Overview of 1997

The following is excerpted from the report submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by Gustavo Gallon, director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, in October 1997. For more information, contact the CCJ at Cra. 10a. No.24-76, Of. 1101, Bogota, Colombia (mail); (571) 283-2436 (phone); (571) 342-8819 (fax); ccj@colnodo.apc.org (email).

So far in 1997 we must emphasize the deteriorating situation of sociopolitical violence and internal armed conflict. In this context, we are especially concerned about the escalation of the actions of the paramilitary groups, and the lack of a government policy to combat them, and the violations of rights of human rights workers in various regions of Colombia, which are becoming alarming.

Each day, on average, almost 10 people were victims of the sociopolitical violence, in attacks on the right to life: six are killed in extrajudicial executions and political homicides, one person is disappeared, three die as a result of the internal armed conflict, one person dies every three days due to the violence against socially marginalized persons, and one person is tortured each day.

Of the presumed perpetrators, special mention should be made of the paramilitary groups, as they have extended their actions to different areas of the country where they had been operating sporadically. The authorities do not pursue these criminal groups; to the contrary, failing to act against them and/or cooperating with them are the general rule.

The military actions of the guerrillas have stepped up during this period, including worrisome violations of international humanitarian law. The guerrillas have adopted their own strategy for not allowing the elections of mayors, governors, municipal councils, and departmental assemblies to take place as planned on October 26, 1997. The departments most affected by this situation have been Antioquia, Bolivar, Caqueta, Cundinamarca, Narino, and Meta.

In summary, the deteriorating situation of human rights and international humanitarian law is due to three factors: the unimpeded action of the paramilitary groups, the October 1997 elections (since the 1980s municipal elections have been marred by a rise in political violence), and the worsening of the internal armed conflict.

Paramilitary groups and extension of their activities

Since the beginning of 1997, the paramilitary groups have expanded their actions throughout the country, leaving a bloodbath as they have committed grave violations including massacres, executions, forced disappearances, and torture with extreme cruelty and without drawing any distinctions among their victims. The consequences have also been massive insofar as they have provoked the displacement of entire towns and villages. As has been the case since they first formed, these groups carry out their actions in highly militarized zones, yet they have no confrontations with the authorities. But what is most painful is the government's position in the face of these actions: the government has been permissive, as it has failed to adopt policies to combat them.

In the department of Antioquia, where their actions have expanded more than elsewhere, they have acted in the cruelest manner against human rights leaders such as Alberto Lopez Munera, last August 3, in Remedios, Antioquia, while the civilian population, stunned, looked on. He was the last member of the Comite de Derechos Humanos del Nordeste Antioqueio. All the local human rights organizations throughout Antioquia have been denouncing the abuses of these paramilitary groups, who have sown chaos and desperation in the civilian population, powerless and unprotected by the national government, provoking the exodus of peasants, mounting numbers of widows and orphans of an internal war with no end. According to statistics, in Antioquia 140 people have been killed by these groups, in the name of the self-styled Autodefensas del Norte.

The same can be said of the departments of Bolivar, Caqueta, and Cesar. In Bolivar more than 13 people were killed at the hands of the Autodefensas de Cordoba y Uraba, sparking the displacement of more than 5,000 peasants to the municipalities of San Onofre, Toluviejo, and Sincelejo in the department of Sucre. In Caqueta they assassinated six Coreguaje Indians, as reported by the Regional Indigenous Council of the Orteguaza Medio. In Cesar they assassinated 16 more; there they identified themselves as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. In the department of Choco the paramilitary groups formed an alliance with Army troops, according to testimony by residents of the zone. Among the persons assassinated was community leader Marino Lopez. At least 15,000 peasants have been displaced, including indigenous and Black communities. The paramilitaries have extended their reach throughout Choco since December 1996, and have gone as far as the capital city, Quibdo.

Petitions and Recommendations

  1. The government should adopt a firm policy of confronting the paramilitary groups.

  2. Repeal Decree 356 of 1994, which provides the legal basis for the "Convivir" paramilitary groups, as recommended by the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in its study on the Colombian Government report of April 9, 1997.
  3. The Colombian state should provide effective protection for human rights defenders.
  4. Review of intelligence files of the Colombian Armed forces, the National Police, and the state security agencies, regarding the investigations into persons and organizations devoted to the legitimate task of defending human rights.
  5. Discharge members of the armed forces and police, and other state security agencies involved in grave human rights violations, as has been suggested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations have suggested to the Colombian government time and again.
  6. The national government should create the mechanisms needed to clarify, make reparation for, and punish the persons responsible for the grave human rights violations that have taken such a toll in recent years in Colombia.
  7. The special remedy for protection of Constitutional rights known as the accion de tutela should continue to be regulated as designed in the 1991 Constitution. (One of the most important rights-related gains that came with the 1991 Constitution.)
  8. Review and compliance with Judgment C-358/97 of the Constitutional Court, which addresses the military jurisdiction, by which all cases pending in the military criminal courts that do not meet the conditions for military jurisdiction, be removed to the Office of the Public Prosecutor (Fiscalia General de la Nacion) or the regular courts.