Following his visit to Colombia in June, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings said that extrajudicial executions "were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military".
Paramilitary groups continued to operate in many parts of the country, sometimes in collusion with sectors of the security forces. Their continued activities belied government claims that all paramilitaries had laid down their arms following a government-sponsored demobilization programme that began in 2003.
The government claimed that violence attributed to these groups was solely drug-related and criminal in nature. However, the tactics employed by these groups to terrorize the civilian population, including death threats and massacres, reflected those used by paramilitary groups prior to demobilization. Human rights defenders, community leaders and other social activists continued to be targeted by such groups
There was evidence that paramilitary groups were again becoming more organized. In a report published in October, the Organization of American States' Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia referred to "these illegal structures' capacity for renewal, especially among their leaders, which is a challenge for the authorities to prevent their restructuring".
There was an increase in killings of people from marginalized social groups in urban areas, mostly carried out by paramilitaries. Victims included young people; the homeless; petty criminals; sex workers; lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people; and drug addicts. According to the NGO Research and Popular Education Centre (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, CINEP), there were 184 such killings in 2009, compared with 82 in 2008.
There was an increase in efforts by paramilitary groups to exert social control over communities living in poverty through the mass distribution of threatening leaflets. In 2009, CINEP recorded 83 such threats distributed in many parts of the country, compared with 58 in 2008.
The Justice and Peace process
Only around 3,700 of the 31,000 paramilitaries who had allegedly demobilized since 2003 had participated in the Justice and Peace process by the end of 2009. However, the whereabouts of many of these were unknown. The Justice and Peace process allows former paramilitaries to benefit from reduced sentences in return for confessions about human rights violations. Some paramilitaries confessed to human rights abuses and implicated others, including people in politics, business and the military. However, the process still fell short of international standards on the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation.
Some 90 per cent of those who were demobilized continued to escape effective investigation as a result of Decree 128 and Law 782, which grant de facto amnesties to those not under investigation for human rights violations. In June, Congress approved a law to regularize the legal status of 19,000 supposedly demobilized paramilitaries after the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that they could not benefit from amnesties. The law authorized the Attorney General to suspend, interrupt or abandon investigations against them, thus enabling them to evade justice.
In July the Supreme Court annulled on procedural grounds the sentence handed down in March by the Justice and Peace Tribunal on the paramilitary Wilson Salazar Carrascal, alias "El Loro". By the end of the year, no paramilitary had been sentenced under the Justice and Peace process.
Most of the 18 paramilitary leaders extradited to the USA on drug-trafficking charges refused to co-operate with the Colombian justice system in its investigations into human rights violations. Colombian judicial officials experienced difficulties in gaining access to the few who did agree to co-operate.
Some paramilitaries returned a small portion of the 4-6 million hectares of land stolen by them, but there were concerns that some of these lands could again fall under the control of such groups or their backers. Some of the few original owners whose land was returned were threatened or killed.