a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Temblores, from January 1 through August 31, there were 18 homicides of civilians by police. According to the NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP), from January 1 through June 30, there were 21 intentional homicides committed by the military.
On July 25, in the municipality of Sampues, Sucre Department, three men were allegedly abused and subsequently died in police custody. Ten police officers were arrested by the Attorney General’s Office on suspicion of involvement in these three homicides. The National Police and the Attorney General’s Office reported that they opened investigations into all allegations of police violence and excessive use of force. NGOs and other entities continued to request investigations of allegations.
As of August 25, the Inspector General’s Office reported 351 disciplinary investigations of police for alleged human rights abuses committed in the context of the 2021 national protests. Of these cases, 341 cases were in the investigation stage and 10 cases were in trial, pending disciplinary decisions.
As of August, the Attorney General’s Office reported it had opened 20 investigations against 24 police officers for alleged homicides committed during the 2021 protests. Charges included homicide, torture, kidnapping, and inflicting personal injuries, among other crimes. As of August, the Attorney General’s Office reported there had not been any convictions of police officers for crimes committed in the national protests. Authorities disciplined police officers for excessive use of force during the 2021 protests.
Illegal armed groups, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), committed numerous unlawful killings, in some cases politically motivated, and usually in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly due to the high workload of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement investigators. From January 1 through August 1, the Attorney General’s Office registered five new cases of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities reported that they obtained sentences against 11 members of the security forces for cases that took place in prior years.
Efforts continued to hold officials accountable in so-called false-positive extrajudicial killings during which, per court records, 6,402 civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants from 2002 to 2008. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was the transitional justice tribunal created by the 2016 peace accord to investigate serious crimes committed during the 52-year internal armed conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The JEP continued to promote reconciliation and to take steps to hold accountable the perpetrators of violence during the armed conflict. As of October 1, the JEP reported that 3,482 members of the armed forces voluntarily accepted JEP jurisdiction for legal proceedings related to false positives, and that 508 members gave testimony in the false-positives case known as “overarching case 03.”
On April 26-27, as part of its effort to establish truth, reconciliation, and nonrepetition of prior actions, the JEP facilitated the first “recognition of responsibility” event in Ocana, Norte de Santander. At the event, 10 members of the army, including a general and four colonels, as well as a third-party civilian, recognized their responsibility for extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances and apologized to victims’ families. The persons testifying included members of Brigade 30, Mobile Brigade 15, and Infantry Battalion 15 (“General Francisco de Paula Santander”), indicted in 2021 for 120 extrajudicial killings.
In JEP proceedings on July 18-19, 12 members of Artillery Battalion Number Two (“La Popa”), which the JEP charged with committing 127 extrajudicial killings in Cesar and La Guajira between 2002 and 2005, publicly acknowledged responsibility for extrajudicial killings. These 12 persons participated in a ceremony with victims’ families and leaders of the Kanukuamo and Wiwa Indigenous communities they targeted. Three additional individuals indicted in conjunction with the killings declined to accept responsibility and were to face adversarial prosecution, including retired colonels Publio Hernan Mejia Gutierrez and Juan Carlos Figueroa Suarez.
On July 25, the JEP indicted 22 members of the army as well as one former intelligence official and two civilians for 303 false-positive killings in Casarane. Among those indicted were former leaders of Brigade 16, including retired General Henry William Torres Escalante. On July 27, the JEP indicted 10 former members of the army, including three colonels, for disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Dabeiba and Ituango (Antioquia). Those implicated belonged to the Counter-guerrilla Battalion 26 (“Arhuacos”), Counter-guerrilla Battalion 79 (“Hernando Combita Salazar”), and Mobile Brigade 11. The JEP reported that the testimony of 24 former soldiers and officers to the JEP implicated retired army commander General Mario Montoya Uribe in relation to the false-positive cases. In his testimony in September, Montoya denied responsibility for the false-positive killings.
As of August 30, the Attorney General’s Office reported that since 2008 the government convicted 1,438 members of the security forces in cases related to false-positive cases, one more than in 2021. Many of those convicted in the ordinary and military justice systems were granted conditional release from prisons and military detention centers upon agreeing to submit to the jurisdiction of the JEP. The military justice system developed a protocol to monitor the whereabouts of prisoners on conditional release; it was responsible for reporting any anomalies to the JEP for appropriate action.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of August 1, there were open investigations of eight retired and active-duty generals related to false-positive killings. The Attorney General’s Office also reported that as of August 31, there were 2,408 open investigations related to false-positive killings or other extrajudicial killings, of which 2,028 investigations were at the investigation stage and 414 investigations had gone to trial.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and August 31, four police officials were formally accused of having ties with illegal armed groups.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that between January 1 and June 30, it received 114 allegations of homicides of human rights defenders. Of those allegations, 67 remained under review, 22 deaths had been confirmed as being related to the individual’s actions defending human rights, and 25 cases had been determined to be inconclusive. The OHCHR reported that three victims were Afro-Colombians and eight were Indigenous. According to the OHCHR, 1,116 human rights defenders and social leaders received death threats in 2021. The OHCHR reported an increase in threats against human rights defenders during the electoral period in the first half of the year. On October 28, the ombudsman announced that 157 homicides of social leaders occurred through end of September. NGOs using different methodologies and definitions reported differing numbers of homicides of social leaders and human rights defenders, which often included environmental activists. The NGO Indepaz reported 144 homicides of social leaders through October 12.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the cases related to more than 1,000 killings of human rights defenders from January 2016 to August 2022, the government obtained 109 convictions. The motives for the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary motive in individual cases. For example, on June 8, armed groups killed Jesusita Moreno Mosquera in Cali, Valle de Cauca. Mosquera was a human rights defender from the department of Choco. She also advocated for environmental rights and opposed the presence of armed groups in her community. She had previously notified authorities about receiving threats from armed groups. Police immediately opened an investigation into the killing.
The government’s Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists worked to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. Four units – an elite Colombian National Police (CNP) corps, a specialized subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit (NPU), a special investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responsible for dismantling criminal organizations and enterprises, and a unified command post – shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attacks and investigating and prosecuting these cases.
By law the Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, except for conflict-related crimes, which are under the jurisdiction of the JEP (see section 1.c. for additional information regarding investigations and impunity).
According to the Attorney General’s Office, there were no formal complaints of forced disappearance from January 1 through August 1. The Office of the Ombudsman reported receiving notifications of 121 cases of forced displacement from January 1 through August 31. As of August 25, the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine registered 34,420 cases of forced disappearance since the beginning of the country’s armed conflict in the early 1960s. Of those cases, the National Institute of Forensic and Legal medicine registered 1,012 cases between January 1 and August 25. According to the Attorney General’s Office, as of August, there were no convictions in connection with forced disappearances.
The Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons, launched in 2018, continued to investigate disappearances that occurred during the conflict. The Search Unit reported that as of June 30 it had helped locate seven missing persons and recover 506 bodies of victims of forced disappearance related to the conflict. The Truth Commission reported 121,768 persons were victims of forced disappearance during the conflict.
On April 7, the JEP stated that state agents and paramilitaries killed or disappeared 5,733 candidates and other persons affiliated with the leftwing political party Union Patriotica (Patriotic Union) between 1984 and 2016 (see section 3).
The JEP proceedings in the false-positives case involved forced disappearances in addition to extrajudicial killings (see section 1.a. above).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials used these methods of abuse. CINEP reported that through August, security forces were allegedly involved in eight cases of abuse and inhuman treatment involving 12 victims. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. The NGO Temblores reported that police beat and sexually assaulted demonstrators in 17 cases between January 1 and May 31. The Attorney General’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office stated they launched internal investigations of all allegations of excessive use of force.
The Attorney General’s Office reported it convicted no members of the military or police of torture between January and August 1. Investigations into torture allegations continued, however. The Attorney General’s Office reported they formally charged 43 police and 27 members of the military for alleged acts of torture, 31 cases of which took place in previous years.
CINEP reported criminal organizations and armed groups were responsible for three documented cases of torture involving three victims through June 30.
According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates, including gender-based violence.
The Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, except for conflict-related crimes, which are within the jurisdiction of the JEP. The JEP continued investigations in its seven prioritized thematic cases focusing on incidents within a certain region, incidents by specific actors, and incidents against certain categories of victims.
The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuse cases, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice and opacity in the process by which cases were investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. 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. Some NGOs cautioned that this situation may bias investigations against finding possibly illegal conduct by security forces. 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.
Transition to a new system of military justice continued slowly. The military did not develop a strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training the investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists required under the new accusatory system. As a result, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigation duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and the Attorney General’s Corps of Technical Investigators.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Most conditions in prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, poor health care, and lack of other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Abusive Physical Conditions: Overcrowding existed in both men’s and women’s prisons. The National Prison Institute (INPEC), which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated the prisons and jails were approximately 20 percent over capacity. The law dictates that local governments are responsible for funding and operating pretrial detention facilities. The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, but often this law was not followed. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. Police, local governments, and prison authorities often violated this guidance.
The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, resulted in overcrowding. Physical abuse by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities’ failure to maintain control were problems. INPEC’s Office of Disciplinary Control investigated allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. Between January 1 and August 20, INPEC reported 36 new disciplinary investigations against prison guards for physical abuse and inflicting personal injuries. Additionally, the Inspector General’s Office reported that between January 1 and August 25, officials opened 21 disciplinary investigations related to cases of abuse against inmates and persons under temporary detention, in which 11 INPEC guards and 15 police officers were involved.
INPEC reported 221 deaths in prisons, jails, pretrial detention facilities, and other detention centers through August 20. Eight deaths were caused by fights, 60 were due to accidents, and one death was due to intoxication. Of the 60 accidental deaths, 52 stemmed from a June 27 fire in the prison of Tulua, Valle de Cauca, during a fight between inmates. Inmates alleged INPEC guards were negligent in their response to the fire.
Many prisoners faced difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were poor and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates stated authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities; officials attributed this practice to city water shortages.
INPEC’s physical structures were generally in poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some cold, high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and warm 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: Authorities investigated credible prisoner complaints of mistreatment and inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates. Some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities denied them access to visit prisoners without adequate explanation.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups.
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 or her arrest or detention in court. There were allegations, however, that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. The NGO Temblores reported 76 cases of arbitrary detention by police involving 145 victims. NGO CINEP reported six cases of arbitrary detention by the army with 14 victims, and seven cases of arbitrary detention by the Attorney General’s Office with 41 victims.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
To ensure the detention is valid, officials must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours of arrest, 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 but were overloaded with cases. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members, as provided by law. Bail was generally available except for serious crimes such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Authorities generally respected these rights.
Arbitrary Arrest: Even though the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, this law was not always respected. NGOs described some arrests as arbitrary detentions. These included arrests based allegedly on tips from informants of persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of security forces without judicial orders, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons who were “exercising their fundamental rights.” Multiple NGOs alleged that police misused a temporary protection mechanism to arbitrarily detain protestors.
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. Approximately 25 percent of prison detainees were in pretrial detention. The failure of many jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made it difficult to account for all detainees. 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. Subornation, corruption, and the intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered the independence of the judiciary.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2005, but the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other negative factors diminished the efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the accusatory system. Under the accusatory system, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial.
Crimes committed before 2005 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases, the prosecutor presents evidence and the finding of guilt or innocence to a judge who then ratifies or rejects the finding.
In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most factfinding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges are required to issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at a court-martial.
Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government declared 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 of human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held 115 persons on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency and convicted 38 of them. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross with regular access to these prisoners.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens and organizations 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 on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the injured individual.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The law provides a legal basis for assistance and reparations to victims of the conflict, including victims of government abuses, but the government acknowledged that the pace of restitution was slow.
The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations that the government sometimes 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 in this manner from being used in court.
NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of illegally monitoring lawyers and human rights defenders.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
The government and the FARC, formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, continued to implement the 2016 peace accord. In 2017 the FARC completed its disarmament, and as of July nearly 13,000 former members were engaged in reincorporation activities, including the formation of a political party. An estimated 800 to 1,500 FARC dissidents did not participate in the peace process from the outset. As of October, NGOs estimated FARC dissident numbers had grown to approximately 5,200 due to new recruitment and some former combatants who returned to arms. A significant percentage of FARC dissidents were unarmed members of support networks that facilitated illicit economies. Some members of the FARC who participated in the peace process alleged the government had not fully complied with its commitments, including ensuring the security of demobilized former combatants or facilitating their reintegration. The government alleged the FARC had not met its full commitments to cooperate on counternarcotics efforts and other peace accord commitments.
Following the signing of the 2016 peace accord, three transitional justice mechanisms were established and were operational throughout the year: the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Nonrepetition (the Truth Commission); the Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons; and the JEP.
On February 18, the JEP announced that it would open three new thematic cases in addition to the seven original cases. These included an overarching thematic case concerning serious crimes committed by the former FARC; an overarching thematic case concerning serious crimes committed by the armed forces or other state agents on their own or in partnership with third-party civilians or paramilitaries; and an overarching thematic case covering crimes committed against ethnic communities. The Truth Commission issued its final report and recommendations on June 28. The report documented significant human rights violations committed by government institutions and illegal armed groups during the conflict, with a disproportionate impact on Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, and other racial and ethnic minority communities.
The ELN continued to commit crimes and acts of terror throughout the country, including bombings, violence against civilian populations, and violent attacks against military and police facilities. Illegal armed groups and drug gangs, such as the Clan del Golfo, also continued to operate.
For example, after announcing on February 22 a series of planned attacks, which the ELN said were aimed to draw attention to President Duque’s “poor governance,” the ELN conducted 65 attacks in 66 municipalities across 11 departments from February 23 to February 26. According to the Investigation and Accusation Unit of the JEP, one civilian, a social leader, was killed. The campaign included 18 terrorist attacks on electrical and highway infrastructure, bomb threats, 10 burnt vehicles, and explosive devices left in streets. Seven communities reported that the ELN had blocked streets and building access in their towns; 23 transport terminals suspended operations as a result. The ELN marked buildings with graffiti and raised its flag in different cities. According to online media outlet InsightCrime, the 65 incidents in this strike surpassed the 27 attacks carried out during a similar strike by the ELN in 2020.
Killings: The military was accused of some killings, some of which military officials stated were “military mistakes” (see section 1.a.). In other cases, military officials stated they believed the victim was fighting on behalf of an armed group, while community members stated the victim was not a combatant. On March 28, in Puerto Leguizamo, Putumayo Department, near the border with Ecuador, the army carried out a military operation intended to target FARC dissidents involved in drug trafficking. The operation left 11 persons dead. The Attorney General’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office were conducting criminal and disciplinary investigations.
Armed groups, notably the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the Clan del Golfo, committed unlawful killings, primarily in areas with illicit economic activities and without a strong government presence. The government reported that between January 1 and July 31, armed groups allegedly killed 98 members of state security forces, including 40 police officers, and wounded 512 other members. Government officials stated that most of the violence was related to narcotics trafficking enterprises.
Independent observers raised concerns that inadequate security guarantees facilitated the killing of former FARC militants. According to the UN Verification Mission (UNVM), 37 former FARC combatants had been killed by September 26, bringing the total to 342 homicides of former combatants since the 2016 accord. The United Nations reported the collective security of former combatants was threatened by the actions of illegal armed groups. The UNVM reported that emergency protection requests had increased from 144 requests in 2021 to 150 from January through August.
The ELN, FARC dissidents, and other groups continued to lay land mines. According to the High Commissioner for Peace, three persons were killed and 71 wounded between January 1 and September 29 as the result of improvised explosive devices and land mines.
Abductions: Criminal organizations, FARC dissidents, the ELN, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons. According to the Ministry of Defense, there were 75 kidnappings from January 1 to July 31. Seventeen of the kidnappings were attributed to the ELN, and the remainder were attributed to other organized armed groups. On July 13 in a rural area of Tame, Arauca Department, the ELN kidnapped 11 persons, including a former FARC combatant, Indigenous persons, and poor farmers. In August, after the presidential inauguration, the ELN released 15 persons, including five members of the military and one police officer whom they had kidnapped during the year.
Between January 1 and July 31, the Ministry of Defense reported that the armed forces and police released 38 hostages from captivity. The ministry also reported that between January 1 and July 31, four victims of kidnapping died while in captivity. As of August 10, the Attorney General’s Office reported seven convictions for kidnapping.
Efforts continued to hold accountable those responsible for pre-peace-accord abductions. In June members of the secretariat of the former FARC publicly acknowledged their responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity involving kidnapping and hostage-taking during the armed conflict, as well as for other gross violations of human rights committed in the context of such abductions, including torture and disappearances. They shared a stage with, and apologized to, their victims. The JEP assessed that 21,396 persons in total were victims of FARC violence.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: From January through August, CINEP reported the ELN and criminal organizations were responsible for four documented cases of serious abuse that included seven victims.
Child Soldiers: Illegal armed groups and criminal organizations continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers for armed conflict and exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Reports of other human rights abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking. Drug traffickers and armed groups continued to displace predominantly poor and rural populations (see section 2.f., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons). Armed groups, particularly in the departments of Cauca, Choco, Cordoba, Narino, and Norte de Santander, exploited children, including Venezuelan, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian youth, in human trafficking by forcibly recruiting them to serve as combatants and informants, to harvest illicit crops, and to be exploited in sex trafficking.