Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June 2014 voters re-elected Juan Manuel Santos president in elections that observers considered free and fair. On August 24, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, reached agreement on a final peace accord covering rural reform; political participation; illicit drugs; victims (including transitional justice); end of conflict; and implementation, verification, and public approval. The parties signed the accord September 26. In an October 2 plebiscite, however, the public narrowly rejected the agreement, resulting in the initiation of an inclusive national dialogue aimed at reaching a revised accord. The government and the FARC announced November 12 a revised peace accord, which drew from a national dialogue convoked by President Juan Manuel Santos following the October 2 vote. The Colombian congress approved the revised peace accord November 30.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
The three most prevalent human rights problems in the country were impunity, forced displacement, and societal discrimination. An inefficient justice system, with a judiciary in which officials were subjected to threats and intimidation, limited the government’s ability to prosecute effectively many individuals accused of human rights abuses, including high-level state agents and former members of paramilitary groups. The presence of drug traffickers, guerrilla fighters, and other illegal armed groups continued to displace predominantly poor and rural populations. Violence and societal discrimination against women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; indigenous persons; and Afro-Colombians often restricted the ability of these groups to exercise their rights.
Other significant human rights problems continued, including extrajudicial and unlawful killings; unauthorized military collaboration with members of illegal armed groups; forced disappearances; overcrowded and insecure prisons; harassment and attacks against human rights groups and activists, including death threats and killings; violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; and illegal child labor.
The government continued efforts to prosecute and punish perpetrators of abuses, including members of the security services. It increased resources for the Attorney General’s Office, devoted significant resources to human rights cases, and employed a contextual analysis strategy to analyze human rights and other cases systematically. Nonetheless, the system struggled to close out cases quickly and efficiently.
Despite peace negotiations with the FARC, illegal armed groups–including the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as organized crime groups (some of which contained former paramilitary members)–continued to commit numerous human rights abuses, including the following: political killings; killings of members of the public security forces and local officials; widespread use of land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs); kidnappings and forced disappearances; sexual and gender-based violence; subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers; and killings, harassment, and intimidation of human rights activists, teachers, and trade unionists. Illegal armed groups continued to be responsible for most instances of forced displacement in the country.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).
There was a reduction in violence due to progress in the peace process between the government and the FARC, including the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire August 29. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2015 annual report stated the peace negotiations “prevented many human rights violations.” During the year the Conflict Analysis Research Center (CERAC) reported levels of violence in the country fell to their lowest in 52 years in terms of the number of victims, combatants killed and injured, and the number of violent acts. According to CERAC, offensive actions against the FARC fell 98 percent, combat between the armed forces and the FARC dropped by 91 percent, overall civilian casualties fell by 98 percent, and overall combatant deaths dropped by 94 percent. The OHCHR and CERAC attributed these trends to confidence-building measures, such as the unilateral ceasefire by the FARC, and the high level of compliance with the bilateral ceasefire.
In February members of the army allegedly killed Gilberto de Jesus Quintero in the department of Antioquia. Security forces claimed that Quintero was a suspected member of the ELN, according to media. As of October 20, the government had failed to investigate the case.
From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered 291 new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 393 members of the security forces and arrested 445 for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 45 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2015.
There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive cases, in which thousands of civilians were allegedly killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. In February Colonel Robinson Gonzalez del Rio, convicted and sentenced in 2015 to a total of 67 years in prison and a fine of more than 1.8 billion Colombian Pesos (COP) ($6 million) for the unlawful killing of 34 civilians presented as “false positives,” was sentenced to an additional 37 years and six months in prison for the deaths of Javier Moreno and Janio Sepulveda in 2007 in Caldas Department.
Investigations of generals allegedly implicated in false positive cases continued. In April 2015 the former attorney general stated publicly that his office was investigating 22 generals for alleged involvement in false positives cases. In August the Attorney General’s Office subsequently clarified that the number of investigations against generals (including retired generals) involving homicides was actually 15, rather than 22. As of August the Attorney General’s Office stated 12 cases involving generals were in the preliminary investigation phase, and investigations against three generals had been closed.
On March 28, the Attorney General’s Office announced General Henry William Torres Escalante and former army commander general Mario Montoya Uribe would be formally charged for their alleged connections to false positive cases. The attorney general found that General Torres Escalante was pivotal in the homicide of Daniel Torres Arciniegas and his son Roque Julio Torres, who were falsely presented as FARC members killed in combat in 2007. On March 28, authorities arrested Torres Escalante, which marked the first instance an active-duty general faced criminal charges related to the false positives scandal. He was called to trial in August.
General Montoya faced charges in connection with his alleged involvement in seven false positive cases and awaited arraignment as of mid-October. He was accused of supporting paramilitary groups and actions in operations such as Operation Orion, a 2002 military offensive against guerrillas in Medellin.
On June 1, Commander of the Armed Forces General Mejia and Minister of Defense Villegas publicly honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leadership to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.
The OHCHR reported it registered seven possible cases of “illegal deprivation of the right to life” alleged to have been committed by security force members from January 1 through July 31. In several cases military officials stated they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of the FARC, while community members claimed the victim was not a combatant. In other cases military officials stated the killings were military mistakes.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces, including enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and officers, of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, during the year through September 30, authorities arrested and charged 24 government employees, including 23 members of the National Police, with having links to illegal armed groups, mainly the group known as Gulf Clan, previously known as Clan Usuga or the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
On January 17, in Caceres, Antioquia Department, Melisa Espitia Mazo, a pregnant 14-year-old, was killed during a military operation against criminal groups. The army recognized its responsibility in Espitia’s death and apologized for what it stated was a military error. The Antioquia branch of the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation to clarify the circumstances of the death; as of October, there were no arrests or charges related to the case.
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that during the year through July, it obtained 117 new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), 161 new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 191 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members.
On March 16, two former paramilitary members, Dalson Lopez Simanca and Jose Luis Conrado Perez, were sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment for their involvement in the 1995 El Aracatazzo massacre, in the municipality of Chigorodo, in which members of the military, along with members of paramilitary groups, allegedly tortured and killed 18 civilians.
On March 1, the Justice and Peace Tribunal, following an investigation begun in 2014, forwarded evidence to the Attorney General’s Office to initiate investigations against retired generals Oscar Botero Cardona and German Morantes Hernandez for human rights violations.
The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) considered organized criminal bands to be a continuation of former paramilitary groups and in some cases accused elements of the government of collaborating with those groups to commit human rights violations. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in organized criminal gangs but noted the gangs lacked the national, unified command structure and explicit ideological agenda that defined past paramilitary groups, including the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The NGOs also included killings by these groups in their definition of “unlawful killings” (see section 1.g.).
According to the NGO Landmine Monitor, nonstate actors, particularly the ELN, planted IEDs and land mines (see section 1.g.).
Guerrillas, notably the ELN, committed unlawful killings. Organized criminal groups (some of which included former members of paramilitary groups) committed numerous political and unlawful killings, primarily in areas under dispute with guerrillas or without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).
The investigation into the killing in 2012 of land restitution leader Manuel Ruiz and his son, Samir, continued under the direction of the Office of the Attorney General’s National Directorate for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. On May 4, Manuel’s and Samir’s bodies were exhumed in coordination with the Justice and Peace Commission, international observers, and local leaders.
Forced disappearances, many of them politically motivated, continued to occur. Although the exact number of people disappeared remained unknown, there were at least 100,000 cases of disappearances during the half-century of conflict, according to the National Search Commission. From January 1 through the end of July, 48 victims of forced disappearances were found alive and 20 were found dead. The government did not provide information on the number of disappearances and forced disappearances registered.
The Attorney General’s Office did not provide information on the number of new convictions in forced disappearance cases involving members of the security forces.
There were developments in efforts to provide reparations to families of disappeared victims of the 1985 military occupation of the Justice Palace in Bogota. In October the Attorney General’s Office returned the remains of William Arturo Almonacid and Cristina del Pilar Guarin, two of the disappeared victims, to their families. The State Council ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay compensation to the family of disappeared victim Gloria Anzola de Lanao, in the amount of nearly COP 1.6 billion ($5,500,000). Lanao’s body remained missing.
As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in October 2015 to search for those missing in the conflict. The government agreed to accelerate the identification of anonymous victims killed in security operations and extrajudicial killings, and to turn over their remains to family members. The parties also agreed to create a new search unit for the missing, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The ELN, organized criminal gangs, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons, both for ransom and for political reasons (see section 1.g.). On February 4, the ELN kidnapped Jair de Jesus Villar, a military official, at a power plant in Antioquia Department. Villar was released in March, along with civilian Ramon Jose Cabrales, who was kidnapped in September 2015. In April former representative Odin Sanchez offered himself as a hostage to the ELN in exchange for the release of his brother, former Choco governor Patrocino Sanchez, who had been in ELN custody since 2014; however, as of November 7, Sanchez remained in custody. Between May 21 and May 24, the ELN abducted three journalists in Catatumbo. They were released May 27.
The Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty–military and police entities formed to combat kidnapping and extortion–and other security force elements freed 33 hostages in the first seven months of the year. The government reported that two kidnapping victims died in captivity during the year through July. During that period nine kidnapping victims escaped from their captors, and 70 were released by their captors.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police, military personnel, and prison guards sometimes committed abuses. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that during the year through September 9, security forces were allegedly involved in 13 cases of torture.
From January through July, the Attorney General’s Office charged 25 members of the security forces (23 police and two military members) with torture; 14 of the cases occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office reported 12 convictions of members of the armed forces and no convictions of members of illegal armed groups in cases of torture during the year through June.
CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for eight documented cases of torture through September 9. In nine other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.
According to NGOs working with the prison community, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation, and provided poor health care and other basic facilities. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Physical Conditions: The national prisons had a design capacity of 78,055 prisoners but held 121,157 inmates (112,927 men and 8,230 women). Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as women’s prisons. The National Prison Institute (INPEC) operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails.
On August 23, the Constitutional Court ordered the Bogota Metropolitan Police to cease using buses, parks, and other public spaces as temporary detention centers. The court also ordered INPEC to treat inmates and detainees in a dignified manner.
The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred.
The Superior Judiciary Council stated that the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often not carried out.
The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In April the Constitutional Court ruled all suspects jailed longer than the legally allowed period without being tried should be released on July 7. In June Congress approved a provisional bill extending the legal time a crime suspect could be held in jail, preventing the release from prison of approximately 20,000 crime suspects.
The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. Through September it conducted 125 investigations, 71 of which concluded and 54 of which remained in the investigation phase.
Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates claimed authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities. In May, INPEC and Justice Minister Jorge Londono declared an emergency in the country’s prisons due to the deterioration of health-care conditions. The ministry explained that the state of emergency would enable the implementation of an action plan to address deficiencies in health care for prisoners, to include the creation of health brigades and the prompt execution of maintenance projects related to health-care provision.
INPEC’s physical structures were in generally poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.
Administration: INPEC used a centrally managed electronic database with regular updates, and each prison also had its own local database. Foreign diplomatic observers, however, found that the information in both systems often was not well coordinated, resulting in delays in locating foreign detainees, especially dual nationals who had both Colombian and foreign citizenships.
Prisoners generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities, request investigations of inhuman conditions, and request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Authorities investigated prisoner complaints of inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results were not accessible to the public.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups that exercised a high degree of independence. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.
Improvements: INPEC launched a new 2016 Anticorruption and Citizen Services Plan with the goal of creating a culture of legality and transparency and promoting new institutional practices, such as the concept of shared responsibility and self-regulation among public servants, citizens, and prison stakeholder groups. INPEC continued a campaign to raise awareness and strengthen a culture of human rights within the institution. Through August 12, a total of 221 prison officials received human rights training. The government also continued a pilot program with local universities and other organizations to provide distance learning for inmates. More than 1,000 inmates participated in the program through July.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 176 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces during the year through September 9 (six committed by the attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI), 22 by the armed forces, and 148 by police).
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the CTI. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.
By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses by security forces. Of these alleged abuses, extrajudicial killings were the highest profile and most controversial. The CTI, which consists of civilian authorities under the Attorney General’s Office, typically investigated deaths resulting from action by security forces when there were allegations of foul play. In some cases the first responders were CNP members, who then investigated the death. Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play.
The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but NGO claims continued of impunity for security force members. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice, opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system, and a lack of resources for investigations. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial were also significant obstacles.
The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement during the year. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for the recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties are conducted by CNP judicial police investigators.
The Attorney General’s Office continued investigations into numerous generals and field-grade officers for involvement in alleged false positive cases and other abuses (see section 1.a.).
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Bail is generally available except for serious accusations, such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”
Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. No information was available on the percent of detainees in pretrial detention or the average length of time detainees spent in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence that corresponded to their charges.
Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Article 30 of the constitution guarantees habeas corpus review for all detainees. Such reviews must be completed within 36 hours. In the case of an illegal deprivation of freedom or illegal detention, Article 90 of the constitution provides for the government to compensate the victim.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning. The Attorney General’s Office had a witness protection program for criminal cases, but some of those who did not enter the program allegedly remained vulnerable to intimidation, and many refused to testify.
The military justice system may investigate and prosecute active-duty military and police personnel for crimes “related to acts of military service.” According to the Ministry of Defense, human rights abuses are not considered acts related to military service. The military penal code specifically excludes civilians from military jurisdiction, and civilian courts must try retired military and police personnel, but military courts are responsible for service-related acts committed prior to retirement.
According to domestic NGOs, more than 10 initiatives for military justice reform were presented in the previous five years, but few were enacted, due to removal from the legislative process because of procedural problems or rejection by the Constitutional Court. In 2015 the government dropped proposed jurisdictional adjustments from its proposed military justice reform legislation to address concerns that the legislation could lead to some human rights cases being heard by military courts. Despite explicit declarations from officials to the contrary, some NGOs remained concerned that military justice reform efforts may allow certain human rights cases to fall within the military justice system’s jurisdiction.
According to the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that settles jurisdictional questions between the military and civilian justice systems, from January 1 to July, authorities assigned to the civilian justice system 61 of 74 homicide cases reviewed for jurisdiction. During the same period, they assigned four cases to the military justice system. The magistrates abstained from ruling on the proper jurisdiction in the remaining nine cases, in which they determined that they either did not have enough information to rule or that a conflict of interest with the case prevented them from ruling.
The military penal code denies commanders the power to impose military justice discipline on, and extends legal protection to, service members who refuse to obey orders to commit human rights abuses. The army also has discretionary authority to dismiss personnel implicated in human rights abuses.
The Inspector General’s Office investigates allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of government security forces. In addition to conducting its own investigations, the Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the attorney general’s Human Rights Unit for separate criminal proceedings. As of July 31, the Inspector General’s Office opened 21 disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for human rights offenses, resulting in 12 preliminary investigations and nine disciplinary investigations, to which 59 members of the army and one member of the National Police were linked. Additionally, the Office of Delegated Disciplinary Inspector General for the Armed Forces reported that through August, it initiated 13 disciplinary investigations for alleged offenses. Thirty-four individuals were linked to these cases.
While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the existing criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and has the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against him, present his own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and may access government-held evidence during the trial stage. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less-commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is an investigating magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.
In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact-finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.
Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners. Authorities did hold some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment tactics against human rights advocates. The government did not provide information on the number of detainees in prisons, jails, or under house arrest who were accused or convicted of rebellion or aiding and abetting the insurgency. The government provided the ICRC regular access to these prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.
The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continues to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of the government, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handles problems related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. The Victims’ Unit of the DPS has the governmental lead on attention to victims. From 2011 through August 1, 2016, a total of 7,844,527 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit. Of these, 6,883,513 were victims of forced displacement, with 17,976 registered during the year through August 1. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. There were 340 registered cases of collective reparations. Both individual and collective reparations are mandated by the Victims’ Law, however, the original budget for implementation of the law contemplated only 4.5 million victims. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict. As of August 19, the government received 93,686 land restitution claims, of which more than 50,903 claims fell within the government’s target areas for restitution and went into active review. The government reported as of the same date, courts handed down 1,948 decisions on land restitution, corresponding to affirmative decisions in 3,980 cases with 23,085 beneficiaries. The Inspector General’s Office intervened to support land claimants in 679 cases through July, providing support in the administrative, judicial, and post-ruling phases in order to ensure the effective implementation of victims’ right to integral reparation.
Through July the Land Restitution Unit approved three requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories or individual restitution claims, corresponding to 130,972 acres benefitting 2,473 families and 12,365 persons. Of the 93,686 individual cases received through July, 2,888 belonged to individuals self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,624 to individuals self-identified as indigenous, and 638 to individuals self-identified as pertaining to other ethnic groups.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or e-mail, or monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization, but evidence obtained in such a manner may not be used in court.
During the year through July, the Attorney General’s Office initiated three new criminal investigations of government agents for illegal monitoring activities. During the year through September, the Inspector General’s Office reported it had not initiated any disciplinary investigations of public servants accused of illegal monitoring activities.
In February the Inspector General’s Office opened an investigation into journalist Vicky Davila’s accusations that police had been monitoring her communications, including trailing and wiretapping her and her reporting team, since 2014.
An investigation continued into abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit, known by its code name “Andromeda.” Semana magazine alleged that the unit illegally wiretapped personal telephones of peace negotiators belonging to both the government and FARC negotiating teams. General Mauricio Forero, former head of the military’s intelligence center, left the army on April 1 for alleged connections to Andromeda. As of October he had not been charged or arrested in connection with these allegations.
On March 10, the Attorney General’s Office pressed charges against David Parra Amin, a police sergeant assigned to the Section of Criminal Investigations in Bogota, for his alleged role as the liaison between Andres Sepulveda, convicted in 2015 for tapping into communications of peace negotiating teams and government officials, and the Bogota Metropolitan Police.
On August 29, attorneys for Martha Ines Leal, former director of operations of the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS); Jorge Lagos, former DAS intelligence director; and Fernando Tabares, former DAS counterintelligence director, submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights allegations that the Attorney General’s Office placed undue pressure on them in order to coerce them into testifying in the DAS illegal surveillance case. The DAS allegedly engaged in illegal surveillance of high court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and activists, opposition leaders, and the vice presidency.
In its annual report published in March, the OHCHR registered 80 complaints of illegal surveillance of human rights defenders and social activists in 2015. While statistics for 2016 were unavailable as of October, NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.
The government continued to use voluntary civilian informants to identify terrorists, report terrorist activities, and gather information on criminal gangs. Some national and international human rights groups criticized this practice as subject to abuse and a threat to privacy and other civil liberties. The government maintained that the practice was in accordance with the “principle of solidarity” outlined in the constitution and that the Comptroller General’s Office strictly regulated payments to such informants.
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.