The country’s decades-long internal armed conflict involving government forces and two terrorist guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN) continued. The government continued formal peace negotiations with the FARC throughout the year, and in August it announced plans to open formal peace negotiations with the ELN. Multiple abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking.
Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize. As of the end of August, according to the Ministry of Defense, 917 members of guerrilla groups had demobilized, compared with approximately 840 during the same period in 2012, an 8 percent increase in demobilizations. The Organization of American States (OAS) verified all stages of demobilization and reintegration into society of former combatants from the guerrilla and former paramilitary groups.
The Ministry of Defense continued to implement an agreement with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor seven of the ministry’s 15 measures to improve adherence to human rights. The ministry conducted four human rights training sessions planned and executed by the military for 187 ministry personnel, and it trained 122 military justice and civilian personnel through Defense Institute of International Legal Studies training by year’s end. The ministry participated in a nationwide series of human rights forums organized by the Presidential Program on Human Rights.
The government also passed the Legal Framework for Peace, a constitutional reform to serve as a framework for transitional justice should peace talks be successful. The framework allows the judiciary to prioritize cases involving those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in a systematic manner and to provide suspended sentences or alternative sentences in exchange for demobilizing, acknowledging responsibility, clarifying the truth about crimes committed, providing reparations to victims, and releasing hostages and child soldiers. It also allows for waiving criminal prosecutions for all other cases and permits former combatants not convicted of crimes against humanity to serve as elected officials.
Some NGOs criticized the legislation, claiming that provisions for reduced or suspended sentences and stipulations that only those most responsible for the worst crimes must be prosecuted amounted to impunity. On August 28, the Constitutional Court rejected a challenge to the law by a human rights legal defense group. The court expressed, through two special communiques, the view that such a transitional justice system was a legitimate mechanism for achieving peace and that it was in accordance with the constitution. The court also stated that authorities would need to implement the framework in compliance with the country’s international obligations. The court included parameters for interpretation and development of future implementing legislation, including that those deemed “most responsible” could not have their sentences suspended completely.
Implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law (JPL) continued. The Justice and Peace Unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for the required investigation and prosecution of demobilized persons, and an interagency commission on justice and peace coordinates its implementation. Participants in the justice and peace process could receive reduced sentences if they complied with the terms of the JPL. Testimony from voluntary confessions also triggered investigations of politicians, military members, major agricultural producers, and government officials’ past ties to paramilitary forces. Some of the investigations resulted in prosecutions and convictions.
As of July, 4,151 former paramilitary and guerrilla defendants (postulados) had participated in confession hearings (versiones libres). During these sessions the postulados confessed to 42,309 crimes, and information was obtained that resulted in the exhumation of 5,301 victims. As of May, 1,126 postulados had been initially charged, and 680 of these had been formally charged in presentations before the courts by the Prosecutor General’s Office’s Justice and Peace Unit. Postulados who do not fully comply by confessing crimes, turning over illegally acquired assets, and ceasing their criminal activity are moved for expulsion from the JPL process by the Prosecutor General’s Justice and Peace Unit. As of July the Justice and Peace Unit prosecutors had filed for the expulsion of 88 postulados before the Justice and Peace courts.
Application of the JPL continued to face many challenges. Thousands of former paramilitary members remained in legal limbo due to resource and capacity constraints at the Prosecutor General’s Office. There was little land or money confiscated from former paramilitary leaders. Nonetheless, leading daily newspaper El Tiempo reported that in a landmark decision on October 30, the Court of Justice and Peace sentenced former AUC commander Ever Veloza Garcia, alias HH, to seven years in prison, making him the highest-ranked commander of a former paramilitary group to be convicted under the JPL to date.
As provided by a 2010 law and as approved during the year by the Constitutional Court, the government worked to establish a limited version of a truth commission. The Victims’ Law provides for the establishment and institutionalization of formal archives and a Center for Historical Memory for collecting oral testimony and material documentation concerning violations of international human rights norms and law and for directing construction of the National Museum of Memory in consultation with victims. The Center for Historical Memory issued a report July 23 that documented the killing of at least 220,000 Colombians in the context of the armed conflict since 1958.
Killings: Security forces were implicated in alleged unlawful killings. CINEP reported there were five such killings during the first six months of the year, compared with six in the same period in 2012.
According to the OHCHR and the Presidential Program for Human Rights, there continued to be fewer reports of military officials presenting civilians as killed in combat than in 2008 or 2009, when several hundred fatalities were reported. The Prosecutor General Office’s Human Rights Unit reported that it opened three new cases on homicides alleged to have been committed by a security force member during the year. The CCEEU reported seven cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, including “false positives,” and 25 additional deaths caused by excessive use of force, illegal use of force, or arbitrary use of force.
According to the CCEEU, on March 4, in the Paraiso village area of the Roberto Payan municipality in Narino Department, after combat between the armed forces and FARC guerrillas, members of the military arrested rural peasants Gumercindo Guerrero Preciado and John Freddy Garcia Bastidas and took them to military facilities for questioning. Their corpses were allegedly delivered two days later to their relatives with evident signs of torture and acid burns in their faces. Criminal military judge #89 opened a penal investigation. The army also opened a preliminary disciplinary investigation into members of Mobile Brigade 32.
According to the human rights advocacy NGO Minga, the legal cases involving five victims associated with the 2008 Soacha extrajudicial killings scandal were still in the initial investigation stage at the Prosecutor General’s Office at year’s end. The cases of three more victims were in evidence hearings, and the cases of three additional ones were in final allegations hearings. Defendants in the cases of three other victims received sentences during the year, and two of them were pending appeals. The criminal board of the Superior Tribunal of Cundinamarca declared the case related to the August 2 killing of Fair Leonardo Porrason a crime against humanity.
Guerrilla groups were also responsible for unlawful killings of government security forces and civilians. For example, on July 20, in Fortul, Arauca, a group of FARC rebels killed 15 army soldiers and wounded five as the soldiers were washing their clothes.
In many areas of the country, the FARC and ELN worked together to attack government forces or demobilized paramilitary members; in other areas they fought each other. Various courts convicted members of the FARC secretariat in absentia on charges that included aggravated homicide.
The FARC killed persons it suspected of collaborating with government authorities or rival drug-trafficking groups. For example, on April 28, in the Puerto Jordan area of Tame, Arauca, FARC rebels killed a three-year-old child and his father during an attack committed with an IED thrown into a house; 11 other persons, including two army soldiers, were wounded.
All guerrilla groups killed some kidnapping victims.
Abductions: According to NGO Fundacion Pais Libre, between January and June 123 persons were kidnapped; 55 percent of them were extortion kidnappings. Pais Libre also reported that authorities rescued 47 kidnapping victims, 42 were released by captors, 14 were presumed to remain in captivity, 10 were released due to pressure by authorities, six were able to escape, and no information was available about the number who died in captivity. FARC and ELN guerrillas continued to take hostages for ransom and for political reasons. The FARC also held prominent citizens and security force members to use as pawns in prisoner exchanges. The government reported that guerrillas kidnapped 40 persons (23 by the FARC and 17 by the ELN) from January 1 to September 19, compared with 15 from January to July 2012.
The FARC and ELN released some kidnapping victims. For example, on August 27, ELN guerrillas released Canadian engineer Gernot Wober, an employee of a multi-national mining company, whom they had kidnapped and held since January 18.
Several victims’ groups continued to demand that the FARC reveal the whereabouts of hundreds of police officials, soldiers, and civilians still considered missing. The Ministry of Defense reported that through September, it had registered 27 civilians and one member of the police who were presumed to still be in FARC captivity.
Courts convicted some FARC members for kidnappings. Through October the unit to combat kidnapping and extortion at the Prosecutor General’s Office reported 13 convictions during the year for kidnappings committed by the FARC, while the Human Rights Unit reported 61 such convictions in the same period. For example, on March 21, the second specialized criminal judge of Antioquia sentenced Luis Norbey Caicedo Correa (alias Esneider or Manchas), head of the FARC mobile column Jacobo Arenas, to 51 years’ imprisonment for the 2007 kidnappings of Juan David Arango Velez and Sergio Jaramillo Arriola.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The Presidential Program of Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines declared in a preliminary report that IEDs, deployed primarily by the FARC and ELN, caused 31 deaths and 254 injuries as of August. IEDs killed or injured at least 38 children or adolescents during the year. Several human rights NGOs stated that the FARC charged civilian families for the replacement cost of the land mines and IEDs when innocent family members accidentally set them off. The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines declared that the FARC continued to be the largest individual user of land mines and IEDs and that the ELN also continued to use land mines and IEDs. Government humanitarian demining brigades cleared more than 2.1 million square feet and destroyed 114 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions by year’s end. The government also concluded the accreditation process for a civilian organization to engage in demining activities. The certification process continued for two other civilian organizations at year’s end.
There were numerous reports that FARC and ELN guerrillas mistreated civilians and prisoners, as well as injured and sick persons.
Child Soldiers: The recruitment and use of children by illegal armed groups was widespread. The FARC and ELN groups routinely engaged in forced recruitment of persons under 18 years of age and voluntary recruitment of persons under 15.
The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) stated that it was impossible to know how many children were serving as soldiers for the FARC but reported that more than 5,000 children had demobilized from illegal armed groups between 1999 and September 2012. The FARC reportedly used children to fight, recruit other children to act as spies, gather intelligence, serve as sex slaves, and provide logistical support.
During the year the ICBF initiated a new educational outreach program that included a component on prevention of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups. The program, with a budget of more than COP 32 billion ($16.5 million), established teen and preteen clubs and other avenues for educational outreach in 32 departments and 811 municipalities.
During the year the government expanded the scope of the Interagency Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children by Illegal Armed Groups to include sexual violence against children perpetrated by nonstate armed groups.
The penalty for leaders of armed groups who use child soldiers is life imprisonment.
International organizations continued to identify recruitment of indigenous youth by illegal armed groups as a serious concern. The FARC continued to issue warnings to indigenous communities outlining a policy to conduct child recruitment and warning recipients not to challenge it.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: Guerrilla groups and organized criminal groups prevented or limited the delivery of food and medicines to towns and regions in contested drug-trafficking corridors, straining local economies and increasing forced displacement.
Guerrillas routinely used civilians to shield combatant forces and forcibly displaced peasants to clear key drug and weapons transit routes in strategic zones. Guerrillas also imposed de facto blockades of communities in regions where they had significant influence. For example, international organizations reported many incidents in which illegal armed groups forcibly recruited indigenous persons or forced them to collaborate, restricted their freedom of movement, and blockaded their communities. During the year the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues received reports of rape, forced recruitment, use of minors as informants, and other abuses in the context of conflict.
Organized criminal gangs and FARC and ELN guerrillas forcibly entered private homes, monitored private communications, and engaged in forced displacement and conscription. Organized criminal groups also continued to displace civilians residing along key drug and weapon transit corridors (see section 2.d.).
International organizations reported that systemic sexual violence against women and girls by some armed actors persisted (see section 6, Women). Human rights NGOs Sisma Mujer, Amnesty International (AI), and others reported that sexual violence remained one of the main tools used by armed actors to force displacement. There were numerous credible reports of compulsory abortions. The standing orders of the FARC, which had large numbers of female combatants, prohibited pregnancies among its troops.
There were reports that the FARC, the ELN, and other armed actors engaged in the extraction of and cross-border trade in conflict minerals, which contributed to abuses by providing funding for weapons and by prompting rebels to forcibly displace residents in order to clear mining areas.