Colombia: Amnesty briefing on human rights concerns

Impact on civilians

Civilians are targeted by all sides in Colombia’s armed conflict — the security forces, paramilitaries and armed opposition groups.

In the first half of 2004, at least 1,400 civilians were killed or “disappeared”. During 2004, around 1,250 people were kidnapped and 287,000 were forced to flee their homes. Hundreds of civilians were subjected to mass and often irregular detentions by the security forces.

Government security measures have dragged civilians further into the conflict. Measures like the network of civilian informants, involving more than 2.5 million people according to government figures, and the army of peasant soldiers, who often operated in their own communities, place families at increased risk of revenge attacks by armed opposition groups.

Paramilitaries

The paramilitaries have continued to violate their self-declared ceasefire, with more than 2,000 killings and “disappearances” attributed to paramilitaries since the ceasefire began in December 2002.

Paramilitaries were also responsible for serious human rights violations in areas where they had reportedly demobilised and continued to operate with the support and collusion of the armed forces.

Legislation which is being promoted to ‘demobilise’ paramilitaries has attracted criticism that it will grant effective amnesties for people who have committed gross human rights violations.

It may also facilitate the ‘recycling’ of paramilitaries – rules will allow demobilised paramilitaries to ‘co-operate’ with security forces in return for payment. Such laws have raised serious doubts about the government’s commitment to confronting impunity.

Security forces

The security forces continued to kill, torture, and “disappear” civilians, either directly or in collusion with paramilitaries. Amnesty has documented strong links between the security forces and paramilitaries.

There were increased reports of extrajudicial executions carried out directly by the army, with victims often portrayed as guerrillas killed in combat. In August 2004, three trade unionists were killed by soldiers in the Arauca Department.

The army claimed they were guerrillas killed in combat, but evidence emerged that they were unarmed and shot in the back. In April 2004, five civilians, including a six-month-old baby, were killed by soldiers of the Pijaos Battalion. Reports suggested that no combat took place and that at least one of the victims was shot at point-blank range.

As part of the government’s “war on terror”, hundreds of civilians were subjected to mass and often irregular detentions by the security forces, many solely on the basis of information from paid informants. Many of those detained and released were subsequently threatened or killed.

Abuses by Guerillas

The FARC and ELN guerrillas continue to be responsible for serious and widespread breaches of international humanitarian law, including hostage-taking and the killing of civilians.

Between 14 and 17 April 2005, FARC members attacked the indigenous peace community of Toribio. A 10-year-old boy was shot dead and several people were wounded.

The FARC also carried out attacks using indiscriminate weapons which resulted in civilian deaths: on 19 September 2004, four civilians were killed and 17 others injured, including 10 Children's rights, when the FARC allegedly detonated a mine and opened fire on a civilian vehicle in Antioquia Department.

Human rights defenders targeted

Those who stand up for human rights have frequently been targeted by army-backed paramilitaries.

On 16 May 2005, three journalists based in the capital Bogotá received death threats in the form of funeral wreaths. At 4pm, a wreath of funeral flowers was delivered to the office of the communist newspaper La Voz, whose editor is Carlos Lozano. The flowers arrived with a message saying they were for the “funeral of Carlos Lozano Guillen”.

Although the government has publicly condemned the threats against the three journalists and has provided them with extra security, Amnesty International is still concerned for their safety.

Trade unionists continued to be targeted. Although the number of killings fell in 2004, over 60 trade unionists were killed. Death threats against trade unionists continued unabated.

In August last year reports emerged of an alleged plot, known as Operation Dragon, to kill trade unionists and left-wing political leaders.

The government has continued to make statements equating the defence of human rights with the promotion of “terrorism”, including against Amnesty International.

On 16 June 2004, President Uribe said that by “not having the courage to denounce Amnesty International, we have allowed it to legitimize terrorism internationally”.

Violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights

Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls were raped, killed, “disappeared” and mutilated by all parties to the conflict. They were targeted for a variety of reasons: to sow terror, wreak revenge on adversaries and accumulate “trophies of war”.

On 15 July 2004, two girls aged 16 and 17 were allegedly gang raped by more than 10 army soldiers attached to the IV Brigade in Antioquia Department. The girls and their families were reportedly threatened by some of the soldiers involved after they reported the rape to the Office of the Attorney General.

On 8 October, FARC guerrillas allegedly killed four Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, one of whom was pregnant, and a man in a house in Sucre Department. The FARC had reportedly accused the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights of having relations with security force members.

Kidnappings

Armed opposition groups and criminal gangs accounted for most kidnappings; paramilitary groups were also responsible. While the numbers fell from 2003, still around 1,250 people were kidnapped in 2004. Over 400 of these kidnappings were carried out by armed opposition groups, at least 120 by paramilitaries and around 350 by criminal gangs.

In July 2004, the ELN reportedly kidnapped the Bishop of Yopal in Morcote, releasing him a few days later. On 27 June 2004, paramilitaries reportedly kidnapped former senator José Gnecco and members of his family on a highway in Magdalena Department. They were all released a few days later.

US military aid

US security assistance last year amounted to an estimated US$550 million. The US Congress also approved an additional US$629 million in security assistance for 2005, including training for the security forces, weapons, and spare parts.

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