Colombians suffer a dire human rights situation due to the country’s 45-year-old internal armed conflict. Leftist guerrillas fight the state and illegal right-wing paramilitary organizations, which often collaborate with sectors of the Colombian armed forces. All of the parties to the conflict are responsible for human rights violations. Armed opposition groups, including the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including high-profile kidnappings. Colombia’s paramilitary groups, which have sown terror across Colombia for decades, were supposedly demobilized in a process initiated in 2003 by the previous administration of President Álvaro Uribe, but many such groups continue to operate in many parts of the country. The Colombian government routinely fails to bring to justice military officials who have collaborated with these illegal paramilitary groups as they carry out atrocities or even participate in civilian killings.
After two terms (for which he had to change the constitution) served by President Alvaro Uribe, Uribe’s former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010. Amnesty International believes that one of Santos’ biggest and most important challenges is to ensure an independent judiciary system, allowing it to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses committed during the country’s long-running armed conflict. During Uribe’s tenure Amnesty International documented no substantive improvement in the human rights situation. In fact, AI has documented worsening in human rights conditions in several conflict zones, and that collusion between the armed forces and illegal paramilitary groups continues.
Human rights defenders, women, farmers, unionists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities among others face constant threats to their security. In rural communities, these individuals are often terrorized by guerillas and paramilitaries alike. They are forced to choose between supporting one of the armed groups for protection, or fleeing to the relative safety of urban areas where they add to the mass of urban unemployed and under-employed, swelling the ranks of the desplazados (displaced persons). As a result, between 3 and 5 million Colombians live as internal refugees.
Despite this grave situation, Colombia has a host of active community leaders, peace activists and human rights defenders who are bravely working toward a peaceful end to the conflict. These individuals face constant threats and have been subject to torture and murder, and many have been forced to leave the country. Your work can help to provide greater security for these human rights defenders and for all Colombians.