133. Armed dissident groups in Colombia also engage in torture.
According to statistics provided to the Commission, members of armed dissident groups
tortured 21 individuals in 1996 and 23 in 1995.( 88 )
The acts of torture committed by these groups constitute approximately 15% of the total
number of acts of torture which took place in 1996.( 89
) In almost all of the cases involving these groups, the torture victim is found dead. The
statistics regarding the incidence of torture are thus based largely on the number of
bodies found dead with signs of torture.
134. The Commission notes that international law prohibits the use of
torture absolutely and in all circumstances. As noted above, Protocol II specifically
forbids, in all circumstances, the cruel treatment of individuals held under the control
of the armed parties. The infliction of torture is a particularly serious violation of
9. Acts of Perfidy
135. International humanitarian law prohibits, in all armed conflicts,
the killing, wounding or capture of an adversary by resort to acts of perfidy.
Nonetheless, armed dissident groups in Colombia occasionally engage in such acts.
According to the accepted definition found in Article 37(1) of Protocol I, perfidy refers
to acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled
to protection under the rules of international law, with intent to betray that confidence.
136. The Commission has received information regarding a perfidious act
committed by the ELN against Venezuelan soldiers on Venezuelan territory on October 31,
1994. Several Venezuelan soldiers had come forward to assist what they thought were
victims of a highway accident, but in fact were members of the ELN who had feigned the
accident. As the soldiers approached the scene, armed dissidents attacked them with
explosives and machine guns. Three soldiers were killed.
137. A similar incident occurred on March 13, 1996 in La Paz,
Department of Cesar when a Police patrol sought to register and carry away the cadaver of
a person who had been kidnapped several weeks before. The FARC used the body to prepare an
ambush of the Police patrol, which resulted in injury to five Police agents.
138. The FARC committed a particularly horrifying act of perfidy on
February 18, 1998. After an armed confrontation occurred between the FARC and the Army in
Fómeque, Department of Cundinamarca, members of that armed dissident group concealed a
grenade in the genitalia of an Army officer who was killed during the fighting. After the
confrontation, the Army evacuated the dead bodies in a helicopter. When the bodies were
removed from the helicopter at a military base, the grenade exploded, mutilating the
corpse and killing two soldiers and injuring five more.
10. Attacks on Civilian Objects
139. Armed dissident groups frequently attack objects which would
normally be considered civilian in nature, such as cars, buses, stores and residences.
Although a civilian object may become a legitimate military target in certain cases, the
information received by the Commission indicates that these groups generally attack these
objects without having verified whether they were, at the time, making an effective
contribution to military action, thereby losing their protection against attack. Armed
dissident groups therefore act in a manner incompatible with the norms of international
humanitarian law as a result of these attacks.
140. It is reported that armed dissident groups set fire to
approximately 300 vehicles in 1996, including buses, trucks and taxis.( 90 ) For example, a group of armed men, apparently members of the
stopped several buses carrying members of the Scout Association of Colombia on July 5,
1997. The group of scouts included 140 children and young people who had taken part in a
Jamboree. The dissidents ordered the passengers to abandon the buses and then proceeded to
douse the vehicles with gasoline and set them on fire.
141. These groups also attack electric towers and oil and gas
pipelines. As previously noted, because these facilities have "dual-uses" during
hostilities, they may not always enjoy immunity from attack as presumptively civilian
objects. However, in order to be lawfully attacked, the object in question must meet the
test of a military objective in the circumstances ruling at the time of the attack. That
is, the object must make an effective contribution to military action and its destruction
must offer a "definite military advantage." Even in those cases where such
objects may legitimately be attacked, international humanitarian law requires the attacker
to take precautions to ensure that collateral damage to the civilian population is
minimized and to cancel an attack if the collateral damage expected would be excessive in
relation to the clear-cut advantage anticipated by the target's destruction or
142. Although the Commission does not have sufficient information to
adequately analyze all of the attacks by armed dissident groups on electric towers and oil
and gas pipelines, the Commission believes, based on their sheer numbers, that many of
these attacks may not have complied with the strict standards of international
humanitarian law. The Commission understands that armed dissident groups, particularly the
ELN, carried out 65 and 58 pipeline bombings in 1997 and 1996 respectively.(
91 ) According to this same information, the ELN has attacked
pipelines more than 600 times since 1986, releasing many gallons of oil.( 92 ) Most of these pipelines are owned or operated by large multinational
enterprises, such as British Petroleum, among others. The Commission has not received
information which would enable it to assess the degree to which the civilian population
has been affected by each of these attacks, which would presumably result in considerable
contamination of drinking water, soil, etc.
143. Nonetheless, the Commission finds it difficult to believe that, in
each such occasion, the oil pipelines constituted a legitimate military objective whose
destruction would offer, in the specific circumstances obtaining at the time of the
attack, a "definite military advantage." Given the ELN's ideology of opposition
to foreign exploitation of Colombian resources, the Commission is of the opinion that the
ELN frequently carries out these attacks as a symbolic political gesture and/or in
retaliation for the non-payment of "war taxes" by these foreign enterprises,
rather than for the purpose of obtaining a military advantage. Some attacks on oil
pipelines can be categorized as clear violations of the norms of international
humanitarian law. The recent attack by the ELN on the Central pipeline in Segovia,
Antioquia, is an example of such a clear violation. The attack on the oil pipeline in that
case resulted in an explosion and fire which killed 46 perons and injured 70 more from the
small village of Machuca. Based on the circumstances of the attack, it is clear that the
armed dissident group did not take the necessary precautions to avoid excessive damage to
the civilian population.
11. Attacks on Health Services
144. Armed dissident groups in Colombia have, on occasion, attacked
medical personnel and medical facilities and vehicles, including vehicles utilized by the
Colombian Red Cross. For example, on August 10, 1995, the FARC fired against an airplane
which displayed the markings of the Colombian Red Cross. The plane carried approximately
30 civilians, including Colombian Red Cross staff. Similarly, in May of 1996, members of
the FARC installed a roadblock in Saravena, Department of Arauca in the area known as
Carunal. During this operation, the members of the armed dissident group attacked a
vehicle of the International Committee of the Red Cross, firing at the tires and the gas
tank. On April 13, 1998, the FARC stole two ambulances in Arauca.
145. International humanitarian law clearly prohibits attacks of this
nature. The intended victims of these attacks on protected objects appear frequently to
have been relief workers and other persons entitled to use the Red Cross emblem. It should
be emphasized that the protection of these persons from acts of violence is based on their
status as civilians and the neutral and impartial nature of their humanitarian activities.
The rendition of such activities to the victims of any armed conflict cannot in any way be
regarded as acts hostile or harmful to any party to the conflict. These are therefore
particularly deplorable and serious infringements of international humanitarian law.
12. Threats and Food and Medicine Blockades
146. Armed dissident groups have sometimes threatened the civilian
population. The Commission has received numerous reports of situations where guerrilla
combatants entered towns and warned inhabitants that they must comply with their
instructions or face violent consequences. Similar threats are often issued to local
governmental authorities. Armed dissident groups also often warn civilians that any
contact with paramilitary groups will trigger violent reprisals.
147. The Commission notes that where these threats rise to the level of
acts or threats "the primary purpose of which is to spread terror," the armed
dissident groups act in contravention of Article 13(2) of Protocol II. In addition, the
threats by armed dissident groups sometimes seek to achieve the forced displacement of
persons out of an area. Acts causing the forced displacement of persons may well
contravene a number of basic principles established in international humanitarian law.
148. The Commission has also received information indicating that armed
dissident groups sometimes impose blockades on food, medicine and supplies. For example,
in September of 1996, guerrilla groups blocked access to the Urabá region of Antioquia
from Medellín. As a result, civilians in the Urabá region suffered shortages of
149. The Commission does not have sufficient information to conclude
that the armed dissident groups have acted in a manner which contravenes the prohibition
against starvation of civilians set forth in Article 14 of Protocol II. The actions of the
armed dissident groups in blocking civilian access to food and medicine are nonetheless of
an extremely serious nature. They violate the spirit of Protocol II which seeks to prevent
the parties from using access to food as a means of controlling civilians and involving
them in the conflict.
13. Forced Displacement and Recruitment of Minors
150. Armed dissident groups are responsible for a significant portion
of the massive forced displacement of persons which occurs in Colombia each year. In
addition, the Commission has received information indicating that the armed dissident
groups continue to recruit minors. The Commission will discuss these issues in Chapters VI
and XIII, which specifically deal with issues relating to forced displacement and
E. VIOLENCE CARRIED OUT BY STATE AGENTS
1. Applicable Legal Norms
151. The State's combined public security forces, namely the Military
Forces and at least some elements of the National Police, act as a party to the internal
armed conflict in Colombia. The Commission thus clarifies that, as to the State's security
forces, the appropriate standards for judging their actions are those derived from both
international human rights and humanitarian law. In analyzing the violent actions of State
agents, the Commission will thus refer to both human rights and humanitarian law in
relation to many situations.
152. The Commission will conduct the analysis in this manner, because,
in many cases, violent actions which constitute human rights violations also constitute
violations of international humanitarian law, when they take place in the context of the
armed conflict. As the Commission noted above, international humanitarian law applies
throughout the national territory in a situation of armed conflict, and much of the
socio-political violence in Colombia relates to the armed conflict. Thus, for example, an
summary execution of a peasant farmer for alleged cooperation with the guerrilla, which
constitutes a violation of the right to life under human rights law, will also involve a
violation of the protections provided to civilians under international humanitarian law,
since the death was related to the armed conflict.
153. In other cases, where human rights law alone does not provide
adequate standards, the Commission will utilize humanitarian law in connection with human
rights law in order to determine whether certain practices are violative of international
law. The Commission generally must employ humanitarian law to inform its interpretation of
human rights law in those cases where death or injury are caused as a result of actual
combat activities, and it is not clear whether the harm caused was arbitrary within the
meaning of the American Convention.
154. Finally, in certain cases, the Commission will apply human rights
law exclusively. The Commission must apply human rights norms alone to those situations
which occur outside of the context of the armed conflict. For example, the alleged use of
excessive force by the police in the detention of persons will generally only require the
application of human rights law norms.
155. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to distinguish between
those acts which occur within the context of the armed conflict and those which occur
outside that context in analyzing the violence in Colombia. The Commission will therefore
treat both types of violent actions in this Section. The Commission will seek to clarify
which norms apply to each type of violent action.
2. Measures Taken by the Colombian State
156. The Commission notes that the number of complaints regarding
violent human rights violations committed by State agents in Colombia, particularly the
Army and the National Police, has decreased continuously over the last several years.
Thus, for example, in a communication directed to then Commander of the Military Forces,
General Manuel José Bonett Locarno, the Procurator Delegate for Human Rights of the
Office of the Procurator General of the Nation noted that it received significantly fewer
complaints in 1997 than in 1996. In 1996, the Procurator Delegate received 2,000
complaints, while complaints numbered only 463 in 1997.( 93
157. This decrease in the number of violent human rights violations
committed by State agents may be attributed in part to the adoption of new policies and
attitudes in the Military Forces and the National Police which are expressed in statements
like the following:
For members of the military, human rights are not conceived as
antagonistic or contradictory to the principles which nourish the State's public security
forces. Their promotion, defense and protection constitute an ethical duty and a legal
obligation necessary for the plain fulfillment of the constitutional mission of the
Military Forces.( 94 )
The Military Forces have also expressed their recognition that,
"any case involving the violation of fundamental rights and liberties constitutes a
grave situation which requires investigation and sanction."( 95 )
158. The State's security forces have also adopted new strategies for
educating their members in human rights law and international humanitarian law. The
Military Forces and the National Police have undertaken and/or participated in numerous
training sessions and seminars relating to the application of human rights and
humanitarian law norms. This training is conducted by experts both within and outside of
the State's security forces. For example, the Military Forces recently carried out a
program with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Colombian Red Cross,
whereby 1,120 members of the Military Forces received training in 28 different
workshop-seminars.( 96 )
159. In addition, the Military Forces have established at least 146
human rights offices in different military installations.( 97
) The State's security forces have also sought to establish a more positive dialogue with
non-governmental organizations by engaging in discussions and meetings with those
organizations which work in human rights and related fields. In this regard, a directive
was issued ordering meetings with non-governmental organizations in all of the military
installations.( 98 ) In compliance with this
directive, the various Brigades of the Army carried out 46 meetings with non-governmental
organizations.( 99 )
160. These initiatives undoubtedly have contributed to the improvement
in the human rights record of the State's security forces. The Commission fully supports
the continued implementation of such measures.
161. Nonetheless, the Commission also expresses its concern regarding
several aspects of the current policies of the State's security forces. In some cases,
there may exist an undue emphasis on creating a law-abiding image for those forces as
opposed to an emphasis on addressing the human rights reality in Colombia.
162. For example, several publications provided by the Military Forces
to the Commission during its on-site visit mention the need to improve the human rights
situation for the purpose of "strengthening the legitimacy and credibility of the
State's security forces at the national level as well as in the international
sphere."( 100 ) These publications suggest that
this action is necessary in order to counteract the "accusations, defamation and
other actions of the violent agents and their political apparatuses, carried out against
the prestige of the institution." (101 ) At the
same time, it is suggested that, "there does not exist a serious human rights or
humanitarian law crisis in Colombia, at least in relation to facts attributable, for
action or omission, to State agents."( 102 )
163. In addition, although current military policy requires regular
reporting and follow-up on cases involving complaints regarding violations of human rights
law and humanitarian law allegedly committed by the Military Forces and armed dissident
groups,( 103 ) the Commission received no
information from the Military Forces regarding the number or status of complaints against
its members. On the other hand, the Commission received from the Military Forces extensive
information regarding alleged violations of international law by armed dissident groups.( 104 ) In fact, it appears that the primary work of
the human rights offices established in military installations involves the collection of
information regarding attacks by armed dissident groups, which are treated by the military
as "human rights violations," rather than addressing abuses committed by members
of the military. During its on-site visit, the Commission received several bound reports
from the Army regarding human rights violations. These publications listed numerous
"violations" by armed dissident groups but listed no abuses by the Army and only
very few by paramilitary groups. The Commission notes that, based on all of the
information it has received regarding responsibilities for human rights violations in
Colombia, the Army reports fail to provide an objective or complete portrayal of the human
rights situation. They demonstrate a marked lack of focus on violations committed by the
State's public security forces and the paramilitaries.
164. The publications given to the Commission show a tendency to
downplay alleged violations by the Military Forces or to treat such allegations as a
tactic of the adversary, rather than creating mechanisms to investigate and expose them.
Although the numbers of human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by State
security forces have apparently declined significantly, serious human rights violations
continue to occur. The Commission considers that the implementation of an effective human
rights program in the State's security forces requires maximum transparency in regard to
alleged violations committed by those forces. The effective investigation and sanction of
those violations constitutes the most effective means of achieving the elimination of
violations in the future and of contributing to a lasting improvement in the image and
reality of the role of the security forces in the protection of human rights.
165. In addition, by emphasizing image rather than acceptance and
investigation of alleged human rights violations, the security forces lend credibility to
allegations that they have simply learned that they must not directly carry out violations
of human rights and humanitarian law, because the consequences in the international and
domestic spheres are too great. According to these allegations, the security forces have
thus found it more convenient for their proxies, namely certain paramilitary groups, to
commit and thereby be held responsible for such violations. The Commission will analyze
the issue of the relation between the paramilitaries and the State's security forces in
the next Section in this Chapter concerning the violence attributable to the paramilitary
3. Violations of the Right to Life
a. Statistical Information Regarding Violations of the Right
to Life and Forced Disappearances
166. According to statistics provided by various organizations, State
agents have been responsible, in recent years, for approximately 10-15% of all deaths and
disappearances, where the authorship is known, carried out for socio-political reasons,
outside of combat-related activities. In 1995, State agents allegedly killed or
disappeared approximately 154 individuals outside of combat, while the total number of
individuals killed or disappeared as a result of socio-political violence not directly
related to combat, where the author was identified, was 982.( 105 ) In 1996, State agents allegedly killed or disappeared approximately
126 individuals outside of combat while the total number of individuals killed or
disappeared as a result of socio-political violence not directly related to combat, where
the author was identified, was 1,198.( 106 ) In
1997, State agents were held responsible for approximately 59 socio-political killings
outside of combat.( 107 ) The majority of these
killings are attributed to the Colombian Army, with the National Police following as the
author of the second greatest number of killings.( 108
167. In addition, according to these statistics, State agents are
responsible for the death of a significant number of persons each year as a result of
combat-related activities. For example, in 1995, State agents were allegedly responsible
for the deaths of 536 persons as a result of combat-related activities.( 109 ) In 1996, the number of killings by State agents occurring in combat
presumably increased to 637.( 110 )
168. As with the analysis of violence attributable to armed dissident
groups, these statistics provide information regarding the number of violent deaths
directly attributable to State agents for socio-political reasons but do not provide clear
information regarding violations of international law by those agents. This lack of
clarity again arises, because the statistics categorize killings only according to their
connection with combat activities.
169. Pursuant to human rights law, a violation of the right to life
occurs where the victim is arbitrarily deprived of his life. Not all killings occurring
outside of combat activities necessarily imply arbitrary deprivations of life. Thus, for
example, deaths which occur as a result of police actions in the defense of the public
order do not constitute violations of the right to life where they are carried out with
proper respect for proportionality and in conformity with the law. Also, in those cases
occurring in the context of an armed conflict, humanitarian law provides standards for
determining whether a loss of life is arbitrary. As noted above, pursuant to international
humanitarian law norms, not all deaths occurring outside of combat-related activities
automatically constitute violations of international law. On the other hand, as was also
noted above, certain acts carried out during combat-related activities may, in fact,
constitute arbitrary deprivations of life and may violate international humanitarian law
and human rights norms.( 111 )
170. The Commission has received numerous complaints and reports
regarding violence carried out by State agents in violation of international human rights
and humanitarian law. Despite the lack of clear statistics, the Commission nonetheless
finds it possible to conclude that State agents have engaged in violations of the right to
life and other human rights. Many of these violations have occurred in the context of the
armed conflict and also imply violations of international humanitarian law.
Masacres of Civilians
171. The Commission has received information indicating that members of
the State's security forces commit massacres of members of the civilian population.
According to statistics provided to the Commission, State agents committed four of the 48
massacres carried out in 1995.( 112 ) Although the
overall number of massacres has increased significantly since 1995, State agents are being
held responsible for fewer massacres. The Army was allegedly responsible for 2% of the 185
massacres committed in 1997 with social and political motivation.( 113 )
172. The Colombian Army has been held responsible for the massacre of
at least seven individuals in Puerto Patiño, Aguachica, Department of Cesar. This
massacre took place on January 15, 1995, when several armed members of the paramilitary
group known as "Los Masetos" entered the town of Puerto Patiño with a list in
their hands. They called out the names of nine persons and then carried them away. The
bodies of four victims were found on the road between the village and a nearby military
base. The bodies of three more were soon discovered on another road.
173. In February of 1995, the police commander in Aguachica stated that
the paramilitary group presumably responsible for the massacre was directly sponsored by
the State's public security forces, in particular by the commander of the local military
base, Major Jorge Alberto Lazaro Vergel. According to the police commander, Major Lazaro
had told him, in the presence of a DAS officer, that he had a list of suspects who were to
be located and killed by paramilitary forces. A Judicial Police investigation concluded
that the paramilitary groups operating in the area functioned under the command of Major
Lazaro. The Judicial Police report also concluded that members of the military worked with
the paramilitary groups in joint operations under the coordination of the Army commander.
An investigation carried out by the Office of the Prosecutor General for Barranquilla also
determined that the Army commander sponsored the paramilitary group responsible for the
massacre at Puerto Patiño and had been involved in the massacre. The Office of the
Prosecutor General ordered his arrest. However, Major Lazaro was subsequently released,
because he was not brought to trial within the time allowed by Colombian legislation.
174. Members of the Army were also allegedly involved in the massacre
of 18 people perpetrated in Chigorodó, in the Urabá region of Antioquia on August 12,
1995. The massacre was carried out at the El Aracatazo bar in the El Bosque neighborhood
of Chigorodó. Government investigations linked the group which carried out the massacre
to demobilized EPL guerrillas with ties to the Army's Voltigeros Battalion. The Voltigeros
Battalion operates under the command of the XVII Brigade. Further confirmation of Army
participation in the massacre came from Colonel Carlos Alfonso Velásquez, then second in
command of the XVII Brigade. In early 1996, Colonel Velásquez sent a letter to then Army
commander, General Manuel José Bonnett, in which he accused the command of the XVII
Brigade of failing to take steps to combat paramilitaries in Urabá. In that letter, he
suggested that Army members were involved in the Chigorodó massacre.
175. Members of the XVII Brigade are also allegedly responsible for the
massacre of four persons in the village of San José de Apartadó, Antioquia on September
7, 1996. Villagers who witnessed the massacre allege that members of the Army appeared in
San José de Apartadó at approximately 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and began to kick in
the villagers' doors and to carry out certain persons. María Eugenia Usuga David, a
19-year old woman who was four months pregnant, was killed in the attack. Three others
were also killed. The Army allegedly threatened other residents of the village after the
attack suggesting that they had been lucky not to be killed. The residents told State
authorities that an official military watch stood immediately next to the village at the
time of the attack. Approximately eight days before the attack, the watch had been
removed, but a new group of soldiers had arrived to carry out the watch approximately 3
days before the massacre. The massacre, along with other violent incidents and threats, in
San José de Apartadó led to the forced displacement of the entire population of the
village. Persons from smaller hamlets surrounding San José de Apartadó, fleeing from
threats and violence allegedly committed by joint military and paramilitary operations,
subsequently took up residence in the town.
176. The Commission has received information about another massacre
allegedly committed by the Colombian Army in a small community on the road to
the municipality of Valparaiso, Department of Caquetá. According to this information,
approximately 50 armed men dressed in military uniforms entered the community at 11:00 am
on April 5, 1997. The men captured four individuals. The bodies of two of the detained
persons were found later that same day. No further information was obtained regarding the
other two persons, although another two unidentified corpses were found on the same day in
the nearby municipality of Morelia. The community of Solita prepared a letter on April 7,
1998 alleging that members of the Army, under the command of an Army captain, not
paramilitaries, had carried out the massacre. They stated that witnesses had recognized
the captain responsible for the Diosa del Chaira patrol as a participant in the massacre.
177. As the Commission has noted, the right to life remains protected
even in time of armed conflicts, and civilians who do not or no longer directly
participate in hostilities are always protected from attack. Massacres of civilians thus
constitute grave violations of the right to life. In addition, where massacres occur in
the context of the armed conflict, they also entail violations of international
c. Disproportionate and Indiscriminate Attacks Resulting in
Civilian Loss of Life and Damages to Civilian Objects
178. The Commission has received credible information indicating that
the States public security forces, particularly the Army, carry out disproportionate
and indiscriminate attacks, resulting in civilian loss of life and damages to civilian
objects. According to this information, some of these attacks are land-based while others
179. The Commission has received a significant number of complaints
indicating that the Army attacks residences, plazas, schools or other similar objects and
areas where it expects to find members of armed dissident groups. According to the
complaints, the Army carries out these attacks indiscriminately by firing their weapons at
and throwing explosives into the residences or other areas without any apparent concern
for civilians whom it knows or should know are also present within the structure or
180. The Commission recognizes that the presence of members of armed
dissident groups in a home, plaza, school or similar area may convert those structures and
areas into legitimate military objectives. However, the Commission expresses several
concerns regarding the complaints it has received.
181. First, the Army may only attack an object that meets the test of a
military objective. Thus, for example, the Army may not attack a house on the basis of
mere suspicion that its usual inhabitants are members of armed dissident groups or that,
on the given occasion, armed dissidents have entered the house to eat or sleep. Before
attacking, the Army must carry out sufficient information-gathering to be adequately
assured of the military nature of the objective. The Commission has received complaints
indicating that the Army does not always take such necessary precautions.
182. Second, as the Commission has explained above, the legitimacy of a
military target does not provide unlimited license to attack it. The Army must take
measures to protect civilians to ensure that the attack will not result in excessive
collateral damage to civilians and civilian objects. Thus, where armed dissidents have
entered a home or other civilian structure, the Army must consider the expected damage to
civilians which will be caused by attacking those objects. Where civilian casualties would
be disproportionate in relation to "concrete and direct military advantage" to
be obtained, the Army simply may not carry out the attack. The Commission has received
complaints indicating that members of the Army sometimes attack homes and other structures
ignoring this principle of proportionality.
183. For example, on May 5, 1996, in the municipality of Dabeiba,
Department of Antioquia, a group of armed dissidents approached the home of María Celsa
Pernía y Bernardo Domicó and demanded permission to sleep there. At 5:30 am, the Army
attacked the home with gunshots and a grenade. The attack resulted in the death of María
Celsa and her son Eduardo as well as three armed dissidents. Two more children, ages 11
and 6, were injured by the grenade and were taken to the local hospital.
184. Evidence gathered by the Office of Special Investigations of the
Office of the Procurator General showed that the two civilians who were killed died from
gunshot wounds delivered at less than a meter of distance. The Army thus either made no
distinction at all, even where possible, between civilians and armed dissidents during its
attack or carried out extrajudicial executions of the civilians after the attack had been
completed. Either scenario presents a grave violation of the right to life, as guaranteed
by human rights and humanitarian law.
185. Non-governmental organizations indicate that, in 1995, the Army
was responsible for indiscriminate machine gun attacks from aircraft in three different
areas of the country, resulting in the deaths of two civilians and injuries to seven more.( 114 ) Those organizations indicate that, during 1996,
four complaints of indiscriminate aerial attacks by the Military Forces were received.( 115 ) The Commission received information about
similar complaints regarding attacks in 1997.
186. For example, from December, 1996 to February, 1997, the Colombian
Military Forces undertook large-scale military operations in the Riosucio region of the
Chocó Department. Residents from that area have alleged that, as part of these
operations, the Military Forces fired indiscriminately from airplanes and helicopters at
civilians and civilian buildings. The violence taking place during this period resulted in
the massive forced displacement of persons from this region of the Chocó to the
Antioquian portion of the Urabá region.
187. In September and October of 1997, Colombian public security forces
conducted a sustained joint air-land operation against the FARC, primarily in the Yari
region of the Meta, Guaviare and Caquetá Departments. Those living in the area denounced
indiscriminate attacks from the air against the indigenous communities in the Department
of Caquetá. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman subsequently confirmed that there
had been indiscriminate bombings by the military in the indigenous communities of
Piratapuyo and Tucano.
188. Similarly, on February 10, 1995, machine guns were fired from
eight helicopters, five planes and a larger plane, at objects in Puerto Trujillo, in the
municipality of Puerto Gaitán, Department of Meta. The attack caused the death of one
civilian and injuries to several others. Witnesses stated that armed dissident groups were
not in the area on the date of the attack.
189. The Commission notes that indiscriminate attacks are prohibited by
international humanitarian law. Thus, all deaths resulting from indiscriminate attacks are
necessarily incompatible with international humanitarian law and also constitute an
arbitrary deprivation of life. As a result, they also constitute violations of the right
to life protected in Article 4 of the Convention.
[ Table of Contents
| Previous |
88 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 8, 63. It should be noted that the statistics for
1996 include those acts of torture committed by armed dissident groups against members of
"marginal groups" while the statistics for 1995 do not.
89 ) See id.
90 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 70.
91 ) See
Mario Murillo and Steven Dudley, Oil in a Time of War, NACLA Report on the Americas,
March-April 1998; 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 70.
92 ) See
Murillo and Dudley.
93 ) See
Communication from Jesús Orlando Gómez López, Delegate Procurator for Human Rights, to
General Manuel José Bonett Locarno, Commander General of the Military Forces, November
94 ) General
Command of the Military Forces, Culture of Respect and Promotion of Human Rights and
International Humanitarian Law in the Military Forces, at 2 [hereinafter Culture of
95 ) General
Command of the Military Forces, Permanent Directive No. 001 of 1995, at 6.
96 ) See id.
97 ) See
Culture of Respect, at 7.
98 ) See
Directive No. 19198.
99 ) See
Culture of Respect, at 10.
100 ) Id.
101 ) General
Command of the Military Forces of Colombia, General Strategy of the Military Forces of the
Republic of Colombia: 1997, at 55.
102 ) Culture of
Respect, at 4.
103 ) See,
e.g., General Command of the Military Forces, Permanent Directive No. 001 of 1995, at
10; Annex A, at 2.
104 ) See
National Defense Ministry D-2 Department, Infractions of International Humanitarian Law
and Human Rights, October, 1997; National Defense Ministry, Human Rights Groups, December,
1997; Public Report of the XVII Brigade Regarding the Human Rights Situation in Urabá,
Carepa, Antioquia, December 1, 1997.
105 ) See
1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 4.
106 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 6.
107 ) See
Balance Sheet, at 4.
108 ) See
Balance Sheet, at 4; 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 10.
109 ) See
1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 4.
110 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 6.
111 ) The
Commission notes that, in contrast to the situation for members of armed dissident groups,
State agents who cause legitimate deaths in the course of military and police actions
generally will not be subject to prosecution by the domestic courts. State agents act
within the law, even when they cause death or physical harm, so long as their acts comply
with domestic norms and with the requirements of international human rights and
112 ) See
1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 23.
113 ) See
Balance Sheet, at 6.
114 ) See
1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 55.
115 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 73.