Annual Report: Colombia 2013

Report
May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Colombia 2013

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Land restitution

The Victims and Land Restitution Law provoked a backlash from some of those who benefited from misappropriated lands. Those campaigning for land restitution were killed or threatened and concerns remained about the authorities’ ability to protect them. Paramilitaries calling themselves “anti restitution armies” were reported in several parts of Colombia. Several death threats were issued by these groups to human rights organizations and land activists during the year.

The law excluded many victims of abuses by paramilitary groups, which the government no longer acknowledged as a party to the conflict. It also included provisions that undermined efforts to return land and the right of victims to truth, justice and reparation. On 12 September, the Constitutional Court ruled that parts of the law were unconstitutional. These included measures that exempted from prosecution “strawmen” who surrendered misappropriated lands. The Court also declared unconstitutional wording that would have denied land restitution to victims deemed to have taken “illegal” action to campaign for the return of occupied lands that had been misappropriated from them.

Security forces

The security forces were responsible for serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, sometimes in collusion with paramilitary groups. Extrajudicial executions carried out directly by the security forces continued to be reported, although not on the scale of previous years.

  • On 2 October, the body of 15-year-old Norbey Martínez Bonilla was handed over to the civilian authorities in the city of Cali by the security forces who claimed he was a guerrilla killed in combat. He had disappeared from his home in Caloto, Cauca Department, on 28 September during fighting between the security forces and guerrilla groups. Norbey Martínez Bonilla lived in El Pedregal, a hamlet which in 2010 was granted protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Scant progress was made in bringing perpetrators to justice. The military justice system regularly closed investigations into human rights violations in which members of the security forces were implicated. A report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions published in May noted that: “the continuous attempts by the military justice system to claim jurisdiction over cases are of great concern.”

Paramilitaries

Despite their supposed demobilization, paramilitary groups, labelled “criminal gangs” (Bacrim) by the government, were responsible for serious human rights violations, including killings, enforced disappearances and “social cleansing” operations in poor urban neighbourhoods. Some were committed with the collusion or acquiescence of the security forces. The victims were mainly trade unionists and human rights defenders, as well as representatives of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities.

  • On 23 March, paramilitaries forcibly disappeared Manuel Ruíz and his 15-year-old son Samir de Jesús Ruíz, members of the Afro-descendant and Afro-mestizo community of Apartadocito in the Curvaradó River Basin, Chocó Department. On 24 March a paramilitary informed their family that they had been killed. Manuel Ruíz’ body was found on 27 March and that of his son, who had been tortured, the following day. The killings occurred just before a government inspection to determine ownership of land in Los Piscingos, from where Manuel Ruíz’ family and others had been displaced by paramilitaries and the security forces in 1996.

The Justice and Peace process, which began in 2005, continued to deny victims of paramilitary abuses their right to truth, justice and reparation. According to the Office of the Attorney General, by

1 December only 14 paramilitaries had been convicted of human rights violations under the Justice and Peace process.

In December, Congress approved a reform of the Justice and Peace Law that allowed illegal combatants who had not demobilized when the law came into force to benefit from its provisions.