acted jointly with paramilitary groups to carry out direct and indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population and to provoke the forced displacement of the population. According to information received, these actions appeared to be taking place in pursuit of a contra-insurgent strategy of socio-economic and political control. The Commission also received specific complaints about the failure of army personnel to take action during those operations.
24. The Commission notes that, with respect to those complaints where no direct link has been reported between the military forces and the activities of paramilitary groups, concrete and effective measures have not been taken either against the latter groups. The complaints received in this connection by the Commission include information which indicates that the forces of law and order and State security do not carry out the orders of detention issued against persons involved in paramilitary groups, do not take preventive action after receiving reports of imminent attacks by such groups, nor do they mobilize to suppress them.
25. The Commission welcomed the statement by the President of the Republic on 1 December 1997, in which he announced the Government's firm intention to take such measures as were necessary to dismantle paramilitary groups in Colombia. The creation of a specialized search unit and the decision to issue orders for the capture of paramilitary leaders are important initial steps. The Commission would follow with the greatest interest the implementation of concrete plans to combat paramilitary activity in Colombia.
26. The Commission also wishes to express its concern over the so called "CONVIVIR" groups. The Commission has noted the tragic results of organizations of this type in situations of armed internal conflict elsewhere in the hemisphere, and therefore wishes to express its most serious reservations regarding the presence of such groups in Colombia. The Commission recognizes that every citizen has the duty to cooperate with the public authorities and to denounce criminal acts. However, in interviews with members of CONVIVIR, the Commission noted that at least some of them are acting beyond the call of duty and are carrying out intelligence operations for the army. The State of Colombia was thus renouncing its principal functions with respect to this aspect of the security of citizens.
27. In particular, according to direct testimony received by the Commission, the members of CONVIVIR provide the army and paramilitary groups with lists of alleged guerilla collaborators and sympathizers. According to this information, the persons named in these lists are subsequently threatened, harassed and even murdered. The Commission is extremely concerned at these complaints and will investigate them thoroughly. It will also consider the specific allegations made, according to which members of the CONVIVIR groups in some regions of the country have participated directly in acts of violence against the civil population.
28. In addition, the Commission has received complaints that, in certain places, there was virtually no control over the membership and conduct of the CONVIVIR and that certain organizations have used that name without proper registration and authorization. Since it was not very clear which groups were legally constituted, it became very difficult to combat the illegal paramilitary groups.
29. The Commission has noted that law enforcement agents who commit violations of human rights generally go unpunished. The Commission considers that the problem of the impunity of State agents was largely attributable to the application of military jurisdiction in cases of serious human rights violations, which cannot be considered as having been committed in connection with service in the armed forces, as the Political Constitution of Colombia requires in its article 221. Military criminal justice applied in this way violates the relevant constitutional provisions and lacks the independence and impartiality required by international standards.
30. The Commission recognizes that some progress had been made recently with regard to the problem of impunity and the criminal justice system of the military. The Commission is particularly encouraged by the decision of the Constitutional Court of 5 August 1997, which provided a clearer and more restricted definition of the jurisdiction of military courts, removing from their jurisdiction crimes against humanity and serious violations of human rights. It is essential for all State agencies charged with the implementation of that decision, such as the Higher Military Court, the Attorney General of the Republic and the Higher Council of the Judicature, to take the necessary measures to ensure the transfer to the ordinary system of criminal justice of cases awaiting a decision which should properly fall within the competence of that jurisdiction, and to arrive at a correct determination of competence in future cases.
31. In this connection, the Commission received the text of decisions of the Disciplinary Jurisdictional Chamber of the Higher Council of the Judicature, following the ruling of the Constitutional Court of August 1997, in which it reaches conclusions that are contrary to the new jurisprudence of the said Court, without any reference whatsoever to it. The Commission received information indicating that the interpretation of the Higher Council of the Judicature, which defines the scope of military jurisdiction as being more extensive than that provided for by the Constitutional Court and thus contrary to the latter Court, will remain unchanged even after the clear ruling handed down in August of this year. The Commission wishes to express its concern at the consequences of failure to abide by the decision of the highest court responsible for the interpretation of the Constitution. This failure challenges the full legitimacy of the Constitutional Court of Law in Colombia. Thus, should the attitude of the majority - though not of all - the magistrates of the Higher Council of the Judicature remain unchanged, this would hinder the capacity of the State to fulfil its international obligations and eventually incur its responsibility. The Commission therefore hopes that the situation could be corrected in a timely fashion by the Constitutional Court, as the highest interpreter of the Basic Law.
32. The Commission takes note that the Government has tabled draft legislation which would permit the codification of the criteria which the Constitutional Court established on the correct scope of military justice. The Commission also took note of another bill drafted by the Executive Branch, which provides for forced disappearance to be characterized as a crime. Legislative changes of this nature have been previously recommended by the Commission.
33. The situation of widespread impunity which exists in Colombia is due in part to the absence of efficient and full criminal and disciplinary investigations. In that connection, mention must also be made of the failure to carry out the decisions of the courts, including orders of detention issued by the Attorney General of the Republic, which often are not followed up due to the inaction of the forces of law and order.
34. The Commission observed during its visit that violence in Colombia has been the principal cause of the forced internal displacement of a large number of people. In its trip to Urabá, for example, the Commission had the opportunity to speak with displaced persons in San José de Apartadó (Community of Peace) and to visit in Turbo the camp for persons who had been displaced from Riosucio. In these localities, the Commission noted that the majority of displaced persons were women and children who lived under inhuman conditions. They alleged that they had fled from their normal places of residence as a result of the acts and threats of violence against them by the army, operating in collaboration with paramilitary forces. The Commission also had the opportunity to speak in Villavicencio with persons who had been displaced from Mapiripán, as a result of massacres and other acts of violence perpetrated against them by paramilitary groups, with the alleged complicity of the army.
35. The Commission also wishes to voice its concern over the threats and harassment by paramilitary groups against members of non-governmental organizations which provide humanitarian assistance to displaced populations in both places. The Commission requests the Government to guarantee protection and respect both for displaced persons and for persons engaged in humanitarian activities on their behalf.
36. According to information provided by various organizations working in this field, the efforts made by the State to improve the situation of displaced persons through the Ministry of the Interior, the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Displaced Persons and the other government offices have so far been insufficient to deal with the crisis. The Commission is very grateful to the Government for the invitation which it extended to UNHCR and other international agencies to work more actively in dealing with the situation of internally displaced persons in the country. The Commission urges greater cooperation between the Government and these bodies, for the implementation of more effective measures, both for the prevention of displacement and for providing protection and assistance to persons who are already displaced.
37. Specifically, the Commission urges the Government to design, in collaboration with these agencies and with the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Internally Displaced Persons, modalities for identifying lasting solutions that would permit the return of displaced persons to their homes or their resettlement in other areas of the country. The Commission wishes to stress that the process of return must be done on a voluntary basis and under conditions of security and dignity for the returnees. These considerations are based on the fact that forced internal displacement involves the violation of numerous rights guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights. The situation of displacement in Colombia will be duly considered and evaluated by the Commission.
38. During its visit to the Model Prison in Bogota, the Commission noted that prisoners live under very difficult conditions, which include serious overcrowding, scarce drinking water, inadequate sanitary facilities, insufficient medical attention, the non-existence of programs of rehabilitation and remunerated work for prisoners and the failure to separate pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners. The Commission is of the view that the conditions in this prison constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees. Information has also been received that in most of the country's prisons, the conditions are similar. The Commission urges the State to resolve immediately this situation, which is unacceptable and which has predictable consequences in these institutions, by adopting administrative, judicial and legislative measures. On the other hand, the Commission also noted that conditions in the maximum security prison of Itaguí meet the international norms that apply to such prisons, which should serve as a model for the other penitentiary institutions.
39. One of the principal causes of the crisis in the prisons is the excessive length of preventive detention, which constitutes another serious problem of violation of human rights. According to information received by the Commission, nearly 50 per cent of the prison population is in detention without a final sentence against them, on account of the inefficiency of the judicial system. The Commission therefore wishes to make an appeal similar to the one contained in the preceding paragraph.
40. During its stay in Putumayo, the Commission received complaints that the armed forces committed abuses in repressing the protests which took place between July and September 1996 against the fumigation of coca crops. According to other complaints, there has been an increasing militarization of coca growing areas where the civilian population is trapped between the violence of the guerilla forces and that of the State forces.
41. In its visits to different zones of the country, the Commission received information from civil and military authorities and from civilian organizations that a significant part of the territory is not under the effective control of the State. In these broad areas of territory, the absence of law enforcement and security forces or their inactivity will affect the obligation to provide guarantees and the consequent obligation to prevent any violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.
42. In all of its interviews, the Commission has noted the existence of a broad debate on the subject of human rights in all spheres of Colombian society and in the communications media. The Commission views as positive the presence of human rights on the agenda of Colombian society, given its importance to the strengthening of the democratic State based on the rule of law.
43. For these reasons, the Commission wishes to express its concern over the information which it has received about the attacks carried out against persons working in the field of human rights, both members of non-governmental organizations and Government officials, particularly municipal personalities. The Commission received information during its visit, for example, concerning the murder of Mario Calderón Villegas and Elsa Constanza Alvarado Chacón, members of the non-governmental organization CINEP (Centre for Research and Grassroots Education), and that of Carlos Alvarado (father of Elsa Alvarado), which occurred on 19 May 1997 in his apartment in Bogota. Acts of this nature, which have occurred in the capital of the country, reveal the seriousness of the situation of the defenders of human rights. The Commission was informed about the detention of the presumed material authors in connection with this case and hopes that the criminal investigations would lead to the identification, trial and punishment of all those responsible, including the intellectual authors.
44. Also of concern to the Commission are the complaints made by organizations of journalists about acts of violence, including assassinations, committed against members of that profession. The Commission attaches the greatest importance to such complaints, considering that freedom of expression and of information is a prerequisite and a fundamental pillar of democratic existence.
45. Similarly, in its working visits, the Commission was able to observe the difficult situation of many women and children. Despite the existence of juridical regimes which provide specific protection for these groups, they are even more seriously affected by forced internal displacement and suffer especially grave effects as a result of the violence which affects the entire country. Similarly, according to complaints received by the Commission, women continue to be victims of domestic violence without effective protection from the State. In addition, they lack adequate access to reproductive health programs. The Commission also received various complaints about the forced recruitment of minors by the army, paramilitary and guerilla groups.
46. The Commission was able to observe the de jure and de facto situations of indigenous peoples and black communities of Colombia in its visits to Putumayo, Urabá and to the territory of the U'wa, and in interviews with government officials and non-governmental organizations. The Commission considers that the development of the constitutional and legal regime which protects these groups has been in general terms positive. However, the indigenous and black populations have not achieved full participation in the country's economic, political and social life. The Commission has also received complaints that the Colombian State has not done all that was necessary to guarantee the cultural, religious and social integrity as well as the territorial rights of these groups. The Commission urges the Colombian State to strive for further progress in these areas. It will continue to monitor developments.
47. Similarly, the Commission was able to observe that the indigenous peoples and black communities are especially vulnerable to the violence that affects the country as a whole. The Commission wishes to express its concern over the Zenú indigenous people of San Andrés de Sotavento, in the Department of Córdoba. The leaders of this community are protected by the precautionary measures prescribed by the Commission in 1996. However, several of the persons protected by these measures have been murdered or have disappeared, including most recently the disappearance of Virgilio Cárdenas Feria, on 31 October of this year. The Commission considers that the State must provide immediate and effective protection to all members of this community and must carry out the corresponding investigations with a view to punishing those responsible for the above-mentioned violations.
48. The Commission takes note of increasing manifestations by sectors of the Colombian society of acceptance of the presence of international organizations and of the importance of the defence of human rights as a necessary condition for the achievement of peace and for overcoming the violence which is undermining the State and destroying the society. The Commission sees in this aspiration for respect for human rights a great source of hope for the future of Colombia and appeals to the entire society to seek to transform a culture of death and war into a culture that celebrates life and peace.
49. The Commission has witnessed numerous manifestations of the desire for peace in its meetings with persons and organizations working in this field. This desire has also been expressed through the voting promoted by the civil society in previous elections. The Commission considers that the road to peace and national reconciliation will be easier to travel if the parties to the conflict succeed in creating a propitious environment, where at least there is observance of the norms of human rights and the basic rules of international humanitarian law.
50. The Commission wishes to express its thanks to the Government of Colombia, to its President, Dr. Ernesto Samper Pizano, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the other State authorities for the hospitality, facilities and collaboration which they provided to the Commission for the successful completion of this visit, as well as to the non-governmental organizations and private individuals who in a frank and transparent manner contributed with their valuable testimony and documentation to the effective fulfillment of their mission during the visit. The Commission wishes to thank the media for their interest in covering this visit.
51. In accordance with the functions attributed to it under the Charter of the Organization of American States, the American Convention and other applicable international legal instruments, the Commission will undertake a follow-up of the situation of human rights in Colombia. The Commission reiterates its desire to collaborate with the Colombian authorities within the framework of its competence, in order to contribute to the strengthening of internal and international mechanisms for the defence and protection of fundamental rights in the context of the rule of law.
52. Finally, the Commission wishes to reaffirm that respect for human rights is a prerequisite for peace; and, in this connection, it expresses the hope that the Colombian people will realize their hopes and aspirations to achieve peace, which is not only an end in itself but is at the same time a condition for ensuring full respect for human rights.
53. In this connection, the Commission wishes to assure the Government and people of Colombia of its willingness to contribute to efforts to create conditions that are conducive to the achievement of genuine respect for human rights in this country.
Santa Fé de Bogotá, 8 December 1997.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has decided, in accordance with Articles 51 of the Convention and 48 of its Regulations, the publication of the following reports on Argentina:
1. Report No. 30/97 (Case 10,087 -Gustavo Carranza);
2. Report No. 55/97 (Case 11,237 -Juan Carlos Abella and others).
The aforementioned will be included in the next Annual Report of the Commission, are available now in its headquarters.
Washington, D.C. December 22, 1997