Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Presidential and legislative elections were held in 2018. In June 2018, voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in a second round of elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.
The Colombian National Police (CNP) force 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 attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators. 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. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; widespread corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country during the year, including a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 persons. Other illegal armed groups, including dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and drug-trafficking gangs, continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses, such as
kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders. The government investigated these actions and prosecuted those responsible to the extent possible.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
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) Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP), from January 1 through August 26, there were 10 cases of “intentional deaths of civilians committed by state agents.”
For example, in April the attorney general opened an investigation into the killing of Dimar Torres, a demobilized member of the FARC who was allegedly shot four times by an army soldier while leaving his village to buy tools. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Colonel Jorge Armando Perez Amezquita planned and ordered the killing. The colonel’s involvement was discovered later in the investigation; the case against him was initially delayed as authorities deliberated whether to proceed in the military or ordinary justice system. In November a military judge decided the investigation into the killing of Torres, including the case against Colonel Perez, would proceed in the ordinary justice system. On November 27, the army soldier who carried out the killing was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The investigation into the alleged role of the colonel and four other soldiers continued as of the end of November.
Illegal armed groups, including the ELN, committed numerous unlawful or politically motivated killings, often in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. From January 1 through September, the Attorney General’s Office registered seven new cases of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally charged eight members of the security forces with aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, with six of those crimes occurring in previous years. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through August, it obtained two 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).
Efforts continued 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 early 2000s. As of June the Attorney General’s Office reported the government had convicted 1,709 members of the security forces in cases related to false positive cases since 2008.
Some human rights organizations alleged that officials recently promoted within the senior ranks of the military could be linked to past extrajudicial killings.
The Attorney General’s Office reported there were open investigations of 20 retired and active-duty generals related to false positive killings as of June. The Attorney General’s Office also reported there were 2,504 open investigations related to false positive killings or other extrajudicial killings as of May 20.
In addition, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Nonrepetition provided for in the 2016 peace accord with the FARC, reviewed some investigations related to false positive or extrajudicial killings. This included activities to advance Case 003, focused on extrajudicial killings committed by the First, Second, Fourth, and Seventh Army Divisions. For example, on April 25, the JEP began to review the case against retired general Mario Montoya Uribe for his involvement in false positive killings. The JEP also continued to review the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante. On March 5, retired colonel Gabriel Rincon Amado, sentenced in 2017 to 46 years in prison for his involvement in the false positive killings of five men from Soacha, apologized before the relatives of the victims and the JEP magistrates and admitted he had a responsibility in the killings.
During the year there were allegations that military orders instructing army commanders to double the results of their missions against guerillas, criminal organizations, and illegal armed groups could heighten the risk of civilian casualties. In a July preliminary report, an independent commission established by President Duque to review the facts regarding these alleged military orders concluded that the orders did not permit, suggest, or result in abuses or criminal conduct, and that the armed forces’ operational rules and doctrine were aligned with human rights and international humanitarian law principles. As of November a final report had not been issued.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized-crime gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and September, no members of government security forces were arrested for ties with illegal armed groups.
According to a March 14 UN report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 115 verified killings of social leaders and human rights defenders in 2018. According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the cases of 308 killings of human rights defenders from January 2016 to August 2019, the government had obtained 42 convictions, 55 alleged perpetrators had ongoing trials, 41 had been charged, and 40 were under investigation. According to the OHCHR, 37 percent of the killings occurred in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, and Norte de Santander; 27 percent of the killings were of members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The motives of the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary or precise motive in individual cases. For example, on June 21, in Tierralta, Cordoba, prominent social leader and land rights activist Maria del Pilar Hurtado was shot and killed by two men riding a motorcycle. As of September authorities had not identified the killers, but the Inspector General’s Office opened a disciplinary investigation into local public officials for alleged irregularities related to the handling of alleged threats against the victim.
The Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists, created in November 2018, strengthened efforts to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. The Inspector General’s Office and the human rights ombudsman continued to raise awareness on the situation of human rights defenders through the public “Lead Life” campaign, in partnership with civil society, media, and international organizations. Additionally, there is an elite corps of the National Police, 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, which shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attacks and investigating and prosecuting these cases. The Attorney General’s Office reported that the combined effort identified or arrested a suspect in 47 percent of the cases of killings of social leaders and that 255 persons had been arrested and charged for their involvement in such cases.
By law the Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, with the exception of conflict-related crimes, which are within the jurisdiction of the JEP. The JEP continued investigations of cases opened in 2018 and accepted new cases during the year.
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 illegal actions. The government made improvements in investigating and trying cases of abuses, 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. 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 justice system functioned under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory justice system, which was not scheduled to be fully implemented until 2020. Transition to the new system continued slowly, and the military had not yet 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 investigation duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and the attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. According to the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine, from January 1 through July 31, a total of 3,788 cases of disappearances were registered. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of disappearances who were located.