US Govt Reports Increase in Killings & Torture in Colombia

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 12 March 2008

In a far ranging new report on the human rights situation in Colombia, the US State Department has documented an increase in assassinations, torture and forced displacement in Colombia. The report also cites continuing collaboration between the Colombian security forces and paramilitary groups and says that "such collaboration often facilitated unlawful killings and may have involved direct participation in paramilitary atrocities."

Released yesterday, the new report covers numerous areas including workers rights and human rights. Here Justice for Colombia provides extracts. It should be noted that at times the report uses the term "new illegal groups" to describe rightwing paramilitary forces.

On Assassinations:

"The Jesuit-founded Center for Popular Research and Education (CINEP), a local human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), claimed there were at least 238 political and unlawful killings, committed by all actors, during the first six months of the year, 77 more than reported in the same period in 2006."

"Security forces were allegedly responsible for unlawful killings" and "members of the security forces committed extrajudicial killings". "CINEP reported that there were 128 such killings during the first six months of the year, compared with 92 in the same period of 2006."

"According to CINEP, extrajudicial killings attributed to the government were a combination of false reports of guerrillas killed in combat and "social cleansing" (including vagrants, homosexual populations, and other 'undesirables')."

"On May 24, NGOs reported that members of the 13th Mobile Brigade detained and killed Awa indigenous community member Miguel Moran Acosta."

"January 29: Members of the 12th Mobile Brigade stopped Fidelino Mahecha Ramirez's vehicle in the municipality of Vista Hermosa (Meta) and killed him."

"Paramilitary members who refused to demobilize and new illegal groups killed journalists, local politicians, human rights activists, indigenous leaders, labor leaders, and others who threatened to interfere with their criminal activities, showed leftist sympathies, or were suspected of collaboration with the FARC. They also reportedly committed massacres and 'social cleansing' killings of prostitutes, homosexuals, drug users, vagrants, and gang members in city neighborhoods they controlled. New illegal groups, according to CINEP, were responsible for the deaths of 128 civilians from January through June, a 52 percent increase from 58 deaths reported during the same period in 2006."

On Torture:

"Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that the police, military, and prison guards sometimes mistreated and tortured detainees."

"CINEP asserted that, as of June, government security forces were involved in 74 incidents of torture, a 46 percent increase compared with the first six months of 2006. CINEP also reported that, during the first six months of the year, there were 66 victims of torture by the armed forces."

"On March 11, in Barrancabermeja, Santander, National Police officers allegedly detained and tortured local unionists Ariel Corzo Diaz, an officer of the National Assembly of the Union Sindical Obrera (USO), and Fredy Hidalgo, the USO's local attorney."

"According to CINEP, on June 25, in the municipality of Tulua, Valle, troops of the army's Third Brigade arbitrarily detained, sexually abused and tortured farmers Viviana Herminia Mosquera, Maria Eugenia Mosquera, Alcibiades Granada Mosquera, Fair Granada, and Gerson Ladino Suarez and looted their property. The Prosecutor General's Office did not open an investigation in the case."

"CINEP reported that demobilized paramilitaries were responsible for at least 28 cases of torture as of June. For example, CINEP stated that on April 12, demobilized AUC paramilitaries allegedly tortured and killed Uriel Henao, a farmer in La Dorado, Caldas."

On Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs):

"Estimates of the numbers of IDPs varied. In the first nine months of the year, Accion Social (formerly known as the Social Solidarity Network), the government's internal welfare and foreign coordination agency, registered 140,183 newly displaced persons, compared with 110,302 during 2006. The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) estimated that 305,000 persons were displaced during the year, a 27 percent increase compared with CODHES' estimate for 2006."

"The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that more than three million citizens had been displaced at some point during the past 15 years. Most IDPs were rural peasants displaced to cities."

"In addition to displacements of resident population, at least six leaders of IDP organizations were killed in the first nine months of the year. Press reports indicated that most of these IDP leaders were seeking reparations or return of land that former paramilitary groups had forced them to surrender."

"New illegal groups also prevented or limited the delivery of food and medicines to towns and regions considered sympathetic to guerrillas, straining local economies and increasing forced displacement."

"Paramilitary members who refused to demobilize and new illegal groups continued to displace civilians residing along key drug and weapons transit corridors or suspected of collaborating with guerrillas."

On Collaboration:

"Some reports suggested that tacit nonaggression pacts between local military officers and paramilitaries who refused to demobilize or new illegal groups existed in certain regions, such as eastern Antioquia, Choco, Meta, and Narino departments and indicated that members of the security forces assisted, or sought the assistance of, criminal groups. Impunity for these military personnel remained a problem."

"Some members of government security forces, including enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and senior officials…. collaborated with or tolerated the activities of new illegal groups or paramilitary members who refused to demobilize. Such collaboration often facilitated unlawful killings and may have involved direct participation in paramilitary atrocities."

On Abductions:

"The FARC and ELN also kidnapped politicians, prominent citizens, and members of the security forces to use as pawns in a prisoner exchange."

"New illegal groups often abducted persons suspected of collaboration with guerrillas, almost all of whom were presumed dead."

"The National Foundation for the Defense of Personal Liberty (Fondelibertad) reported that new illegal group members continued to be responsible for kidnappings during the year, but those numbers were not differentiated from kidnappings due to common crime, since the government statistics considered new illegal groups as criminals. Common crime accounted for 244 kidnappings (or 61 percent of those in which a perpetrator was identified) during the year."

On Arbitrary Detention:

"Prominent human rights NGOs complained that the government arbitrarily detained hundreds of persons, particularly social leaders, labor activists, and human rights defenders."

"On February 15, in the municipality of Lebrija, Santander, National Police accompanied by civilians arbitrarily detained Maria Cardona Mejia, Wilson Ferrer Diaz, Carmen Teresa Palmarosa Bruges, and Jeferson Orlando Corredor, members of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of the Human Rights district office in Santander, as they were returning from a march in support of human rights."

On Denial of Fair Trial:

"While the law provides for an independent judiciary, much of the judicial system was overburdened, inefficient, and hindered by subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. In these circumstances, impunity remained a serious problem. The Supreme Judicial Council (CSJ) reported that the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees."

"Judicial authorities frequently were subjected to threats and acts of violence. According to the National Association of Judicial Branch Employees and the Corporate Fund of Solidarity with Colombian Judges, no judicial branch employees were killed, but 63 received threats against their lives."

On Prisons:

"Overcrowding, lack of security, corruption, and an insufficient budget remained serious problems in the prison system. As of September, more than 62,600 prisoners were held in facilities designed to hold fewer than 52,600; overcrowding rates exceeded 66 percent in 11 installations."

"An October report by the Inspector General's Office on Combita Prison found violations of health standards, such as a lack of potable water and a proliferation of insects and rodents."

"Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners" and there were "allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally."

"Due to overcrowding, convicted individuals in some cases remained at police stations for up to seven months before being transferred to a prison."

"Failure on the part of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult."

On Guerrilla Attacks:

"May 10: In Tulua, Valle de Cauca, members of the Victor Saavedra column of the FARC attacked an army patrol, killing 10 soldiers and injuring 16 others."

"April 14: In Valle de Guamuez, Putumayo, members of the 32nd FARC front detonated an explosive during a police patrol, killing three officers and injuring four others."

"March 3: Members of the 27th and 43rd FARC fronts attacked army personnel in Guayabero, Meta, killing seven soldiers and injuring four others."

"January 21: In Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca, the FARC detonated two explosives during a police patrol, killing six persons, including two police officers; 14 others, including six police officers, were injured."

"The FARC also killed persons it suspected of collaborating with government authorities or paramilitary groups. According to the government's tracking system, the FARC killed 130 demobilized paramilitaries during the year."

On Trade Unionism:

"The number of unions and union members continued to decline."

"Violence against union members and antiunion discrimination discouraged some workers from joining unions and engaging in trade union activities."

"While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination, some long-standing ILO criticisms of the labor code remained, including the practice of firing labor union unionists who participated in legal strikes or work stoppages, the prohibition of strikes in a wide range of public services that are not necessarily essential, and the government's power to intervene in disputes through compulsory arbitration to end a strike."

On the Minimum Wage:

"The national minimum wage did not provide sufficient income to purchase the basic market basket of goods for a family of four."

On Child Labour:

"child labour remained a significant problem", "at least 2.5 millions children worked", "only 38% of working children attended school", "there were 25,000 child sexual workers" and "although children are prohibited from working in a number of specific occupations, including mining and construction, in practice these prohibitions largely were ignored."

On Discrimination:

"Although the law specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, many of these prohibitions were not enforced in practice."

"Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, discrimination against women persisted. Women faced hiring discrimination, were disproportionately affected by unemployment, and had salaries that generally were incompatible with their education and experience. Female workers in rural areas were affected most by wage discrimination and unemployment."

"Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation continued to be a problem."

"The Colombian Association for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reported that only approximately 15 percent of the disabled population received medical attention adequate to prevent complications arising from disabilities. According to press reports, only 7,000 of Bogota's 100,000 persons with disabilities had access to public education."

"An estimated 75 percent of Afro-Colombians lived in poverty; their infant mortality rate was five times that of the general population, and the number without any education was 30 percent higher than the national average. Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, had the lowest per capita level of social investment and ranked last in terms of education, health, and infrastructure."

"In August 2006 hooded gunmen in Ricaurte, Narino, killed five members of the Awa indigenous community, including a former governor of the Chinbuza indigenous reserve. An investigation by the Prosecutor General's Office identified 11 suspects, of whom six were military officers,"

"The UNHCHR continued to criticize threats and violence against indigenous communities, characterized government investigations of human rights violations against indigenous groups as inadequate, and appealed to the government to do more to protect indigenous people."

On Human Rights Groups:

"The government asserted that some human rights activists engaged in activities that supported terrorism"

"NGOs complained that they had difficulty arranging meetings with government officials or receiving prompt replies to their correspondence", "NGOs claimed that criticism from high-level officials, including President Uribe, put them at risk for retaliation by illegal armed groups."

"The office [of the Human Rights Ombudsman] was underfunded and understaffed, which limited its ability to monitor human rights violations effectively."

On Civil Liberties:

"Government security forces and corrupt officials occasionally subjected journalists to harassment, intimidation, or violence." "National and international NGOs reported that local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence."

"According to the NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), there were 85 death threats against journalists for the year, compared with 77 in 2006."

On Landmines:

"Both governmental and nongovernmental actors used landmines."

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