IACHR EXPRESSES ITS CONCERN FOR THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented its annual report including a section on the issue of human rights in Colombia. In that section the Commission highlighted the progress achieved in the area of human rights. Salient among the advances made are the Government’s efforts to continue its “Programa de Protección de defensores de derechos humanos, sindicalistas, periodistas y líderes sociales” [Program to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Members of Trade Unions, Journalists and Community Leaders”] and its “Programa de Protección de Comunidades en Riesgo” [At-Risk Communities Protection Program] administered by the Ministry of the Interior. This program protects numerous beneficiaries of precautionary and provisional measures adopted by the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, respectively, and helps to protect the life and personal safety of thousands threatened by the actors in Colombia’s armed conflict. The Commission also referred to the decision issued by the Constitutional Court urging State entities to ameliorate the consequences of internal displacement, ensure respect for the rights of the displaced populations and attend to their needs. Additionally the IACHR indicated that Colombia took an important step toward universalization of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights when, on April 12, 2005, it ratified the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, thus making fundamental progress toward protecting the rights of the people of Colombia and of the hemisphere.
Regarding the demobilization process, the Commission emphasized the efforts made by the State to fight armed actors and end violence in Colombia. Apart from being the State’s obligation, this objective is one of fundamental importance for peace, stability and governability in Colombia and is one that both the State and civil society share. As the Commission has said before, members of the paramilitary units involved in the demobilization process have been repeatedly cited as being responsible for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including massacres of defenseless civilians; selective assassinations of community leaders, trade unionists, human rights defenders, officers of the court, journalists, and others; acts of torture, harassment, and intimidation; and actions aimed at forcing the displacement of entire communities.
As for the Colombian State’s obligation to achieve truth, justice and reparations for the victims of the armed conflict, on July 22, 2005 President Uribe authorized enactment of Law 975 of 2005, known as the “Justice and Peace Law.” In its report the Commission noted that the determination of the historical truth regarding what happened during the last few decades of the conflict did not figure as one of the law’s objectives, nor did identification of the sponsors of the paramilitarism or determination of the degree to which the various participants were involved in the commission of crimes against the civilian population, whether by action, omission, collaboration or acquiescence. The IACHR indicated that its provisions fail to establish incentives that would encourage the demobilized to make a full confession of their guilt, in exchange for the generous judicial benefits they would receive. Consequently, the established mechanism does not guarantee that the crimes perpetrated will be properly solved; this means that the facts in many cases will never be known and the perpetrators will go unpunished. The IACHR observed also that the institutional mechanisms that the law creates to administer justice do not have the means necessary to undertake, with realistic chances of success, judicial investigation and prosecution of the thousands of crimes committed during the last years by the actors in the armed conflict.
The demobilization process is at a critical stage. The negotiations, observance of the cease-fire commitment and the administration of justice must be informed by the principles and standards established in international law to ensure justice, truth and reparations to persons within the State’s jurisdiction.
Notwithstanding the cease-fire commitment undertaken by the “negotiating high command” of the AUC, acts of violence and intimidation of the civilian population continue to be committed by all actors in the conflict: paramilitaries, whether or not engaged in the negotiations at Santafé de Ralito; guerrilla groups, in particular the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC); and state agents. The acts of violence committed in the course of the armed conflict continue to result in grave violations of the civilian population’s human rights and international humanitarian law. The most vulnerable sectors are particularly affected: indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, and the displaced. The selective assassinations and forced disappearances continued in 2005, targeting human rights defenders, trade unionists, community leaders, journalists, and candidates to elective office –including members of the Unión Patriótica political movement – among others.
The violence targeted at indigenous peoples in Colombia was even more severe in 2005, as they continued to be the victims of massacres, selective executions, forced disappearances, forced displacement from their ancestral territories, forced recruitment, loss or contamination of their food sources, food blockades, accusations, and threats to their autonomy. The situation was verified by the IACHR during a visit conducted on June, 2005. In its report the Commission indicated that the constant acts of violence committed against the indigenous communities who ask for respect and protection of their basic rights, threaten not just the lives and safety of their members but their very existence as a people.
The IACHR reported that the afro-descendent communities and their communal councils continue to be affected by food blockades, constant acts of violence, killings, kidnappings and forced displacement.
The vulnerability of human rights defenders continued to be a matter of concern in 2005. The patterns of threats, killings, and harassment continued to obstruct the work of human rights defenders throughout the country. The Commission observed that the Colombian authorities continued to publicly discredit their work thereby endangering the safety of human rights defenders. The IACHR also expressed concern for the repeated attacks and threats upon the lives and personal safety of union and community leaders.
Through the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, in 2005 the Commission continued to receive information relating to threats, kidnappings, intimidation and other acts of violence suffered by journalists and media outlets in Colombia. In 2005, the IACHR also adopted the report titled Impunity, Self-censorship and Armed Internal Conflict: an Analysis of the State of Freedom of Expression in Colombia (Available under Country reports at: http://www.cidh.org/relatoria).
Regarding the issue of administration of justice, the Commission reported that no significant headway was made with the investigations into crimes involving violations of human rights in which the international responsibility of the State has been established. And so, the problem of impunity persists as does the practice of large-scale arrests and pressure exerted on prosecutors, judges and justice operators involved in investigations of human rights violations.
The IACHR concluded its report by stating that negotiation mechanisms must be used to get the armed actors to disengage and so end the complex, painful and protracted experience that Colombia has endured. To ensure a lasting peace, non-repetition of conduct criminalized under international law, human rights violations and gross violations of international humanitarian law must be guaranteed. To that end, the crimes must be investigated and reparations made for the consequences of the violence, using mechanisms that can get at the truth of what happened, administer justice and fully compensate the victims in keeping of the State’s international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the OAS Charter.
Washington D.C., May 2, 2006