Overview of human rights and humanitarian law in Colombia: 1999


From the publication "Panorama de los Derechos Humanos y del Derecho Humanitario en Colombia: 1999," Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, September 1999.

The grave situation of human rights and humanitarian law that Colombia has experienced for a decade continued in 1999. Across the land, an average of 10 people per day continue to die due to sociopolitical violence.

The situation continues to unfold amidst the country’s most acute economic and social crisis in the last 60 years, together with a dangerous internationalization of the armed conflict that tends to accord priority to foreign military intervention, and to a process of peace talks between the government and the guerrillas that has become bogged down, and under the leadership of an administration that only a year after coming into office is showing signs of attrition and isolation.

From October 1998 to March 1999, more than 11 people died daily in the sociopolitical violence: seven due to extrajudicial executions and political murders; one due to forced disappearance; and one person was killed each week, on average, for being considered socially marginal. In addition, more than three persons were killed in combat every day.

Compared to the previous period (October 1997 to September 1998), this average reflects a worrisome increase from nine to eleven victims daily, i.e. of two persons killed daily in political murders and extrajudicial executions; there was a transition from one person disappeared every two days to one daily; and the killings of marginalized persons fell off slightly, from one every five days to one every seven days. The average number of persons killed in combat daily held steady at three.

From October 1998 to March 1999, a total of 2,054 persons lost their lives in the sociopolitical violence. Of these, 1,362 were victims of violations of human rights and humanitarian law out of combat, while 692 died as a direct result of the internal armed conflict.

Of the 1,362 victims killed outside of combat (i.e., in public, at home, or at work), 1,126 were killed in extrajudicial executions and political murders; 211 following forced disappearances; and 25 in violence against socially marginalized persons.

With respect to violations of human rights and humanitarian law in which the alleged perpetrator is known, 2.39% are attributed to the armed forces and police, in 26 extrajudicial executions. The paramilitary forces are blamed for 77.97% of the violations, with 846 victims. The guerrillas are blamed for 19.63%, with 213 victims.

The participation of the different armed actors in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law showed the same trend as in previous periods: a decrease in the share of cases attributed to the armed forces and police (from 15.68% in 1995 to 3.72% in 1998); the dramatic increase in the acts carried out by the paramilitary groups (from 46.03% in 1995 to 78.69% in 1998); and the diminution in the percentage of victims attributed to the guerrillas (from 38.29% to 17.59%). The decline in the number of cases attributed to the armed forces and police and the significant increase in those attributed to the paramilitary forces suggests an increase in covert or tolerated acts as a means of committing violations, in which the possible participation of state agents cannot be dismissed.

Of the 608 kidnappings from January through April 25, 1999, 27 were attributed to paramilitary groups (4.4%) and 353 to guerrilla groups (58.05%). On average, three people were kidnapped daily in Colombia.

From October 1998 to September 1999, at least 54 boys and girls were victims of sociopolitical violence (2.63%); in other words, one minor died every four days, down from one every three days during the previous period (October 1997 to September 1998). Of the total of these victims, 45 died from extrajudicial executions and political murders; four were forcibly disappeared; one died in a killing of a socially marginalized person, and four died directly in the armed conflict.

In addition, 50 youths died (2.43%), on average one every four days: 39 in political murders and extrajudicial executions, 10 in homicides of marginalized persons, and one in combat.

Women victims show a worrisome increase, with 143 killed during the period, for an average of more than one victim every two days (in the October 1997-September 1998 period, the average was one victim every two days). 100 women died in political murders or extrajudicial executions, nine were forcibly disappeared, one in an assassination of a marginalized person, and 33 directly in the armed conflict, 26 of whom were civilians.

Of the total number of persons assassinated, 86 were found with signs of torture; 65 of these cases were attributed to paramilitary forces, four to guerrilla forces, and in 17 cases the perpetrator is unknown.

Furthermore, from October 1998 to March 1999, 501 (36%) victims of political murders and extrajudicial executions, and of homicides against marginalized persons, died in 69 massacres (four or more persons killed in the same circumstances), for an average of seven killed per episode. Of these, 1.8% were attributed to the armed forces or police; 80.24% to the paramilitary forces; 5.39% to the guerrillas; and in 12.57% the alleged perpetrator is unknown. As compared to the previous period, the number of victims per massacre increased by one. Once again it is likely that there will be over 100 such incidents in 1999, as has been the case each year since 1997.

By departments, Antioquia is, as always, the hardest hit in terms of number of dead, with 484 (35.54%), and 23 massacres. It is followed by Bolívar, with 138 (10.13%) victims and 10 massacres. These are followed, each with an average of more than five percent of the total victims, by Santander, with 81 killed and five massacres; Magdalena, with 80 killed and three massacres; and Córdoba, with 69 victims and two massacres. Other departments, such as Cesar, Guajira, Putumayo and Sucre, also have alarming figures.


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