• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Colombia 2011

June 30, 2011

Head of state and government: Juan Manuel Santos Calderón (replaced Álvaro Uribe Vélez in August)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 46.3 million
Life expectancy: 73.4 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 30/22 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 93.4 per cent

The civilian population, especially rural and poor urban communities, continued to bear the brunt of the long-running armed conflict. Guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the security forces were responsible for serious and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. President Juan Manuel Santos, who assumed office in August, said he would prioritize human rights and the fight against impunity. In marked contrast to the previous government, he adopted a less hostile stand towards human rights defenders. The new government presented legislation on reparation for victims and land restitution, which it claimed would benefit those affected by human rights abuses. However, victims’ and human rights organizations expressed reservations about the legislation and human rights defenders and social leaders continued to be threatened and killed. Those campaigning for the return of lands misappropriated during the conflict, mainly by paramilitary groups, were at particular risk. Human rights defenders, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, witnesses, and victims and their families involved in human rights-related criminal cases were also threatened and killed.


In February, the Constitutional Court blocked a proposed referendum which could have allowed President Álvaro Uribe to stand for a third consecutive term of office.

The administration of President Uribe waged a campaign to discredit the Supreme Court of Justice, partly because of the Court’s investigations into links between members of Congress, including his cousin Mario Uribe, and paramilitary groups. However, relations with the Court appeared to improve under the government of President Santos.

The main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), suffered another serious setback in September, when the security forces killed one of their historic leaders, Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, alias “Mono Jojoy”, during a military operation.

On 19 October, Congress adopted the International Convention against enforced disappearance.

The internal armed conflict

The warring parties did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, resulting in forced displacement, unlawful killings, kidnappings and enforced disappearances. Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities, and their leaders, continued to be directly targeted by the warring parties. According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia at least 122 Indigenous people were killed in 2010.

  • On 28 September, Indigenous leaders María Elena Galíndez and Ramiro Inampués were found shot dead in Guachucal Municipality, Nariño Department. Together with other Indigenous activists, they had been about to start talks with the government on land rights issues.
  • On 17 July, Jair Murillo was shot dead in the city of Buenaventura. He had been co-ordinating the participation of displaced Afro-descendants in a march scheduled to take place in Bogotá the following day. Jair Murillo’s organization, the Integral Foundation of the Pacific Coast of Nariño, and other Afro-descendant organizations, had been named in a paramilitary death threat on 14 May.

More than 280,000 people were forcibly displaced in 2010, compared with 286,000 in 2009. Between 3 and 5 million people have been displaced in the last 25 years.

In November, the Human Rights Ombudsman expressed his concern at the increase in massacres in 2010. Paramilitaries and drug traffickers were thought to be mainly responsible.

Several bombings in urban areas, some of which the government attributed to the FARC, killed and injured civilians.

  • On 24 March, a car bomb exploded near the Office of the Attorney General in Buenaventura killing at least nine people and injuring dozens.


There were several important judicial rulings in human rights-related criminal cases.

  • 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.

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.

  • On 4 September, peasant farmers Luis Alberto Cortés Mesa, José Wilmer Mesa Mesa and Ilfo Boanerge Klinger Rivera were stopped by members of the Black Eagles paramilitary group as they walked home along the river Telembí in Barbacoas Municipality, Nariño Department. On 5 September, the bodies of the three men were found hacked to death and bearing signs of torture.
  • On 15 August, two young men, Diego Ferney Jaramillo Corredor and Silver Robinson Muñoz, were shot dead by gunmen outside the city of Puerto Asís, Putumayo Department. On 20 August, a third man, Norbey Álvarez Vargas, was killed by gunmen in the city. The three were the first three names on a death list of 65 young men from Puerto Asís circulated on the Internet, reportedly by paramilitary groups. On 20 August, a further list was circulated with the names of 31 local young women.

Guerrilla groups

The FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, hostage-taking and the recruitment of children.

The FARC in particular carried out indiscriminate attacks in which civilians were put at risk through the use of low-precision explosive devices.

According to government figures, 35 members of the security forces and one civilian were killed in 2010 and 363 injured by anti-personnel mines employed predominantly by the FARC.

According to government figures, there were 282 kidnappings in 2010, compared with 213 in 2009. Most were attributed to criminal gangs, but guerrilla groups were responsible for most conflict-related kidnappings. However, the main NGO supporting victims of kidnapping, País Libre, criticized the government agency responsible for compiling kidnapping statistics, Fondelibertad, for claiming that only 79 people remained in captivity as of February.

  • Lizbeth Jaime, Mónica Duarte and Nohora Guerrero, members of the NGO Fundación Progresar, and María Angélica González, from the Office of the Vice-President, were kidnapped by the ELN on 9 July. They were released on 22 July.

Several soldiers and police officers held by the FARC were freed.

Human rights defenders and other activists

Human rights defenders, trade unionists and social leaders continued to be threatened and killed, mainly by paramilitary groups. In 2010, at least 14 human rights defenders were killed. The National Trade Union School reported that 51 members of trade unions were killed during the year.

  • On 10 October, the paramilitary Black Eagles Central Bloc sent an email death threat to 20 individuals and 69 human rights and social organizations, most of which were campaigning for reparation for victims of human rights violations, and for the return of stolen lands.
  • On 17 June, in Barrancabermeja, Santander Department, gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Nelson Camacho González, a member of the oil workers’ union. The killing followed a death threat sent on 26 May by the paramilitary Joint Cleansing Command to 17 NGOs, trade unions, peasant farmer organizations, and groups representing forcibly displaced people working in Barrancabermeja and the surrounding area.

Human rights defenders and social activists accused of links with guerrilla groups continued to face criminal proceedings, often based solely on the statements of informants.

Violence against women and girls

All parties to the conflict subjected women to sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.

  • In November, an army lieutenant was arrested in connection with the killing of two brothers aged nine and six, and the rape and killing of their sister, aged 14, in Tame, Arauca Department. The three children had disappeared on 14 October.

Women activists working with displaced women were threatened and killed.

  • On 5 November, Elizabeth Silva Aguilar, President of the Association of Homeless and Displaced People of Bucaramanga, was killed by gunmen who entered her home.
  • The NGO Sisma Women’s Corporation received an email death threat on 27 January from the paramilitary Central Bloc of the Black Eagles Truth and Death.

US assistance

In 2010, the USA allocated US$667 million in military and non-military assistance for Colombia. This included US$508.2 million from the State and Foreign Operations funding bill. The security forces were allocated S$256 million of this, of which approximately US$100 was earmarked for the armed forces. Payment of 30 per cent of the US$100 million was conditional on the Colombian authorities meeting certain human rights requirements. In September, the US authorities determined that the Colombian government had made significant progress in improving the human rights situation in the country and released some US$30 million in security assistance funds.

In August, the Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement to allow the US military to use seven Colombian military bases, signed in 2009, could not be implemented until it was submitted to and approved by Congress and then by the Court itself.

International scrutiny

The report on Colombia of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, published in March, said the main challenge for 2010 would be the effective implementation of UN recommendations, including “all previous pending recommendations of the High Commissioner”.

In October, the government renewed the mandate of the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for a further three years.

Several UN Special Rapporteurs – including those on extrajudicial and summary executions; on indigenous people; and on the independence of judges and lawyers – presented reports on Colombia to the UN Human Rights Council. Colombia was also reviewed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Human Rights Committee. The UN Independent Expert on minority issues visited Colombia in February.