THE RIGHT TO PERSONAL SECURITY AND HUMANE TREATMENT
What follows are the international provisions contained in the American Convention on Human Rights and the national provisions contained in the 1991 Constitution of Colombia that protect and defend these fundamental rights and punish violations thereof:
A. LEGAL PROVISIONS IN EFFECT IN RESPECT OF THIS RIGHT
American Convention on
Article 5. Right to Humane Treatment
1. Every person has the right to have his physical, mental, and moral integrity respected.
2. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
3. Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the criminal.
4. Accused persons shall, save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons.
5. Minors while subject to criminal proceedings shall be separated from adults and brought before specialized tribunals, as speedily as possible, so that they may be treated in accordance with their status as minors.
6. Punishments consisting of deprivation of freedom shall have as an essential
aim the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners.
Article 12. No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 44. The following are fundamental rights of children: life, humane treatment, health and social security, a balanced diet, a name and nationality, a family and not to be separated from it, care and love, education and culture, recreation and the free expression of one's opinion. Children shall be protected against any form of neglect, physical or moral violence, kidnapping, sale, sexual abuse, labor or economic exploitation and dangerous work. They shall enjoy the other rights recognized in the Constitution, in the laws and in the international treaties ratified by Colombia.
The family, society and the State have an obligation to assist and protect the child, so as to ensure his or her balanced and full development and the full exercise of his or her rights. Any person may require of the competent authority fulfillment of this obligation and punishment of offenders.
The rights of children take precedence over the rights of others.
B. WAYS IN WHICH THIS RIGHT HAS BEEN VIOLATED
The right to security and humane treatment was discussed at length in the Commission's 1981 report. Given the many petitions received at that time concerning the unlawful mistreatment and torture inflicted upon detained persons at the time of their capture, while under interrogation, during the investigation and thereafter, even in prison facilities such as the La Picota Penitentiary in Bogota, the Model Prison in Bogota, the Bella Vista Prison in Medellin, the Villanueva Prison in Cali, the Modelo Prison and the Good Shepherd Prison in Bucaramanga, and in certain military detention facilities, the Artillery School, the Cavalry School, and the Brigade of Military Institutes and Baraya Battalion in Bogota, all of which the Commission visited personally.
The conclusion that the Commission reached at the time, after examining the documents and information in its possession, was that serious violations of the right to personal security and humane treatment had been committed. These violations, which consisted of unlawful mistreatment and torture, had occurred during interrogations of persons arrested by virtue of measures enacted to combat the violence of subversive groups. The Commission also observed that through the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, investigation procedures had been instituted and processed aimed at confirming complaints concerning these violations, and that virtually none of them led to any disciplinary action against those allegedly responsible. Often, the cases were simply closed, arguing that there was not sufficient merit to prosecute any criminal investigation. It became apparent that efforts to prevent and suppress abuses of this type had not produced sufficiently effective results.
By comparison to the situation at the time of the 1981 report, obviously the human rights situation in Colombia has changed as regards the right to personal security and humane treatment. Colombian prisons are no longer full of political prisoners and there are few such prisoners in Colombia today because violations of the right to life have reached terrible proportions. Proof of this are the bodies that have appeared and unfortunately continue to appear every day in cities nationwide, bearing the unmistakable signs of abuse and torture. This means that the right to humane treatment and personal safety is being violated continually and then compounded by the violation of the right to life.
C. PETITIONS RELATIVE TO THIS RIGHT
There is one case, among the many, that eloquently demonstrates how abuse and torture are used against the victims of unlawful arrest and subsequent disappearances carried out by paramilitary groups with the support, participation or complicity of the Colombian armed forces. The case, Case 11,007, was denounced by the Interdenominational Conference of Justice and Peace, a serious, credible and cautious institution. The events in question, which took place in the municipality of Trujillo, Department of Valle del Cauca, involved a network of criminal activities that left a total of 52 victims. Law enforcement personnel in active service were part of that network, collaborating with groups of armed civilians in the employ of drug traffickers.
The chief witness, Mr. Daniel Arcila, describes one of the acts of torture by Colombian Army Major Alirio Ureño Jaramillo, from the Sonora District, at a ranch owned by a drug trafficker. Called "La Granja", the ranch was used as a base to coordinate operations in the vicinity:
The Major shot water into their faces using a pressurized hose. He used his penknife to pry up their fingernails, cut pieces off the soles of their feet with fingernail clippers and then threw salt on the wounds. With a gasoline blow torch, he burned them on various parts of the body until the flesh blistered and cracked. He put the hose in the genital area; cut off the victims' penises and testicles and stuck them in their mouths; finally, he dismembered them with a chain saw, and as they did this the torturers yelled `ai hombre'... I asked one of them what they were doing with the chain saw and he told me that they were cutting off the heads and cutting the bodies in half to let the blood drain out that day, so that they could throw them away that night. They then discarded the mangled pieces one by one... I saw the bodies as they were throwing them into the dump truck; they were inside sacks. There were around twelve sacks; in one sack they threw the trunks of the bodies and in another they threw the heads.
Daniel Arcila recounted how the dismembered bodies were thrown into the Cauca river: "They killed all of them that way and then they threw them out at night... They used a blue Ford 56 dump truck." "It was a Sunday night when they threw out the bodies, the night of April 1. "... I transported the bodies of those who had been tortured and killed. I had to do it because if I didn't, I was a dead man... A dump truck was used to take the eleven (11) bodies to the river, and I drove. Some 15 self-defense people, the lieutenant, and the sergeant were in other cars..."
The main victim in the instant case is Jesuit priest Father Tiberio de Jesús Fernández Mafla who, since his youth, had been a prominent peasant leader and enthusiastic supporter of the cooperative movement. Since his arrival in Trujillo, Father Tiberio had been active in social work within his parish to assist the more economically disadvantaged sectors, while encouraging the creation of urban and rural community businesses, convincing the people of the importance of grassroots organizations.
On April 17, 1990, Father Tiberio went to the city of Tuluá to be the chief celebrant in the funeral services for a person who had been murdered the day before. On the road to Tuluá, at the entrance to the hacienda known as El Topacio, there was a group of people inside a white Toyota jeep who covered their faces when Father Tiberio's taxi went by. The people in the taxi with Father Tiberio noticed this.
While on the return trip to Trujillo, at a distance of some 25 kilometers from Tuluá, several people, among them the mayor of the town, saw another white jeep carrying a number of armed men. The vehicle carrying Father Tiberio and others, among them a niece Alba Isabel Giraldo Fernández, age 22, was stopped. Father Tiberio and those with him were forced out of the car and put in another vehicle. Eyewitnesses recognized some of the armed men who kidnapped Father Tiberio, whose body was discovered in the Cauca river on April 23. Father Tiberio had been decapitated; his thorax and abdomen had been opened and the body mutilated and castrated. The next day, the body was identified by relatives and friends. When X-rays of fractures that the priest had sustained in two previous accidents were compared, his identity was fully established.
D. REPORT OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE NATION CONCERNING
As mentioned in Chapter I, during the visit made by the Special Preparatory Committee in December 1990, the then Attorney Delegate for Human Rights, Dr. Jaime Córdoba Triviño, made some public statements on the question of unlawful arrests, enforced disappearances, and abuse and torture as methods used by the security arms of the Colombian armed forces. Because these statements came from such an authoritative source, they were important to the Special Committee's investigatory work.
According to the Attorney Delegate for Human Rights, "... enforced disappearance has been used by State security agencies in Colombia as a method of investigation: individuals are surreptitiously captured; the security agencies conceal the fact of their arrest; they are tortured; information is obtained..."
Describing some of the tortures used in the country, Dr. Córdova Triviño mentioned the fact that people are staked out in the sun during the day and left out in the cold at night; they are beaten, threatened with death, forced to watch other people being tortured, to experience mock executions by firing squads that have no ammunition in their weapons. He added: "The creative minds at the State security agencies have added still other methods of torture to this list."
The State's repeated use of enforced disappearance, as mentioned by the Attorney Delegate for Human Rights of Colombia, is very serious; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights already knew of this practice from the many denunciations it had received in that regard.
Qualifying his statements, Dr. Córdova Triviño pointed out, however, that while torture and enforced disappearance can often be blamed on State agents, these practices are not the policy of either the State or its armed forces.
Apart from this extraordinary statement, the Special Commission also had an opportunity to learn from very reliable sources that severe mistreatment and torture of political detainees has become widespread practice. The Special Commission was also told that these same methods are used to extract information from individuals accused of common crimes and from individuals suspected of collaborating with drug traffickers.
According to the report of the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation of September 1991, prepared exclusively on complaints and matters brought to that agency's attention, that Office has some 272 cases under investigation, cases that concern 664 alleged victims of torture; the report states that in 48.48% of the cases, the torture is blamed on members of the National Police; in 20.47% of the cases, the torture is blamed on the military, and in 29.17% inquiries were being conducted to determine who was responsible. Of those 664 alleged victims, 46.58% were peasants, 16.97% were independent workers and workers from the informal sector of the economy, and 12.42% were prisoners.
As for mistreatment and personal injury, the report of the Office of the Attorney General notes that this human rights violation is the one most frequently denounced to the Office of the Attorney General, which had received a total of 941 complaints from people who claimed to have been the victim of some physical aggression or of various types of personal injury inflicted by State agents. The report underscores the fact that 76.25% of the agents blamed were with the National Police; 155 agents had been sanctioned, and of these 148 belonged to the police forces.
In a more recent communication, the Office of the Attorney General remarked that the Public Prosecutor's Office receives a complaint involving the torture of a citizen every day. Between April 1991 and July 1992, 304 complaints of torture were filed; of those, 47% have been filed (144 cases), 45% are undergoing preliminary investigation or under investigation (137 cases), and 8% have gone to trial and been decided (23 cases). Involved in these complaints are 106 members of the National Police, 93 members of the Army, 9 members of the Administrative Security Department (DAS) and 6 members of the Technical Corps of the Criminal Investigations Police.
E. OTHER RECENT CASES SEEN BY THE COMMISSION
The Commission has continued to receive information from serious and reliable sources, who report that torture continues to be practiced in Colombia.
On May 19, 1992, in the city of Barrancabermeja (Department of Santander), a peasant farmer by the name of Enrique Saavedra was tortured along with three other farmers, after being detained in the hamlet of El Pueblito by a patrol of the Nueva Granada Battalion. According to a statement by witnesses, the peasant farmers were beaten, threatened with death and accused of being "guerrillas". Human rights organizations reported that the civilian population continues to be victimized by the law enforcement and military personnel in the counterinsurgency struggle, all because the military believes that all peasants are "aiding the guerrilla movement."
As for the problem of torture in the city of Barrancabermeja, CREDHOS (the human rights committee in the region) presented the IACHR Special Commission with an album containing photographs of hundreds of people in the area who had been horribly disfigured by torture.
On May 7, 1992, in the city of Barranquilla, Department of Atlantico, Mr. Luciano Pérez Cueto was found murdered on the Juan Mina road. He had been shot several times in the head. The victim's father reported that several policemen had taken him away by force from a shop in the Las Américas district. He had been forced into a taxi and had been punched, kicked and hit in the head with a weapon. The father tried to follow the taxi in which his son was taken away, but the police threatened to kill the young man if he followed them.
Typical of the reports of mistreatment and torture that the Commission receives month after month, showing the changes in the human rights situation where this right is concerned, the following is a statistical report sent by the Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CINEP) for June 1992, which includes a list of murder victims whose bodies showed signs of torture and who were properly identified.
June 3. LUIS ALFONSO LOPEZ RESTREPO, Caldas (Antioquia). A merchant found murdered, together with two other people, on the road to the municipality of Fredonia in the vicinity of the village of Piedra Verde. He lived in Bello. The bodies of the victims had multiple 9 mm bullet wounds and were partially burned with sulfuric acid. The victims had been detained at various sites in Medellin. SADY FERNEY PEREZ URIBE, Caldas (Antioquia). A history student at the Universidad Nacional, Medellin campus, found murdered in the hamlet of Sinifariá. Her body had multiple bullet wounds, showed signs of torture and was partially burned. She lived in the workers' district of Medellin and some days earlier had been taken by force from the university, by persons unknown. MARIA LUISA PARRA NOSA, Caldas (Antioquia). She was found murdered, together with her husband and a merchant, in the village of Piedra Verde. Her body showed signs of torture and was burned with sulfuric acid. The victims had been detained at various sites in Medellin. JOSE BENIGNO CAÑAS ZAPATA, Caldas (Antioquia). He was found murdered, together with his wife and a merchant, in the village of Piedra Verde. His body showed signs of torture and was burned with sulfuric acid. The victims had been detained at various sites in Medellin.
June 4. MAXIMO SERGIO FLOREZ SANCHEZ, CARLOS MARIO HENAO AND JORGE NARVAEZ, Riohacha (La Guajira). Members of the Esperanza, Paz y Libertad Movement, murdered together with seven other people, among them 3 former EPL guerrillas. The murders were the work of approximately 15 men dressed in police uniforms who went to the "El Socorro" ranch, located in the village of El Mamey in the district of El Mingueo, where 15 children and 14 adults were sleeping. They shot the people who were there. Four of the victims were taken to the Barranquilla Hospital where they died. The members of Esperanza, Paz y Libertad were taken to a bridge on the Caribe Highway, where apparently they were tortured and then thrown from the highest point of the bridge. The former guerrillas were natives of the municipality of Planeta Rica (Córdoba); they were registered with the Atlantico Reassimilation Office and managed the Tamacá Restaurant in Barranquilla. They had disappeared two days earlier.
June 4. JORGE VELEZ TRUJILLO and PABLO JIMENEZ, Plato (Magdalena). Workers on the "Santa Martica" ranch, found murdered inside a jeep in which they had been travelling some hours before. The bodies were burned and had multiple bullet wounds. OCTAVIO MARIN and HERNAN ANTONIO, Dos Quebradas (Risaralda). Members of a gang of kidnappers, murdered by persons unknown. Their throats had been cut. The gang was apparently planning to kidnap the owner of a hacienda in the village of La Esperanza. The rest of the gang managed to escape. CARLOS ALBERTO MORALES ALZATE, LUIS DIEGO LOPEZ and RUBEN DARIO MORALES ALARCON, Envigado (Antioquia). These men were found dead inside a Renault 4, on the Las Palmas Road. They had been tortured and wounded with steel weapons. With the bodies was a sign that said "This is for car thieves who take the cars to Cali." The victims lived in Manizales. GUMERCINDO ALTAMAR GUZMAN, a bricklayer and native of Acandí (Chocó); DARISNEL CASSIANI OBESO, a bricklayer known as "Pastrana" and a native of the Department of Bolívar; ALCIDES N., known as "El Chirri"; JOSE GUSTAVO FONSECA, a native of Cúcuta, whose name appears twice with SIJIN for petty theft; and ROBERTO JULIO MENESES VILLABNA, a criminal known as "La Pantera" who had a record with the SIJIN for petty theft and drug trafficking, Tubara (Atlántico). Found murdered on the "La Lucha" ranch, located in the Cuatro Bocas Police District. The victims lived in the Nueva Colombia district of Barranquilla. The victims were tied up and had multiple bullet wounds and signs of torture. Two of the victims had criminal records for petty theft. ELKIN ARREDONDO GUZMAN, Medellin (Antioquia). Found murdered on the road to the municipality of Caldas. He was nude and his hands had been amputated (they were in a bag).
June 9. JOSE DELFIN TORRES CASTRO, Cerrito (Santander). Secretary of the Tabeta Departmental Inspection Burear, murdered along with the inspector, by a patrol of the García Rovira Battalion. At the place known as "Alto de las Cruces", the Secretary was detained by a patrol of twelve soldiers and taken to a place nearby, where for two hours he was questioned and tortured. He and the inspector were then boarded into Delfín Torres Castro's van, driven by a soldier; moments later, several shots were heard; witnesses to the arrest ran to the place and found the bodies alongside the van. José Delfín was still alive, but died moments later. The soldiers took his identification papers, $500.00 in cash and the keys to the van. On February 5, 1987, the wife of the Secretary, Irma Vera, had been murdered by members of García Rovira Battalion.
June 10. LUIS ALFONSO CHILLITO DOMINGUEZ, Candelaria (Valle). An elderly man 70 years of age, who worked as a guard at the "José Hilario Illera" sand pit; he was found murdered on the banks of the Cauca River, near the Juanchito Departmental Inspection Station. He was gagged, his feet and hands were bound and he had been shot, tortured and choked. Two days earlier, several men wearing hoods and carrying weapons came to the sand dump, grabbed the three guards and tied them up, took two dump trucks and one pistol, and then took the old man away. NORBERTO JAVIER RESTREPO, Abejorral (Antioquia). He was working as a contractor with architects; his body was found in the hamlet of El Cairo. It had been burned with sulfuric acid from the waist up (all that was left of the head was bone). One arm had been broken in three places. Near the body was a pyre that apparently was to be used to burn the body. The mother of the victim said that he had been a member of the Unión Patriótica.
June 12. LUIS ANTONIO SOTO GARCIA, Yumbo (Valle). A boy 9 years old was found murdered. The body of the child showed signs of strangulation. He had disappeared 12 days earlier.
June 29. JOSE RAUL BUITRAGO MORENO, El Tarra (Norte de Santander). A peasant, murdered by persons unknown at the place known as "Barranquilla" in a rural part of that town. He had been covered with gasoline and then set on fire, after which he was shot several times. The body of an employee of ECOPETROL was found several days later at the same site.
June 30. ALFREDO MARBERI LOPEZ and WALTER AMININTON RODRIGUEZ MOSQUERA (et al), Cali (Valle). They were found murdered at the place known as "La Viga" on the road to the municipality of Jamundí. The bodies had multiple bullet wounds; they were bound hand and foot and gagged. Needles had been driven into their backs and their bodies had cigarette burns; their heads were covered with plastic bags. JOSE FERNANDO BEDOYA ARIAS, Ciénaga (Magdalena). A peasant farmer found murdered in the Tucurinca district had been shot several times and his skull had been fractured. He had been missing since March 28, when he was taken by members of a paramilitary group, as he was in a rural area of the municipality of Aracataca. OMAR ZUÑIGA VASQUEZ, Cartagena (Bolívar). A peasant farmer murdered by members of the Marine Infantry, who detained him, tortured him and riddled him with bullets. Relatives of the victim reported the crime at the Summit Meeting of Atlantic Coast Prosecutors, which was attended by the Attorney General and the Public Defender, who pledged to prosecute the investigations to clarify the facts.
F. FINAL OBSERVATIONS
The right to personal safety and humane treatment is seriously imperiled in Colombia. The Commission is disturbed by the fact that in spite of observations made as far back as its 1980 on-site visit, torture continues to be used at an alarming rate. More dramatic still is the fact that for a number of years now, bodies are being discovered every day. They are the bodies of the victims of extrajudicial executions and show visible signs of torture. It would seem that these cruel and inhuman methods have not been eliminated and are used by some members of the armed forces and State security agencies to obtain information unlawfully and even to extract confessions.