Annual Report: Colombia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Colombia 2011

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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.

In September, the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report confirming the presence of at least 446 unidentified bodies in a cemetery next to an army base in La Macarena, Meta Department. The UN called for a thorough investigation to ascertain how many were victims of extrajudicial executions. On 22 July, NGOs had reported in a public meeting that there were unidentified bodies in the La Macarena cemetery. Three days later, President Uribe said of these NGOs: "Terrorism … while it proposes peace through some of its spokesmen, through other spokesmen it comes here to La Macarena to find how to discredit the armed forces and how to accuse them of human rights violations".

Some of those involved in exposing extrajudicial executions were threatened or killed.

  • On 13 August, the body of Norma Irene Pérez, one of the organizers of the public meeting, was found with gunshot wounds in La Macarena.

The 'Parapolitical' scandal

The Supreme Court of Justice continued to make progress in its investigations into illegal links between politicians and paramilitary groups. Dozens of former members of Congress were investigated, many of whom were convicted and imprisoned.

On 4 March, the Supreme Court issued a statement warning that the killing of members of the judiciary threatened the rule of law. The statement followed claims that several magistrates investigating the scandal had received death threats.

In September, the Procurator General banned Senator Piedad Córdoba from public office for 18 years. He argued she had exceeded her role as a mediator in talks with the FARC designed to secure the release of hostages by giving political advice to the guerrilla group. Piedad Córdoba denied all the allegations.

The civilian intelligence service

In January, the Office of the Attorney General charged seven senior officials of the civilian intelligence service, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), with illegal wiretapping and membership of paramilitary groups, and continued to investigate several former DAS directors and government officials. In 2009, the media revealed that the DAS, which operates under the direct authority of the President, had been involved in a massive, long-standing, illegal "dirty tricks" campaign against human rights defenders, politicians, judges and journalists.

In October, Congress opened an investigation into the role played in the scandal by former President Uribe. Earlier that month, the Office of the Procurator General announced disciplinary sanctions against several public officials for their role in the scandal, including three former DAS directors and President Uribe's chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno.

In October and December, two senior DAS officials, Jorge Alberto Lagos and Fernando Tabares, were each sentenced to eight years in prison for their role in these crimes.

In November, one of the former DAS directors under investigation, María del Pilar Hurtado, asked for and was granted asylum in Panama, increasing concerns that criminal investigations against senior DAS and government officials could stall.

Paramilitary groups

Paramilitaries continued to kill civilians; threaten and kill human rights defenders and social leaders; recruit children; and carry out acts of "social cleansing". These groups continued to expand and became organizationally more sophisticated. Collusion with the security forces continued in many parts of the country.