WOLA Report Criticises Santos

News from Colombia | on: Monday, 3 October 2011

The Washington Office on Latin America has released a report on President Santos' first year in office. Whilst recognising that there has been a positive change in the discourse of the government under Santos, and highlighting the positive potential of some measures, the report criticises the continuing abuses and impunity, and the State's continuing failure to provide protection for vulnerable groups, as well as the failure to deal with paramilitary groups.

According to the report, in Santos’ first year “there were no major advances in the implementation of public policies or concrete measures towards the effective protection of human rights defenders beyond the change in discourse and attitude.” In fact, during the first 6 months of his presidency the number of aggressions against human rights defenders increased by 129% compared to the same period in 2010. Alongside this the report notes a “tragic” administration of justice in the cases of violations against human rights defenders, and that the use of informants and suspect intelligence reports continues in violation of due process in the judicial cases against them.

The report also criticises the extent of the State’s provision of protection measures for some vulnerable individuals and organisations. It details how the Minister of the Interior admitted that the killing in June of displaced leader Ana Fabricia Cordoba could have been prevented, and how the protection measures provided by the state are inadequate, notably for the needs of indigenous and afro-colombian people.

It also details the scandal that has enveloped the DAS and describes the development of the case against former President Uribe, critiquing the Congressional commission responsible for the investigation of Uribe for lacking transparency and reliability. Furthermore, it states that the proposal to dismantle the DAS and reassign some of its agents to other institutions, including the Prosecutor General’s office, is “worrisome” since some are accused of grave human rights abuses and therefore there would be no guarantee of “impartiality, independence and reliability” in the investigations of their cases.

The report also covers the situation of trade unions, noting that Colombia continues to be the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade unionist. The report hails the positive steps taken by the Labour Action Plan signed by the government in April. Although it ought to be noted that Colombian trade unions have reported that no steps have yet been taken by the Government to make good the commitments undertaken in Washington. It also details the continuing use of labour ‘cooperatives’ which act to subcontract workers as individuals without any benefits or contracts. It notes that “The majority of unionists and labour rights defenders in the country are routinely, stigmatized, murdered, and threatened for working to build a more just labour environment.”

The report then details the extent of impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses and highlights the relative luxury in which those few who have been sentenced are confined. Worryingly, it reports that officers imprisoned for murders and other abuses were free to “come and go as they please, own businesses inside and outside the prison and their cells are equipped with televisions and air conditioning.” Horrifyingly, according to the report 179 of the 261 prisoners sentenced remain active service members of the military, and continue to receive salary promotions, and even pensions.

The report also details that the number of disappeared is probably higher than official figures, noting that many cases go unreported. It also reports that 99% of cases of disappearance remain in impunity. WOLA also states that “contrary to statements by the Uribe and Santos administrations”, the paramilitary demobilisation process “did not result in a real dismantling of paramilitary structures in the country.” Furthermore, the “relationship between the “new” paramilitary groups and members of the army and public officials continues”

The report concludes that although it is important to recognise the Santos administration’s willingness to talk to civil society, “these positive changes have yet to result in tangible improvements in the protection of human rights in the country.” In fact it notes that in some cases there has been “a deterioration in the human rights situation”

To read the report in full click on the document above right.



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