a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).
For example, on October 5, at least seven persons, including two members of the Awa indigenous people, were killed and another 20 injured in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco, Narino Department, during a protest against government coca eradication operations, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Some eyewitnesses alleged that members of the antinarcotics police force fired their weapons into the crowd, while others alleged FARC dissidents first attacked the protesters and authorities, and that the security forces acted in self-defense. On October 10, the Minister of Defense announced the government would transfer 102 police officers out of Tumaco in an effort to restore public trust. Media reported the government suspended four police officers. The president ordered a prompt and thorough investigation. The vice president traveled to the region to oversee the investigation and the government response to community concerns. The IACHR urged authorities to investigate the events thoroughly and “to ensure the safety and integrity of the campesino, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities.”
Nongovernmental monitors reported a decrease in extrajudicial killings and an overall reduction in violence. According to the National Police, between January 1 and October 25, there were 9,380 homicides and 69 terrorist attacks, compared with 9,850 homicides and 138 terrorist attacks over the same period in 2016, a decrease they attributed to the implementation of the peace accord between the government and the FARC (see section 1.g.).
From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered three new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 19 members of the security forces and arrested three for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 16 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office registered the arrest of eight members of the security forces in connection with homicides.
There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to late 2000s. As of March 15, the Attorney General’s Office reported 455 open investigations, 836 cases in the prosecution phase, and 238 cases in the sentencing phase related to false positive killings. The Attorney General’s Office reported that from 2008 through 2016, it had reached convictions in 1,414 false positive cases, with defendants ranging up to the rank of colonel.
On April 3, Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Rincon Amado and 20 soldiers under his command were convicted for their role in “false positive” killings in Soacha in 2008 and received sentences ranging from 38 to 52 years in prison.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of June, there were open investigations against 18 retired and active duty generals related to false positive killings, although no new investigations were opened in 2016 or 2017. The Attorney General’s Office reported investigations against two other generals were closed in 2016 and 2017.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante involving false positive killings was transferred to the special investigations unit in 2016, after a court upheld his indictment. Torres Escalante was granted conditional liberty on August 4 under the transitional justice mechanism of the peace accord. According to media reports, in December the Superior Court of Yopal revoked Torres Escalante’s conditional liberty and ordered that he be rearrested. The court held that conditional liberty could only be granted once the Special Jurisdiction for Peace was operational. Media reported that retired general Mario Montoya Uribe was scheduled to appear before a judge to face charges related to false positive killings in 2016, but the hearing was postponed. The Attorney General’s Office reported the investigation of Montoya Uribe was in the preliminary investigation and inquiry phase as of June.
On November 14, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a public statement alleging five army officers recommended for promotion were “credibly linked” to false positive killings. HRW stated two of the five officers in question–Brigadier General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, the then commander of the army’s Sixth Division, and Colonel Miguel Eduardo David Bastidas–were under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for alleged involvement in false positive cases. According to HRW, General Cruz Ricci was under investigation for the killing of two civilians in July 2004, when he commanded the Ninth Special Energy and Roads Plans Battalion of the 27th Brigade. HRW’s statement further alleged that Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, former commander of the armed forces, was under investigation for false positive extrajudicial killings allegedly committed under his command.
Subsequently, media reported David Bastidas’ name was removed from the promotion list after prosecutors sought his arrest in connection with the false positive extrajudicial killings of Uber Esneider Giraldo, Disney Villegas, and 30 other persons, as well as other crimes allegedly committed when he was second-in-command of the Fourth Artillery Battalion “Jorge Eduardo Sanchez.” The Senate voted to approve the remaining promotions on December 5.
On September 13, an International Criminal Court (ICC) delegation, including Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, visited Bogota in the context of the ICC’s preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia. According to a public statement, the delegation sought to obtain information concerning the status of national proceedings related to false positive killings, as well as information about aspects of the future SJP, sexual and gender-based crimes, and forced displacement.
On April 18, the then commander of the army General Alberto Jose Mejia Ferrero honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leaders to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. In December the president elevated General Mejia to serve as armed forces commander, replacing Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, who retired.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through July, it obtained three 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), four new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 11 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members. Of these sentences, 15 corresponded to cases that took place before 2017.
Illegal armed groups, including the ELN and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 73 social leaders were killed between January and December 20. For example, on June 7, Bernardo Cuero Bravo, a prominent human rights activist and Afro-Colombian community leader, was shot and killed in his home in Villa Esperanza, Atlantico. Bravo worked as an attorney for the National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES). The president addressed the attacks on social leaders at the one-year anniversary of the peace accord saying, “Every murder, every attack, every threat hurts us,” and pledging to “protect [social] leaders and to capture those responsible.”
The IACHR held a public hearing at the request of the government on “Investigation of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Colombia” during its 161st Period of Sessions in March. Civil society organizations that participated urged the government to investigate and address the root causes of violence against social and ethnic leaders. The deputy attorney general provided updates on progress in cases of human rights defenders killed in 2016 and 2017, stating that, of 74 individuals that had been linked to the killings, 58 persons had been arrested, four had been sentenced, and six were on trial. According to the Attorney General’s Office, of 118 cases in 2016 and 2017, 59 showed procedural advances. The Attorney General’s Office Special Investigation Unit provided for in the peace accord was established. The focus of the unit was on investigating and prosecuting criminal organizations and their support networks.
On November 30, the Minister of Defense attributed the delay in investigating and prosecuting killings of social leaders to difficulty in determining motive and delays in reaching the remote crime scenes. He announced a rapid response mechanism that he stated would ensure a combined security force/Attorney General’s Office response within two hours to any attack on a social leader, anywhere in the country.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. From January 1 through the end of July, however, a total of 3,957 persons were registered as missing, including 79 persons believed to be victims of forced disappearances. The National Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science reported that from 1938 to 2016, a total of 120,104 cases of disappearances were registered, including 25,102 cases of forced disappearances. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of forced disappearances who were located nor a disaggregation of the number found alive or dead.
The Attorney General’s Office indicated that between January 1 and July 31, there were no new convictions of members of the security forces involved in forced disappearances cases.
As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in 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, which was established in April by presidential decree 589 and would receive technical support from the international community.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, under articles 137 and 178 of the criminal code, there were reports government officials committed abuses. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that through June 30, security forces were allegedly involved in 17 cases of torture, four committed by the National Prison Institute (INPEC) and 13 by the National Police. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.
Between January 1 and July 31, the Attorney General’s Office charged five members of the police force with torture; all the cases occurred prior to 2017. During the same period, the Attorney General’s Office reported four convictions of members of the security forces and one conviction of a member of an illegal armed group in a case of torture.
CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for five documented cases of torture through June 30. In 11 other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.
According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, 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 services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Physical Conditions: INPEC, which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated there were 115,950 persons incarcerated in 136 prisons across the country, of whom 19,167 were in pretrial detention. Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as in women’s prisons. INPEC cited several prisons in Cali, Santa Marta, Valledupar, Itagui, and Apartado that were more than 200 percent overcrowded. INPEC reported 48 percent of federal prisons were overcrowded.
The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. The Superior Judiciary Council stated 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 violated.
The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In July the government began to implement new procedures that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.
The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. No further information was available at year’s end regarding the status of the 54 investigations opened in 2016.
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.
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: 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. 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: During the year the Attorney General’s Office assigned 27 additional prosecutors to units aimed at preventing noncriminal cases from entering the criminal justice system, including prisons, thereby freeing up both prosecutors and judges to focus on genuine criminal cases.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention; however, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 45 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces through June 30.
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 Technical Investigation Body. 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.
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. By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces. The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. 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 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 judicial police investigators from the CNP and Corps of Technical Investigators.
The Attorney General’s Office reported open investigations into 18 retired and active duty generals for alleged involvement in false positive extrajudicial killings (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. 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. INPEC estimated that 19,167 prisoners, or 17 percent of the country’s prison inmates, were being held in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges.
Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, however, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.
The government continued efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of abuses, including public officials and members of the security services. Despite governmental improvements, the system struggled to close out cases quickly and efficiently.
The Inspector General’s Office conducts disciplinary investigations into 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. No further information was available at year’s end regarding the status of disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for alleged offenses.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. 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. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. 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 a 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. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held a total of 427 pretrial and 545 convicted detainees on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (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 IACHR, 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) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, 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. Through July 31, a total of 8,504,127 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit of the DPS. Of these, 7,243,838 were victims of forced displacement, with 360,325 registered during 2016, the latest date for which information was available. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. 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.
The Land Restitution Unit reported that it reviewed 148 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories and 106,833 individual restitution claims, of which 8,551 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families. Of the 106,833 individual cases received through July 3, a total of 3,285 belonged to individuals who self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,992 belonged to individuals who self-identified as indigenous, and 654 belonged to individuals who self-identified as belonging to other ethnic groups.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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 email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained this way from being used in court.
On September 11, Jorge Aurelio Noguera, the former director of the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS), was sentenced to seven years in prison for engaging in illegal monitoring activities against human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society organizations during former president Uribe’s administration.
As of July the Attorney General’s Office initiated one new criminal investigation of government agents for illegal monitoring activities.
The Inspector General’s investigation continued 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.” In 2016 Semana magazine alleged 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 in 2016 due to alleged connections to Andromeda. As of 2016 he had not been charged or arrested in connection with these allegations.
There were no developments regarding the case of Martha Ines Leal, former DAS director of operations; Jorge Lagos, former DAS intelligence director; and Fernando Tabares, former DAS counterintelligence director, who submitted to the IACHR 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. 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 72 complaints of illegal surveillance and robbery of information of human rights defenders and social activists in 2016. While statistics for 2017 were unavailable as of year’s end, 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.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflicts
The government and the FARC continued to implement the November 2016 peace accord during the year. The FARC completed its disarmament on August 15, and former members reincorporated as a political party on September 1. Other observers contended the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms was proceeding slowly and that there was no coordinated plan for the collective reintegration of the FARC. Despite the peace accord with the FARC, an estimated 800 to 1,500 FARC dissident members were not participating in the peace process.
Illegal armed groups, dissident FARC members, and the ELN attempted to take over narcotrafficking networks vacated by the FARC, according to an October report by the International Crisis Group entitled Colombia’s Armed Groups Battle for the Spoils of Peace.
The ELN, a smaller leftist guerilla force of approximately 3,400 armed combatants and militia, continued to commit crimes and acts of terror throughout the country. On September 4, the government and the ELN announced a temporary, bilateral ceasefire scheduled from October 1 through January 9, 2018. On September 29, the ELN ordered its members to implement the ceasefire. Under the ceasefire the ELN committed to stop hostage taking, attacks on infrastructure including oil pipelines, the use of land mines, and the recruitment of minors, while the government committed to improve protection for community leaders, improve conditions of detention for 450 rebels, and participate in a Monitoring Verification Mechanism together with representatives of the ELN, United Nations, and Catholic Church. There were reports the ELN may have violated the agreement during the year. Prior to the ceasefire, the ELN carried out bombings in Bogota and attacks in rural areas, causing a spike in violent attacks against military and police facilities.
There was a reduction in overall violence, which observers attributed to the implementation of the peace accord between the government and the FARC and the temporary bilateral ceasefire with the ELN. In 2016 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 other violent acts. CERAC estimated the ceasefire and implementation of the accord prevented the deaths of nearly 2,800 persons between mid-2016 and July 2017.
Illegal armed groups and drug gangs such as the Gulf Clan continued to operate. The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other NGOs considered organized criminal bands to be a continuation of former paramilitary groups. 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.
In September the government received an offer from the Gulf Clan to demobilize through a surrender (“sometimiento”) process, or submission to justice, but the effort did not progress. Illegal armed groups and drug trafficking gangs continued to operate with approximately 2,900 members nationwide.
Killings: The OHCHR registered three 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 ELN, while community members claimed the victim was not a combatant. In other cases military officials stated the killings were military mistakes. For example, on April 9, the OHCHR received a report alleging that members of the army had killed Eduardo Antonio Gutierrez, a road worker building a new road in the municipality of Morales. Security forces claimed, without providing evidence, that Gutierrez was a member of the ELN.
Conflicting reports indicated security forces may have fired on unarmed persons, killing at least seven, in Tumaco on October 5 (see section 1.a.).
According to authorities, 69 terrorist actions were reported between January and September. Guerrillas, notably the ELN, committed unlawful killings.
For example, on February 19, a bomb in downtown Bogota killed one police officer and wounded 24 others, along with two civilians. The ELN claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place one week after the ELN began peace talks with the government.
On June 17, a bomb at a shopping center in Bogota killed three persons in what authorities described as a terrorist attack, part of a surge in clashes between security forces and rebel groups. National Police later arrested eight members of the People’s Revolutionary Movement rebel group in connection with the attack.
On October 1, three police officers were killed in an assault on a rural area in the municipality of Miranda, department of Cauca. Police suspected FARC dissidents of perpetrating the attack.
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.
Organized criminal gangs and guerrilla groups killed, threatened, and displaced educators and their families for political and financial reasons, often because teachers represented the only government presence in the remote areas where the killings occurred. For example, on September 10, in Guaviare Department, unknown persons killed student and social leader Ivan Torres Acosta after he received threats issued through pamphlets encouraging him to stop his work with youth; media reports alleged FARC dissidents were responsible.
Civil society observers raised concerns inadequate security guarantees were facilitating the killing of former FARC militants in retaliation for revealing information about trafficking networks as part of the peace agreement. For example, according to the United Nations, from April through December, 34 former FARC members and 13 of their family members were killed. The Attorney General’s Office was investigating the cases. According to the United Nations, there was one conviction and arrests in three additional cases.
Abductions: The ELN, organized criminal gangs, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons, both for ransom and for political reasons. For example, on July 22, the ELN kidnapped Carlos Omar Delgado, former mayor of Toledo, Norte de Santander; Delgado was freed on August 25. In June ELN forces kidnapped a Dutch couple in Norte de Santander. El Tiempo newspaper also reported the kidnapping of 12 merchants and the killing of four members of the security forces in Arauca Department during the year.
The United Action Groups for Personal Liberty reported 132 kidnappings during the year, 31 fewer than in 2016. The same organization reported 25 hostages were freed through July. It also estimated criminal groups committed 83 percent of the kidnappings and that the ELN committed 13 percent; in the remaining 4 percent, it was not able to identify the party responsible. On October 4, the Ministry of Defense reported kidnappings had declined from 166 cases in 2016 to 149 during the year.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for five documented cases of torture. In 11 other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.
According to the NGO Landmine Monitor, nonstate actors, particularly the ELN, planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and land mines. Ecopetrol reported on March 29 that guerrillas continued to surround targeted areas with antipersonnel mines and to attack members of the armed forces assigned to secure its pipelines. The Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline was attacked 45 times during the year.
Child Soldiers: There were reports the ELN and other illegal armed groups recruited persons under age 18. In February 2016 the FARC announced it would stop recruiting minors under the age of 18. There were no reports during the year that the FARC violated this commitment.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: During the year reports of other human rights abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking. Drug traffickers, guerrilla fighters, and other illegal armed groups continued to displace predominantly poor and rural populations (see section 2.d., Internally Displaced Persons).