Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy. In 2006 independent presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe was reelected in elections that were considered generally free and fair. Although the government's respect for human rights continued to improve, serious problems remained. Societal problems and human rights abuses included: unlawful and extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; insubordinate military collaboration with illegal groups; torture and mistreatment of detainees; overcrowded and dangerous prisons; arbitrary arrest; high number of pretrial detainees, some of whom were held with convicted prisoners; impunity, corruption, and an inefficient judiciary subject to intimidation; harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights groups; violence against women and children; trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation; societal discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and minorities; and illegal child labor.
The U.S. government's human rights and democracy strategy focuses on strengthening democratic processes and institutions, supporting civil society organizations, providing short-term emergency humanitarian assistance, increasing access to justice, training security forces in human rights, and protecting vulnerable populations. The United States is working to strengthen the government's implementation of political reforms that increase democratic inclusion and competition among political parties.
U.S. assistance strengthens Colombia's ability to enforce its laws effectively and to broaden access to justice. Through assistance focusing on improving security, protecting human rights, and combating narcotics trafficking, the United States is helping to strengthen respect for rule of law, improve the country's ability to protect human rights, and extend democratic governance to recently stabilized conflict areas.
To promote democracy through political reform, U.S. technical assistance to political parties is playing a key role in modernizing internal party structures, improving accountability and transparency of party activities, and contributing to more representative political parties. U.S. government programs promote respect for the rule of law and transparency in the criminal justice system. These programs have focused on designing and beginning the new oral accusatory system, implementing the 2004 criminal procedure code, strengthening court adminstration, and improving access to justice for vulnerable communities. Through U.S. assistance to the new accusatory justice system, cases are now moving forward from arrest to verdict in months instead of years and conviction rates have risen from less than 3 percent to more than 60 percent.
To address ongoing challenges regarding human rights abuses, the United States funds the Early Warning System, which is operated by the Office of the National Ombudsman. Funding also supports authorized regional Early Warning offices that alert state institutions to situations that could lead to serious human rights abuses. The system issues risk assessments and alerts that prevent or mitigate human rights abuses by providing local civilian and military authorities with recommendations for preventive actions. Through logistical support to human rights units in eight regional police offices, U.S. assistance has strengthened the National Police's awareness and ability to respect human rights. With U.S. funding and support, the Ministry of Interior and Justice Protection Program has protected 9,444 at-risk persons; provided armored walls and secure doorways for the offices of NGOs and unions; and trained trade unionists, journalists, political candidates, and other vulnerable groups on preventive security measures. U.S. funding has helped 10 at-risk communities undertake contingency planning, trained local officials and communities in prevention and protection strategies, and provided psychosocial assistance.
To facilitate the reintegration of demobilized members of paramilitary and guerilla groups, the United States provides technical assistance to monitor demobilization proceedings, the activities of the demobilized, economic reintegration programs--including 31 reference and opportunity centers-–and institutional strengthening of the government's reincorporation program. The U.S. government is providing technical assistance to the government's Center of Coordination for Integrated Action to extend state presence and democratic security in underserved areas and improve government responsiveness and accountability to citizen needs. The U.S. government works to help improve the government's ability to respond to the needs of displaced persons, and has been providing funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The United States is strengthening civil society's role in promoting human rights in a number of areas, including through awarding more than 30 grants to NGOs for legal advocacy, human rights monitoring, institutional strengthening, and combating impunity. U.S. assistance has also supported a civil society network of 10 NGOs that provides legal and psychological assistance to approximately 3,000 victims of human rights abuses.
U.S. funding has been supporting civil society organizations that promote and protect the rights of Afro-Colombians. U.S. technical support to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice's Afro-Colombian Office and the Afro-Colombian Congressional Caucus strengthens efforts to respond to the threats and challenges facing Afro-Colombian communities. The United States also funds the Martin Luther King Fellowship program to provide English-language scholarships, educational advice, and leadership training to Afro-Colombian university undergraduates.
To address the serious concerns over trafficking in persons, the United States supports public information programs against trafficking and works with the International Organization for Migration and local NGOs to improve call centers for victim assistance and prevention, and support public awareness campaigns.