5. Extrajudicial Executions

290. Almost all of the killings by paramilitary groups are selective. These groups generally seek out individuals included on lists of suspected guerrilla collaborators provided by security forces or other sources and assassinate them. Thus, in effect, the massacres committed by paramilitary groups differ from individual or multiple extrajudicial executions only in the sheer number of victims killed in a single incident rather than any difference in method.

291. For example, on May 29, 1996, members of the ACCU paramilitary group entered into the La Zumbadora banana plantation in the municipality of Turbo. They gathered the workers together and consulted a list which they carried. They detained and then proceeded to execute two workers, Plutarco Ramírez and Marcos Chala.

292. The paramilitaries have been accused by armed dissident groups of executing family members of known armed dissidents. For example, the ELN blames paramilitary groups for the death of the sister of Nicolás Rodríguez, a leader in that dissident organization, in November of 1996 in Cúcuta, Department of Norte de Santander.

293. The Commission once again reiterates that all attacks on the life of civilians, who do not or no longer participate directly in hostilities, constitute grave violations of international humanitarian law. The relatives of members of armed dissident groups do not lose their civilian status and immunity from deliberate attack by virtue of their familial relations. Paramilitary organizations who extrajudicially execute these or any other civilians, on the grounds of suspected loyalty to or cooperation with armed dissident groups, thus violate international humanitarian law. Where paramilitary organizations engage in such executions with the collaboration, tolerance or acquiescence of State agents, the executions also constitute arbitrary deprivations of the right to life, in violation of Article 4 of the American Convention, and result in State responsibility for human rights violations.

6. Forced Disappearances and Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty

294. Statistics provided by non-governmental organizations indicate that paramilitary groups committed approximately 50 forced disappearances in 1995 and approximately 96 disappearances in 1996.( 146 ) Frequently, persons who are detained and taken away by paramilitary groups appear dead soon thereafter. Sometimes the bodies of the victims are mutilated or are buried in mass graves, making the identification of corpses extremely difficult. In this way, the paramilitaries hinder or block the search by the family members for information regarding the fate of the victims.

295. An example of forced disappearance by the paramilitaries occurred in September of 1996, when paramilitary groups detained and carried away 12 individuals in the municipality of Codazzi, Department of Cesar. Approximately 20 members of the ACCU entered the town and took the twelve victims from their homes, accusing them of cooperation with armed dissident groups. The paramilitaries left pamphlets announcing the arrival of the ACCU to the area.

296. Recently, in a case which caused a strong reaction in Colombian society, paramilitary groups forcibly disappeared 35 persons in Barrancabermeja, in the Magdalena Medio region. On May 16, 1998, a paramilitary group identified as the Self-Defense Organization for Santander del Sur and Cesar entered into a street party. The group extrajudicially executed 11 persons at the scene and then carried away 35 more victims. The national umbrella organization for the paramilitaries, the AUC, took credit for the massacre and soon reported that the 35 disappeared persons had been killed.

297. Paramilitary groups have also allegedly detained family members of armed dissidents. For example, paramilitaries from the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, allegedly acting in conjunction with State agents, detained Jorge Nicolás Velandia, the brother of imprisoned ELN leader Felipe Torres, on March 9, 1997. He has not been seen or heard from since that time.

298. While it is extremely concerned by this type of paramilitary activity, the Commission finds it necessary to clarify that not all detentions of persons by paramilitaries can be labeled disappearances, even where the captive does not later reappear. The term "forced disappearance" refers only to those acts which deprive a person of his freedom, which are:

perpetrated by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of the state, followed by an absence of information or a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the whereabouts of that person.( 147 )

299. Thus, it is proper to refer to forced disappearances by paramilitary groups only when they act with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State in detaining an individual.

300. Nonetheless, where they are carried out against members of the civilian population who do not pose any direct threat to their military operations, these detentions by paramilitary groups may be considered to constitute arbitrary deprivations of liberty, in violation of international humanitarian law. In addition, in many cases where the victim of such a detention does not reappear, it may be legitimately presumed that he is not being treated properly by his captors or has been killed. In those cases, the paramilitary group's actions would constitute violations of the duty imposed by international humanitarian law to treat with respect and to refrain from acts of violence against all persons held in detention. Killings of individuals held under the control of paramilitaries would, of course, constitute extrajudicial executions violative of international humanitarian law. The information provided to the Commission indicates that paramilitary groups have frequently incurred in these types of violations of international humanitarian law when they have detained and carried away individuals.

301. The Commission also concludes that paramilitary groups are responsible for forced disappearances with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, in a significant number of cases. A governmental investigatory commission created by President Samper as a result of the public outrage regarding the attack in Barrancabermeja described above recently issued its report finding ties between the paramilitary group responsible and the Colombian Military Forces. One Army official has been detained and is accused of active participation in the massacre, while nine other officials are being investigated for alleged acts of omission in relation to the violent incident. Such forced disappearances violate multiple provisions of the American Convention, as noted above, and also trigger State responsibility.

7. Torture

302. Paramilitary groups in Colombia also engage in torture. According to statistics provided to the Commission, members of these groups tortured 108 individuals in 1996 and more than 34 in 1995.( 148 ) The acts of torture committed by paramilitary groups constitute approximately 75% of the total number of acts of torture which took place in 1996.( 149 ) In the majority 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 corpses found with signs of torture.

303. The paramilitary groups in Colombia have employed horrifying techniques of torture, including the use of chainsaws and other techniques to dismember their victims. For example, on February 21, 1996, in the community of Las Cañas, in the municipality of Turbo, Department of Antioquia, members of the ACCU paramilitary group tortured and then killed Edilma Ocampo and her daughter Stella Gil. The paramilitaries, some of whom wore hoods, arrived at the home of the victims at 10:30 a.m. Stella's three children were present at the time. The paramilitary members tied the hands of the victims and told them that they would receive a special treatment, since they were guerrillas. The two women were taken out of the house approximately 100 meters and were beaten and decapitated in front of the three children. The victimizers then opened the stomachs of the victims, from the waist to the neck. They then placed Stella's dead body on top of Edilma's body and threatened the other residents of the community to leave the area or suffer the consequences. These actions obviously constitute acts of physical torture against those who are killed as well as psychological torture against those who are forced to witness these events and who are threatened with similar consequences.

304. As the Commission noted above, international law absolutely prohibits the use of torture under all circumstances. Whenever paramilitary groups commit acts of torture in the context of the armed conflict, they incur in grave violations of humanitarian law. Where paramilitary groups commit acts of torture with the collaboration, tolerance or acquiescence of State agents, the State faces international responsibility for a violation of Article 5 of the American Convention.

8. Threats, Acts Designed to Spread Terror Among the Civilian Population and Food and Medicine Blockades

305. Many of the acts of paramilitaries are designed to spread terror among the civilian population. In fact, although all of the violent actors in Colombia issue threats and engage in other acts intended to intimidate the civilian population, actions of this type committed by the paramilitary groups are undoubtedly the most extreme and frequent. Acts of torture, such as those described above, are clearly directed at instilling fear in the population as well as eliminating the individual victims. Selective extrajudicial executions, carried out with list in hand of alleged dissident sympathizers, are also often designed to leave the population in general with a clear threat of future violent acts.

306. The paramilitaries often enter small towns and order the inhabitants to leave their homes to congregate in a central park or plaza. The paramilitaries then inform the inhabitants that they have a list of persons to be killed or that the inhabitants must leave within a given period of time. For example, in December of 1997, a paramilitary group arrived in the community of La Encerrada in the municipality of Llano Rico, Department of Chocó. The group gathered the members of the community and told them that they had five days to leave their homes. The members of the group stated that they were going to fight the guerrillas and "clean" the area. Faced with the knowledge that the paramilitaries had begun to kill peasants in nearby communities, the inhabitants of La Encerrada became afraid and were forced to flee.

307. The paramilitaries also often leave pamphlets or paint graffiti on the walls announcing their presence in areas of new incursions. These notices of paramilitary presence usually are calculated to instill fear in the inhabitants of the area. The Commission was given a copy of a flier prepared by the United Self-Defense Group of Colombia - General Santander Company (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - Compañía General Santander). In the flier, this paramilitary group denounces the activities of the armed dissident groups and lists the names of various persons who allegedly worked with those groups to carry out political killings. The flier states that the named individuals should leave the area in eight days.

308. Acts and threats of violence which are designed to spread terror among the civilian population, such as those committed by paramilitary groups in Colombia, are violative of the express terms of Article 13 of Protocol II. They also constitute violations of the right to humane treatment and respect for emotional integrity, protected in Article 5 of the American Convention, where they are carried out with the collaboration, tolerance or acquiescence of the State.

309. In addition, these acts of violence and threats often have the express or implicit objective of forcing civilians to leave their homes and communities for fear that they will be the next victims of paramilitary violence. The actions of paramilitary groups resulting in such displacement violate numerous provisions of international law.

310. Paramilitary groups also establish blockades of food and medicine, which limit or entirely prevent civilian access to supplies, in certain areas of the country. For example, during its visit to the Urabá region of Antioquia, the Commission received testimony from a wide variety of sources indicating that the paramilitary group operating the paramilitary roadblock between Apartado and San José often stopped vehicles carrying food supplies to the community of San José de Apartadó. The paramilitary group generally refused to allow the vehicles to proceed and frequently stole the supplies. The Commission also received testimony to the effect that the paramilitary groups in the area had prohibited local stores from stocking or selling medicine. Many local residents stated that the paramilitary groups had purchased or taken over most of the local stores in order to control the flow of food and medicine. According to these residents, these takeovers were open and notorious. All of the residents appeared to know which businesses were run by paramilitaries. However, the local security forces had taken no action to control the situation.

311. The Commission does not have sufficient information to conclude, at this time, that the paramilitary 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 paramilitaries in blocking civilian access to food and medicine are nonetheless of an extremely serious nature. They certainly 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. In addition, where these actions are carried out with the cooperation, acquiescence or tolerance of the State, they constitute violations of the right to humane treatment, and possibly the right to life, protected in the American Convention.

312. In addition, the information received by the Commission indicates that the paramilitary food and medicine blockades often serve as tool to achieve the forced displacement of persons. The paramilitaries sometimes use a combined strategy, including limitations on access to supplies as well as threats of violence and actual violence, to force civilians out of an area in furtherance of the paramilitaries' goal to "clean" an area. As noted above, the forced displacement of persons implies serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

9. The Forced Displacement of Persons

313. The information provided to the Commission indicates that paramilitary groups are responsible for the majority of the forced displacement of persons which occurs in Colombia each year. The Commission will discuss this issue further in Chapter VI, which specifically deals with issues relating to forced displacement.

10. Attacks on Health Services

314. 306.Paramilitary groups in Colombia have, on occasion, attacked medical personnel and medical facilities and vehicles. For instance, paramilitaries carried out such an attack on December 25, 1997. On that date, a group of armed men, who identified themselves as members of the ACCU paramilitary group, entered the town of San Juan del Ité, in the municipality of Yondó, Department of Antioquia. The armed men shot their weapons into a crowd of indigenous residents of the community who were gathered to celebrate Christmas. One person was shot and seriously injured. The family members of the victim took him to a health center in Puerto Berrío, but the personnel there decided that he should be transferred to a facility in Medellín and placed him in an ambulance. However, after traveling only a few kilometers, armed men, presumably members of the same paramilitary group, halted the ambulance and forced its occupants to exit the vehicle. They then shot and killed the injured man as well as his brother who had accompanied him to the hospital. International humanitarian law clearly prohibits attacks of this nature.

11. Recruitment of Minors

315. The Commission has received information indicating that the armed dissident groups continue to recruit minors. The Commission will discuss this issue in Chapter XIII, which specifically deals with issues relating to minors.


1. Background

316. The Commission considers it necessary to analyze the status and activities of the so-called CONVIVIR in this Chapter relating to violence in Colombia for several reasons. First, the creation and existence of the CONVIVIR as such have certain consequences for the violence and the armed conflict taking place in Colombia. Second, the Commission has begun to receive information indicating that some CONVIVIR have directly carried out acts of violence in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law norms.

317. The CONVIVIR were first created by decree on February 11, 1994, although this decree did not employ the name "CONVIVIR". Decree 356, issued on that date, set forth the rules and regulations which would govern different guard and private security services ("servicios de vigilancia y seguridad privada"). These rules provided for the establishment of "special guard and private security services" ("servicios especiales de vigilancia y seguridad privada") which would consist of groups of civilians who would be allowed to carry weapons and who would work with the Colombian Military Forces. The Superintendency for Guard and Private Security Services (Superintendencia de Vigilancia y Seguridad Privada) was given the authority to regulate and supervise the various guard and security services established in Decree 356.

318. On April 27, 1995, the Superintendency issued a resolution establishing that the special guard and private security forces would be referred to as "CONVIVIR." In a subsequent resolution dated October 22, 1997, the Superintendency determined that the name CONVIVIR should no longer be used. The Commission notes that it continues to refer to these groups by the name CONVIVIR, because this is the term generally used by the public and the groups themselves.

319. On February 14, 1997, the constitutionality of the CONVIVIR and of Decree 356 was formally challenged in a complaint before the Constitutional Court. On November 7, 1997, the Constitutional Court decided to affirm the constitutionality of Decree 356 and of the CONVIVIR.( 150 ) The Court did place some restrictions on the functioning of the CONVIVIR and declared unconstitutional the provision which allowed these groups to carry weapons designated for "restricted" use. Members of the CONVIVIR may thus use only personal weapons and are not allowed any special permit to use weapons designated as "restricted" or "for exclusive use of the Military Forces."

320. After the Constitutional Court decision, the Government also issued new rules regarding the creation and operation of the CONVIVIR. The Government announced that it would not authorize the creation of new CONVIVIR in conflict areas. Also, the Government would require information regarding the criminal history of persons who wish to become members of CONVIVIR. Finally, the Government would require a clearer delineation by each CONVIVIR of the area in which it intends to operate.

321. Statistics regarding the exact number of CONVIVIR groups and members in existence are difficult to obtain and depend on which private security groups are treated as CONVIVIR. However, various sources indicate that there exist approximately 414 CONVIVIR associations. The President of the National Federation of CONVIVIR Associations, Carlos Alberto Díaz, indicated to the press in December of 1997 that he believed that membership in the CONVIVIR well exceeds 120,000 men.( 151 )

322. The legal regime permits the CONVIVIR only to engage in self-defense and information-gathering activities. The law also foresees significant cooperation between the groups and the State's Military Forces. However, as noted earlier in this Chapter, based on interviews with members of various CONVIVIR and other sources, the Commission has found that some of these groups also actually gather intelligence and otherwise cooperate with the Military Forces in their counter-insurgency operations. This type of work apparently includes identifying individuals believed to support armed dissident groups for subsequent attack by the Military Forces or by paramilitary groups working in collaboration with the Military Forces. The CONVIVIR clearly identify their mission with the counter-insurgency objectives of the Military Forces. The President of the CONVIVIR Federation stated to the press on July 6, 1997 that "we are convinced that the guerrillas will only negotiate on the day that we have them on their knees."

2. Impact of the Existence of the CONVIVIR on the Armed Conflict and Violence

323. As noted above, the Commission considers that the status and activities of the CONVIVIR create serious difficulties under international humanitarian law. Based on the information available to the Commission, it appears that members of some CONVIVIR have abused their status as civilians by assuming the role of a combatant, in violation of international humanitarian law. As a result, these CONVIVIR members lose their immunity from attack, at least during the time that they directly engage in hostilities.

324. The direct participation in hostilities of even some of their members is particularly troubling, since it blurs the distinction between civilians and combatants and, thereby, degrades the protection of the civilian population from the effects of hostilities. This problem is aggravated by the fact that the membership of the CONVIVIR groups is generally kept confidential. It is thus all the more difficult to distinguish members of the CONVIVIR from those members of the civilian population who have never participated directly in hostilities.

325. This type of blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants has perhaps been the cause of violent incidents in the municipality of El Dorado, Department of Meta. El Dorado is located in the traditionally conflictive and violent Alto Ariari region of the Department of Meta. However, for the last several years, a fragile peace had apparently been achieved and no homicides were reported in the community. The creation of a CONVIVIR in the town in March of 1997 led to attacks on the population by armed dissident groups, resulting in the violent death of four persons.

326. In addition, by creating legal armed civilian groups, the Colombian State has made it more difficult and dangerous to combat illegal paramilitary groups. The State's Military Forces and investigative and prosecutorial authorities will be forced to struggle constantly to distinguish between those armed civilian groups which are legal and those which are illegal before taking any measures. This distinction becomes particularly important when the Military Forces seek to carry out military operations against paramilitary groups. Before executing any such operation, they will be required to ensure that the proposed targets are combatants in paramilitary groups and not members of CONVIVIR who have not directly participated in the hostilities or who have ceased to do so. Because the distinction between members of paramilitary groups and CONVIVIR will be difficult in some circumstances, civilians who enjoy immunity attack may be placed in danger.

327. The Commission has also received numerous complaints indicating that the legal figure of the CONVIVIR has been utilized by paramilitary groups as cover for their illegal violent actions. The Commission considers that, by creating the CONVIVIR without a mechanism for adequate control by any supervisory authority, the State has created conditions which allow for this type of abuse.

328. The Superintendency for Guard and Private Security Services has openly stated that it does not have sufficient resources or personnel to supervise properly the numerous CONVIVIR which have formed. Until recently, this office did not even have statistics regarding the number of such groups in existence.

329. This lack of control permits members of paramilitary groups to join or even form legal CONVIVIR groups to carry out their activities. Connections of this nature between members of paramilitary groups and CONVIVIR have been discovered on several occasions. For example, a member of the paramilitary group which carried out the massacre of 14 persons in the community of La Horqueta, municipality of Tocaima, Department of Cundinamarca on November 21, 1997 was killed during the attack. The individual who was killed was identified as Luis Carlos Mercado Gutiérrez. It was later revealed that this individual was named as the legal representative of an officially recognized CONVIVIR registered for operation in San Juan de Urabá, Department of Antioquia.( 152 )
330. On other occasions, illegal paramilitary groups simply identify themselves as CONVIVIR without obtaining official authorization to act as such. However, the Superintendency for Guard and Private Security Services does not maintain or make readily accessible clear lists and other information regarding the existing official CONVIVIR groups and does not investigate alleged instances of abuse of the CONVIVIR title. These illegitimate groups may thus freely make use of the name and the authority which it invokes to carry out illegal and violent acts.

3. Violent Acts Committed by the CONVIVIR

331. The Commission has also received a significant number of complaints indicating that CONVIVIR groups have committed acts of violence against civilians.( 153 ) For example, the disappearance of Jaime Pedraza Mora in the municipality of Sopó, Department of Cundinamarca, has been attributed to members of a CONVIVIR group acting in the area. The victim was last seen on February 1, 1997.

332. The Commission also received detailed information regarding the death of Gustavo Cabieles in the municipality of Acacias, Department of Meta on September 20, 1997, allegedly at the hands of CONVIVIR members. According to the information given to the Commission, Mr. Cabieles had entered into a dispute, the day before his murder, with a neighbor who announced that he would send for the CONVIVIR. On the morning of September 20, an individual approached Mr. Cabieles, claiming that he was from the CONVIVIR, and warned him that he should leave town immediately or suffer the consequences. The same individual entered into Mr. Cabieles' home later in the day and shot him to death.

333. The Office of the Prosecutor General of the Nation recently ordered the arrest of four members of a CONVIVIR who allegedly participated in the massacre of ten persons on August 14, 1997 in the community of El Carmen, near Medellín, Department of Antioquia. Prosecutorial authorities are also investigating complaints that the head of the CONVIVIR in Dabeiba, Department of Antioquia, threatened public transportation operators. The CONVIVIR leader allegedly told the operators that they would face reprisals if they agreed to transport displaced persons arriving in the town after the massacre of 14 peasants in the area in November, 1997.

4. Legal Consequences Deriving from the Creation and Activities of the CONVIVIR

334. Based on its prior experience with similar armed civilian organizations in other countries of the hemisphere and on the previous experience in Colombia with legalized civilian defense groups which developed into paramilitary organizations, the Commission is extremely concerned about the CONVIVIR in Colombia. As noted above, the Commission believes that these organizations have been created and have sometimes acted in a manner which is not compatible with international humanitarian law and which creates significant difficulties for the State in complying with its duties under international humanitarian law and human rights law.

335. The Commission further notes that members of CONVIVIR groups, when they act as such, must be considered State agents. These individuals enjoy membership in a group which is authorized by the State and which carries out activities in coordination with the State's public security forces. They therefore act under color of official authority. Thus, when members of these groups carry out extrajudicial killings or other acts of violence, the State faces international responsibility, pursuant to the American Convention, for the violations of the right to life and physical integrity which occur.

336. In its observations to this Report, the State argued that the CONVIVIR do not act as State agents. The State suggested that the security services in Colombia act in the private, rather than the public, realm. According to the State, the fact that it regulates and licenses the security services does not convert those services into State agents.

337. The Commission agrees that the mere licensing of private security services would not convert them into State entities. However, the CONVIVIR are not just like other private security services which only receive a license to operate from the State. The 1994 decree setting forth the legal regime for the various security services established a special category, among all the security services, of "special guard and private security services," which would come to be known as the CONVIVIR. The decree provided that these "special" services would collaborate with the Military Forces and would carry arms for that purpose. The legal norms which govern the CONVIVIR still provide for this special relationship between the CONVIVIR and the Military Forces and give the military an important role in approving the creation of CONVIVIR and training and supervising existing CONVIVIR associations. This close working relationship between the Military Forces and the CONVIVIR is what, under the above described circumstances, gives CONVIVIR members State agent stature.( 154 ) The communities where they act unquestionably believe that the members of the CONVIVIR act as State agents, demonstrating the degree to which their actions are cloaked with State authority.

338. In any case, the Commission has verified that in certain areas of the country the CONVIVIR participate both in intelligence and counterinsurgency operations for the Armed Forces and that, as already explained in this Chapter of the Report, they have occasionally been involved in acts of violence. These elements demonstrate that, in practical terms, the nature of the activities carried out by the CONVIVIR operating in the areas of conflict place their members in a role that can be identified with that of State agents in terms of the international responsibility of the State.

339. The Commission was pleased to learn of the recent decision of the president of the National Federation of CONVIVIR to dismantle the majority of the CONVIVIR associations. The Commission hopes that the appropriate State authorities, particularly the Superintendency for Guard and Private Security Services, will exercise sufficient control and supervision to ensure that those associations which renounce their licenses effectively demobilize. The Commission notes that this unilateral decision on the part of the CONVIVIR in no way alters the legal regime which provides for the existence of the CONVIVIR.


340. Upon concluding this analysis of the violence in Colombia and the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law which regularly occur, the Commission wishes to clarify and elaborate on a subject of great concern. In its press release issued upon the conclusion of its on-site visit to Colombia in December, 1997, the Commission, in deploring the violent acts carried out in Colombia, pointedly noted that:

The Commission is of the view that . . . massacres, like other cases of violations of human rights and/or of international humanitarian law, could constitute crimes of an international character which would incur the individual criminal responsibility of the authors, who may be prosecuted in any State in which they happen to be [found].

341. In this regard, the Yugoslav Tribunal has authoritatively determined that customary law imposes individual criminal responsibility for "serious violations of Common Article 3, as supplemental by other general principles and rules for the protection of victims of internal armed conflict, and for breaching certain fundamental principles and rules regarding means and methods of combat in civil strife"( 155 ). The Tribunal indicated that these principles and rules reflect "elementary considerations of humanity widely recognized as the mandatory minimum for conduct in armed conflicts of any kinds. No one can doubt the gravity of the acts at issue, nor the interest of the international community in their prohibition."( 156 )

342. The Statute of the Yugoslav Tribunal permits prosecution of individuals responsible for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity.( 157 ) In a similar vein, the U.N. Security Council expressly empowered the International Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute persons for crimes against humanity, including systematic murder, torture and rape, as well as for serious violations of common Article 3 and Protocol II.( 158 )

343. Individual criminal responsibility under the statutes of both the Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals extends to any person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of these serious crimes. Both of the statutes impose criminal liability for many of the most flagrant violations of humanitarian law routinely committed by member of the warring parties in Colombia as well as those human rights crimes which may be considered crimes against humanity.

344. Along these same lines, the international community most recently took the long-awaited decision to establish a permanent international criminal court. That tribunal will be responsible for trying individuals for violations of the laws of war and crimes against humanity, such as systematic murder, torture and forced disappearance of persons, without restrictions limiting jurisdiction to incidents occurring in a specific geographic locale or within a specific timeframe.

345. Also relevant to this discussion is a letter sent in 1995 by a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Prosecutor of the Yugoslav Tribunal on the subject of amnesty for violations of Protocol II. In that letter, the ICRC clarified that Article 6(5) of Protocol II, which provides for the widest possible amnesty at the conclusion of hostilities, cannot be interpreted as supporting impunity for violations of international humanitarian law.( 159 ) Over the years, this Commission has had the opportunity in several key cases to state its views and crystalize its doctrine on the subject of amnesties. These decisions have uniformly found that amnesty laws and comparative legal measures that preclude or terminate the investigation and prosecution of State agents who may be responsible for serious violations of the American Convention or Declaration violate multiple provisions of these instruments.( 160 )

These views have been confirmed by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The Court has established that States parties have the duty "to investigate human rights violations, prosecute those responsible and avoid impunity"( 161 ) and has defined impunity as the lack of investigation, pursuit, detention, prosecution and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations. The Court has stated that States have the obligation to employ all available legal means in order to avoid this kind of impunity which allows for the chronic repetition of human rights violations and leaves the victims and their families powerless.( 162 )

States parties to the American Convention cannot invoke the application of their domestic law, in this case amnesty laws, in order to disregard their obligation to ensure the full and proper functioning of justice for the victims.( 163 )

346. The international community has sent a clear and unmistakable message through its recent actions. It will not tolerate serious infringements of agreed to rules embodying elemental considerations of humanity. The international community has made these serious violations of the laws and customs of warfare, as well as crimes against humanity, crimes of universal jurisdiction and branded their perpetrators as international criminals.

347. It should also be remembered that humanitarian law and the American Convention and other universal and regional human rights instruments share a common nucleus of non-suspendible rights and guarantees and a common purpose of upholding human life and dignity. Where serious violations of fundamental rules and principles of humanitarian law also constitute violations of the American Convention, these violations are no less serious infringements of human dignity or matters of grave international concern. Thus, where violations of international humanitarian law coincide with human rights violations, universal criminal jurisdiction exists in relation to those violations even where they do not rise to the level of crimes against humanity. Whatever their label, all of these violations are international crimes and every State has a duty to repress them and a right to prosecute or else extradite the offender(s). The violent actors in Colombia would do well to ponder the consequences of their illicit acts.


Based on the foregoing, the Commission makes the following recommendations:

  1. All parties to the internal armed conflict in Colombia should, through their command and control structures, respect, implement and enforce the rules governing hostilities set forth in international humanitarian law, with particular emphasis on those norms providing for the protection of civilians.

  2. The Colombian State should intensify training in human rights and international humanitarian law directed towards State agents, particularly members of the State's security forces.

  3. The Colombian State should take additional measures to disseminate, to State agents and to the population in general, information and materials relating to human rights and international humanitarian law.

  4. The Colombian State should take immediate energetic measures to prevent violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by State agents. These measures should include serious, impartial and effective criminal investigations into all cases involving alleged human rights and humanitarian law violations, as a priority and as an especially crucial element of prevention. In particular, the State should seek out, apprehend and prosecute all persons who planned, ordered and/or perpetrated serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

  5. The Colombian State should remove from service those members of the security forces who have been identified as having taken part in human rights violations while awaiting a final decision in any disciplinary or criminal proceedings which might have been initiated.

  6. The Colombian State should take immediate and energetic measures to combat, dismantle and disarm all paramilitary and other proscribed self-defense groups operating in Colombia. These measures should include the prosecution and sanction of the members, supporters and leaders of those groups in conformity with the law.

  7. The Colombian State should derogate the legal norms which establish the so-called CONVIVIR groups.


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( 146 ) See 1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 5; 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 6.

( 147 ) Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, Art. II (emphasis added).

( 148 ) See 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 8, 63. It should be noted that the statistics for 1996 include those acts of torture committed by paramilitary groups against members of "marginal groups" while the statistics for 1995 do not.

( 149 ) See id.

( 150 ) See Sentence C-572/97.

( 151 ) See "Nos limitamos a dar información", El Espectador, December 7, 1997.

( 152 ) The State has informed the Commission that the Superintendency for Guard and Private Security Services cancelled the operational license for the La Palma CONVIVIR association which had operated in San Juan de Urabá by Resolution 8244 of February 9, 1998.

( 153 ) In its observations regarding this Report, the State asked the Commission to specify which CONVIVIR were being denounced for having taken parts in acts of violence. The State suggested that the Commission had made an unfair generalization regarding the involvement of the CONVIVIR in acts of violence. The Commission considers that it has adequately described in the text of this Report specific incidents and groups which have been pointed out as having committed human rights violations. The Commission also notes that the State has recognized, in its observations, that "37 complaints of irregular actions have been received, eight of which involve specifically named Convivir groups."

( 154 ) See IACHR, Report No. 32/96, case 10.553 (Guatemala), Annual Report of the IACHR 1996, para. 57. In this Report the Commission found that the members of the civilian self-defense patrols (PAC) in Guatemala acted as State agents because they were coordinated by the Ministry of Defense, received training and arms from the Army and were formed and terminated by the Army. The Commission notes that, in the case of Colombia, the determination that the members of the CONVIVIR act as State agents is separate from any conclusion regarding whether the members of these organizations participate in the armed conflict. That question is discussed above.

( 155 ) Tadic Case, at 134.

( 156 ) Id., par. 129.

( 157 ) See Articles 2 through 5 of the Yugoslav Tribunal Statute.

( 158 ) See Articles 3 and 4 of the Court’s Statute in Resolution 955 (1994), 8 November 1994, S/Res. 1955, at 4.

( 159 ) See Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Forty Sixth Session, Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/49/355, September 1, 1994.

( 160 ) Report 28/92, Argentina, Annual Report of the IACHR 1992-1993, para. 41; Report 29/92, Uruguay, Anuual Report of the IACHR 1992-1993, para. 51; Reports 34/96 and 36/96, Chile, Annual Report of the IACHR 1996, para. 76 and 78 respectively; Report 25/98, Chile, Annual Report 1997, para. 71; Report 1/99, El Salvador, Annual Report of the IACHR 1998, para 106.

( 161 ) I/A Court HR Loayza Tamayo Case, Reparations, Judgment of November 27 1998, para. 170.

( 162 ) I/A Court HR Paniagua Morales et al. Case, Judgment of March 8 1998. Series C No.37, para. 173.

( 163 ) I/A Court HR Loayza Tamayo Case, Reparations, Judgment of November 27, para. 168.