HUMAN RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS IN THE REGION
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.
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.
1. 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.
5. The 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.
the basis of the criteria set forth above, the Commission has decided to
include five member states: Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti and
internal armed conflict in the Republic of Colombia continued to take
its toll on fundamental human rights in 2005. As in previous years, the
situation matched the criteria set forth in Chapter IV of the Annual
Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Those
criteria are relevant broadly and with respect to the persistence of
immediate situations or structural conditions in member states that, for
various reasons, are confronted with situations that seriously affect
the enjoyment and exercise of the fundamental rights upheld in the
American Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, in keeping with the
procedure established in Article 57(1)(h) of its Rules of Procedure,
the Commission has adopted the following observations on the matter, for
inclusion in its Annual Report.
Commission’s analysis briefly examines the demobilization of the armed
groups operating outside the law, its conformity with the State’s
international obligations, and the toll that the violence unleashed by
the armed conflict has taken on the civilian population in 2005,
emphasizing the plight of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant
communities, community and labor leaders, human rights defenders,
officers of the court and journalists. The administration of justice
and the issue of impunity are also addressed.
offering specific and documented observations on these matters, the
Commission wishes to make clear that it recognizes the efforts the State
has made to fight armed actors and end violence in Colombia.
among the advances made in the area of human rights are the Government’s
efforts to continue its “Programa de Protección de defensores de
derechos humanos, sindicalistas, periodistas y líderes sociales”
[Program to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Members of Trade Unions,
Journalists and Community Leaders”] and its “Programa de Protección
de Comunidades en Riesgo”
[At-Risk Communities Protection Program] administered by the Ministry of
the Interior. This program protects numerous beneficiaries of
precautionary and provisional measures adopted by the Commission and the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, respectively, and helps to protect
the life and personal safety of thousands threatened by the actors in
Colombia’s armed conflict. While more progress is needed in this area
and although difficulties or delays in implementing the protective
mechanisms have occurred in some cases, this is a planned and
institutional initiative deserving of the Commission’s continuing
addition, it is relevant to underline the autos de cumplimiento
written by the Constitutional Court,
calling Governmental institutions to respond the facing consequences of
the internal displaced in terms of the available budget, the respect of
their rights, and the commitment in attention of the displaced
Commission is pleased to note that in 2005 Colombia took an important
step toward universalization of the inter-American system for the
protection of human rights when, on April 12, 2005, it ratified the
Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, thus
making fundamental progress toward protecting the rights of the people
of Colombia and of the hemisphere.
I. THE ARMED CONFLICT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES FOR THE CIVILIAN
To address the question of the armed conflict and its impact on the
enjoyment of human rights in 2005, reference will first be made to the
demobilization of the illegal armed groups and the approval of the
Justice and Peace Law. The impact that the violence unleashed by the
conflict has had on the civilian population will then be examined,
particularly the impact on the indigenous and Afro-descendant
communities; community and union leaders, human rights defenders and
officers of the court, and journalists. The IACHR’s comments are based
on the on-site visit it conducted in June 2005, on information reported
in hearings and in the course of processing cases and precautionary
measures, on reports prepared by intergovernmental and nongovernmental
organizations, and on information reported by official sources.
A. The process of demobilizing armed groups operating in
violation of the law
and the Justice and Peace Law
the election and inauguration of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez in August
2002, some leaders of the paramilitary organization known as
Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC)
announced their intention to negotiate for the demobilization of their
forces and on December 1, 2002, declared a unilateral cease-fire. In
the ensuing months, representatives of the Government initiated contacts
with members of the AUC
and on July 15, 2003 a preliminary agreement was reached establishing
demobilization targets for December 31, 2005. The process of
dialogue between the AUC’s “negotiating high command” (“estado mayor
negociador”) and the Government made considerable headway in 2005 on
the demobilization of a number of units operating in different regions
of the country.
the Commission has said before, members of the paramilitary units
involved in the demobilization process have been repeatedly cited as
being responsible for grave violations of human rights and international
humanitarian law, including massacres of defenseless civilians;
selective assassinations of community leaders, trade unionists, human
rights defenders, officers of the court, journalists, and others; acts
of torture, harassment, and intimidation; and actions aimed at forcing
the displacement of entire communities. The Commission has established
the State’s responsibility in individual cases, as these serious
violations of the American Convention were perpetrated with the
acquiescence of State agents.
Indeed, the Commission has referred some of these cases to the
jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court.
Against this backdrop, the organs of the inter-American system,
the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner,
and human rights organizations in Colombia and elsewhere have urged that
the demobilization process must be coupled with guarantees that the
State’s international obligations will be respected.
2005, the demobilization process made headway in terms of the number of
AUC members who turned over weapons in ceremonies held in concentration
areas set up in various regions of the country: over ten thousand men
and women belonging to a number of AUC blocks have participated in these
Despite the gesture, the AUC have failed to honor their own cease-fire,
in areas where weapons have already been turned in and in areas of the
country where AUC blocks that have not yet been demobilized are present.
Also in 2005 the State provided the necessary conditions to initiate a
dialog with the ELN, and with other actors of the armed conflict.
Those efforts are an objective of fundamental importance for peace,
stability and governability in Colombia and are one that both the State
and civil society share.
for the Colombian State’s obligation to achieve truth, justice and
reparations for the victims of the armed conflict, on July 22, 2005
President Uribe authorized enactment of Law 975 of 2005, known as the
“Justice and Peace Law.” This law establishes procedural benefits for
members of armed groups operating outside the law and involved in the
commission of crimes against the civilian population: those whom the
courts have already convicted of these crimes; those being investigated
or prosecuted for the alleged commission of those crimes, or those
willing to confess to their involvement in crimes of this type.
a press release issued on July 15, 2005, the Commission made public its
general observations on the text of the Justice and Peace Law.
It noted that the determination of the historical truth regarding what
happened during the last few decades of the conflict did not figure as
one of the law’s objectives, nor did identification of the sponsors of
the paramilitarism or determination of the degree to which the various
participants were involved in the commission of crimes against the
civilian population, whether by action, omission, collaboration or
law enacted focuses on the mechanisms to establish the facts in
individual cases, in the framework of determining the individual
criminal responsibility of demobilized persons who avail themselves of
the benefits under the law. However, its provisions fail to establish
incentives that would encourage the demobilized to make a full
confession of their guilt, in exchange for the generous judicial
benefits they would receive.
Consequently, the established mechanism does not guarantee that the
crimes perpetrated will be properly solved; this means that the facts in
many cases will never be known and the perpetrators will go unpunished.
The provisions of the law might favor the concealment of the commission
of other crimes that, had they been discovered, might eventually have
qualified for the same alternative penalties. Further, these procedural
benefits would not appear to be confined to crimes directly related to
the armed conflict; instead, perpetrators of common crimes like drug
trafficking might eventually one day try to avail themselves of the
benefits provided under this law.
the Commission observes that the institutional mechanisms created by the
Justice and Peace Law lack sufficient strength to effectively face the
duty of judicially clarifying the thousands of cases of massacre,
selective execution, forced disappearance, kidnapping, torture, forced
displacement and usurpation of lands, amongst other crimes, committed by
several thousand demobilized individuals during the many years that
paramilitary groups have operated in Colombia. In addition, the
Commission notes with preoccupation that over six months since the law
approval the General Attorney’s Office has not designated the total
number of delegated prosecutors that will be part of its Justice and
Peace Unit, the unit in charge of law application. Notwithstanding the
State has indicated that delegated prosecutors will be supported in
their work by a team of investigators, prosecutor assistants, prosecutor
auxiliaries, and investigator auxiliaries in criminology in the effort
to fortify the judicial structures.
Within this situation, the obstacles in the implementation of the
Justice and Peace Law and its Regulatory Decree 4760 from December of
2005, worries some the difficulties that victims from the conflict may
face in trying to access their right to the truth and reparation.
terms of reparation of the harm done by those responsible for the
commission of heinous crimes, the law places greater emphasis on
restitution of unlawfully acquired property than on the kind of
mechanisms that will make full reparations for victims possible.
Specifically, it makes no mention of specific mechanisms to repair the
damage done to the social fabric of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant
communities, or displaced women, who are frequently heads of household
and rank among the groups most vulnerable to the violence perpetrated by
the participants in the armed conflict. The law makes no provision for
reparations to victims in the form of measures directed at preventing a
recurrence of the crimes committed, such as disqualification or
separation from service of any State agents who may have been involved
in the crimes, whether by commission or omission.
IACHR notes that the Justice and Peace Law only offers incentives to
members of illegal armed groups against whom there are open judicial
process who cooperates in the clarification of committed crimes.
Notwithstanding, several crimes perpetrated during the conflict are
within the stage of previous investigation, without members from the AUC
been related to these processes.
up, the demobilization process is at a critical stage. The
negotiations, observance of the cease-fire commitment and the
administration of justice must be informed by the principles and
standards established in international law to ensure justice, truth and
reparations to persons within the State’s jurisdiction.
B. The violence resulting from the armed conflict
the cease-fire commitment undertaken by the “negotiating high command”
of the AUC, acts of violence and intimidation of the civilian population
continue to be committed by all actors in the conflict: paramilitaries,
whether or not engaged in the negotiations at Santafé de Ralito;
guerrilla groups, in particular the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias
de Colombia (FARC); and state agents. The acts violence committed in
the course of the armed conflict continue to result in grave violations
of the civilian population’s human rights and international humanitarian
law. The most vulnerable sectors affected are particularly: indigenous
peoples, Afro-descendant communities, and the displaced. The selective
assassinations and forced disappearances continued in 2005, targeting
human rights defenders, trade unionists, community leaders, journalists,
and candidates to elective office –including members of the Unión
Patriótica political movement – among others.
Colombian Government has indicated that during 2005 it registered a
reduction in human rights violations against people in Colombia.
The government’s figures report 42 massacres between January and
September 2005, claiming a total of 225 victims. Seven of the massacres
were purportedly the work of the FARC; two were attributed to the AUC.
The assailants in the other 33 massacres have not been identified.
These same sources report that the number of cases is up 5% over 2004,
while the number of victims is 3% higher than in 2004.
Data Bank of the Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CINEP)
[Research and Public Education Center] shows that 297 selective
executions purportedly occurred just in the six-month period from
January to June 2005. Of these, 53 were blamed on the Colombian Army,
while the remaining 234 were allegedly the work of paramilitary.
The data also shows 35 forced disappearances, 9 of which are attributed
to the Army, while 30 were said to have been committed by paramilitary.
As for the crimes committed by guerrilla groups, 113 violations of
international humanitarian law –among them 65 selective homicides- have
been blamed on the FARC.
government’s figures, based on the registration of displaced people,
show a sharp drop in the number of persons displaced during the first
half of 2005: the figure given for the January-October 2005 period is
106,650, as compared to 143,325 for the same period in 2004.
However, the statistics compiled by CODHES, based on the estimation per
municipality by trimester and annually, show different results.
According to studies done by CODHES, violence displaced 252,801 people
between January and September 2005, which would put the projected figure
of the total population displaced in 2005 even higher than the figure
CODHES recorded for 2004, which was 205,504 displaced persons.
in August 2005 the Constitutional Court found that the measures taken by
the Government to comply with its obligation and do more to protect the
rights of the displaced population had been slow and uneven.
As a result, in late August 2005, the High Court issued three orders
instructing State agencies and offices to guarantee:
(1) the budgetary effort necessary to address the issue of forced
(2) a stronger budgetary and administrative commitment on the part of
the territorial agencies to assist the displaced and for better
coordination between local agencies and national agencies;
and (3) adoption of measures to correct institutional failings and to
ensure that the displaced enjoy a minimum level of protection of their
it is relevant to underline that the IACHR has received complaints
alleging large-scale forced displacements and displacements of entire
families in such departments as Bolívar, Caldar, Caquetá, Nariño, and
Putumayo as a consequence of indiscriminate aerial fumigation supposedly
for the purpose of destroying crops being grown for illicit uses. The
Government, on the other hand, has indicated that the only objective of
the eradication of illicit cultivation is to comply with the
international obligations in matters of eradication of illegal
plantation, and as a result of the fumigations they have not received
complaints of effects on human health. Nevertheless, the State has
added that they have suspended fumigation on national parks, and have
implemented an alternative method of manual eradication of illicit
violence targeted at indigenous peoples in Colombia was even more severe
as they continued to be the victims of massacres, selective executions,
forced disappearances, forced displacement from their ancestral
territories, forced recruitment, loss or contamination of their food
sources, food blockades, accusations, and threats to their autonomy.
This situation was verified by the IACHR during an in-loco visit
conducted in June of 2005.
2005, members of the Kankuamo, Wayúu, Embera-Chamí, Embera-Katío, Wiwa,
Arhuaco, Páez, and Pijao indigenous groups were victims of massacres,
selective assassinations, disappearances and kidnappings. Blockades of
food and medical care, forced displacements and indiscriminate attacks
caused malnutrition, endemic diseases, illiteracy and a lack of basic
Inter-American Commission has received information about the situation
of the indigenous peoples in the northern sector of department of Cauca
where in April and May of 2005 fighting and militarization of their
ancestral lands in the municipalities of Toribio, San Francisco, Tacueyó
and Jambaló took place.
Concretely, members of the FARC launched an attack on police targets.
Armed clashes ensued within the town between members of the Armed Forces
and the FARC resulting in deaths among of civil population and hundreds
of displaced people. The information received indicated that the Armed
Forces had reacted disproportionately to repel the attack by the FARC,
leaving one boy dead and 15 people injured and forcing some five hundred
people to leave their community. The Government, on the other hand, has
indicated that the forces reaction of members of the Armed Forces to
repel the attack was not at any time disproportionately and that
displaced people received humanitarian aid.
Commission must reiterate
its concern over the vulnerable state in which indigenous peoples in
Colombia live, as evidenced by the murders, forced disappearances,
massacres and forced displacements that the members of these indigenous
communities have suffered, even in cases where provisional and
precautionary measures have been ordered on their behalf. The constant
acts of violence committed against the indigenous communities who ask
for respect and protection of their basic rights, threaten not just the
lives and safety of their members but their very existence as a people.
The situation demands concrete measures on the State’s part to vitiate
the factors that generate violence and to move toward full respect for
the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples.
respect to the afro-descent communities, they and their community
councils continue to endure food blockades, constant acts of harassment
and violence, kidnappings and forced displacements. Deforestation is a
constant threat to the territory of these indigenous groups, as is
cultivation of the African palm.
vulnerability of human rights defenders continued to be a matter of
concern in 2005. The patterns of threats, killings, and harassment
continued to obstruct the work of human rights defenders throughout the
country. The rights of those who promote and protect human rights in
Colombia are at risk because of the work they do. The risk factors did
not abate this past year.
2005, attempts were made on the lives of human rights defenders, some of
whom were, at the time, under protection ordered by the organs of the
inter-American system. The body of Lucian Enrique Romero Molina was
discovered in the city of Valledupar, in the department of Cesar, on
September 11, 2005. Romero Molina was a respected leader of a union
made up of workers in Colombia’s food industry (SINTRAINAL) and a
delegate of the Foundation Committee in Solidarity with Political
Prisoners –an organization for which the Commission had sought
precautionary measures. He was bound and stabbed 40 times, somewhere in
the La Nevada sector, an area alleged to be in the control of
paramilitary groups. The information received by the Commission
indicates that because of his work, Mr. Romero had been receiving
threats for a number of years, to the point that he was forced to leave
the country for a number of months. He had been back in Colombia for
only a few months when he was killed. The information also reported
that because of the death threats made against Romero Molina’s life, the
Foundation Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners had asked
the Government of Colombia
to include Romero Molina in the program to protect union leaders and
human rights defenders. The allegation is that the only protection he
was given was to provide him with two mobile phones, and monetary
support for national transportation. The State, on the other hand, has
indicated that from the facts it has been open a criminal process that
is currently in the stage of investigation by the Prosecutor at
Commission observes that the Colombian authorities continued to publicly
discredit the work of the leaders and defenders of the peace
The Commission learned of statements that the President of the Republic
made about the massacre in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó,
to the effect that “People who have lived there have made serious
allegations about some of the leaders, sponsors and defenders [of the
Community], accusing them of providing assistance to the FARC and of
trying to use the community to protect that terrorist organization.”
The Commission regrets that such statements are being made; they are so
general and vague that they merely serve to place the Peace Community
-its leaders in particular- in even greater peril. The episodes of
violence against this Peace Community were allegedly the work of
uniformed individuals bearing arms, who identified themselves as members
of the Army. Luis Eduardo Guerra Guerra (a leader of the Peace
Community’s Interim Council), his 11-year old son Deiner Andrés Guerra,
his partner Bellanira Aleiza Guzman, Alfonso Bolivar Tuberquia Graciano,
a leader of Mulatos and member of the Peace Council in the Mulatos
humanitarian zone, his partner Sandra Milena Muñoz Pozo, his children
Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz (age 2) and Natalia Andrea Tuberquia Muñoz (age
6), and Mr. Alejandro Pérez, were all alleged to have been taken by Army
troops at the Mulatos River. Five days later, their mutilated bodies
were found on the banks of the Mulatos River and in a nearby grave.
Commission reiterates that public officials should refrain from making
accusations about human rights defenders or from suggesting that human
rights organizations are acting improperly or unlawfully merely because
they are doing their work of promoting and protecting human rights. The
Government must give explicit instructions to its officials in this
regard and must, when necessary, discipline those who fail to follow
those instructions. In this sense, the State has indicated that it is
analyzing “the limits and inconvenience under the statutes” of a Unique
Disciplinary Code establishing it a grave misdemeanor to “contempt the
orders and instructions belonging to the Presidential Directress whose
objective is to promote human rights and the application of
international humanitarian law”.
Colombian experience shows that irresponsible accusations made against
human rights defenders and their organizations are followed by an
increase in acts of harassment and threats. In its Annual Report for
2004, the Commission expressed its concern over the repeated accusations
from official sources against the Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvéar
Restrepo” and the danger that such accusations posed for the members
of that group.
In 2005, the Commission received information indicating that the threats
that members of the Colectivo de Abogados had received were on
the rise. On May 13, as she was arriving at her home in Bogotá, the
President of the Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo,”
Soraya Gutiérrez Arguello, received a strange package from the guard at
the residential complex where she lived. The package had been delivered
by a courier service. The human rights defender immediately contacted
the National Police to have its anti-explosives team examine the
contents of the package. When they opened the package, the police found
inside a beheaded and dismembered doll; there were burned marks on the
doll and it had been stained with red nail polish –to simulate blood. A
cross had been drawn on the doll’s torso. With the doll was a
handwritten note that read: “You have a very attractive family; take
good care of it; don’t sacrifice it.”
Colectivo de Abogados reported that on that same day, persons not
associated with the organization published classified ads in newspapers
with nationwide circulation, intended to threaten the members of the
Colectivo. The first classified was seeking attorneys,
psychologists, sociologists, other professionals and students as well,
with or without experience. According to the human rights defenders,
the idea was to give the impression that the organization’s current
members might be killed, thus creating vacancies that would have to be
filled. The second classified was advertising for security guards and
instructed interested parties to bring their curriculums to the offices
of the organization on May 14, at the very same time that a meeting with
relatives of victims of human rights violations was scheduled.
Commission is again recommending to the State that it adopt urgent and
effective measures to protect the lives and physical safety of the human
rights defenders being threatened, and that these measures be arranged
and decided upon in consultation with the defenders themselves. The
Commission is also repeating its recommendation that an effective and
thorough prevention policy be adopted, intended to prevent attacks on
human rights defenders.
IACHR observes that the Government initiated the communicational
strategies “Defending human rights defenders” and “Human Rights the best
plan DO IT FOR YOU AND FOR ALL” on December 1, 2005.
The Commission insists on the importance of fortifying the efforts to
prevent and protect human rights defenders, as without a serious
prevention policy, the efforts of the Program to Protect Human Rights
Defenders, Trade Unionists, Journalists, and Community Leaders will not
be enough to end the violence against the persons being protected.
Commission continues to receive complaints of this nature, alleging that
“frame-ups” are being used to discredit or silence human rights
defenders who are engaging in such activities as documenting the human
rights situation, providing legal counsel to accused persons, or
representing victims before the courts and accompanying the communities
that are at risk. Domestic and international human rights organizations
have reported on this situation. The Commission has also received
complaints about victims of arbitrary arrests, to the effect that the
detentions were either groundless or without evidence or proof, were
made in the course of military operations, or used as a tool of
The Commission must underscore the point that the punitive power of the
State and its machinery of justice must not be manipulated so as to
harass those engaged in lawful endeavors.
3. Trade unionists and community leaders
and threats upon the lives and personal safety of union and community
leaders continued in 2005. The Commission received complaints of
extrajudicial executions and assaults alleged to have been committed by
paramilitary groups. The official figures are 13 fatalities in the
period from January to September 2005.
The Escuela Nacional Sindical (National School for Union
Leaders), for its part, reported that in the period from January 1 to
April 20, 2005, 16 unionized workers were killed, 123 received death
threats, attempts were made on the lives of two, four had been abducted,
40 had been detained arbitrarily, and death threats had forced six to
move from their homes and workplaces.
so, the situation remains serious, so much so that the Commission has
continued to monitor the precautionary measures it granted to protect
union leaders or the leadership of certain union organizations such as
ECOPETROL-USO and SINTRAEMSDES, among others.
Eislen Escalante Pérez, a displaced leader and President of the “Asociación
de Desplazados Víctimas del sistema por una Colombia Nueva,” was
killed in Barranquilla, in Atlántico department, on October 14, 2005.
According to the information available, the victim was killed by two
hired gunmen, who were on a motorcycle. They shot him twice in the
head. At the time, Mr. Escalante was with Amilkar Martinez Arias, an
indigenous leader of the Kankuamo people, who has allegedly received a
number of threats since. Mr. Escalante Pérez and Mr. Martínez Arias
were working together on projects to assist displaced persons and were
complaining about the mismanagement of funds for projects intended to
benefit the displaced population in that region. Having received
threats before, Mr. Escalante Pérez had requested protection from the
Ministry of the Interior, which provided him with a walkie-talkie.
According to what has been reported to the Commission, several risk
assessments done by the authorities concluded that his security
situation did not warrant any other type of protection.
Diego Gutiérrez, Vice President of the Communal Action Board of the
hamlet of Malavar in El Castillo municipality, Meta department,
disappeared on October 13, 2005. Mr. Gutiérrez’ body was found the
following day and showed signs of torture. Mr. Gutiérrez had been
stabbed 14 times in the left side; his testicles and left ear had been
cut off. Mr. Gutiérrez’ teeth had been broken, and his hands appeared
to have been tied. According to the information the Commission has
received, the crime is alleged to have been the work of paramilitary
Commission was concerned by reports it received about an assault made
upon union leader Rafael Cabarcas Cabarcas, a member of the National
Executive Board of the USO, in Cartagena, Bolívar department, on March
2, 2005. According to the information received by the Commission, Mr.
Cabarcas and his bodyguard were exiting an education center when they
were cut off by two persons on a motorcycle. The gunmen shot and
wounded the labor leader and his bodyguard. The bullet that hit Mr.
Cabarcas was to the body, around the neck area. The bullet that struck
his bodyguard hit him in the abdomen. The two wounded men were taken to
a hospital, where they spent several days recovering. The Commission
will continue to monitor the precautionary measures granted to protect
the members of the USO and calls upon the State to immediately take the
steps necessary to carry out these measures. The State has indicated
that members from the USO have received protectional measures through
the Protection Program from the Minister of Interior and Justice.
Commission has continued to follow the issue of the Arauca community
leaders. In this regard, the Commission was informed of events on
September 21, 2005, when persons identifying themselves as members
Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) made several phone calls to
educational institutions where professors Omaira Morales, Matilde
Morales, Gladis Morales and William Bustos worked. They are the sisters
and brother-in-law of Professor Samuel Morales Flórez, President of the
Arauca section of the Central Unitaria de los Trabajadores (CUT)
[United Workers Federation]. Professor Morales Flórez is currently
It was reported that the message received in one of the calls was as
follows: “Tell Professors Gladys and Omayra Morales that they have 72
hours to leave this department; we have Samuel Morales’ relatives in our
sights and they should leave Arauca.” Between that call and September
24, other threatening phone calls were received, both at the workplaces
and at the homes of the above-named persons.
The State indicated that competent authorities initiated investigations
with regard to the phone threats received by Mr. Samuel Morales’ family.
the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, in 2005
the Commission continued to receive information relating to threats,
kidnappings, intimidation and other acts of violence suffered by
journalists and media outlets in Colombia. Among the events reported by
the Office of the Special Rapporteur during that period was the murder
of Julio Hernando Palacios Sánchez,
the destruction of radio transmission towers in various regions of the
and the death threats received by journalists
Carlos Lozano Guillén, Hollman Morris and Daniel Coronell consisting of
floral arrangements (wreaths) sent as if intended for their funerals.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur also was informed that in August
2005, journalist Daniel Coronell was forced to leave Colombia for the
sake of his own safety.
2005, the IACHR approved the report titled Impunity, Self-censorship
and Armed Internal Conflict: an Analysis of the State of Freedom of
Expression in Colombia,
prepared by the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the occasion of the
on-site visit conducted in the cities of Bogotá and Arauca, April 25
through 29, 2005.
Report of the Special Rapporteur underscores the persistent pattern of
impunity associated with crimes committed against social communicators.
The Office of the Special Rapport observed that the intimidating effect
caused by the threats to and killing of journalists merely grows as long
as these crimes go unpunished. In its study, the Office of the Special
Rapporteur examined the status of the investigations that the Public
Prosecutor’s Office is conducting into various cases. The evaluation
left the Office of the Special Rapporteur with a number of concerns
having to do with the weakening of the office in charge of investigating
assassinations of journalists and the slow pace in investigating most
cases of violations of freedom of expression, especially the
investigation also points out that in recent years the incidence of
violence against journalists in Colombia has shown a marked decline.
The implementation of government programs to protect journalists played
a decisive role in bringing about this downturn in violence. However,
the Office of the Special Rapporteur has confirmed that the decline in
these figures is also a result of self-censorship on the part of the
journalists themselves. The Report states that the climate of violence
and aggression in Colombia is definitely acting to silence social
communicators. During the visit, it was also found that there are
regions in the country where journalists are pressured by outlawed armed
groups and even by Government officials, either to report certain news
or to remain silent.
report also discloses the complaints received about certain statements
made by high-ranking government officials, who have spoken out publicly
against the work of the nongovernmental human rights organizations, both
local and international, which has doubtless heightened tensions between
the Government and civil society.
Office of the Special Rapporteur ends its study with a series of
recommendations that urge the Government to take the necessary measures
to protect the physical integrity of social communicators and the
infrastructure of the communications media. It also calls upon the
competent authorities to conduct a serious, impartial and effective
investigation of the acts of violence and intimidation committed against
journalists, and then to prosecute and punish the guilty parties.
ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
2005, no significant headway was made with the investigations into
crimes involving violations of human rights in which the international
responsibility of the State has been established. And so, the problem
of impunity persists as does the practice of large-scale arrests and
pressure exerted on prosecutors, judges and justice operators involved
in investigations of human rights violations.
pointed out earlier, the IACHR continues to receive complaints of
large-scale arrests of community leaders and human rights defenders for
the alleged crime of rebellion and terrorism. The arrests have been made
in the context of military and police operations deployed in areas
inhabited both by the local civilian population and guerrilla elements.
In many cases the detainees are deprived of liberty for the maximum
period allowed by law – up to 180 days – after which they are released
for lack of evidence. The detentions are frequently based on the
testimony of members of the Government’s network of informers, or of
former members of armed groups who have now become mainstreamed and
provide testimony in exchange for monetary compensation. In the case of
those who have rejoined mainstream society, Decree 128 of 2003
establishes a procedure whereby the demobilized can claim benefits,
including health care, protection and security, and cash payments, in
exchange for collaborating by providing information on the activities of
It is worth noting that the IACHR has not received any complaints
alleging noncompliance with Decree 128 by virtue of a failure to provide
the benefits therein promised. It has, however, received complaints and
testimony about false accusations made against human rights defenders
and community leaders, accusations made by persons who have rejoined
mainstream society and have taken advantage of the economic incentives
offered in exchange for providing information.
IACHR has received complaints to the effect that officers of the court
are under pressure to legitimize the arrests made by military and police
personnel in the course of special operations where massive and
indiscriminate searches and arrests are made. It has been said that
those who question the legality of these practices as well as the
grounds for depriving the detainees of liberty have been subjected to
criminal or disciplinary investigations.
Commission acknowledges the efforts made by the State to combat armed
actors and end the violence in the Republic of Colombia. The Commission
is also pleased to see that in 2005, the State took an important step
forward with its ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Forced
Disappearance of Persons.
Commission would also draw attention to the Government’s efforts to keep
up its programs to protect human rights defenders, unionists,
journalists, community leaders and the Communities at risk.
the Commission is still troubled by the toll that violence caused by the
players in the armed internal conflict has taken on respect for the
fundamental rights of the civilian population in Colombia, particularly
among the most vulnerable sectors: the indigenous communities, the
Afro-descendant communities and the displaced. Likewise, human rights
defenders, community and union leaders, and journalists continue to be
the target of attacks. Despite the dialogue between the State and the
negotiating high command of the AUC, the commitment to a cease-fire, and
the demobilizations that have occurred in various parts of the country,
paramilitary groups continue to strike at the civilian population.
IACHR is mindful of the fact that negotiation mechanisms must be used to
get the armed actors to disengage and so end the complex, painful and
protracted experience that Colombia has endured. To ensure a lasting
peace, non-repetition of conduct criminalized under international law,
human rights violations and gross violations of international
humanitarian law must be guaranteed. To that end, the crimes must be
investigated and reparations made for the consequences of the violence,
using mechanisms that can get at the truth of what happened, administer
justice and fully compensate the victims in keeping of the State’s
international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights
and the OAS Charter. By preparing general and special reports and
studying and ruling on individual cases, the IACHR will continue to
exercise its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in
Colombia in the demobilization and in the interpretation and application
of its laws.
closing the IACHR once again urges the parties to the armed conflict,
through their command and control structures, to respect, carry out and
enforce the norms governing hostilities, as embodied in international
humanitarian law, with particular emphasis on the rules regarding
protection of the civilian population.
The pertinent parts of Article 57 of the Commission’s Rules of
Procedure read as follows “1. The Annual Report presented by the
Commission to the General Assembly of the OAS shall include the
following: [...] h. any
general or special report the Commission considers necessary with
regard to the situation of human rights in the Member States, and,
as the case may be, follow-up reports noting the progress achieved
and the difficulties that have existed with respect to the effective
observance of human rights; [..]
2. For the preparation and adoption of the reports provided
for in paragraph 1(h) of this Article, the Commission shall gather
information from all the sources it deems necessary for the
protection of human rights. Prior to its publication in the Annual
Report, the Commission shall provide a copy of said report to the
respective State. That State may send the Commission the views it
deems pertinent within a maximum time period of one month from the
date of transmission. The contents of the report and the decision
to publish it shall be within the exclusive discretion of the
Commission.” Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights (approved by the Commission at its 109th special
session, held from December 4 through 8, 2000, and amended at its
116th regular session, held from October 7 through 25, 2002, and at
its 118th regular session, held from October 6 through 24, 2003).
Around 1997 paramilitary groups nationwide joined together to form
an organization called Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, made
up of paid, well-equipped forces operating outside the law. The
AUC’s avowed purpose was to work in concert against the guerrilla
forces. By 2003, AUC membership was at some 13,500. Members were
organized into units called bloques, with the following
names: Norte, Central Bolívar, Centauros, Calima, Héroes de Granada,
Pacífico, Sur del Cesar, Vencedores de Arauca, and Élmer Cárdenas.
These units operate through 49 fronts (frentes), with
influence in 26 of Colombia’s 32 departments and in 382 of its 1,098
The IACHR has brought the following cases to the Court: the massacre
of 19 merchants in the Magdalena Medio region in 1987; the massacre
of civilians at Mapiripán (Meta) in 1997; the disappearance of
civilians at Pueblo Bello (Córdoba) in 1990; and the massacres of
civilians in Ituango (Antioquia) perpetrated in 1996 and 1997. The
Court delivered a judgment declaring the State responsible in the
19 Merchants Case in 2004. See I/A Court H.R., “19
Merchants” Case, Judgment of July 5, 2004, Series C No. 109, and
in the “Mapiripán Massacre” Case, Judgment of September 15,
2005, Series C No. 134.
CINEP Figures on political violence, January-June 2004, Table 2, in
Noche y Niebla No. 29, p. 26. About these most recent
figures, CINEP explains that various direct or indirect agents of
the State may be involved in the same event and in some cases share
responsibility with members of the insurgency. Those figures refer
to the persons allegedly responsible for forced disappearances and
not to victims, which explains why the number of those allegedly
responsible is higher than the victim count.
See IACHR, Press Release 31/03, dated October 30, 2003.
In the Annual Report 2004, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.122, Chapter IV,
paragraph 35 et seq., the Commission underscored the importance of
putting an end to the hostility that members of the branches of
government display toward human rights organizations, among them
those that engage in the work of monitoring communities at risk.
Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
[Foundation Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners].
Information reproduced by the Observatory for the Protection of
Human Rights Defenders, the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)
and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
The body of Mr. Miguel Caro was found in the same area on February
12, 2005. He had been a member of the Environmental Sanitation
Office of the El Castillo municipality in Meta department and a
respected campesino leader in that region. According to the
information reported to the Commission, prior to his disappearance
Mr. Caro had expressed fear that paramilitaries might take reprisals
against him and others, as they had recently filed a case against a
number of public officials, among them the mayor of the
municipality, alleging crimes of corruption. Comisión
Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz [Inter-ecclesiastical Commission
for Justice and Peace]. Information reproduced by the Observatory
for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the World Organisation
against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human
Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los
(CPDH), Arauca section. Information
reproduced by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights
Defenders, the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) and the
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
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