On August 20, 2012, the Department of State certified to Congress that the Colombian government and Armed Forces are meeting statutory criteria related to human rights. This certification, pursuant to Section 7045(a) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2012, permits the full balance of FY 2012 funds for the Colombian Armed Forces to be obligated.
The Colombian government continued to make progress on improving respect for human rights, both within the Armed Forces and in Colombia at large. During the certification period, President Juan Manuel Santos dissolved the discredited Administrative Department of Security, centralized and enhanced the provision of protection to vulnerable groups through a new National Protection Unit, supported efforts to vigorously combat corruption, and strengthened efforts to dismantle illegal armed groups, among other actions. In January, the government began implementation of the Land and Victims’ Law, which will provide assistance, reparations, and land restitution to approximately four million Colombians -- including victims of state violence -- over the next decade. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported progress on a number of emblematic human rights cases, including the Soacha “false positive” killings, and reported a continued increase in the number of convictions and sentences related to extrajudicial killings. No cases that fit the “false positive” profile were reported during the certification period. The government generally continued to respect and recognize the important role of human rights defenders, publicly condemning threats and attacks against them, and seeking their input on public policies.
Despite these efforts, significant challenges remain. Threats and attacks against human rights defenders, land activists, trade unionists, journalists, and other vulnerable groups continued to be a concern. Targeted groups stress the importance of investigating and prosecuting crimes against them, noting that justice is their best protection. Security issues present serious obstacles to the successful implementation of the Land and Victims’ Law. NGOs have expressed concerns that recent constitutional reforms -- including a Legal Framework for Peace and military justice reform -- could allow for impunity in some human rights cases. Much of their concern focuses on the fact that the Legal Framework for Peace approved by the Colombian congress gives the government flexibility on prosecutions of certain cases in as part of a future peace process. The Colombian government underlines that the Framework would require implementing legislation to define the parameters within which those powers can be exercised. The process for transferring human rights cases from the military to civilian judiciary is still lengthy, there are few prosecutions of high-ranking officers for grave human rights violations, and military justice reform legislation is still pending. Real progress has been made in improving the human rights performance of the Armed Forces, but for that progress to be sustained, leaders must stay focused on the long-term process of building a human rights culture within their institutions. We believe the Armed Forces and civilian authorities could do more to investigate allegations of collusion with illegal armed groups, which persist.
The U.S. government remains committed to engaging with the Colombian government, international organizations, and human rights groups to improve respect for human rights throughout the country. The United States and Colombia have an open and honest conversation about these issues, including through our on-going High-Level Partnership Dialogue, which met for the third time in July. Government, civil society, and the international community should continue to work together to find solutions to the challenges that remain and build a lasting peace in Colombia.