Following the rejection of the initial accord between the government and the FARC in an October 2 plebiscite, the government, leaders of the plebiscite “No” campaign, and the FARC engaged in a national dialogue that led to a revised accord announced November 12. The government and the FARC signed the revised peace accord November 24, and the congress ratified the agreement November 30. President Santos and the FARC leadership announced December 1 was “D-Day,” triggering a 180-day deadline for the FARC to begin demobilization and disarmament in UN-monitored concentration zones throughout Colombia. A UN mission was monitoring, as of December 15, the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities the parties established August 29. The country’s internal armed conflict with the ELN, organized criminal groups, and narcotics traffickers continued. On May 30, the government announced an agenda for formal peace negotiations with the ELN. They had not yet begun as of the end of the year.
During the year reports of human rights abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking.
Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize on an individual basis. In the first eight months of the year, according to the Ministry of Defense, 559 members of guerrilla groups demobilized, reflecting a 32 percent reduction in FARC demobilizations but a 52 percent increase in ELN demobilizations over the same period in 2015 (375 from the FARC, 179 from the ELN, and five from other dissident groups). The Organization of American States verified all stages of demobilization and reintegration into society of former combatants from the guerrilla and former paramilitary groups.
Through August 22, the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the ICRC, conducted 16 human rights training sessions for 980 ministry personnel. In September the International Defense Institute for Legal Studies conducted training for 25 military and police officials, as well as nonmilitary personnel, with the objective of strengthening the working relationships between unit leaders and their operational legal advisers.
Implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law (JPL) continued. The Justice and Peace Unit in the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for the required investigation and prosecution of demobilized persons, and an interagency commission on justice and peace coordinates implementation. Participants in the justice and peace process may receive reduced sentences of five to eight years in prison if they comply with the terms of the JPL. Information provided in voluntary confessions as part of the JPL also initiated 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 June 2015, the government reported a total of 5,024 former paramilitary and guerrilla defendants participated in confession hearings. During these sessions the defendants confessed to 57,207 crimes, and information was obtained that resulted in the exhumation of 978 victims. As of the same date, 813 defendants were formally charged in presentations before the courts by the Office of the Attorney General’s Justice and Peace Unit. During 2015 through June, 1,106 defendants reached their eight-year maximum incarceration dates under the agreed arrangement, and authorities released 39 for reintegration into society. The Justice and Peace Unit moved to expel from the JPL process those defendants who do not fully comply by confessing crimes, turning over illegally acquired assets, and ceasing their criminal activity. Updated information for 2016 was not available by November.
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 Attorney General’s Office. There was also little land or money confiscated from former paramilitary leaders to be used for required victim reparations.
The creation of a truth-seeking mechanism in Law 1424 of 2010 (the Legal Status for Former Combatants Law) requires demobilized paramilitary fighters who did not commit crimes against humanity to provide testimony on the actions and structures of illegal armed groups to the Center for Historical Memory as a requirement for being granted legal status and suspended sentences for lesser crimes. The law also provides for establishing and institutionalizing formal archives, creating a Center for Historical Memory for collecting oral testimony and material documentation concerning violations of international human rights norms and law, and constructing the National Museum of Memory in consultation with victims. In a report published in 2013, the Center for Historical Memory documented the killing of at least 220,000 citizens in the context of the armed conflict from 1958 to 2012, 80 percent of whom were unarmed civilians.
Civil society groups also accused all sides of the armed conflict of having engaged in activities that targeted noncombatant civilians, including women and children.
Killings: Security forces were implicated in alleged unlawful killings. CINEP reported there were 19 such killings during the year through September 9 (eight committed by police, five by the army, one by the navy, and five by INPEC).
Guerrilla groups and criminal organizations were also implicated in unlawful killings during the year, but precise numbers were not provided by the government. On August 26, media reported that ELN members in Barbacoas, Narino, killed Camilo Roberto Taicus Bisbucus, an indigenous member of the Awa community.
According to the human rights advocacy NGO Minga, no progress had been made in the 2008 Soacha extrajudicial killings scandal, and all five cases remained in the initial investigation stage at the Attorney General’s Office. The cases of three more victims were in the evidentiary stage, that of another victim was pending plea bargain agreements with four soldiers who accepted their responsibility in the crimes, and the cases of five additional victims were in final allegation hearings. As of August 29, there were no convictions.
Abductions: Criminal and illegal armed elements engaged in abductions. According to the NGO Fundacion Pais Libre, between January 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, criminals and illegal armed groups kidnapped 320 persons, including 179 for extortion. Pais Libre also reported that authorities rescued 91 kidnapping victims; captors released 179, 20 were presumed to remain in captivity, three were released due to pressure by authorities, 22 escaped, and five died in captivity. ELN guerrillas continued to take hostages for ransom and for political reasons. The government reported that the ELN kidnapped 12 persons during the first seven months of the year. As of November 7, at least one civilian remained in ELN captivity.
The ICRC reported that from January 1 through November 16, it participated in 10 operations to release persons in the hands of nonstate actors, eight held by the ELN, and two held by the FARC.
Through July 21, the Attorney General’s Office reported one conviction for abductions committed by members of the FARC and no convictions for abductions committed by members of the ELN.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The Presidential Directorate for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines (DAICMA) reported that antipersonnel mines and IEDs, deployed primarily by the FARC and the ELN, caused 11 deaths and 63 injuries from January 1 through the end of October, including four minors. Members of the Colombian military suffered the majority of injuries. During the year the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Agency found that the FARC’s use of IEDs fell below the number of incidents attributed to the ELN. CERAC reported that as of July 19, 228 days had passed since the last land mine or unexploded ordinance incident involving the FARC.
The army’s humanitarian demining brigade cleared more than 18 acres, destroyed 49 IEDs, and destroyed two unexploded munitions through October 2016. Halo Trust continued to engage in demining activities, and from January 1 through July 28 cleared more than 44 acres, destroyed 176 land mines, and destroyed five unexploded munitions. In a pilot project in Santa Helena, where Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) performed nontechnical studies and the army’s brigade performed land clearance, the organizations cleared more than five acres, destroyed 19 land mines, and destroyed one unexploded munition. In addition the four humanitarian demining NGOs accredited to operate in the country during the year began work in Vista Hermosa, Meta Department.
More broadly, during the year the government strengthened the oversight role of its civilian-led demining authority, DAICMA, and showcased a five-year strategy to become mine-free at the Forum of Experts in May. The plan includes targeting high-risk municipalities, establishing immediate action areas, and developing interagency rapid response teams to address the mine removal process. The army began establishing a 5,000-person Humanitarian Demining Brigade to deepen and focus military capacity for demining. In addition four NGOs supported humanitarian demining: Halo Trust, Handicap International, NPA, and the Colombian Campaign Against Mines.
There were numerous reports that ELN guerrillas mistreated civilians and prisoners, including injured and sick persons.
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, and others reported that sexual violence remained one of the main tools used by illegal armed groups to instill fear and force displacement. The government continued to employ an interagency investigative unit in Bogota, the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit (GEDES), which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases (see section 6, Women).
Child Soldiers: The ELN routinely engaged in forced recruitment of persons under age 18. According to the United Nations, illegal armed groups killed or threatened children with death on suspicion of being informants for the military. The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) estimated the average age of recruitment was 12 years. Having admitted to a practice of recruiting minors in the context of the peace talks, the FARC announced February 9 that it would stop recruiting all minors under the age of 18. On May 15, the government and the FARC issued a joint communique announcing the FARC would release all children under age 15 within its ranks and develop a process for the release of all minors under 18. On September 10, media reported the FARC released 13 minors to the ICRC.
The ICBF stated that it was impossible to know how many FARC child soldiers existed but reported that more than 6,027 children were demobilized from illegal armed groups between 1999 and July 2016. Of the children demobilized through July, 10 percent were of indigenous descent, and 7 percent were Afro-Colombian. During the year through July, 451 children were demobilized. The FARC and other illegal armed groups reportedly used children as combatants and recruiters of other children to act as spies, gather intelligence, cultivate narcotics, and provide logistical support. The children were also reportedly exploited in sex trafficking.
The ICBF provided demobilized children extensive assistance, including education, health care, and psychological support. The ICBF continued its educational outreach program, which included a component on prevention of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups. The program maintained teen and preteen clubs and other avenues for educational outreach in all departments of the country.
The Interagency Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children by Illegal Armed Groups continued activities to prevent recruitment, use, and sexual violence against children. The committee supported cases in the Attorney General’s Office and constructed a communication strategy with a focus on the rights of children and guidelines for the prevention of sexual violence. The committee also formed immediate action teams in several departments. The Attorney General’s Office prioritized key cases for processing under the JPL. Cases in which former paramilitary forces were accused of recruiting child soldiers were included in the prioritized cases.
Under the criminal code, the penalty for leaders of armed groups who use child soldiers is six to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 600 to 1,000 times the minimum wage.
International organizations continued to identify recruitment of indigenous youth by illegal armed groups as a serious concern.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Guerrilla groups and organized criminal groups prevented or limited the delivery of food and medicines to towns and regions in contested drug-trafficking corridors, including efforts of international relief and humanitarian organizations. These actions strained local economies and increased forced displacement. The ELN bombed the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline in Boyaca Department on February 9 and damaged infrastructure, including oil pipelines and energy transmission towers, on February 15. Oil spills resulting from these attacks on oil pipelines also resulted in substantial environmental damage, including harming fish and wildlife, and contaminating rivers and aqueducts carrying potable water. The ELN also held an armed strike in which they threatened anyone who went to work or left their homes in Arauca, Norte de Santander, Casanare, Boyaca, Choco, Cauca, and Bajo Cauca regions on February 14-17, and another in Arauca, Boyaca, Casanare, Santander, Norte de Santander, and Vichada Departments in September. ELN attacks on security forces, energy infrastructure, and civilians continued sporadically through May and June.
The Gulf Clan held an armed strike March 31 in Antioquia, Choco, Sucre, Cordoba, and Cesar Departments that paralyzed transportation and commerce, forced school closures, and led to violence, including the deaths of three police members and one army official.
Guerrillas routinely used civilians to shield combatant forces and forcibly displaced peasants to clear key drug and weapon 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. 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, as well as illegal armed groups, such as 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.).
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 displace residents forcibly in order to clear mining areas.
As a confidence-building measure for the peace process, the FARC announced on July 4 an immediate suspension of the levying of extortion “taxes” on civilians engaged in legal economic activity.