Annual Report: Colombia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Colombia 2011

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  • On 10 September, six army soldiers were each sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment for the killing in December 2008 of Edwin Legarda, the husband of Indigenous leader Aída Quilcué.
  • On 8 June, retired Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for the enforced disappearance of 11 people in November 1985, after military forces stormed the Palace of Justice where people were being held hostage by members of the M-19 guerrilla group. Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega appealed against the sentence. The presiding judge left the country after the ruling following threats.

However, most perpetrators of human rights abuses continued to evade justice. The fight against impunity was undermined by threats against and killings of those involved in human rights trials.

Land rights

President Santos stated that returning some of the more than 6 million hectares of land misappropriated during the conflict to peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendant communities would be a priority for his presidency. In October, the government announced it would return 312,000 hectares of land to around 130,000 displaced families by April 2012, and a total of 2 million hectares by the end of its four-year term in office. However, increasing threats against and killings of leaders of displaced communities and of those seeking the return of stolen lands threatened to undermine these efforts.

  • On 19 September, Hernando Pérez, a leader of the Association of Victims for the Restitution of Land and Property, was killed in Necoclí Municipality, Antioquia Department. Hours earlier, he had participated in an official ceremony in Nueva Colonia, Antioquia Department, to return land to dozens of peasant farmer families forcibly displaced by paramilitaries.

The Justice and Peace process

The Justice and Peace process continued to fall short of international standards on victims' rights to truth, justice and reparation, although some truths about human rights violations did emerge. Through the process, which began in 2005, around 10 per cent of the more than 30,000 paramilitaries who supposedly demobilized qualified for reduced prison sentences in return for laying down their arms, confessing to human rights abuses and returning stolen lands. The rest received de facto amnesties. However, in November the Constitutional Court rejected a law, passed in 2009, which would have confirmed such amnesties for 19,000 of these paramilitaries, arguing that it ran counter to the right to truth, justice and reparation. In December, Congress passed a law again granting de facto amnesties to these paramilitaries in return for them signing an Agreement to Contribute to the Historic Truth and Reparation.

In June, a Justice and Peace judge sentenced two paramilitaries to eight years in prison each for human rights violations, while a third paramilitary received the same sentence in December. These were the only sentences that had been passed under the process by the end of 2010.

In February, the Supreme Court of Justice refused to authorize further extraditions of paramilitaries to the USA because of concerns that most of the paramilitary leaders extradited to the USA in 2008 on drugs charges were not co-operating with the Colombian justice system in its investigation into human rights violations.

Extrajudicial executions by the security forces

Extrajudicial executions were reported, although in fewer numbers than in previous years. However, progress in criminal investigations by the Office of the Attorney General into more than 2,300 such killings carried out since 1985 continued to be slow.

There were concerns that the provisional release during 2010 of dozens of army soldiers held on remand for their alleged part in extrajudicial executions could undermine criminal investigations into such cases.

The military justice system continued to claim jurisdiction in some of the cases implicating members of the security forces in human rights violations. Many such cases were closed without any serious attempt to hold those responsible accountable. A new military criminal code approved in August was ambiguous on whether extrajudicial executions and rape were to be excluded from military jurisdiction.