HUMAN RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS IN THE REGION
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continues its practice of including in its Annual Report to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States a chapter on the situation of human rights in member countries of the Organization, based on the competence assigned to it by the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Commission's Statute and Rules of Procedure. This practice has served the purpose of providing the OAS updated information on the human rights situation in those countries that had been the subject of the Commission's special attention; and in some cases, to report on a particular event that had taken place or was emerging or developing at the close of its reporting cycle.
2. In this chapter, the Commission reiterates its interest in receiving the cooperation of the member states to identify the measures taken by their governments that display a commitment to improving the observance of human rights. Without prejudice to this, the IACHR reflects, in various chapters of this report, the positive advances achieved by many states of the hemisphere in the area of human rights.
3. The Annual Report of the IACHR for 1997 set forth five criteria pre-established by the Commission to identify the member states of the OAS whose human rights practices merited special attention, and which consequently should be included in its Chapter IV.
The first criterion encompasses those states ruled by governments
that have not come to power through popular elections, by secret,
genuine, periodic, and free suffrage, according to internationally
accepted standards and principles.
The Commission has repeatedly pointed out that representative
democracy and its mechanisms are essential for achieving the rule of law
and respect for human rights. As
for those states that do not observe the political rights enshrined in
the American Declaration and the American Convention, the Commission
fulfills its duty to inform the other OAS members states as to the human
rights situation of the population.
2. The second criterion concerns states where the free exercise of the rights set forth in the American Convention or American Declaration have been, in effect, suspended totally or in part, by virtue of the imposition of exceptional measures, such as state of emergency, state of siege, suspension of guarantees, or exceptional security measures, and the like.
3. The third criterion to justify the inclusion in this chapter of a particular state is when there is clear and convincing evidence that a state commits massive and grave violations of the human rights guaranteed in the American Convention, the American Declaration, and all other applicable human rights instruments. In so doing, the Commission highlights the fundamental rights that cannot be suspended; thus it is especially concerned about violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture, and forced disappearances. Thus, when the Commission receives credible communications denouncing such violations by a particular state which are attested to or corroborated by the reports or findings of other governmental or intergovernmental bodies and/or of respected national and international human rights organizations, the Commission believes that it has a duty to bring such situations to the attention of the Organization and its member states.
4. The fourth criterion concerns those states that are in a process of transition from any of the above three situations.
fifth criterion regards temporary or structural situations that may
appear in member states confronted, for various reasons, with situations
that seriously affect the enjoyment of fundamental rights enshrined in
the American Convention or the American Declaration.
This criterion includes, for example:
grave situations of violations that prevent the proper
application of the rule of law; serious institutional crises; processes
of institutional change which have negative consequences for human
rights; or grave omissions in the adoption of the provisions necessary
for the effective exercise of fundamental rights.
On February 20, 2002, President Andrés Pastrana announced that
he was ending three years of peace negotiations with armed dissident
groups in the Republic of Colombia.
Some six months later, on August 7, 2002, he handed over the
reins of government to Alvaro Uribe Vélez, the Colombian people’s
choice for the Presidency in the most recent presidential elections.
One of the first measures of government adopted by the new
President was that of declaring a state of emergency.
This report was prepared on the basis of information compiled
from reliable sources, including official sources, and other information
compiled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in
discharging its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in the
region, and was approved in accordance with Article 57(1)(h) of the
Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.
On December 16, 2002, a draft version of this report was sent to
the Government of Colombia with a time limit to make observations.
The State received the Commission’s diagnostic in a
constructive spirit and submitted its observations on January 24, 2003.
The Government’s response is based primarily on the guidelines
established by the “National Policy for Human Rights” included in
the “National Development Plan”. This Plan, soon to be considered by the Colombian Congress,
pursues the so-called policy of “democratic security” with a view to
achieving sustainable economic growth, social equality and an increase
in transparency and efficiency in State management.
The observations made by the State have been pondered and
incorporated, where pertinent, to the final version of the report.
This report has been prepared following the criteria established
in the introduction to Chapter IV of the Annual Report.
In view of the situation of human rights in Colombia, this
analysis could be framed under one or more of the criteria included
therein. The framework
could either refer, for instance, to the effects of the state of
emergency or the persistence of structural situations in member States
where, for different reasons, the enjoyment of the human rights
enshrined in the American Convention is affected.
The IACHR observes that the violence derived from Colombia’s
internal armed conflict and the degradation in the behavior of the
parties involved continues to affect compliance with the fundamental
rights to life, humane treatment, movement and residence and effective
judicial protection. The
State acknowledged that the acts of violence perpetrated by criminal
organizations, the succession of murders and kidnappings and the
profusion of illegal activities are “a threat to the Nation’s
Despite the concerns expressed and recommendations made by the
IACHR and other international organizations charged with monitoring
respect for human rights, the civilian population remains manifestly
vulnerable to violence, in particular, indigenous, Afro-Colombian and
displaced communities. This
problem is compounded by the threats and fatal assaults perpetrated
against human rights defenders and social leaders.
The Commission will refer firstly to a number of positive steps
taken by the State in the area of human rights.
Secondly, it will address the general situation of human rights
and international humanitarian law in various regions of Colombia.
The Commission will then single out specific areas of concern,
such as forced displacement, the situation of the human rights
defenders, trade union leaders and journalists, and the administration
of justice. The Commission will then discuss the state of emergency.
I. MEASURES ADOPTED IN THE
AREA OF HUMAN RIGHTS
On April 17, 2002, the IACHR announced its satisfaction with the
decision of the Colombian Constitutional Court declaring Law 684 of 2001
on Defense and National Security to be unconstitutional.
The Constitutional Court adopted its decision as a response to
three claims filed by private citizens, organizations of civil society,
and certain state agencies, specifically the Procuraduria
General de la Nacion and the Defensoria
The IACHR has recognized that in times of armed conflict and
other situations that pose serious threats to law and order, it is the
right and the duty of OAS member States to protect both the civilian
population and their own institutional structures.
However, over the years the IACHR has stated that the measures
adopted to achieve those ends must be implemented while also respecting
the rights and basic guarantees set forth in international human rights
law. Both before and after the passage of Law 684, the IACHR publicly stated
its position that several of its provisions did not comply with the
standards for the administration of justice set forth in the American
Convention on Human Rights and other applicable instruments.
August 5, 2002, subsequent to the Constitutional Court’s review,
President Pastrana deposited the instrument of ratification of the
Statute of the International Criminal Court, which raised the ICC
Statute to the rank of constitutional law in Colombia. This
commitment on the part of the State is a positive step towards the
fulfillment of the IACHR’s recommendations made in connection with the
prosecution of individuals responsible for crimes against humanity
committed during the armed conflict.
However, the Commission must voice its concern regarding the true
impact of this commitment in the light of declarations made at the
moment of ratification, establishing–inter
alia—a number of limitations in terms of temporal application and
interpretation of the Statute’s provisions.
On another note, the Commission would like to draw attention to
the willingness of the Colombian government and of the petitioners to
sign a formal friendly settlement agreement in furtherance of Report
112/02, issued under Article 50 of the American Convention on Human
Rights in Case 11,141, relating to the massacre of children in
Villatina, a district of Medellín, Colombia. The IACHR is monitoring compliance with the commitments
undertaken in the agreement and at the proper time will publish a report
on how the process has unfolded. During
the 116th sessions of the IACHR the State and other
petitioners also committed to exploring the possibility of arriving at a
friendly settlement in four more individual cases.
Also in relation to the fulfillment of the State’s obligations
under the Inter-American system, the IACHR must encourage the
continuation of the State’s efforts to implement special programs to
protect beneficiaries of precautionary measures and provisional measures
granted by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights,
respectively: in particular those granted in favor of victims and
witnesses of human rights violations, human rights defenders, justice
operators, trade union leaders, and vulnerable groups such as indigenous
peoples and afrodescendants.
The “Program for the Protection of Witnesses and Persons under
Threat” provides for security measures and travel within Colombia and
abroad, emergency humanitarian relief, communications systems and
protection for the premises of human rights organizations for its
This program is an important, albeit still insufficient, response
in light of the mounting threats, acts of harassment and constant
attacks against human rights defenders, as well as the casualties
registered during 2002.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GENERAL
Periodically, throughout 2002, the Commission has continued to
receive urgent actions, complaints and information of all kinds
reporting the repeated violation of the right to life in Colombia.
The excesses committed in the context of the internal armed
conflict remain a source of gross violations of human rights and of
international humanitarian law against the civilian population.
The number of casualties of political violence has continued to
escalate during the year 2002. Statistics
show that while the political violence claimed an average of 10 lives
per day in 1988, that figure has increased steadily since; the daily
death toll from the political violence in 2002 was expected to reach 20
As in years past, a significant percentage of the violations of
the right to life were committed during the course of paramilitary
attacks against the civilian population with a view to causing terror
and forced displacement. In
many cases the execution of the victims is preceded by torture and
cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
However, during in 2002 there was a sharp increase in the
incidence of threats followed by selective assassinations of human
rights defenders, trade union leaders, mayors and municipal council
members, indigenous and peasant leaders,
candidates for elective office –including members of the Unión
Patriótica- and demobilized combatants.
The Commission is concerned by the fact that the number of forced
disappearances has also climbed.
The Colombian State indicates in its observations that illegal
armed groups have not only expanded their membership but also increased
in number. Specifically,
the State reports that the FARC and the ELN have doubled their armed
forces in the last decade and that the Autodefensas
(AUC) currently add up to more than 10,000 members.
The impact of the serious abuses committed by the actors in the
armed conflict has continued to grow, and by now has spread into large
areas of the national territory, with varying degrees of intensity.
The departments with the highest rates of violations of human
rights and international humanitarian law include Antioquia, Bolivar,
Casanare, Cauca, Arauca, Santander, Magdalena, Chocó, Norte de
Santander, Putumayo, Sucre and Valle. According to CINEP’s statistics, the highest incidence of
violence continued to affect the Department of Antioquia.
The year 2002 has also seen a marked increase in violations of
international humanitarian law committed by armed dissident groups,
chiefly the FARC. These
groups have been involved in numerous assaults, massacres, extrajudicial
executions, attacks and threats against the civilian population.
In their attacks, the armed dissident groups have violated basic
principles of international humanitarian law, such as target
discrimination and proportionality, and have inflicted numerous
casualties among the civilian population. The indiscriminate use of mortars and car bombs has claimed
many civilian lives. According
to statistics reported by CINEP and Justicia
y Paz, the FARC were responsible for 43% of international
humanitarian law violations registered between April and June 2002.
IACHR has repeatedly referred to the gravity of the growing number of
attacks perpetrated against the civilian population in Colombia.
Such attacks constitute flagrant violations of international
humanitarian law and the perpetrators and their accomplices may be
individually accountable before international criminal courts pursuant
to international law. States
have the obligation to adopt all necessary measures to clarify the facts
and prosecute and punish those responsible.
The IACHR expressed dismay at the attack perpetrated early on the
morning of Sunday, April 7, 2002, in the La Granja district of the city
of Villavicencio, Meta department, which claimed ten civilian casualties
and wounded many others.
The Commission publicly repudiated these acts of indiscriminate violence
employed to terrorize the civilian population.
The IACHR vigorously condemned the indiscriminate attacks
launched against the civilian population in the municipalities of Bojayá
and Vigía del Fuerte in the department of El Chocó on May 2, 2002.
On that occasion the FARC launched a crude mortar into
Bellavista’s Catholic chapel where the civilian population had sought
shelter during a confrontation between this armed dissident group and
the AUC. This violation of
the principles of international humanitarian law left more than one
hundred civilian casualties–many of them children—and approximately
80 wounded. After an in
loco observation, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human
Rights issued a report attributing responsibility for the death toll and
destruction to the FARC-EP.
The report also refers to the responsibility of the AUC and of
the Colombian State in the incident vis-à-vis the early warnings issued by the Defensoria del Pueblo, the Procuraduria
General de la Nacion and the UN Office itself regarding the
situation in the area of the lower Atrato river and the State’s
obligation to prevent human rights violations and ensure the respect of
such rights. There is
concern for the humanitarian situation of the civilian population of
that area of the Department of Choco which has been forced into
displacement in the midst of the confrontation between the FARC and the
AUC. The Commission also
received information on the consequences of the counter offensive
launched by the Army, consisting of aerial attacks which affected the
civilian population in Bellavista, Vigia del Fuerte and the
afrodescendant communities in Napipi and Murindo.
The armed dissident groups continue to pursue a strategy of
taking hostages in order to exchange them for money with which to
finance their activities. The victims include mayors, members of the
Church, judicial authorities, humanitarian workers, journalists, and
foreign nationals. According
to the information gathered by Fundación
País Libre, more than 150 hostages died as a consequence of the
duration and extreme conditions of their captivity.
The IACHR publicly condemned the kidnapping of Antioquia’s
Governor, Guillermo Gaviria, and his peace advisor and former Defense
Minister, Gilberto Echeverry, on April 21, 2002.
The FARC kidnapped them while they were engaged in peace and
reconciliation efforts in the town of Caicedo.
The Commission urged the group holding Governor Gaviria, his
advisor Gilberto Echeverry, and twelve deputies from the department of
El Valle, kidnapped two weeks earlier, to respect their lives, security
and health, and to release them immediately and unconditionally.
The Commission also took the opportunity to reiterate its condemnation
of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt’s kidnapping.
The IACHR also condemned the car-bomb attack targeted at then
presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe Vélez in the city of Barranquilla
on Sunday, April 14, 2002. The attack left four casualties and many wounded.
The Commission continues to be seriously concerned by the
violence committed by paramilitary groups and periodically receives
complaints about acts and omissions by State agents that allegedly
contribute to the commission of gross violations to human rights and
humanitarian law. These
acts could generate individual criminal responsibility for those
involved, pursuant to international law. According to the available
information, illegal armed groups continue to gain strength and to
expand geographically despite the recommendations issued by the IACHR
and the UN regarding the duty of the State to ensure they are disbanded.
The department of Cauca is still under the influence of several
AUC groups which have now expanded up to the departments of Meta and
Arauca. The AUC’s
presence in the Atrato river and in the communities of Turbo, Apartadó
and Quibdó, continues. The
Commission has granted a series of precautionary measures –in the case
of Apartadó even requested provisional measures to the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights—in order to request the State to protect these
communities, under constant threat from the paramilitary groups that
control these areas.
The AUC have continued to conduct “cleansing” operations and
cause the displacement of the civilian populations whom they accuse of
aiding, or sympathizing with, the armed dissident groups.
In the areas under paramilitary control, these groups operate
illegal checkpoints to verify the identity of
citizens circulating and restrict the movement of supplies and fuel.
Often, the establishment of these checkpoints precedes the
commission of disappearances, extrajudicial executions and
displacements. In some
cases, these checkpoints operate in areas with a heavy military
In its observations, the State remarks that the purpose of
ensuring security in the context of human rights and civil participation
as a priority of the current administration.
The State considers that the notion of “democratic security”
encompasses the concept of national security, linked to its ability to
penalize and dissuade those who breach the law and protect all citizens,
without discrimination, without prejudice to democracy and the State’s
legitimacy. Its strategy is
directed to strengthening the security forces with a view to regaining
control of the national territory, protecting domestic infrastructure,
dismantling drug production, improving the administration of justice and
attending to depressed areas and conflict zones.
The Commission must indicate though that it continues to receive
complaints on the negligent or acquiescent conduct of the Army and even
its direct participation in human right violations committed by
Commission has repeatedly pronounced upon the responsibility of the
State by virtue of the ties between members of the security forces and
paramilitary groups in Colombia in the commission of acts that
constitute violations of human rights and international humanitarian
law. Regrettably, there are no signs of the situation having
improved during 2002. Paramilitary
groups continue to operate with impunity throughout much of Colombia,
despite the military presence. Violence
is running high and still escalating, forcing the civilian population
into displacement. All this
suggests that the acquiescence and collaboration of State agents vis-à-vis these groups persist.
Confronted with this panorama, the Commission observes that
despite the fact that human rights violations committed by paramilitary
groups are frequently investigated by ordinary courts, in many cases the
corresponding arrest warrants have not been executed, especially when
they concern their commanders as perpetrators.
This situation has contributed to the perpetuation of an
environment of impunity and insecurity.
In fact during 2002 the AUC leader Carlos Castaño has continued
his routine contact with the national and international media without
prejudice to the numerous arrest warrants issued against him for gross
human rights violations.
IV. FORCED DISPLACEMENT
More than two million people have been forced into displacement
as a consequence of the violence imposed by illegal armed groups seeking
political support by force, in vast areas of the territory.
Some other communities are kept under siege, as another
manifestation of the humanitarian crisis.
In both cases, the civilian population endures the consequences
of official neglect or negligence or of partial, delayed and
In its observations, the State acknowledges that given its
magnitude and characteristics, forced displacement is the main
humanitarian problem resulting from the armed conflict.
Forced displacement, the State notes, has increased poverty and
vulnerability of the affected population that is impeded from carrying
on with their lives. The
State indicates that 31 out of 100 displaced households suffer from
extreme poverty and 54 are on the brink of indigence.
Official statistics indicate a total of 890,000 displaced persons
between 1995 and 2002, with a sustained increase of a 45% per semester.
CODHES’ reports reveal that in the first quarter of 2002 more
than 90 thousand people–an average of one thousand per day- were
forced to abandon their homes because of massacres, selective
assassinations, massive displacements or because the armed factions held
their communities under siege.
Some 35% of the displaced during this period were forced out of
their land in massive numbers reaching an average of 1300 persons.
The State indicates that 48% of displacement victims are women,
45% children between the ages of 5 and 14 and that afro-Colombian and
indigenous peoples add up to 17,7% and 3,75% of the total, respectively.
Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in the regions of
Cauca, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Serrania del Perija and vast areas
of Antioquia, Tolima, Nariño, Putumayo, Cordoba and Choco are amongst
the human groups seriously affected by displacement.
Hundreds of civil servants have been forced to resign or abandon
their place of residence because of the influence of illegal armed
groups. School teachers,
members of medical missions, trade union leaders and members of the
Church join the constant influx of displaced civilians into the major
Although the number of departments affected by massive
displacements decreased from 19 in 2001 to five in 2002, the figures
released by CODHES confirm the geographical growth of this phenomena:
the 26 departments receiving displaced populations in 2001 increased to
31 in the first months of 2002. Statistics
show that 321 municipalities (29.47% of the total) received displaced
persons between January and March 2002. These figures reveal that during this period the actors in
the armed conflict engaged in fewer but more intense military actions
and that forced displacement is still a main strategy in the conflict.
The departments and municipalities receiving the largest influx
of displaced persons during this period were Magdalena (16,586), Bogotá
D.C. (14,000), Norte de Santander (13,178), Antioquia (7,212), Sucre
(3,640), Caldas (3,601), Cundinamarca (3,238), Tolima (3,000), Córdoba
(2,649), Cauca (2,604), Bolivar (2,576), Meta (2,476), Huila (2,113),
Risaralda (1,473), and Nariño (1,484).
According to figures released by CODHES, some instances of mass
displacements took place between July and September 2002; however, they
were fewer than in previous periods.
It has been suggested that the figures indicate the intention to
favor the commission of selective murders over the carrying out of
The State acknowledges the geographical expansion of the
phenomenon. It indicates
that the 480 municipalities that were either involved in the reception
or expulsion of population in the year 2000 increased to 819 in 2001 and
to 887 during the first semester of 2002. Consequently, 87% of the Colombian territory is affected by
forced displacement events.
The State identifies 20 critical areas from where 68% of the
population is being displaced, which coincide with the zones where the
armed conflict has reached its highest intensity.
As a result, the chances for return have reduced from 37% in 2000
to 11% in 2001 and to only 2% during the first semester of 2002.
Coordination and execution of forced-displacement policies is
provided for under Law 387/97, and hinges upon the so called Red
de Solidaridad Social
This agency operates pursuant to the directives in document CONPES 3057
and the Strategic Plan for the 2000-2002 period, together with the Unidad Técnica Conjunta (UTC) as technical-advisor, and with the
support of the Liaison Office of the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
For some years now, the humanitarian situation has prompted the
national and international community to press for full enforcement of
Act No. 387/97 by adopting implementing legislation and regulations.
The Act itself provides that those regulations were to have been
in place within six months of its approval, back in 1997.
In view of the evident delay, a series of tutelas
were filed with the Constitutional Court in search of judicial
protection. In August 2000, the Court handed down its decision ordering
the implementation of Act No. 387/97 within a three-month period.
On December 12, 2000, as a reaction to the Constitutional
Court’s decision, Decree 2569 was issued to regulate the portion of
Act No. 387/97 concerning the responsibilities of the Red
de Solidaridad Social as the coordinating agency for the National
Information and Comprehensive Services System for Populations Displaced
by Violence, the definition of the condition of displaced person and
that condition’s duration, the Displaced Persons Registration System,
and the terms to be enrolled in it, the National Information, Emergency
Humanitarian Relief, Socio-economic Stabilization Network and the
functions of the municipal, district and departmental committees for
comprehensive services to those displaced by the violence.
It is still not clear whether the mechanisms created under the
regulatory decree are effective and adequate to cope with the magnitude
of the humanitarian catastrophe created by the phenomenon of forced
displacement in Colombia. Assistance
to the displaced appears to be focused mainly on emergency humanitarian
aid that in great measure continues to remain in the hands of the
international community, particularly the ICRC. The information available suggests that there is still no
adequate program to protect the displaced and no effective measures have
been taken to prevent discrimination and stigmatization against them.
Despite the long time that has elapsed since the entry into force
of the Act and the adoption of its regulations, the latter do not appear
to have come about as a result of a process of consultation and
agreement with displaced communities and human rights organizations.
Such cooperation could have contributed to the effective
implementation of these programs.
In its observations, the Colombian State affirms that the
definite solution to forced displacement demands the restitution and
consolidation of the democratic authority throughout the domestic
territory. It also states
its willingness to create the conditions necessary to prevent and deal
with the issue of forced displacement according to the directives of
international humanitarian law, human rights law and the United Nations
Principles on Forced Displacement. The State remarks that its primary
objective is that of preventing forced displacement and protecting
communities at risk, including those that resist displacement.
It indicates its intention to strengthen the current early
warning system and the humanitarian aid supplied to the victims of the
conflict. It indicates that
the supply of humanitarian aid shall be targeted at the consequences of
death of a family member, permanent disability and the loss of property;
assisting minors in their education; and providing psychological
treatment to ensure the recovery of the victims.
A second element in the State’s policy consists in providing
emergency humanitarian assistance by establishing temporary dwellings
tailored to the needs of vulnerable groups.
As a third element, the State refers to generating conditions for
the resettlement of the displaced population when viable.
It indicates that the effort will start with the implementation
of a pilot test for the return of 30,000 displaced peasant families.
This project would be based on a scheme of subsides for housing, the
issuance of titles to land, the support of productive projects and
generation of income, and the promotion of training..
Finally, the State indicates its intention to strengthen the
national system of assistance to the displaced through the work of the
National Council for the Assistance of the Displaced Population and the
tools supporting the system: the National Information Network, the
Single Registration System and the System to Establish the Magnitude of
the Displacement. The Red
de Solidaridad Social will continue to coordinate the institutional
structure, guarantee national and regional communication, and take
advantage of the technical, logistic and financial resources provided by
domestic and international sources.
The State also indicated that Decree No. 2007 of 2000, which came
into force in the year 2002, has established the tutela
as a legal remedy to seek judicial protection and ensure the rights of
displaced persons. In 2002
alone, 937 tutelas were filed.
The IACHR cannot but welcome the promotion of institutional
policies contemplating forced displacement and its consequences in light
of the State’s international obligations. However, and without
prejudice to the significance of such policies, the IACHR is still
concerned about their effective implementation in view of past and
current difficulties in alleviating the humanitarian crisis. The Commission will continue observing and evaluating the
efficacy of measures adopted by the State pursuant to Act No. 387/97 in
light of the needs of the displaced and the Guiding Principles on
V. ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
The Commission is deeply preoccupied by the high incidence of
impunity that persists in Colombia, the judicial practices regarding the
assignment of competences, the violence or threats against those who
investigate or report human rights violations and the lack of progress
in the investigation of cases where the responsibility of State agents
Through the years the IACHR has shown its support for the work of
the National Human Rights Unit created in 1955 under the Office of the
Attorney General of the Nation for the purpose of centralizing and
speeding up judicial inquiries into violations of human rights and
international humanitarian law. In
its first six years of operation, the National Human Rights Unit made
significant progress in this area, including the investigation and
prosecution of cases involving the participation of State agents and
illegal groups. The
prosecutors in the Unit played a fundamental role in instituting formal
investigations of high-ranking military officers for their alleged
collaboration with paramilitary groups.
However, the Commission notes that during the year 2002 no
significant progress was made in the many investigations into serious
human rights violations. Worse still, there have been instances in which progress on
investigations has been discouraged or impaired through acts of omission
or outright censorship. Some
of these instances, including the hasty removal of individual
prosecutors on the verge of bringing formal charges against State
agents, particularly high-ranking Army officers, notoriously linked to
the investigation of human rights violations have caused serious
repercussions in the press and the condemnation of the human rights
The Commission is deeply concerned by this development and by the
weakening of an agency that, in combination with the Procuraduria
General de la Nacion, the Defensoria
del Pueblo and the Constitutional Court, performs a vital role in
investigating human rights violations in Colombia.
In its response, the State indicates that the activities
undertaken by the Office of the General Prosecutor have been exclusively
aimed at consolidating the work of the National Human Rights Unit. The
IACHR hopes that this alleged support will translate into the
independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the National Human
Rights Unit in its task of clarifying human rights violations.
VI. THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
AND SOCIAL LEADERS
The Situation of Human Rights Defenders
During the year 2002 human rights defenders continued to be the
targets of assassinations, multiple threats and harassment to disrupt
their task of the promotion and protection of human rights in Colombia.
In view of the seriousness and urgency of some of the situations
brought to the Commission’s attention, and based on the information
provided, the Commission decided to invoke the precautionary measure
mechanism provided under Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure to protect
the lives and safety of persons, groups of persons or members of human
On February 14, 2002 attorney María del Carmen Florez,
representative of the municipality of Mutatá and co-founder of the
organization Fundación Jurídica
Colombiana, based in Apartado, was killed.
Maria del Carmen Florez was actively involved in the
representation of the disappeared Alcides Torres Arias’ family and
their appearance in a hearing scheduled for the 114th
sessions of the IACHR. The IACHR publicly condemned the assassination of
this human rights defender and granted precautionary measures to protect
the rest of the members of Fundacion
Juridica Colombiana and the Alcides Torres Arias’ next of kin.
On July 29, 2002, the IACHR granted precautionary measures for 14
human rights defenders and social leaders active in the Department of
Arauca. It requested the
Colombian State to adopt special measures of protection in favor of the
beneficiaries, including Mr. José
Rusbell Lara, a member of the Joel Sierra Regional Human Rights
Committee. Regrettably, Mr.
Lara was assassinated on November 18, 2002, at the municipal seat of
In spite of the IACHR’s request, the available information
indicates that at the time of the attack, effective measures for Mr.
Lara’s protection had not been implemented.
Commission publicly deplored the assassination of this human rights
defender and regretted that the Colombian State had failed to comply
with its obligation to effectively implement measures of protection.
The Commission urged the State to investigate this crime
thoroughly and to prosecute and punish those responsible.
It also called upon the State to ensure that the rest of the
precautionary measure beneficiaries were granted adequate protection.
On July 19, 2002, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in
favor of the members of ANDAS working in the
Department of Santander. ANDAS
is a non-governmental organization devoted to promoting the human rights
of Colombia’s displaced population.
The beneficiaries were identified in a document issued by the Frente
Urbano Fidel Castaño Gil, Bloque Central Bolívar, of the AUC
threatening their lives and demanding their departure from the region.
August 6, 2002, the IACHR again invoked the mechanism of precautionary
measures, this time in favor of members of the Permanent Human Rights
Committee and the CUT, all of whom had been directly threatened by the
The Commission continues to be seriously concerned about the
situation of several human rights organizations whose members are
beneficiaries of precautionary measures or provisional measures granted
by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Although the measures ordered remain in effect, these persons are
still targets of threats and harassment.
The beneficiaries of these measures include members of
organizations like ASFADDES, Comite de Derechos Humanos del Meta,
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, AFAVIT, Commite de
Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos, Organizacion Femenina Popular,
CREDHOS, NOMADSEC, and SEMBRAR.
In addition to granting these precautionary measures, the
Commission has requested information from the State concerning other
persons or groups of persons who have been threatened because of their
human rights activities. The
Commission will continue observing the situation of human rights
defenders in Colombia.
Social and trade union leaders
2002 the IACHR continued to receive reports about the violence
perpetrated against members of peasant
organizations and other social leaders in various regions of
Colombia. In some cases,
the seriousness of the threats and the history of violence against these
organizations and leaders lead to the adoption of precautionary measures
in their favor.
Unfortunately, the ferocious attacks on the lives of organized
labor leaders in Colombia have not relented.
The IACHR is particularly concerned by the assassination of a
number of members of USO, despite the fact that the leaders of the
organizations are under the protection of precautionary measures granted
by the Commission.
The situation of Jesús González, a member of the executive
committee and human rights director of the Central Unitaria de
Trabajadores (CUT) and a member of the Committee for Risk Evaluation and
Regulation of the Special Program to Protect Witnesses and Threatened
Persons that operates in the institutional sphere of the State, merits
special consideration. Mr.
González and his body guards were allegedly the victims of a direct act
of aggression perpetrated by agents of the State in the city of Cali.
Considering the circumstances, the Commission must express its
concern for the alleged involvement of security forces in an attack
against a union leader who has received protection from the State for a
number of years and who partakes of the official mechanism provided to
dispense protection to other members of the trade unions, human rights
defenders, journalists and other persons on whose behalf precautionary
measures are frequently ordered by the IACHR regarding Colombia.
IV. THE DECLARATION
OF STATE OF EMERGENCY
It is public knowledge that the attacks and acts of violence
immediately preceding and coinciding with the inauguration of President
Alvaro Uribe Vélez on August 7, 2002 –which included the FARCs’
attacks on the Palacio de Nariño and the Congress— triggered a
declaration of a state of emergency four days later. The State implemented this measure by issuing a series of
decrees creating the so-called rehabilitation and consolidation areas
within the national territory and establishing a number of restrictions,
among them restrictions barring foreign journalists from certain areas.
On August 14, 2002, Colombia informed the Permanent Council that
a state of emergency had been declared in accordance with the provisions
of its Constitution. It explained that the state of emergency was declared because
events had occurred and circumstances persisted which, in the opinion of
the Administration of Dr. Álvaro Uribe, threatened the security of the
citizenry and the institutions of government and warranted the adoption
of measures that could not be instituted through the exercise of
ordinary authority. In
notifying the Secretary General of this act of government and reporting
it to the Permanent Council, the State confirmed its intention to honor
its obligations under Article 27 of the American Convention.
Since its adoption in August 2002 the state of emergency has been
renewed in December 2003 and February 2003.
already established by the organs of the inter-American system, States
not only have the right but also the obligation to protect their
citizens by combating criminal acts in the context of respect for the
rule of law, legality, and international human rights obligations, so as
to strike a balance between the enjoyment of individual liberties and
the general welfare. The
obligations undertaken under the American Convention on Human Rights and
the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights require that
the measures adopted and applied by the States parties in states of
emergency be dictated by the principles of necessity, exceptionality,
temporality and proportionality.
Further, the Inter-American Court has held that from Article
27(1) comes the general requirement that in any state of emergency
“there be appropriate means to control the measures taken, so that
they are proportionate to the needs and do not exceed the strict limits
imposed by the Convention or derived from it”
and that “the judicial remedies that must be considered to be
essential within the meaning of Article 27(2) are those that ordinarily
will effectively guarantee the full exercise of the rights and freedoms
protected by that provision and whose denial or restriction would
endanger their full enjoyment.”
The IACHR has taken note of the adoption of Legislative Decree
2002, of September 11, 2002, whereby measures are adopted to control law
and order and rehabilitation and consolidation zones are established.
It has also taken note of the Constitutional Court’s ruling of
October 2, 2002 declaring Executive Order 1837 –the declaration of a
state of emergency- to be consistent with the principles of the
Constitution. In that
ruling, the Constitutional Court indicated that the President has the
role of determining the adequacy of the ordinary means available to the
authorities to cope with a disturbance and that it did not find any
manifest miscalculations of the seriousness of the situation.
It also reaffirmed that this presidential authority is neither
absolute nor arbitrary and that it must observe the criteria established
in international treaties on human rights and international humanitarian
law ratified by Colombia.
In a subsequent decision, C-1024/2002, the Constitutional Court
declared invalid some sections of the above mentioned Decree and it
subjected the implementation of other provisions to certain conditions.
In its judgement C-939 of 2002 the Court also reviewed Decree 1900 of
2002 regarding criminal and procedural measures to be adopted against
criminal organizations and found it to be in accordance with the
The IACHR will continue to monitor the measures adopted during
the state of emergency in Colombia and the application of the applicable
legislation based on the parameters of the American Convention and the
principles of international human rights law and international
humanitarian law vis-à-vis necessity, proportionality and
The Commission is deeply concerned by the impact that the
violence perpetrated by the actors in the internal armed conflict
continues to have upon the respect of fundamental human rights of the
civilian population and, in particular, the most vulnerable sectors:
indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, the displaced, defenders of
human rights and social leaders. The
collapse of the dialogue between the State and the armed dissident
groups, and the new Administration’s so-called policy of democratic
security have introduced new dynamics into the armed conflict.
Lastly, the Commission would like to call upon the parties,
through their structures of command and control, to respect, carry out
and enforce the principles governing hostilities, as embodied in
international humanitarian law, with particular emphasis on the rules
that afford protection to the civilian population.
The IACHR is the process of approving a general report on the
situation of human rights in Colombia based–amongst other
sources—on information gathered during its last in
loco visit which shall explore in depth the concerns raised in
this report pursuant to Article 63(h) of the Commission’s Rules of
Communication DDH 2382 from the Human Rights Direction, Ministry of
Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Colombia, dated January 23, 2002.
Ibid. p. 2
Press Release 17/02, April 17, 2002.
See Report, Chapter IV, Colombia, Annual
Report of the IACHR 2000, paragraphs 64 -69, and Press Release
33/01, December 13, 2001.
Final Minutes of the Diplomatic Conference of UN Plenipotentiaries
on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court.
Signed in Rome on July 17, 1998, A/CONF.183/10, Resolution E,
A/CONF.183/C.1/L.76/Add.14, 8; Statute of the International Criminal
Court, ONU Doc. A/CONF.183/9 (1998), amended verbally on November
10, 1998 and July 12 1999; entered into force on July 1, 2002.
See Office of the Vice President of the Republic, Results of the
Policy on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, March
Report presented by the Colombian Commission of Jurists at the
hearing on the general human rights situation in Colombia, held
during the 116th regular session of the IACHR.
Press Release 13/02, April 9, 2002.
Press Release 24/02, May 10, 2002.
Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on its
observations in the low Atrato river, May 20, 2002.
Information presented by Fundación
País Libre in a hearing held during the 116th
regular sessions of the IACHR.
Press Release 18/02, April 25, 2002.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 3
See, IACHR Admissibility
Reports 57/00 (La
Granja, Ituango) and 33/01
(Mapiripán, Meta) Annual Report of the IACHR, 2000.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 6
CODHES, CODHES Informa,
Bulletin of the Office of the Advisor for Human Rights and
Displacement, Bogotá, No. 41, May 9, 2002.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 6.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 6.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 6.
Decree 489/99 which assigns to the “Social Solidarity Network, an
agency attached to the Administrative Department of the Presidency
of the Republic, the business and functions previously performed by
the Office of the Presidential Advisor on Services to Persons
Displaced by Violence” (Article 1).
Act No. 387/97, Article 15. On
emergency humanitarian relief.
persons have the right to emergency humanitarian relief for a
maximum of three (3) months, which in exceptional cases can be
extended for an additional three (3) months.
Constitutional Court, Judgment SU-1150, 30 August 2000.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 7
Communication DDH 2382, p. 8.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 10.
Communication DDH 2382, p. 13.
See Human Rights Watch A wrong
turn, the record of the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, November
Press Release 6/02, February 15, 2002.
Press Release 45/02, November 12, 2002.
IACtHR, Advisory Opinion OC 9/87, January 30, 1987, paragraph 21.
IACtHR, OC-8, paragraph 29.
Press release, “In a ruling of October 2, 2002, the Constitutional
Court declares Executive Order 1837 of 2002 “Declaration of a
State of Emergency” to be constitutional.”