HOW THE ACTIVITIES OF IRREGULAR ARMED GROUPS AFFECT
HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
When it met in regular session in Chile in 1991 and The Bahamas in 1992, the OAS General Assembly passed resolutions recommending that when reporting on the human rights situation in the member states of the inter-American system the Commission should also make reference to how the activities of irregular armed groups affect human rights. Therefore this report, like earlier reports on other countries, recounts the activities of such groups in Colombia and describes how the magnitude and severity of the activities of such groups have impaired the exercise of human rights in that country.
A. BACKGROUND FOR THE PRESENTATION OF THIS SUBJECT
The Commission has often made observations on the kind of violent scenario in which human rights abuses occur, on terrorism and, in particular, on how the activities of irregular armed groups affect the observance of human rights in the countries of the inter-American system. In a number of its reports, the Commission has discussed these problems. The Commission raised this problem with the General Assembly of the OAS in its Annual Report for 1990-1991, citing by way of example the fact that in its reports on the situation of human rights in El Salvador (1978), Argentina (1980), Colombia (1981), Guatemala (1981 and 1983), on the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua (1983) and in the updates to these reports, reference was made to the violence in the country in question and the activities of armed irregular groups were described.
Particular reference should be made to the Commission's discussion of these issues and of terrorism in the aforementioned report on the human rights situation in Argentina, which was the result of its on-site visit there in 1979. In its 1990-1991 report to the General Assembly of the OAS, the Commission discussed this problem at length in an effort to establish the parameters within which it must operate.
One particularly important precedent was in 1970, when the Commission decided to include the following topic within its general work program: Political and ideologically motivated terrorism as a source of human rights violations. In effect, on April 16, 1970, during its 23rd session, the Commission approved resolution OEA/Ser.L/V/II.23, doc.19 rev. 1, whereby it condemned terrorist and guerrilla activities as follows: "THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, CONSIDERING; That its duty is to defend human rights in the member states of the OAS, devoting particular attention to the observance of the rights mentioned in articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 18, 25 and 26 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties on Man and to make recommendations to the governments, in order to make the observance of those rights more effective; that repeated violations of human rights have occurred in the American hemisphere, under the label of political terrorism or urban or rural guerrilla activities,
"RESOLVES: I. To condemn acts of political terrorism and urban or rural guerrilla terrorism, as they cause serious violations of the rights to life, personal security and physical freedom, freedom of thought, opinion and expression, and the right to protection, upheld in the American Declaration and in other international instruments. II. To declare that the political or ideological objectives cited as the reason for such acts do not alter the fact that they are serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, nor does it exonerate the authors of such acts of their responsibility for the commission of those violations. III. To include the topic `Political and ideological terrorism as a cause of human rights violations' on the Commission's general work program, so that the internal measures and international cooperation warranted by the seriousness of the problem may be studied. IV. To transmit the text of this resolution to the General Assembly of the Organization at its
next regular session."
Another much more recent precedent of a not infrequent practice in the Commission's day-to-day business is the note wherein the Executive Secretary of the Commission, as a matter of routine business, conveyed the Commission's condemnation of a terrorist act that occurred amid the violence in a member country of the Organization. The note reads as follows:
June 15, 1989
Ambassador Mauricio Granillo Barrera
Permanent Representative of El Salvador
to the Organization of American States
I have the honor to respond to your communication of June 9 of this year, where on behalf of the Government of El Salvador, Your Excellency informs this Commission of the assassination of Dr. José Antonio Rodríguez Porth, Minister of the Office of the President, in an attack that also claimed the lives of two members of his security guard and, as Your Excellency reports, was perpetrated by urban commandos of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.
I agree with Your Excellency that this terrorist act violates the most elementary right, which is the right to life, and that it was a cowardly, premeditated and cold-blooded act.
The facts to which your communication refers will be brought to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The foregoing notwithstanding, I am in a position to inform you that the Commission, like Your Excellency's Government, vigorously condemns this act of terrorism and that it has taken note of the Salvadoran Government's determination to bring these terrorists to justice and apply to them the full force of the law.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
Edmundo Vargas Carreño
B. LIMITATIONS NOTWITHSTANDING
As an international organization, the IACHR is subject to certain customary limitations whereby it is to confine itself to monitoring the observance of international human rights laws by States of the Organization of American States. Nevertheless, on its own and without overstepping its authority, it has also discussed how the activities of irregular armed groups help create the scenario of violence and affect the exercise of human rights. It has also expressly condemned such activities. While this report also discusses the Colombian Government's compliance or failure to comply with its obligations in the area of human rights, this chapter is devoted to examining how the atrocities committed by irregular armed groups in Colombia that work for drug cartels, the guerrilla groups still at arms and paramilitary bands are detrimental to the exercise of the most important human rights, in particular the right to life, the right to humane treatment and personal security, the right to personal liberty and the right to a fair trial. The systematic destruction of the country's basic infrastructure is an outrageous violation of the economic and social rights of Colombian citizens.
Equally abhorrent are the kidnappings, torture and murders committed day after day in Colombia, as acts of revenge or reprisal. Generally, these are committed by hired killers. The reprehensible murders committed every day in Colombia, allegedly as a form of social cleansing and attributed to paramilitary groups, are also violations of human rights and constitute an affront to the conscience of mankind. Even though this is widespread violence, growing in alarming proportions, the Commission has never discussed it because it regards kidnapping, assault and assassination as common crimes.
Since the Commission's reports are of particular interest to the average citizen and the relatives of the victims, who as a rule are not experts in international law, there is one point that needs to be clarified: the expression human rights, as used by the Commission, does not always have the same meaning it has in common parlance. In colloquial jargon, human rights would be any crime committed against an individual because one cannot conceive of rights that are not human. But this is not the definition used by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an international organization created by the American States. For the Commission, the concept of human rights is much narrower, and are specifically those enumerated and defined in the American Declaration and in the American Convention on Human Rights. The provisions of those two instruments only classify as human rights violations those acts that are the exclusive responsibility, be it direct or indirect, of the member states of the inter-American system and do not give the Commission competence to take cognizance of, investigate or condemn any other acts.
These limitations and functions of the Commission mirror what was then the current thinking in international law. But international law is in constant evolution. Therefore, on its own initiative and without neglecting its most paramount duty, i.e., to be the watchdog of, defend and protect the human rights of citizens against abusive conduct by States, the Commission has been determined to move forward, operating within the framework of these constraints. It believes that the General Assembly resolutions mentioned earlier support, recognize and encourage its work.
C. SOURCES FOR THE PRESENT CHAPTER
When preparing this chapter the Commission relied on news reports put out by foreign and national news agencies; reports supplied by the government and by nongovernmental human rights organizations, and even certain petitions from individuals or associations of individuals directly affected by the activities of such groups. Some of those petitions are based on the fact that their claims and cases were mishandled or neglected by the Colombian domestic courts; invoking the principle of a State's international responsibility, those petitions accuse the State of failing to comply with its obligation to afford them proper protection and to defend their human rights from the brutal, relentless attacks of which they are victims. They blame the State and hold it accountable, mainly for negligence and for not bringing to trial and punishing the authors of these actions. Many of those authors, according to the petitioners, have been indiscriminately and improperly exempted from any form of trial or punishment and have been relieved of their obligation to pay their debt for their direct or indirect participation in atrocious crimes against humanity. This was done by enacting amnesty laws whose legality and fairness are challenged to the extent that they impair and deny the petitioners their rights.
D. PRINCIPAL WAYS THAT THE ACTIVITIES OF IRREGULAR ARMED GROUPS AFFECT THE EXERCISE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
International standards of human rights, as contained in international treaties and conventions, are violated by the activities of irregular armed groups by the following:
1. Impairing the population's exercise of its human rights by forcing the Colombian Government, in response, to exercise clause 27 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which authorizes states parties like Colombia to establish temporary states of emergency and to suspend exercise of some of those rights and guarantees because of the serious danger and national emergency created by the activities of these irregular armed groups;
2. Provoking, by their activities, reactions from the Armed Forces or their agents; because of involuntary zeal or because of uncontrolled use of force or State terrorism to fight the terrorism of armed irregular groups, these reactions can generate human rights violations for which the Colombian State is responsible;
3. Provoking, by their actions, reactions from economically productive individuals and institutions; when the public authorities are unable to afford them adequate protection, these individuals and institutions have organized to defend themselves on their own, creating self-defense units (private armies); or they have entrusted their protection to security organizations. The underlying principle is to combat violence with violence. Some of these groups have ultimately become uncontrolled paramilitary groups that, in some cases, work in league with members of the military forces; in others cases they work with drug trafficking organizations. But in the process, they commit atrocities, sometimes acting on their own or even with official support.
The international responsibility of the State for what happens to individuals within its territory is a creation of modern public international law, since originally States, under the principle of sovereignty, did not recognize any type of international accountability of this nature. Today, the international responsibility of a State for violations of human rights of individuals living within its territory--be they nationals or aliens--is recognized in a number of international declarations and treaties on the subject, binding upon any contracting state.
When examining the issue of state responsibility for human rights violations, there are many and sometimes conflicting criteria for assessing that responsibility. In countries where agents of public forces have committed serious, massive violations of human rights, some government spokesmen contend that the State is not responsible; that such stories are the product of international misinformation campaigns calculated to discredit the government. The only violations they acknowledge are those attributed to "terrorist subversives". In cases where it is impossible to hide the fact that the violations were the work of public forces, they attempt to justify them by arguing that these violations occurred amid an armed confrontation; that it is a question of legitimate self defense or that it was a fortuitous circumstance triggered by some form of aggression. Still others argue that terrorists do not have human rights because they do not respect the human rights of others; that they must be eliminated wherever they are and that this is not a violation of human rights. None of these typical responses, cited here as examples of what the Commission has heard over and over again, is true of the Colombian Government.
A state may be responsible for a human rights violation committed within its territory in very different ways. Based on the principle of objective responsibility, States are responsible for any human rights abuse or violation committed by its agents or by its public institutions, just as the owner of an automobile would be responsible for the damages or injuries caused by that vehicle, even though someone else may be at the wheel. Therefore, States are responsible for the direct acts of their agents, even when those actions are not performed on orders from a superior or with the knowledge of that superior. Naturally, that responsibility is all the more serious when the violations or abuses are committed on orders from a superior, even when the author of the violation exceeds his orders. More serious still are violations that are the result of an official, systematic policy of human rights violations steered and directed from the highest levels of government, which is not the case with Colombia.
Although the State is not answerable for all human conduct, it is responsible when in emergency situations it puts its agents in special situations where there is a real possibility they will overstep their authority. The risk that the State runs increases even more when in times of war it trains its soldiers especially to react with extreme violence.
F. THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE FOR THE ACTIONS OF IRREGULAR ARMED GROUPS
Apart from the responsibility that the State bears for actions committed directly by its agents, there is also the State's international responsibility for the actions of irregular armed groups, although there is no single criterion to establish the type and degree of that State responsibility. Here again it is objective responsibility vis-à-vis the terrorist phenomenon. This responsibility is in respect of all its inhabitants, whether national or foreign, under the laws and jurisprudence governing aggravating circumstances such as improvidence, negligence, criminal complicity, impunity, etc., and by the mitigating circumstances of "necessary diligence", unforeseeability, the surprise factor, a lack of proportion that could not have been anticipated, etc. These circumstances also need to be weighed in each case: terrorist crime has some peculiar characteristics; it often involves unthinkably ferocious and barbaric methods. In still other cases, the responsibility may be mitigated somewhat by such factors as the victim's own shared responsibility, when that victim has, either voluntarily or involuntarily, provoked the crime.
As a report supplied by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Human Rights on this subject puts it, the State of Colombia is obliged to protect residents in the country from violations of their rights by criminals, regardless of the motive for the crime and regardless of whether it is the work of armed groups or individuals. To provide that protection, the State organs that prevent and punish crime and the State's law enforcement agencies must be functioning properly. This obligation is recognized in the new Constitution. Several court rulings have elaborated upon it. For example, the Council of State has ruled that victims of the actions of State agencies and the victims of guerrilla warfare, drug trafficking or criminal activities are entitled to receive compensatory damages, provided it is reasonably established that the government did not provide the victim with proper attention (and without requiring, for example, that any threats to the victim be reported to the State and even if the victim had mechanisms available to protect himself), was negligent in its actions or failed in some way to perform its fundamental obligations. This responsibility exists regardless of whether it can be shown that either there was intent on the part of the State or its agents to harm the individual, that its officials were somehow to blame, or that they can be identified. The responsibility is established within a real context that considers the availability of State resources to compensate for the actions of the criminal groups directly responsible for the acts.
G. HOW HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA ARE AFFECTED BY THE ACTIVITIES OF GUERRILLA GROUPS
For some years now, Colombia's civilian population has been the victim of indiscriminate, constant criminal aggression by Colombian guerrillas. The latter have claimed thousands and thousands of innocent victims nationwide: in streets, city squares, shopping centers, churches, buses, high schools, hospitals, etc. But this brand of indiscriminate, irresponsible violence that can claim anyone as its victim, is compounded by the selective, targeted actions of guerrilla groups. They kill political leaders of the traditional parties; local authorities such as mayors, governors, etc.; honorable but defenseless magistrates; journalists who will not be silenced by fear; humble peasants merely suspected of collaborating with the Army or who refuse to give tribute, food or lodging to guerrillas, to join their ranks or to allow their sons and daughters to join the armed struggle. They even kill those who refuse to continue to be part of the armed struggle and former guerrillas. For example, members of the EPL have been executed by the "Caraballo", an EPL dissident faction, or by other groups trying to prevent the EPL's political legitimization. The guerrilla movement has claimed that some of these incidents have been "mistakes", as in the case of the seven children who were killed in Algeciras, Huila, in September 1990, while in the company of policemen.
Between 1989 and 1992, the period to which this report refers, Colombian guerrillas stepped up their activities calculated to intimidate the civilian population. Summary executions or even executions of members of the group as punishment for having availed themselves of the amnesties increased. The terrorist acts and threats against civilians have mainly been designed to achieve a political effect, while their kidnapping and extortion are a means to raise funds to bankroll their subversive activities.
Another method used has been to use the civilian population as a hostage in combat situations. This happened in at least two recent attacks on municipal authorities in 1991 (Charta, Santander and Morales, Bolivar) where guerrillas kidnapped the families of policemen and took them to the main square, threatening to kill them as a means to pressure the police into surrendering, which is what happened.
As for the threats, extortion, kidnapping and summary executions when one refuses to pay ransom, in Colombia the practice whereby private citizens or small, medium or large businesses are required to pay sums periodically is called "vacuna" [vaccination] and is used by the guerrilla movement and openly and expressly defended by it. In exchange for those payments, the guerrilla group offers various forms of "security", even taking action against cattle rustlers and other types of common criminals. Many of the murders of peasants where neither author nor motives can be established and are reported as political murders, are in fact executions of persons of this type. Colombian investigatory agencies calculate that in 1991 the FARC collected close to 6 billion pesos from payments of this kind, not including the sums collected for coca crops. Extortion in the gold mines is estimated to be in excess of 8 billion pesos. Research agencies estimate the "gramaje" charge for coca crops, a charge similar to the "vacuna" along with a percentage of the profits of coca processing and shipment, at between 20 and 25 billion pesos. Estimates are that in 1991 the two main guerrilla movements received at least 80 billion from kidnappings, extortion, bank robberies and other illegal activities.
The same government source reports that kidnapping as practiced by the guerrilla groups is very political (hostage taking to negotiate to have reports and communiques made public, the abduction and holding of police agents and soldiers, the abduction of political and social leaders to negotiate the State decisions that they want or to encourage concessions in the negotiations) or other forms of extortion whose primary goal is to get the victims to pay large sums of money. Although used sporadically by the guerrilla movement since 1964, kidnapping has increased alarmingly in recent years, especially kidnapping for ransom. Although initially a guerrilla group will disclaim any responsibility for the kidnapping, it will later acknowledge that it was the author, or in the process of negotiating for the victim's release, relatives will obtain unmistakable evidence of the fact that guerrilla groups are responsible.
The principal victims of extortive kidnapping are large- and medium-size rural landowners, urban businessmen and foreign executives with the large oil companies. It has taken a serious toll on economic and rural activity; rural employment is down dramatically as more and more people from rural sectors move to the cities, swelling urban neighborhoods with migrants and displaced persons. In what would be properly classified as violations of humanitarian law, one might cite the multiple cases of executions of soldiers and policemen. In some cases, the guerrilla movements have executed soldiers and agents off the field of combat; these acts are accompanied by torture or cruelty calculated to make the people or the agents afraid. Agent Luis Alfonso Mape had his hands amputated and was then executed in the presence of the family. The director of the Tolima Anti-narcotic Police was murdered in 1991 after being captured as he was making arrangements to have a poppy crop destroyed.
As for which weapons take the largest toll among the civilian population, the guerrillas continue to rely more and more on mines and "caza-bobos" bombs. While this is especially true in the Department of Santander in general, the municipality of El Carmen has been hardest hit. Its peasant population is accused of supporting paramilitary groups. More than 30 people have been injured as a result of this strategy. In some incidents, civilians have been the victims of bombs planted in public facilities or intended to destroy vehicles in which members of the armed forces and civilians were traveling.
H. WAYS IN WHICH THE ACTIVITIES OF VIGILANTE GROUPS HAVE AFFECTED THE EXERCISE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
Between 1985 and 1989, dozens of vigilante groups were formed. Called paramilitaries, they worked for drug traffickers and for large rural landowners in guerrilla-embattled areas. At the same time, a few "self-defense" groups were formed in accordance with the laws allowing the establishment of such groups. These were gradually assimilated into the vigilante groups, which terrorized the civilian population, executed alleged sympathizers and agents of the guerrilla movement, and settled private scores as well. Although the self-defense groups were formed in accordance with the law, there was evidence that members of the public force had either supported or tolerated unlawful and violent acts committed by these groups, even after 1989 when self-defense groups became illegal. As recently as 1992, two army officers were retired because they were suspected of supporting self-defense groups.
Although the groups blamed for the large massacres in 1988 and 1989 are not nearly as active today, they are still responsible for assassinations and other criminal acts in certain areas of the country. Apart from the massacres and murders in rural areas, these groups have been particularly virulent against members of the judiciary and other agents of the State.
I. VICTIMS OF THE GUERRILLA WAR IN COLOMBIA
At its 84th session, the Commission discussed the predicament of the victims of the guerrilla war in Colombia and the problems with which the National Committee of Victims of the Guerrilla War (Comité Nacional de Víctimas de la Guerrilla - VIDA) is contending. This nongovernmental group presented the Commission with an updated report on this dramatic problem. Some of that report is summarized below:
One among many such episodes happened near Florián in the department of Santander on May 20, 1993. Guerrillas from FARC's 11th Front stopped a truck driven by Mr. Rodrigo Piraquive Triviño, a civilian driver in the employ of Sucre Battalion. Though the victim was utterly defenseless, they tortured him by taking out his eyes, cutting off his tongue and ears and castrating him. His wife and three small children have been left without any means of support.
Guerrillas with the EPL and FARC's 35th Front abducted an elderly priest, Father Javier Cirujano Arjona, the parish priest in San Jacinto in the department of Bolivar. Because he disapproved of the extortion and terror tactics that the subversives use against the civilian population, he was abducted and brutally murdered. When his body was found, he had been castrated and had been beaten on the head. His left leg had been cut with a machete. There were other signs of torture, such as burns and bruises. The public was outraged by this crime.
The fate of this martyr of the church also befell the Bishop of the department of Arauca, Monsignor Jesús Emilio Jaramillo, who had energetically condemned the guerrilla attacks on oil pipelines. He was tortured and murdered in October 1989. ELN guerrillas publicly claimed responsibility for the crime.
Another recent episode that left the public shaken was the murder of soldiers Abaunza Hernández and Benedo Avendaño Díaz on April 29, 1993, in the town of Nazareth in the department of Cundinamarca. They had been wounded in a guerrilla ambush and were being rushed to the hospital in a Red Cross ambulance. The ambulance was attacked by members of the "Juan de la Cruz Varela" and "Jaime Pardo Leal" subversive fronts. With the soldiers defenseless, unarmed and wounded, the guerrillas dynamited the ambulance. While the soldiers were still alive, the guerrillas disconnected them from the surgical equipment, took them out of the ambulance and shot them outright, in violation of every principle of the humanitarian law that they demand the Army observe vis-a-vis them.
Later, two of many assassinations that occurred in the suburbs of that municipality were those of Conservative Party leader don Florio Alvarez and of the liberal councilmen don Benigno Briñez, on June 21, 1993. Then there are the civilians who have been killed by the guerrillas, as the deceased leader don Eduardo Romero reported. Guerrilla terrorism has reached such an extreme that in the department of Cesar terrorist harassment triggered a massive exodus in Curumani on August 4, 1993, that threatened to leave the town completely abandoned.
Compounding this are the scandalous figures on extortive kidnappings. There were nearly 3,000 in the past year: 80% were the work of subversives and 20% were the work of common criminals. This inflicted a terrible toll on society, not to speak of the dampening effect it had on investment.
Nothing has come from all our efforts to put together a state program to help the immediate victims of the guerrilla war. This sector of Colombian society, consisting of some 500,000 people, remains completely abandoned, left alone to deal with their psychological trauma and without any humanitarian assistance.
Contrary to Article 13 of the Constitution and even the most elementary standards of humanitarianism, the State has failed to mount any plan for social and economic rehabilitation of the dozens of young people who have lost legs or arms to mines planted by subversives in the fields of the Colombian countryside.
After so many years of violence, the number of human rights violations committed by the guerrillas in Colombia continues to be ignored. Today, the subversive movement pursues a purely financial objective, indiscriminately and mechanically annihilating anything and anyone who is not with it. Using Vietnamese tactics and others like those used against the people of Afghanistan, it plants explosives where it chooses, explosives that end up taking innocent lives. In Orito, in the department of Putumayo, this criminal practice claimed the lives of small children were killed on August 12, 1993.
In the last three years, the Guerrilla Steering Group has dynamited oil pipelines 445 times. The country has lost millions as a result; enormous ecological damage has been done, since the petroleum spills contaminate streams, water sources and rivers; once arable land becomes sterile and millions of species of plants and animals die. The immediate result is that thousands of farm families living in contaminated areas are ruined because of the irreversible damage done to the ecosystem.
In this three-year period, the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering Group has carried out 1,352 acts of indiscriminate terrorism and has killed 1,560 civilians. These are the reported murders; the figure should be increased by at least 80% since many crimes are reported as "common crimes" because relatives are afraid and do not believe the authors will ever be punished.
The Government pays so little heed to these matters that there are no statistics on the number of civilians wounded, tortured or mutilated by guerrillas, which is just further proof of how the victims of subversion have been abandoned.
Given the serious problems with which the victims of the guerrilla war in Colombia must contend, some of which are described in the VIDA report, the Commission has asked the Colombian Government for a report on the measures it is taking to protect and assist the victims of the guerrilla war. It has also asked that steps be taken to protect the life of the president of VIDA, who has received repeated death threats. The following is the text of the note that the Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs:
At its 84th session, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights devoted special consideration to a request from the National Committee of Victims of the Guerrilla War, to the dramatic situation that the individuals directly victimized by the activities of Colombian guerrillas are experiencing...
Based on these considerations, the Commission is asking that Your Excellency provide whatever information you deem appropriate on the steps the Colombian Government is taking to deal with this very serious problem, which affects this large segment of the Colombian population. These people have been unjustly attacked by the various guerrilla groups operating in the country.
Further, given the threats of imminent death being made against the President of the National Committee of Victims of the Guerrilla War, the Commission would request that the Government take the measures it deems appropriate to protect the life and safety of Dr. Fernando Antonio Vargas.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
Although the Commission has not yet received any official reply from the Government on this matter, from statements that the Minister of Defense made to the press, the Commission was pleased to learn that the Colombian authorities have reacted favorably. The Minister said that the Government had received the note with satisfaction and would be providing the requested information as soon as possible.
J. MEASURES REPORTED BY THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT TO
CONTROL SELF-DEFENSE ACTIVITIES AND COMBAT PARAMILITARY
- Decrees 1199 and 1034, of 1987, orders that rewards be given to those who supply the authorities with information leading to the arrest of individuals for whom warrants have been issued or who present evidence suitable for building a case of criminal liability.
- Decree 1437, of July 30, 1987, establishes imprisonment as the penalty for the unlawful use and marketing of military apparel.
- Decree 1631, of August 27, 1987, establishing public order courts to investigate and try punishable offenses that have caused serious social disturbance.
- Decree 180, of January 27, 1988, adds provisions to the penal code and the code of criminal procedure, to combat terrorist acts and attacks on individual freedom, economic holdings and public security and tranquility.
- Decree 181 of January 27, 1988, amended by Decree No. 474 of March 16, 1988, creates the Superior Public Order Tribunal, which has its seat in Bogota and jurisdiction nationwide.
- Decree 678 of 1988 declares the region of Urabá (Antioquia) an emergency zone and an area of military operations because of the genocidal acts committed by anti-social groups in the municipalities of Turbo and Apartadó.
- Decree 261 of February 6, 1988, amends Article 29 of Decree 180 of 1988, to create the crime of homicide for terrorist purposes.
- Decree 2490, November 30, 1988, exempts from punishment those who, after having been either the author of a crime that is within the jurisdiction of the public order courts or an accomplice to its commission, cooperates with the authorities to shed light on the facts and ascertain the identity of those who participated.
- Decrees 813, 814 and 815, of April 19, 1989, are to combat vigilante groups and bands of hired killers; these decrees establish regulations for bearing arms and create the elite corps of the national police and an advisory and steering committee for operations against groups of hired killers.
- Decree 2047, September 5, 1990, creates mechanisms to prosecute the trial of those who have committed crimes related to disrupting public order. This decree was supplemented by Decree 2147 of September 14, 1990, to the effect that once the Attorney Delegate for Human Rights has received a report from the judge who took the confession from the individuals to which Decree 2047 refers, said Attorney Delegate is to assign an official to take the measures necessary to guarantee full respect for the rights of the accused and to see that those who have made statements confessing to their crimes are properly protected.
- Decree 2790, of 1990, issues the Statute for the Defense of the Judiciary: the public order courts and the specialized courts are combined to form a single jurisdiction; legal mechanisms are instituted to protect the judges and others participating in criminal proceedings in that jurisdiction. A national office of the deputy director for public order courts and sectional bureaus were created to provide the operational support needed to enable these courts to perform their functions and to strengthen the auxiliary organs of justice.
- Decree 3030, December 14, 1990, establishes the requirements that must be met to reduce penalties in exchange for confessing crimes committed up to September 5, 1990.
- Decree 303 of January 29, 1991, amends Decree 3030 of 1990 to reduce penalties and establish non-extradition without requiring confession.
- Decree 99 of 1991 amends and introduces additions to the Statute for the Defense of the Judiciary, contained in Legislative Decree No. 2790 of 1990.
- The trial decrees became permanent law through Decree 2265, adopted by the Special Legislative Committee on October 4, 1991. The measures the government has adopted to deal with self-defense and paramilitary groups have varied in nature. The entire criminal justice apparatus has been strengthened, better enabling investigators to perform their functions. Judges have been given increased personal security services; agencies with specific responsibilities vis-à-vis the problem have modernized the entire administrative and operational apparatus to combat foci of violence.
Situations in which various officials have been assassinated
In this regard the Government has informed the Commission the following:
The assassinations of a number of Colombian officials have something in common: they were all subjected to barbaric cruelty by various forces in the self-styled "Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering Group" while held captive in various regions of the departments of Casanare, Cesar, Huila, Norte de Santander, Putumayo and Santander.
These are but a sample of the modus operandi used by the guerrilla movement to commit crimes of all sorts, against any person or institution that opposes its ends. There are no limits to the violence it inflicts upon its victims, to the point that it has terrorized and created fear in the surrounding community, especially in those areas in which it is an established presence.
In a communication of November 1992, the government describes the heinous murders and other brutal acts committed by various elements of the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Steering Group against civil servants of humble origin. These were young people "with spotless records, who had discharged their functions according to the highest standards of ethics and professionalism, being loyal, courageous and honorable. They were guided by moral principles and custom and respected the Constitution and the laws for the welfare of society and their families."
In communications of December 1 and December 16, 1992, the Colombian Government continued to provide quite extensive and detailed statistical data on the damage caused in that country by irregular armed groups. The information shows that between January and November 1992, there were 39 ELN assaults on oil pipelines and refineries; the dates and places of these assaults are given as is a description of events wherein Colombian public officials were killed. Many died after being tortured by subversives and hired killers working for drug traffickers. The Government of Colombia is requesting that this information, which describes cruel and barbaric crimes, be supplied to the members of the Commission to be taken into account when preparing the report on the situation of human rights in Colombia, pursuant to the provisions of General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1043 of 1990.
Assassinations of reincorporated former guerrillas by groups affiliated with the Guerrilla Steering Group
On March 23, 1993, the Commission received another communication from the Colombian Government which transcribed a note received from parliamentarians in the Esperanza, Paz and Libertad movement. That note described how those who had laid down their arms and entered politics in Colombia were being killed. It stated the following:
In 1990 and 1991, several rebel movements concluded peace agreements with the Colombian Government: the M-19, the Revolutionary Labour Party and the Quintín Lame Armed Movement. In March 1991, the EPL (Ejército Popular de Liberación) signed agreements that led to the demobilization of 2,000 guerrillas. We made this decision conscious of the changes at work in the nation and the world, without forsaking the ideals of social justice and democracy and after an in-depth internal discussion democratically conducted for all the country to see. Signing the demobilization agreements on behalf of the International Socialist was Dr. Manuel Medina, a prominent member of the European Parliament; the Catholic Church was represented by Monsignor Gerardo Vera Bustamente.
Having moved into the arena of institutionalized politics, we and other sectors joined together to form the M-19 Democratic Alliance. Our agenda has always been clear and we have participated actively in the democratization of the country, in the political renewal, in the process of shaping alternatives, and in the nation's development.
But this action has been affected by those who refuse to accept that peaceful means might achieve change. This was shown by the murder of 165 members of the EPL, the majority committed in Urabá by the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Steering Group. Members of other demobilized organizations have also been killed by groups from the extreme right. Compounding the problem is the fact that in Colombia armed intimidation is being used in large areas of the country to prevent any legally established political parties from freely engaging in political activities.
 Annual Report of the IACHR to the General Assembly, 1990-91, p. 507.
 Idem, pp. 504-514.
 SINEP had already reported this tragedy to the Commission on August 17, 1993, as follows: At around 8:30 in the morning, Olga Yami González Rengifo, age 8, was playing in her usual place when she found a grenade along the road from the town of Orito to the villages of Lucinaria and Churuyaco. She called to her sister and cousins to share her discovery; the children were fascinated by the object, which they called "la copita" (the little cup), and took it to their house, some 15 meters from the place where it was found abandoned. Roger Mario Yela Rengifo, the eldest in the group, immediately took the lead in this deadly game and got pincers to try to take the object apart. The grenade exploded immediately and the six children, who were all members of the same family, were killed instantly. The victims were: 1. Roger Mario Yela Rengifo, age 15: 2. Waimen Antonio Yela Rengifo, age 14; 3. Jhon Keni Yela Rengifo, 8; 4. Yelma Lucía Yela Rengifo, 6; 5. Olga Yami González Rengifo, 8; and 6. Yasmin González Rengifo, 6. Humberto Yela Rengifo, 12, was injured.