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Colombia

Executive Summary

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:

b. Disappearance

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.

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