d. Military Roadblocks Resulting in Civilian Loss of Life
190. The Commission has received information indicating that the
State's public security forces have sometimes fired upon and killed civilians in the
course of installing and maintaining military roadblocks. The road blocks are generally
installed because of information suggesting that there is a guerrilla presence in the
area. However, the members of the security forces who man the roadblocks have fired upon
and killed civilians. There usually does not exist information to suggest that the
security forces had sufficient reason to believe that they were actually firing upon
members of armed dissident groups.
191. In August of 1994, an Army battalion installed a military
roadblock on the road exiting Villavicencio. Two youths, ages 12 and 19, were killed at or
near this roadblock. The State's contentious-administrative jurisdiction ordered the
payment of damages to the victims' relatives, based on the actions of its agents.
192. Such an incident occurred again in early 1998. On January 24,
1998, an Army battalion received information regarding the alleged presence of armed
dissidents in the municipality of Villeta, Department of Cundinamarca. The commander of
the battalion ordered the unit to install a military roadblock on the road between Villeta
and Utica. The Army unit subsequently fired against a group of cars and motorcycles which
passed through the area, killing five civilians and injuring five more.
193. According to the original version presented by the Army, its
soldiers were attacked as they were setting up the roadblock at approximately 9:45 p.m..
The soldiers then responded with their own fire, and the crossfire resulted in the deaths
and injuries. At the same time, the Army suggested that the soldiers might have committed
errors resulting in the death of the civilians. The Army further suggested that the deaths
resulted from "confusion which occurred in the middle of the night."
194. However, eyewitnesses state that the vehicles which were attacked
carried only unarmed civilians and that no roadblock was visible. This version of the
events suggests that the Army unit simply attacked the passing vehicles without any
warning and without verifying that the vehicles contained any members of armed dissident
groups. The military justice system subsequently issued preventive detention orders
against three Army officials involved in the incident.
195. The Commission considers this type of incident to be extremely
serious. The Commission notes that, even when members of the Military Forces set up
roadblocks based on information indicating that members of armed dissident groups are in
the area, they may not, under any circumstances, attack vehicles carrying only civilians.
They must take precautions to verify that their target is indeed a legitimate military
objective. By assuming that certain vehicles carry armed dissidents and then attacking
them, the Military Forces may become responsible for ensuing civilian casualties and
violations of the right to life and physical integrity of these persons under human rights
and humanitarian law.
e. Extrajudicial Executions
i. Extrajudicial Executions Occurring in the Context of the
196. According to information received by the Commission, State agents,
particularly members of the Army and the National Police, have committed numerous
extrajudicial executions over the last several years in abuse of their authority. These
extrajudicial executions often target leaders of social organizations and other persons
accused of aiding or supporting armed dissident groups.
197. These extrajudicial executions are frequently selective -- i.e.
members of the security forces specifically seek out the victim, even by name, before
killing him. The Commission has received specific and credible information and
documentation indicating that the Military Forces have carried out intelligence activities
to identify persons who allegedly provide support to the guerrillas for this purpose.
198. The Commission has reviewed, for example, intelligence materials
provided by the State's security forces to the Regional Prosecutor for Bogotá in Cause
9668. These intelligence reports include specific names of individuals allegedly involved
in support networks for armed dissident groups. At least one report specifically
recommends that the information contained therein be used to execute military operations,
"taking into account the information about the identity of the apparatuses which the
[armed dissident] organization counts on for its support." Regarding many of the
individuals named, the reports explain that they provide food or medicine to the armed
dissident groups. Other individuals are simply described as being related to members of
the dissident groups, as serving as local elected authorities or as working with the
Communist newspaper. The reports state, in reference to one locale, that "the
totality of the population supports the organization."
199. The reports do not make any suggestion that the names gathered
through intelligence activity should be turned over to prosecuting officials. It is not
therefore unreasonable to assume that the operations to be carried out against the
individuals might include attacks on their lives. Yet, according to the information in the
reports themselves, these individuals have done nothing to forfeit their protection as
civilians against direct attack or other acts of violence.
200. The Commission has found that, after carrying out attacks against
civilians who allegedly collaborate with armed dissident groups, the State's security
forces sometimes suggest to the press and to the public that the executed individuals were
members of armed dissident groups killed in combat. The Commission concluded that the
National Police acted in this manner in regards to the execution of six individuals on
January 23, 1991, in the community of Las Palmeras, municipality of Mocoa, Departament of
Putumayo. The Commission found that the National Police carried out extrajudicial
executions of these individuals, who included the local schoolteacher and several
carpenters who were working on the schoolhouse. The Commission concluded that, after the
extrajudicial executions took place, the Police burned the civilian clothing of the
victims and placed poor-fitting military-style uniforms on the bodies. The Commission
decided to bring this specific case, processed before the Commission as case 11.237,
before the Inter-American Court.
201. A similar incident may have occurred in Segovia, Department of
Antioquia, on March 10, 1997. Members of the Army brought several dead bodies to the area
military base on that day, including that of Nazareno de Jesús Rivera. Subsequently, the
Army also announced that the body of Jaime Ortiz Londoño was included in the group. The
Army suggested that the dead individuals belonged to armed dissident groups and had been
killed in combat. Yet, the Commission has received credible information indicating that
Mr. Rivera and Mr. Londoño were civilians dedicated to human rights and labor law work
and did not directly participate in the hostilities.
202. The Commission is extremely concerned by this information
indicating that the State security forces carry out extrajudicial executions of
individuals believed to support the guerrilla based on their presence in an area or their
supposed indirect participation in hostilities. As the Commission has noted above, such
individuals have not lost their civilian immunity from attack. Thus, attacks against them
resulting in the loss of life are clearly incompatible with international humanitarian law
and constitute grave violations of the right to life guaranteed in Article 4 of the
203. The Commission has also received information indicating that the
State's security forces intentionally carry out attacks on civilians who are found at or
near areas where the armed dissident groups have recently made a presence. Thus, Army
troops sometimes enter and attack towns after armed dissidents have passed through them or
attack individuals in schools or homes located in the vicinity of armed confrontations
between the Army and armed dissident groups.
204. For example, according to information received by the Commission,
the FARC entered into the municipality of Uribe, Department of Meta on September 24, 1997
and attacked the police station. After an exchange of fire concluded at 6:00 a.m., the
town remained peaceful for approximately one hour. Then, at 7:00 a.m., a Military Forces
airplane arrived and began to machine gun the outskirts of the town. At 7:40 a.m., an
explosive fell one block away from the Municipal Government Office, killing one nine-year
old child and injuring 13 persons.
205. The Commission emphasizes that even the presence of enemy
combatants within civilian-populated areas, such as the municipality of
deprive the population, or objects not used for hostile purposes, of their civilian
character and immunity from attack. In addition, even if the Military Forces have reason
to believe that some armed dissidents remain in an area that they had ostensibly left,
they must take appropriate precautions to avoid or minimize damage to civilians in
launching any attack against those dissidents. It appears that, at least in some cases,
the Military Forces have not followed these rules designed to implement the principle of
distinction. Where their failure to do so results in civilian casualties and deaths, these
State agents engage in violations of international humanitarian law and violations of the
right to life and physical integrity of the victims affected by such attacks.
206. The Commission has also received complaints suggesting that after
carrying out military operations against armed dissident groups, State agents have killed
individuals who are injured, who are held under the control of the Military Forces or who
have otherwise fallen hors de combat. Direct attacks against those who have fallen hors
de combat are absolutely prohibited under international humanitarian law. Thus, the
execution of individuals under these circumstances by the State's security forces
constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, even where the original military operation
or attack may have been legitimate. Such executions violate international humanitarian law
and the right to life protected in the American Convention.
ii. Extrajudicial Executions Occurring Outside of the
Context of the Armed Conflict
207. The Commission has also received reliable information indicating
that the State's public security forces, particularly the National Police, are involved in
individual killings which occur outside of the context of the armed conflict. Other
killings by State agents outside of the context of the hostilities are attributed to the
Department of Administrative Security (Departmento Administrativo de Seguridad -
"DAS") and to combined forces working together in anti-kidnapping units known as
the "GAULA" or "UNASE" units.( 116
208. The Commission has received complaints alleging that the National
Police commit extrajudicial executions of individuals who belong to "marginal
groups," such as indigents, street children and prostitutes,( 117 ) or who are believed to be involved in criminal activities. The
Police sometimes engage in this type of violence in the course of what initially were
legitimate crime-fighting operations and activities. In other cases, the Police simply
seek out presumed delinquents or marginal groups for execution.
209. For example, on September 30, 1993, in the San Antonio de Prado
neighborhood in the municipality of Medellín, Department of Antioquia, National Police
agents killed Juan Fernando Vásquez Montes. National Police agents approached on a
motorcycle and began to shoot at Mr. Vásquez and his three companions. In addition to
killing Mr. Vásquez, these shots also left one of his companions with serious injuries.
The Police agents were on duty and utilized an official vehicle when they committed these
violent acts. The reputation of the youths as delinquents apparently served as the
motivation for the attack. On December 15, 1994, the Fifteenth Criminal Court for the
Medellín Circuit convicted the two Police agents who committed the attack and sentenced
them to 33 years of prison.
210. The Commission is currently processing several individual
petitions alleging that National Police agents committed extrajudicial executions in
connection with initially legitimate police actions.( 118
) One such petition alleges that, on February 16, 1993, National Police agents
extrajudicially executed Hernando Osorio Correa in Barranquilla. According to the
petition, Mr. Osorio was injured in a crossfire which occurred when the National Police
broke up a bank robbery. National Police agents then detained Mr. Osorio as he was about
to enter a hospital for treatment, stating that he had been involved in the attempted
robbery. Mr. Osorio's dead body appeared the following day with signs of torture.( 119 )
211. Another petition presented before the Commission alleges that
National Police agents arbitrarily deprived two students of their right to life on January
30, 1996 in Bogotá. According to the petition, the owner of a brick business called the
Police denouncing the presence of the two students and alleging that they sought to obtain
money from him. The petition alleges that Police agents arrived and proceeded to
extrajudicially execute the two youths, Jairo Colmenares Araque and Fernando Avila
Barreto.( 120 )
212. The Commission recently decided and published a case involving the
extrajudicial execution of an individual in the course of a Police operation. In that
case, the intelligence unit ("SIJIN") of the Metropolitan Police for Bogotá
detained Mr. Alvaro Moreno Moreno on January 3, 1991 in an operation in response to an
attack against a Police center known as "Los Libertadores" Center for Immediate
Attention in southeast Bogotá. Several witnesses learned of Mr. Moreno's detention, and
police records also registered the fact. Mr. Moreno's cadaver appeared the following day
with numerous gunshot wounds. The Commission concluded that the Colombian State was
responsible for violations of Articles 1, 4, 7, 8 and 25 of the American Convention.( 121 )
213. In many cases involving alleged extrajudicial executions by
National Police agents, the agents assert that they acted legitimately to stop the
commission of a crime or in self-defense. The Commission recognizes that the National
Police have the right and responsibility to act, and even to use force, to impede crime or
to protect themselves or others. However, the Police are never justified in depriving an
individual of his life based on the fact that he belongs to a "marginal group"
or has been suspected of involvement in criminal activity. Nor may the Police
automatically use lethal force to impede a crime or to act in self-defense. The use of
lethal force in such cases would only be permissible if it were proportionate and
necessary. Killings carried out by the National Police against members of "marginal
groups" and presumed delinquents, as well as those which result from an excessive use
of force, constitute arbitrary deprivations of life in violation of Article 4 of the
4. Forced Disappearances
214. The information provided to the Commission indicates that State
agents continue to carry out forced disappearances of persons although the numbers have
diminished in recent years. In 1995 and 1996, the State was allegedly responsible for 21
and 22 disappearances respectively.( 122 )
215. The Commission recently published its decision in the case of the
disappearance of Tarcisio Medina Charry. The Commission concluded that Colombian State
agents disappeared Tarcisio Medina Charry on February 19, 1988 in the municipality of
Neiva, Department of Huila. Mr. Medina, a linguistics student at the Southern Colombia
University in Neiva, was detained by agents of the National Police at approximately 9:00
p.m. on that date. At that time, several of the police officers commented on the fact that
Mr. Medina was carrying "La Voz" newspaper, which is associated with the
Communist party. Several persons witnessed the detention of Mr. Medina and saw the Police
place him in a truck with several other persons whom the Police presumably had detained.
The Police took the group of detained persons to the local police station. Once inside the
station, the other persons who had been detained noticed that Mr. Medina was no longer
with them. Mr. Medina has not been seen or heard from since that time and his fate has
never been learned. The Commission found that the State of Colombia was responsible for
violations of Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13 and 25 of the Convention in this case.( 123 )
216. Police agents are also allegedly responsible for the forced
disappearance of two students on May 13, 1995. Jorge Iván Alarcón Sánchez and Edgar
Augusto Monsalve Pulgarín were detained by police units in an area in which an armed
skirmish between the Army and guerrilla groups had taken place the previous week. The
students were last seen with several police officers from the police station in Armenia,
Department of Antioquia, including the commander of that unit. Some sources have reported
that the police subsequently turned the two students over to paramilitary groups. The
final fate of the two young people has not been determined.
217. The Commission has received information indicating that the
members of a Colombian Army patrol disappeared Evelio Elles Aviles, 24 years old, on
November 30, 1997. On that date, soldiers apparently entered into the Nueve de Abril
neighborhood in Barrancabermeja and forced their way into a home. They inspected the home
and used their rifles to hit an 18-year old boy who was present at the scene. They then
asked Evelio Elles Aviles for his identification papers and proceeded to carry him away.
His fate has not been determined.
218. The Commission notes that the victims of forced disappearances are
frequently civilians who are suspected of playing some role in the armed conflict. In any
case, State agents are absolutely prohibited from disappearing combatants as well as
civilians. As indicated above, the forced disappearance of persons violates numerous
rights protected in the American Convention.
5. The Right to Humane Treatment
219. The Commission has also received information indicating that State
agents continue to engage in torture. According to that information, in 1995, State agents
tortured and then released approximately 105 persons.( 124
) Another significant number of individuals were allegedly tortured by State agents before
being executed. The information provided to the Commission indicates that State agents
tortured and then released 17 individuals during 1996.( 125
) State agents allegedly tortured another 6 persons who were found dead with signs of
torture in 1996( 126 ) According to the information
received by the Commission, approximately 15% of all acts of torture, where the author was
identified, were committed by State agents in 1996.( 127
) In its most recent report on Colombia, the United Nations Committee Against Torture
noted "the persistence of . . . cases of torture and ill-treatment attributed to
members of the army and the police, in a manner that would appear to indicate a systematic
practice in some regions of the country."( 128
220. It is estimated that approximately 9 of the 23 acts of torture
allegedly committed by State agents in 1996 occurred within the context of the armed
conflict. The Commission has received information indicating that, much as with
extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, State agents torture civilians whom
they believe play some role in support of armed dissident groups. Combatants who fall
under the control of State agents have also allegedly been tortured.
221. The Commission has received information implicating the Army in
the torture and subsequent extrajudicial execution of José María Cárdenas in the
village of Bajo Pirza, Department of Caldas, on December 3, 1997. José María Cárdenas
was the cousin of María Eugenia Cárdenas, a human rights defender and regional director
of ASFADDES (Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos) for
Ms. Cárdenas received several threats during 1997 as a result of her work with
Her cousin's body displayed clear signs of torture when it was found. Mr.
genitalia had been cut off and placed in his stomach. The Army responded to allegations
that its troops might be involved by responding that the record of official activities for
the date in question did not contain any record of the incident.
222. According to information received by the Commission, three members
of the Army tortured Ilde Alfonso Minda Martínez after detaining him in Cartagena del
Chaira at 9:00 p.m. on September 4, 1996. He was kicked, hit, beaten with the officers'
rifles, subjected to water torture and forced to endure mock executions. The Army agents
accused the victim of belonging to armed dissident groups and threatened him with death.
The victim denounced the incident to the local government liaison ("personero")
the following day. At that time, signs of the torture were still visible.
223. Torture by State agents is absolutely prohibited under all
circumstances by humanitarian law as well as by Article 5 of the American Convention. Any
and all acts of torture by State agents occurring in the context of the armed conflict
thus constitute grave violations of both humanitarian law and human rights law.
224. According to the information received by the Commission, State
agents also perpetrate acts of torture outside of the context of the armed conflict. This
information suggests that State agents have tortured members of "marginal
225. Also, the Commission has begun to receive a significant number of
complaints alleging that the Military Forces and the National Police, as well as mixed
units such as "GAULA" or "UNASE," have employed torture to obtain
confessions from individuals whom they detain as suspects. These complaints allege that,
after detaining them, State agents employ physical and psychological torture, such as
placing plastic bags over the head of the detainee to provoke asphyxiation, beatings,
threats against the life of the detainee, etc... The complaints allege that the detainee
is often forced to make a confession in order to avoid further torture. These confessions
are then frequently used in the criminal proceedings against the individual.
226. Several individuals were allegedly tortured by police in Bogotá
when they were detained in relation to the murder of the son of retired General Ricardo
Emilio Cifuentes. Police detained four individuals on February 21, 1996 five days after
the murder. The torture suffered by the detainees in the first hours after their arrest
included near suffocation, beatings and mock executions. Two of the detainees were
subsequently released while two were charged with murder.
227. The Commission is extremely concerned about these allegations of
torture. The Commission reiterates that all of these alleged acts of torture would
constitute violations of Article 5 of the American Convention, which absolutely prohibits
torture employed for any purpose. In addition, the Commission has previously made clear
that the use of torture to obtain confessions is a most serious violation of Article 5.
The Commission has further noted that human rights law requires that prosecutors and
tribunals must not be allowed to consider information against a defendant which has been
obtained in a manner which so blatantly violates the accused's due process and other human
rights and which calls seriously into question the reliability of the information
obtained. This principle is also established under Colombian law, which provides that
confessions or other evidence obtained through torture are not valid.( 129 )
6. Threats and Food Blockades
228. Members of the State public security forces have sometimes
threatened civilians. Generally, the members of the State security forces threaten those
who have presumed ties to armed dissident groups. On other occasions, the threats appear
to form part of a strategy to compel the forced displacement of persons.
229. The Commission received information, for example, indicating that
soldiers from Battalion No. 48, a sub-unit of the "Special Command" for
Putumayo, had threatened local municipal authorities whom they accuse of participating in
armed dissident groups in March of 1997.
230. The Commission also received information indicating that soldiers
from the XVII Brigade issued threats on May 24, 1998 against Eduar Rancheros, a
humanitarian worker from the non-governmental organization "Justice and Peace."
Mr. Rancheros has collaborated with the members of the "community of peace"
established in San José de Apartadó. The Army has repeatedly suggested that members of
that community act in alliance with armed dissident groups in the area. According to the
information received by the Commission, the soldiers stole and killed a cow in one of the
small hamlets near San José de Apartadó. They subsequently dismembered the cow in the
presence members of the community. As they did so, they stated to the villagers that they
would similarly kill and dismember Eduar Rancheros. As a result of these threats, the
Commission was forced to request that the Colombian State adopt precautionary measures to
protect the life and physical integrity of Eduar Rancheros. More than a year prior to
those threats, Army soldiers had allegedly arrived in the communities surrounding San
José de Apartadó to warn them that they should abandon the area or face violence from
231. The Commission notes that all threats of violence issued by State
agents incur State responsibility for violations of the right to personal integrity
protected in Article 5 of the American Convention. Article 5 establishes the right to
respect for mental and moral integrity as well as physical integrity. Threatening behavior
infringes on this right and is in no way justified by the existence of an armed conflict.
Thus, regardless of whether threats by the State's security forces rise to the level of
acts designed primarily to spread terror among the civilian population, prohibited by
international humanitarian law pursuant to Article 13 of Protocol II, they necessarily
constitute violations of international human rights law.
232. The Commission has also received information from reliable sources
indicating that the Colombian Army sometimes places restrictions on the amount of food and
supplies that civilians are permitted to purchase and take to their homes. The Commission
considers that these limitations may, in certain circumstances, affect the health of
persons in those areas where the restrictions apply. As a result, they may constitute
violations of the right to physical integrity, and possibly even the right to life,
protected in the American Convention. The Commission does not have sufficient information
to conclude, at this time, that the Army has acted in a manner which contravenes the
prohibition against starvation of civilians set forth pursuant to international
humanitarian law in Article 14 of Protocol II. However, the limitations nonetheless
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.
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116 ) See id.
According to the 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, National Police agents were responsible
for executing four members of "marginal groups" in 1996.
118 ) The
Commission notes that the mention of these and other individual petitions in no way
constitutes a prejudgment of the admissibility or final decisions that the Commission may
take in these matters.
119 ) The
Commission processes this petition under the number 11.727.
120 ) The
Commission processes this petition under the number 11.747.
121 ) See
IACHR, Report No. 5/98, Case 11.019 (Colombia), April 7, 1998.
122 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 6; 1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 4.
123 ) See
IACHR, Report No.3/98, Case 11.221 (Colombia), April 7, 1998.
124 ) See
1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 4.
125 ) See
1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 8.
126 ) See id.
127 ) See id.
128 ) United
Nations Committee Against Torture, A/51/55, September 7, 1996, pars. 66-83.
129 ) See
Political Constitution of Colombia, Arts. 12, 29; Code of Criminal Procedure, Arts. 3,
250, 290; Fourth Periodic Report of Colombia to the United Nations Human Rights Committee,
CCPR/C/103/Add.3, 8 October 1996, par. 106.
130 ) The
Commission recognizes that there exist many different types of paramilitary organizations
in different areas of the country, including small local groups which are, in effect, no
more than criminal gangs, involved in theft or drug trafficking. These groups would not be
considered parties to the armed conflict.