Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish)–the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition–started operations during the year.
As part of the 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, disarmed and reincorporated as a political party that participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, particularly following the conclusion of a brief bilateral cease-fire, which lasted from October 1, 2017, through January 9. Peace talks between the ELN and Santos government concluded without resolution in August, and the Duque administration suspended talks until the ELN agrees to new preconditions for negotiations. Other illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.
Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. For example, an August 1 report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States detailed its “concern about the continuation and, in some cases, exacerbation of violence against women and girls.”
The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 28,942 new investigations for sexual crimes.
The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. During 2017 more than 70,000 cases of intrafamily violence were reported.
The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretary of Women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.
The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks remained a problem and predominately targeted women. In August a woman in Cauca attacked her sister-in-law with acid, burning the victim’s eye, face, and neck. There were no updates on advances in this case at year’s end.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.
Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.
Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 15 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.
Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported between January and July 31, there were 8,039 cases of sexual abuse against children. According to the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES), the government reported in October that the ICBF had undertaken 740 instances to address violations against Venezuelan children.
Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than age 14 and girls older than age 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before the age of 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than age 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.
According to the ICBF, between January and July 31, there were 151 reported cases of sexual exploitation of children. The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 837 investigations related to cases of child pornography and 334 cases of sexual exploitation of minors, with one conviction reported during the year. In July authorities in Cartagena conducted a three-day operation, arrested 18 persons, and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. According to press reports, the trafficking ring was led by Liliana Campos Puello and retired marine infantry captain Raul Danilo Romero Pabon. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities as of December 12. In total, 42 persons were captured and goods valued at Colombian pesos (COP) 154 billion ($49 million) were seized.
Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.). According to CONPES, the government reported in October that approximately 27 percent of Venezuelans registered in the government’s yet-to-be-released 2018 census were minors, of whom approximately half had received government services.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.
The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.
Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.
In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.
According to the 2005 national census, the most recent census available at the time of drafting, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.
Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.
In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.
The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.
The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.
The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.
The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.
Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.
The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.
Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.
Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 46 indigenous persons have been killed.
Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia as a result of deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. Several hundred members of the Venezuelan Yukpa tribe crossed into Colombia in April due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The government worked with the United Nations to provide the population basic services.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.
Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.
As of September 18, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least two alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals. Investigations into crimes committed by members of the security forces did not appear in the Attorney General’s Office system. NGO Colombia Diversa reported six cases, involving eight victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals.
NGOs reported several cases of threats against LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against LGBTI persons. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against LGBTI persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.