University of Minnesota

Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.102, Doc. 9 rev. 1 (1999).





1. On concluding its Report, the Commission would like to acknowledge once again the efforts of the Colombian State and [civil] society to address the complex and challenging reality of an internal armed conflict that has affected the civilian population for almost 40 years, and continues to do so to this day. The armed conflict cannot be viewed in isolation from the human rights situation in Colombia. Nonetheless, the Commission's assessment reveals that the Colombian State's efforts have not been successful in confronting the crisis and the violence, which have a grave, ongoing, and prolonged impact on the population's most fundamental rights.

2. Forging peace is indissolubly linked to investigating, judging, and making reparations for human rights violations, especially those committed by State agents or by those who rely on their support or acquiescence. The search for an authentic peace should be grounded in the observance of human rights. The rule of law should provide the formulas for making a determination as to the truth, to try those who violate the laws in force and make reparation to the victims. To respond lawfully and effectively to violations of fundamental rights, the administration of justice requires laws in line with society's needs, and in line with general principles such as the right of access to justice, the impartiality of the court or judge, the procedural equality of the parties, and the enforceability and effectiveness of court decisions.

3. The Commission is aware of the structural, long-standing shortcomings that beset the State, in particular the administration of justice: excessive caseloads, the limited budget, and the fact that the codes were out of step with practices. The Commission also considers that the State apparatus has been affected negatively by the conflict such that it appears to abdicate its responsibilities as guarantor of the fundamental rights of the population, particularly in certain zones of the country, where it was not able to establish a permanent and effective presence. This situation, however, cannot validate the perverse levels of impunity, which year after year frustrates the diligent and effective trial of violations of the most fundamental human rights. These shortcomings should be addressed by rebuilding the judicial system, particularly the criminal justice system, so that the violations of law that result from the complex situation of violence can be clarified, abiding by the rules of regular procedure, and pursuant to principles that meet the expectations of justice of the victims and of society in general.

4. The Commission trusts that the Colombian State, along with its citizens, shall undertake the task of responding effectively, with justice, to the violence and impunity. This is required by current law, beginning with the 1991 Constitution, which is one of the most advanced in Latin America, and the international obligations assumed via ratification of the instruments of the inter-American system.

5. The approval and publication of this Report is taking place in the context of a complex process of peace negotiations, and of reform to the Colombian Constitution. The Commission is hopeful that the efforts of President Andrés Pastrana Arango to generate conditions conducive to a settlement of the conflict succeed in achieving true national reconciliation, and that it further hopes that such a process will be accompanied by provisions that strengthen the administration of justice, among other areas. The Commission is aware that these efforts are challenged daily by the fighting between the military forces and the armed dissident groups, attacks by both against civilians, i.e. the non-combatant population, the escalation of paramilitary activities, common crime and drug-trafficking, the harassment of human rights defenders, and the forced displacement of thousands of persons and families.

6. The Commission is always ready to contribute, within its jurisdiction and the purposes and aims of the American Convention, to the strengthening of the peaceful and democratic co-existence of all Colombians. Nonetheless, it should note that while the internal armed conflict and the human rights crisis are closely related and need to be tackled in a coordinated fashion, the concern to seek political peace cannot be brandished as an excuse for delaying or weakening efforts in the struggle against impunity. Impunity also has the harmful effect of feeding the violence and destroying the essence of justice under a constitutional government and the rule of law. The process embarked upon to achieve peace and reconciliation on Colombian soil requires that the competent authorities and civil society direct their efforts to achieving social justice by upholding constitutional government and the rule of law, and by enforcing the law.

7. The Commission is convinced that the process of peace and co-existence of all Colombians should be based on truth, justice, and reparation. Overcoming the violence should be based on clarifying the human rights violations, placing on trial the persons responsible and punishing them pursuant to the law, and making reparation for the damages caused the victims. Only through the law and a shared perception of justice can we break the vicious cycle of impunity, re-establish public order, and guarantee observance of the rules of the political game that allow for the free advocacy of values in a context of tolerance.

8. The Commission would like to conclude this Report by expressing its desire for the Colombian people to realize their longing to live in peace in the framework of respect for and full observance of fundamental human rights.


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