FOR THE ANALYSIS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS
It is generally understood that the human rights situation in
Colombia is currently one of the most difficult and serious in the
Americas. The gravity of the
situation derives from the massive and continuous violation of the most
fundamental of human rights, particularly the right to life and the right
to humane treatment. The
nature and causes of this human rights situation are many.
In addition to the violence associated with the armed conflict,
especially violence attributable to extremists on both the right and the
left, there are other sources of violence that bring death or other
violations of fundamental rights. Drug trafficking, abuses of authority,
socio-economic violence rooted in social injustice and land disputes are
but some of the sources of violence which have led to the deterioration of
the human rights situation in Colombia.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the
"Commission," the "IACHR" or the "Inter-American
Commission") reiterates that it fully understands that there are many
actors contributing to the situation of violence in Colombia and that the
State is not internationally responsible for all of the harm caused to its
citizens by non-State agents. The Commission also fully acknowledges that the State has the
right and duty to guarantee its security and that of its citizens.
The State is justified in taking actions against armed dissident
groups, drug traffickers and others who commit crimes or threaten to
destabilize or overthrow the constitutional order.
However, the power of the State is not unlimited, nor does it
authorize or justify any means to attain its ends.
In Colombia, agents of the State have sometimes stepped beyond the
boundaries placed upon the State and have committed human rights
violations. In other cases,
the State has become responsible for violations by acquiescence or by
failing to react properly to harms committed.
The damage caused in those cases where the State incurs in
responsibility for human rights violations is particularly great, because
those who are explicitly charged with the protection of the citizenry have
instead abused their power to the detriment of the population.
The Commission’s central role is to deal with those situations
and cases in which the State is responsible for having committed
violations of the fundamental rights of individuals.
As a rule, a State is responsible for the wrongful acts or
omissions of its agents, even if those agents acted outside the sphere of
their authority or in violation of local law.
Such situations clearly fall within the Commission’s mandate
under the American Convention on Human Rights (the "Convention"
or the "American Convention") and other instruments ratified by
the State of Colombia and other member States of the Organization of
American States (“OAS”). In
contrast, the illegal actions of private individuals and groups that harm
others, but are not imputable to the State, do not engage the State’s
international responsibility and, thus, do not fall within the
Commission’s jurisdiction. However,
the Commission notes that the State will incur responsibility for the
illegal acts of private actors when it has permitted such acts to take
place without taking adequate measures to prevent them or subsequently to
punish the perpetrators. The
State also incurs in responsibility when these acts by private parties are
committed with the support, tolerance or acquiescence of State agents.
Because of its unique attributes, rights and obligations under
domestic and international law, the State is necessarily the focus of the
Commission’s scrutiny, rather than the other actors who perpetrate
violence in Colombia. It is
the State alone that is charged with upholding the law, maintaining order,
dispensing justice and performing international legal obligations.
For these reasons, the Commission cannot and does not treat the
Colombian State on the same level as the other violent actors in that
country. While acknowledging
the right and duty of the State to combat violence and crime, the
Commission must at the same time insist that the State’s actions comply
with its international human rights obligations and will judge those
In order to properly carry out its work, nonetheless, the
Commission must consider and describe the multiple factors which
contribute to the violence and the difficult human rights situation in
Colombia. To this purpose,
the Commission proceeds to provide a brief historical analysis of the
violence in Colombia.
HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF THE VIOLENCE
As the Commission noted in the press release which it issued upon
the conclusion of its on-site visit, “Colombia is in the grip of a
tragic spiral of violence which affects all sectors of society, undermines
the very foundations of the State and is disturbing to the international
community as a whole.”
The causes of violence have been studied and investigated extensively by
Government commissions, academicians and others. The phenomenon is such that individuals who study in this
field have been given a special title.
In Colombia, they are referred to as “violentólogos.”
Brief Historical Analysis of the Factors which Lead to the Violence
Many of the studies on Colombia distinguish three stages in the
country’s political violence: 1) political civil wars, involving
essentially the conflicts and rivalries among the country’s governing
classes during much of the nineteenth century; 2) “La Violencia”
which took place in the mid-twentieth century; and finally;,3) the
current violence which revolves around the armed insurrection.
The period of “La Violencia” is seen as the most direct
antecedent to the current violent situation.
The change in government in 1946, which transferred power from the
liberal political party to the conservative, was followed by a severe
confrontation between the two political groups.
This violent confrontation between the two parties became
particularly acute in the 1950s, the period which came to be known as
Armed revolutionary groups also formed in the 1950s, at least in
part as a response to government-sponsored persecution of liberal party
members in rural areas. Liberal peasant farmers were sometimes persecuted as a means
of expanding capitalist agriculture, allowing the formation and
consolidation of the latifundio land-tenure system.
Victims of this violence were not only killed but were also driven
out of their homes through the use of terror.
After the fall of the de
facto government of General Rojas Pinilla on May 10, 1957, a period of
reconciliation began with the consolidation of the National Front system
of government, which lasted approximately 16 years.
This phase in Colombian political life was unique.
The reins of power were shared almost equally between liberals and
conservatives, who alternated in assuming power and parceled out
administrative positions between them, in an effort to maintain stability
which would allow economic and social development.
During this stage of national life, the armed resistance groups
allied with the liberal party disbanded and laid down their arms and
amnesties were granted. The
Armed Forces then reassumed control over the use of force and began to
combat new guerrilla groups which were forming in rural areas.
The mobilization of revolutionary groups in the 1960s and the
resulting renewal of violence coincided with the closed political system
implemented through the National Front, which granted political power and
opportunity only to the two traditional parties.
The revolutionary movements which developed had moral, political
and economic ideological underpinnings.
The Cuban revolution also influenced the new movements.
Some of the revolutionary guerrilla movements which formed in the
1960s continue to act today (i.e. the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed
Forces – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)) and the ELN
(National Liberation Army – Ejército de Liberación Nacional)).
Other groups emerged at this time, including:
the M-19 (April 19th Movement – Movimiento 19 de Abril), the EPL
(People’s Liberation Army – Ejército Popular de Liberación), the ADO
(Workers’ Self-Defense Groups – Autodefensa Obrera), the Ricardo
Franco group and Quintín Lame (an indigenous guerrilla group).
At the same time, the failure of the peace agreements and the
amnesties which followed the formation of the National Front system to
reach all of the inhabitants in the countryside permitted a new type of
violence to develop. This new
violence has been referred to as “bandolerismo.” By the time this type
of violence reached crisis proportions in 1964, "there were more than
100 active bands of armed peasant farmers operating in more or less
organized fashion, ignoring the peace agreements reached between the
official leaders of the traditional parties.
These bands prolonged the bipartisan struggle.
Drug trafficking also began to play an important role in Colombian
national life during this period. The
drug trade began with a marijuana boom which produced violence,
particularly on the Atlantic Coast. The
production and trafficking of cocaine followed, and drugtrafficking was
consolidation brought to Colombia the violence which is inherent to the
trade. It also resulted in
the violent confrontation between the State and those involved in
narcotrafficking, particularly the infamous "Medellín Cartel,"
including Pablo Escobar. This
confrontation included political assassinations and other acts of violence
and terrorism committed by the narcotrafficking groups against the State
as a means of controlling State policy and action on issues relating to
the drug trade.
As armed dissident groups began to achieve greater influence in the
1960s and 1970s, the State developed a doctrine of “National
Security.” The phenomenon
of the paramilitaries also began to take hold at this time.
Decree 3398, adopted as part of a state of emergency declared in
1965, was converted into permanent legislation by Law 48 in 1968.
That law authorized the creation of civil patrols which received
weapons restricted for the exclusive use of the armed forces from the
Ministry of Defense.
In the late 1970s and in the 1980s the self-defense or paramilitary
groups, connected to economic and political sectors in the different areas
of Colombia, grew stronger. These
groups, which were patronized or accepted by sectors of the State's
security forces, sought to defend the interests of certain individuals or
groups through violence. They were largely established as a reaction against the
violence taking place in rural areas throughout the country, often in the
form of kidnappings for ransom. They
sought to combat the armed dissident groups which had formed, because
those groups were responsible for most of these kidnappings and other
violence. In addition, the
armed dissident groups had begun to impose war taxes, known as
“vacunas” (“vaccinations”) in Colombia, which threatened the
economic situation of many medium and large landowners and agro-businesses
in the countryside.
The paramilitaries thus necessarily had a counter-insurgency
motivation. As a result, they
formed ties with the Colombian military.
This connection between paramilitaries and the military will be
explored in greater depth in subsequent sections of this Report.
The paramilitary groups also formed strong ties with drug
trafficking organizations in this period.
As the drug trade expanded and became more profitable, many of the
players became landowners and heads of other economic enterprises.
They sought to defend the drug business and their other economic
interests against the violent acts of extortion and expropriation carried
out by armed dissident groups against such interests.
They began to finance and support the paramilitary groups.
Thus, for example, a new group formed in the Magdalena Medio in
1981 and called itself Death to Kidnappers ("MAS" – Muerte a
Secuestradores). The group
was founded by drug traffickers in retaliation for the kidnapping by the
M-19 of the sister of several members of the Medellín Cartel.
A variety of different forces and interests thus converged to lend
the paramilitary groups particular strength.
The groups began to carry out “cleansing” processes in various
regions of the country, to eliminate armed dissident groups and their
sympathizers, clearing the way for large landowners and others to do
business. Eventually, the
paramilitary phenomenon became so violent and uncontrollable that the
Colombian Government and military were forced to act to reassert control.
In the late 1980s and particularly during the administration of
President Barco, the Colombian State began to impose legal restrictions on
the activities of the paramilitary groups and eventually outlawed them
altogether. The legal
rejection of the paramilitary groups was confirmed by a Supreme Court
decision which held unconstitutional the legal norms which established the
paramilitary groups. Similarly,
the Council of State (Consejo de Estado) held that individuals who held
weapons of war should return those arms to the Colombian Army.
Notwithstanding the legal prohibitions, paramilitary groups
continue to exist in Colombia, albeit without the legal support which they
enjoyed before 1989. In general, these groups have moved away from their
connection with the drug trade, although paramilitary attacks against
judicial officials investigating drug crimes demonstrate that a connection
still exists in at least some cases.
It is estimated that, in 1997, the paramilitaries were responsible
for approximately 60% of violent deaths of a political nature.
Also beginning in the 1980s, successive Colombian governments
labored on peace negotiations with the various armed dissident groups.
In the early 1990s peace negotiations with the M-19, the EPL and
Quintín Lame concluded and several thousand members of those groups were
demobilized. However, the
demobilization of those groups, particularly, the EPL, was not complete.
In addition, the FARC and the ELN did not demobilize and continue
Over the last twenty years, organized crime has also had a huge
impact on Colombian national life, affecting all aspects of society,
including the electoral process and the justice system.
The armed dissident movements have developed a confusing
combination of alliances and simultaneous clashes with other actors in
organized crime. The armed
dissident groups have also developed ties with the drug trade, where they
frequently levy taxes against drug producers and transporters in exchange
for protection of the trade. As
a result of their involvement in the “business” of extortion,
kidnapping, homicide and the drug trade, the armed dissident groups have
lost much of their ideological credibility and influence in recent years.
Major Sources of Political Violence
Armed Dissident Groups
The armed dissident groups which are still active, the FARC and the
ELN, as well as some dissidents from the EPL, form the Simón Bolivar
Guerrilla Coordinating Group. The remaining armed dissident group which previously played a
significant role in Colombian national life but which no longer
participates in the armed conflict is the M-19.
A brief description of the background of the three armed dissident
groups which continue to operate follows:
The FARC is the oldest armed dissident group in Colombia and has
traditionally been one of the most well-organized of such groups in all of
Latin America. This guerrilla
organization has roots in the armed dissident movement of the 1950s and
even in the earlier peasant struggles of the 1930s and 40s, when the first
agricultural unions and leagues were established.
The origins of the group date back to 1947, when the central
committee of the Colombian communist party decided to organize a
self-defense system in opposition to the conservative regime of Ospina Pérez
which began in 1946. This
popular self-defense group later became an armed dissident movement.
The FARC also had close ties with the Colombian peasantry.
The FARC became not only the largest guerrilla movement in
Colombian territory but also the best equipped, both materially and
financially, for an armed struggle. They number approximately 12,000 and control or maintain a
strong presence in 40-50% of the 1,071 municipalities in Colombia.
The FARC have always obtained their resources illegally, through
kidnapping, extortion and vacunas. Later,
the FARC began to receive funds through associations with drug cartels,
which provided the movement with arms and money.
In exchange for this patronage, the guerrilla movement ceases
hostilities against the drug cartels, protects facilities for the
production and commerce of drugs and facilitates the transport of drugs.
Nonetheless, the alliance that drug traffickers and paramilitary
groups formed, at least at one time, led to instability and explosiveness
in this relationship. Yet, the relationship between the FARC and the drug trade
continues. It is also
generally believed that some subgroups of the FARC actually produce and
The FARC has demonstrated its strength during the last several
years, particularly in the southern Departments of Colombia. On
August 30, 1996, the FARC attacked a military base at Las Delicias,
Department of Putumayo, near the border of the Department of Caquetá.
The guerrillas killed 29 soldiers and held 60. The soldiers remained under the control of the armed
dissident group for 289 days, until June 15, 1997.
On December 21, 1997 the FARC captured another 18 soldiers in an
attack on a military installation at Patascoy, on the border between the
Departments of Nariño and Putumayo.
In early March, 1998, fierce fighting began between the Army and
the FARC in the jungles of the Caguán in the Department of Caquetá.
The losses to the Army were some of the worst ever suffered.
The FARC also began to fight closer to the capital recently.
In February of 1997, heavy fighting broke out in a mountainous area
30 miles east of Bogotá, near the town of San Juanito.
Approximately twenty soldiers were killed in that fighting.
In addition to engaging in combat with the Army, the FARC also
carry out acts which demonstrate the degree of degradation of the
conflict. For example, after
an armed confrontation in the Department of Cundinamarca on February 18,
1998, members of the FARC placed a grenade in the corpse of a soldier who
had been killed. When the
body was returned to the military base for burial, the grenade exploded
killing two soldiers and injuring five others.
The FARC have announced an interest in discussing possibilities for
a peace negotiation. On July 10, 1998, after he was elected to the presidency but
before his inauguration, Andrés Pastrana met personally with several members
of the national leadership of the FARC, Manuel Marulanda Vélez (known as
Tirofijo) and Jorge Briceño (known as Mono Jojoy), to discuss the
possibility of initiating peace negotiations.
The talks have moved forward since that time, although they were
recently stalled when the FARC announced that they would not continue
until they were convinced that the Government of President Pastrana was
taking effective steps to combat the paramilitaries.
FARC dissidents formed the ELN.
This group won the support of labor sectors in the Department of
elements joined its ranks as did a number of Catholic priests, following
the example set by Father Camilo Torres who joined the movement and died
in a clash with the Army in 1966. The ELN's leader of many years was a
Spanish priest, Father Manuel Pérez, who died in February of 1998.
In recent years, the ELN has placed much emphasis on its attack on
the legitimacy of the democratic process and has kidnapped numerous public
officials and candidates for elections.
The ELN acted against political figures with particular strength in
the months preceding the municipal elections held in October of 1997.
However, even after the elections, the ELN continued to kidnap
mayors and local council members in great numbers.
The ELN has also fought for the nationalization of the gas and oil
industry. As part of this campaign, the ELN has carried out more than
600 dynamite attacks since 1986 against the infrastructure used by the
industry. The ELN now has
approximately 3,000-4,000 members.
The ELN has announced its interest in the search for a negotiated
political resolution of the armed conflict.
President Pastrana met with the jailed representatives of the ELN,
Felipe Torres and Francisco Galan, after his election, to discuss the
peace negotiations. The group
has demanded that a broad National Convention be held to discuss proposals
for peace negotiations with civil society. The ELN recently held several preparatory meetings for that
convention with State acceptance.
The ELN has suggested that, while the National Convention is being
prepared, negotiations should lead to the humanization of the conflict,
including a stricter application of the norms of international
humanitarian law. The ELN
asserts that it currently respects international humanitarian law norms.
However, the practices of the ELN in relation to kidnappings for
extortion, etc.. make it clear that it does not in fact respect those
norms as they are interpreted under international law.
In June 1998, the ELN signed an agreement in which it pledged
compliance with certain minimum rules of international humanitarian law.
This agreement was signed with representatives of the National
Peace Committee for Colombia in Mainz, Germany.
The signing of the agreement followed a dialogue between ELN
leaders and representatives of the Colombian State and Colombian civil
society. The peace talks with
the ELN have advanced in the last few months.
The EPL surfaced in 1965. The
group originally refused to participate in the peace efforts initiated by
President Belisario Betancur. Eventually,
one of its leaders, William Calvo, changed his position and signed a peace
agreement in 1980. Much of
the group’s membership took advantage of a political amnesty offered to
them. However, many of those who reinserted into civilian life
eventually returned to guerrilla warfare when William Calvo was
assassinated on a Bogotá street on November 20, 1985.
The EPL then became a party to the peace agreements concluded
during the Government of President Virgilio Barco.
Subsequently, many of its members have rejoined civilian life and
have formed a political party known as Hope, Peace and Liberty (Esperanza,
Paz y Libertad).
A very high number of reinserted EPL members have been
assassinations are primarily carried out by the dissident faction of the
EPL, which did not sign the peace accords, and by the FARC.
At least in part as a result of the violence against them, some of
the previous members of the armed dissident movement have now allied
themselves with the Colombian State security forces and even with
The history of the formation of the current paramilitary groups is
sketched above. As was noted
above, some paramilitary groups have strong ties to elements of the State´s
public security forces although they often operate with significant
autonomy. In addition, there
exists significant evidence establishing connections between paramilitary
groups and illegal drug trafficking.
In the past several years, illegal paramilitary groups have grown
considerably in numbers, in strength and in control.
There now exist groups at the local, regional and national levels.
For example, paramilitary groups in the Department of Norte de
Santander, particularly in the Ocaña area, distribute fliers announcing
the activities of the Peasant Self-Defense for Northeast Colombia (Autodefensas
Campesinas - Nororiente Colombiano).
Similarly, there exists a paramilitary group which works in the
violent Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, under the guidance of the
well-known Ramón Isaza.
The best-known regional paramilitary organization is known as the
Peasant Self-Defense for Córdoba and Urabá ("ACCU" –
Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá).
This group, which has been sponsored by two brothers, Fidel and
Carlos Castaño, originally operated in the region of Urabá in northwest
Colombia. More recently, the
organization has extended its influence to new areas including the
Departments of Sucre and Bolívar, as well as to northern Antioquia.
The Castaño brothers’ father was kidnapped and killed by the
FARC, and the brothers originally worked with MAS in the early 1980s.
The ACCU apparently has strong ties to the relatively new national
organization referred to as the United Colombian Self-Defense Organization
("AUC" – Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) or the Self-Defense
Organization for Colombia (Autodefensas de Colombia).
The decision to create a national organization for paramilitary
groups was reached in a conference of paramilitary groups which resulted
in the preparation of a document reflecting that decision.
That document, from the “First Summit for Colombian Self-Defense
Groups” stated that the paramilitary groups would join together with the
primary objective of “combating subversion”.
The document sets forth a blueprint for the structure of the
national organization. According
to that plan, the organization would include units for military and
logistic actions, for intelligence and promotion.
Since that time, the paramilitary organization has held additional
conferences and has published other position papers.
Numerous violent activities and massacres have been attributed to
this national organization. According
to the documents published by the organization itself, the group is now
capable of moving its forces from one area of the country to another in
order to carry out attacks and to take control over new areas of the
Other Factors contributing to the Violent Situation
The Drug Trade
Despite its anti-drug campaigns, including record fumigations of
drug crops in 1997,
Colombian territory produces one of the largest illicit drug crops in the
world. According to Colombian
National Police statistics, 50,000 hectares of Colombian land support coca
crops. Other estimates are even higher.
The drug trade is inherently violent, because it involves
activities outside of the boundaries of the law which include the handling
of large amounts of money. Because the norms and mechanisms of the law do not apply to
these activities, the disputes which inevitably arise are also resolved
illegally, usually with violence.
In addition, those involved in the drug trade must constantly seek
to protect themselves and their business from the scrutiny of the law.
They use their capacity to commit acts of violence as the primary
means of obtaining this end. At
the same time, using the threat of violence, they engage in acts of
bribery and extortion of public officials, introducing extreme levels of
corruption into the State entities which must deal with the trade.
Thus, the State is affected, either through violence against its
agents or through their corruption.
In this way, drug trafficking agents and the business itself bring
levels of violence and corruption which are intolerable and which threaten
the very social, political and economic fabric of the country. In
addition, the money which the State must place into the fight against
drugs might otherwise be used to strengthen State programs addressing the
needs of the poor. The diversion of these funds contributes to the situation of
social and economic inequality which, in turn, often leads to additional
The Commission reported in its 1996 Annual Report that 26,710
persons suffered violent deaths in Colombia in 1996.
Of those, approximately 3,600 persons were killed for political or
These statistics are comparable to those given for other recent
years. The Commission thus
notes that the vast majority of violent acts committed in Colombia do not
have direct political causes or implications. The State does not bear responsibility for the majority of
these acts, which therefore do not constitute human rights violations.
However, the extent and the nature of the acts committed as common
crimes are no less horrendous.
Accepted statistics show that the murder rate in Colombia has
reached approximately 89.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants annually.
This murder rate is the highest in Latin America and is almost nine
times higher than the murder rate in the United States.
In its observations, the Colombian State provided a slightly
different, although equally alarming, number.
The State noted that National Police sources placed the homicide
rate at 67 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Colombia also has the highest rate of kidnappings in the world.
In fact, almost half of the kidnappings which occur in the world
take place in Colombia.
In 1996, the National Police Office of Criminal Investigations
reported 1,436 kidnappings. Statistics provided by one non-governmental organization
showed that 1,693 kidnappings occurred in 1997.
The actual kidnapping rate is undoubtedly much higher, because
these statistics must rely on reports or complaints regarding kidnappings.
In many cases, individuals affected by kidnappings do not report
this crime with the hope that the release of the victim will be easier if
they do not contact State authorities.
Approximately 40% of kidnappings are committed by armed dissident
Many of the kidnappings carried out by the armed dissident groups
have the purpose of extorting a ransom payment. The Commission will
discuss, in the Chapter on violence and violations of international human
rights and international humanitarian law, the application of
international law to these acts. However,
it may be noted here that international humanitarian law in no way
supports the commission of such crimes, which may not be considered to
constitute a legitimate part of the armed conflict. It is therefore not inappropriate to refer to these types of
kidnappings, for ransom, as part of this section on common crime even when
they are committed by armed dissident groups.
The high violent crime rate also has economic implications, since
significant private and public resources are diverted away from other more
beneficial uses to protection. The
private sector has also spent an increasing amount of money on kidnapping
ransom payments. Government
statistics suggest that the private sectors lost more than 800 million
dollars as a result of kidnappings, extortion and theft between 1990 and
The Commission wishes to emphasize the relation which exists
between the violence relating to common crime and human rights violations.
It has been suggested that improvements in the human rights
situation would not have much of an impact on the overall situation of
violence in Colombia, given that the majority of the violence relates to
common crime and not to human rights violations involving State
Commission does not share this view.
When State agents and the State itself are responsible for violent
acts in violation of human rights, committed under the guise of official
authority, common crimes where State responsibility is not present are
also more likely to be prevalent. When its agents and collaborators commit illegitimate violent
acts, the State permits and even participates in the creation of a culture
of violence. Laws and norms
serve in a society to mold human behavior towards compliance with those
norms, through a system of disincentives and punishment for those who
disobey. The State, through
its agents, is charged with enforcing those laws and norms.
When State agents fail to respect the law which they are expected
to enforce, society as a whole is encouraged to disregard the rule of law.
In addition, when State agents become involved in violations of the
law and human rights, their attention is drawn away from the enforcement
of the law. Common criminals
benefit from this diversion of resources which allows them to carry out
violent acts with impunity. Also,
the structure of impunity which must be created to avoid reprisals against
State actors who commit human rights violations benefits all of those who
act criminally in the society. When
the investigative and judicial powers of the State are weakened in order
to provide protection for those committing human rights violations, the
State faces serious difficulties in bringing common criminals to justice.
The Commission thus considers that if violations committed with
State responsibility are curbed, an improvement in the overall situation
of crime and violence in Colombia may
reasonably be expected to follow.
The Socio-Economic Situation
Of all the Latin American countries, with the exception of Brazil,
Colombia experienced the greatest economic growth over the last 35 years.
In the 1980s, Colombia had the highest growth in all of South
America. Even during this
high growth, however, severe social and economic inequalities have
existed, including the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small
percentage of the population.
According to figures from 1991 cited by the World Bank, the lowest
10% of the population holds 1.3% of income in the country.
Another study, analyzing figures from 1992, noted similarly that
the richest 10% of the population in Colombia earns 41.7 times what the
poorest 10% of the population earns.
This report will address in greater depth the economic and social
rights situation in Colombia in the Chapter which specifically addresses
that subject. However, the
Commission notes that the inequities, which have persisted despite
economic development and growth, have been a constant source of conflict
in Colombia. Nonetheless, it
should also be noted that countries with similar or greater wealth
disparities have not suffered from the same type of conflicts.
It should also be noted that state spending on social programs
which would serve to ameliorate the problems created by poverty and
economic inequalities is often shifted away from such programs as a result
of the cost of fighting the different forces which challenge the State.
Approximately 4% of the Gross Domestic Product was spent on the
internal conflict during 1996.
It is estimated that the armed forces and the National Police
receive approximately 21.4% of the State’s income from taxes.
Similarly, private spending by both rich and poor is diverted from
more productive uses by the current level of violence in Colombia.
For example, one woman from a poor neighborhood in Medellín
stated, when interviewed by the Commission, that she could not lift her
family out of poverty, because she was forced to spend a significant
portion of her earnings on funerals and burials of family members who were
killed. The economic
difficulties faced by many Colombians thus may be seen as both a cause and
an effect of the internal armed conflict and of the other violence which
reigns in Colombia.
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN COLOMBIA
The human rights situation in Colombia presents certain positive
aspects which the Commission must consider in its analysis.
As the Commission has noted in its previous reports and in the
press release issued upon the conclusion of its on-site visit, there exist
in Colombia numerous institutions and State offices devoted to the
protection and promotion of human rights, the majority of which are
engaged in a serious and continuous effort to improve the human rights
situation in Colombia. As the
Commission has previously noted, institutions of this nature should be
given the necessary support, both from the Government and from civil
society, so that they may carry out their work even more effectively and
The Commission draws attention, for example, to the work of the
Human Rights Unit in the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic
(Fiscalía General de la Nación).
This body has succeeded in making some progress in combating
impunity in cases of human rights violations and in overcoming the
obstacles which have arisen in this context.
The Commission also attaches importance to the program for the
protection of human rights workers and other threatened persons.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Human Rights (Consejería
Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos), the human rights office in the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores), the
1290 Commission (Comisión 1290) and the Office of the Human Rights
Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) also deserve recognition as
institutions engaged in serious and committed work in favor of human
In addition, the Commission notes the degree of organization which
exists in civil society in Colombia.
There exist non-governmental organizations dedicated to work in
almost every imaginable area of possible interest to the Colombian
population. Many such
organizations work actively and continuously to better the human rights
situation in Colombia through education, legal peaceful protest, the
formulation of complaints before domestic and international legal systems
as well as other means. These
organizations and the rest of civil society speak openly and without
restriction regarding the issues which face Colombians.
Many of these organizations have increasingly manifested their
interest in obtaining peace in Colombia and have recognized the importance
of the defense of human rights as a necessary condition for achieving that
peace and for overcoming the violence which plagues Colombia.
Their contribution necessarily improves the possibilities for
improvements in the human rights situation and for peace in their country.
Since his inauguration as President, Andrés Pastrana has taken
numerous courageous steps to push forward the peace process in Colombia. The Commission commends the President for this important
effort which is of crucial importance for the future of Colombia.
This body expresses its hope that the conversations begun with such
seriousness and dedication continue forward and that lasting peace is
achieved in Colombia. The
Commission notes, however, that the human rights problems identified in
this Report have not abated in recent months.
They should be treated as a priority concern for the new Government
Press Communique No. 20/97, Annual Report of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights 1997, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.98, Doc. 7 rev., April
13, 1998, at 1117.
See Gonzalo Sánchez, Dony Meertens, Bandoleros, gamonales y
campesinos: El caso de la Violencia en Colombia, 1985, at 42.
its observations regarding this Report, the Colombian State offered a
slightly different classification of the different categories of
The State suggested the following classification of the existing
types of violence: 1) Violence originating in common crime; 2) Violence
in daily life; 3) Violence of a political nature; 4) Violence caused by
See Estanislao Zuleta, Colombia: Violencia, Democracia y Derechos
See José Noé Ríos and Daniel García-Peña, Building
Tomorrow's Peace: A Strategy for National Reconociliation, Report by the
Peace Exploration Committee, September 9, 1997; Washington Post,
"New Peace Council Faces Daunting Task," April 5, 1998;
Alfredo Rangel, Conference in Melgar, Tolima during the Seminar/Workshop
"El estado del conflicto político armado y su solución negociada,"
November 27, 1996.
See Washington Post, "New Peace Council Faces Daunting
Task," April 5, 1998.
According to Colombian National Police and United States statistics,
Colombia fumigated more than 48,000 hectares of illicit crops in 1997.
"Colombia, primera en hoja de coca," El Tiempo, January 21,
información suministrada por el Estado, el país invierte cerca de mil
millones de dolares anuales sólo para enfrentar el narcotráfico.
Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 1996, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.95,
Doc. 7 rev., March 14, 1997, at 651.
It should be noted, of course, that the State may be responsible for
non-political violent acts.
Whenever State agents carry out illegitimate acts to the harm of
fundamental rights, under the guise of their official authority, they
incur in State responsibility regardless of the "political" or
"human rights" nature of those acts.
State responsibility also may attach to non-political crimes
committed by private individuals where the State fails to seek to
prevent or fails to react to those crimes.
On the other hand, the State is of course not responsible for all
As was mentioned above and will be discussed further throughout
this report, many actors contribute to the violent situation in
Colombia, and the State does not bear responsibility for all of the
See Latin American Weekly Report, March 4, 1997, citing World
See "A. Latina, paraíso del secuestro," El Tiempo,
October 27, 1995.
See "El año del secuestro," El Tiempo, January 25,
statistics prepared by Free Country Foundation (Fundación País Libre).
See Statistics of the National Police Office of Criminal
See World Bank World Development Report 1997, "The State in
a Changing World," at 223.
See Latin American Weekly Report, 4 March 1997, citing Luis
Felipe Jiménez and Nora Ruedi, "Rasgos estilizados de la
distribución del ingreso y de sus determinantes en algunos países de
See "El costo de la guerra," El Tiempo, March 11, 1998.
 See Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, Colombia, derechos humanos y derecho humanitario 1996, at 55.