No. 15/03



On this date, Professor Robert K. Goldman, member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and rapporteur for matters relating to the Republic of Colombia, concluded a 10-day working visit to that country.  The Commission is a principal organ of the Organization of American States, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is charged with promoting and protecting human rights in the Americas.  It is a collegiate body composed of seven experts chosen in their individual capacity by the OAS member states.  Its jurisdiction is derived from the Charter of the Organization and from the American Convention on Human Rights, treaties to which Colombia has been a party for decades.


Commission member Goldman, who had technical and logistical support from three staff members of the Commission’s Executive Secretariat, held meetings with national and local officials, visited the Departments of Antioquia, Córdoba, and Chocó, and took various statements from individuals, community representatives, and members of civil society organizations.  His main objectives were to obtain in-depth information on the situation at Comuna 13 in the city of Medellín and to verify compliance with the precautionary measures granted to the Embera Katío indigenous community and the Afro-Colombian communities resettled in the Cacarica.  Precautionary measures are mainly aimed at protecting the life and physical well-being of persons or groups.  They are granted by the IACHR, at the request of the parties affected, when the Commission determines that the urgency of a situation of imminent danger and the severity and irreparability of its potential consequences justify requesting the state to take special protective measures and to conduct judicial inquiries into acts of violence that demonstrate the pertinence of such measures.  During its visit, the IACHR delegation was provided with guarantees enabling it to conduct its observation tasks with complete freedom and security, and the ministers, officials, and law enforcement personnel interviewed were entirely cooperative.


The IACHR delegation was able to visit various neighborhoods within Medellín’s Comuna 13 and to take testimony from members of the community on selective murders, forced disappearances, and other acts of violence and intimidation allegedly perpetrated by paramilitary groups despite the presence of law enforcement personnel.  The Commission heard consistent reports that many of these events had not been reported to judicial authorities because the population feared reprisals.  The IACHR completed its observation in a series of interviews with officials of the Medellín City Hall, staff of the local inspector’s and prosecutor’s offices, the commander of the Fourth Army Brigade, and the police chief.


The Commission’s Rapporteur for Colombia recognized the efforts of law enforcement personnel, in particular the National Police, to restore order and the authority of the state in this outlying district, whose inhabitants have been plagued for years by the activities of criminal groups such as the FARC and the ELN.  Nevertheless, it expressed concern over the potential consolidation of paramilitary groups who would continue to commit serious crimes in Comuna 13.  Professor Goldman urged the authorities to take the necessary measures to dismantle paramilitary structures operating in the area, to establish the state as the sole authority, and to end the climate of insecurity and fear which is interfering with judicial inquiries into the selective killings and disappearances perpetrated since a law enforcement presence was established in the area.  Also raised were concerns relating to judicial proceedings against the detainees in a series of law enforcement operations carried out with the participation of the CTI and the Inspector’s Office.


The IACHR delegation also traveled to Tierralta, in the Department of Córdoba, to visit the Embera Katío indigenous community.  Traditional officials, leaders, and members of the various Embera Katío communities are being threatened and singled out by the FARC and other armed outlaw groups intending to seize control of their ancestral lands.  These communities have been under the protection of precautionary measures since June 4, 2001, following the disappearance of indigenous leader Kimy Pernía Domicó.  The IACHR delegation received information on compliance with protective measures and judicial investigations into the acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated against this community.  Reports indicate that, despite the precautionary measures in effect, the Embera Katío remain in imminent danger.  This is evidenced by the murder of the governor of the Porremía community, Augusto Lana Domicó, on April 18, 2003, and by death threats leveled at various governors and leaders, who have been forced to leave their communities.


During the working visit to Tierralta, the IACHR delegation held meetings with traditional authorities and leaders of the Embera Katío people.  Isabel Madariaga, attorney for the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, entered one of their safe havens.  As part of its observation efforts, the delegation interviewed both civilian and law enforcement officials in Tierralta and Montería, enhancing the dialogue on the difficulties encountered in implementing the precautionary measures.  As a result of its observation, the IACHR urged both local and national authorities to agree with the indigenous communities upon, and immediately implement, a protection plan appropriate to the special relationship the indigenous peoples have with their land.  In this connection, the IACHR appreciated Circular 2064, issued on March 4, 2003, by the Ministry of Defense to strengthen policies for the promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples by law enforcement personnel and called for its effective implementation.


The IACHR delegation also traveled to the shores of the Cacarica River, in northern Chocó, to visit the “New Life” residential and working community, whose members have been under the protection of precautionary measures since December 1997.  This community of African descent is resettled on collectively deeded lands, after several years of displacement initially resulting from a 1996 bombing in the Riosucio area.  During its stay, the delegation received information and statements on murders, torture, and acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated against members of the community by paramilitary groups operating in the area despite the presence of the XVII Army Brigade.  In addition, representatives of the communities in Dabeiba and Naya, also protected by precautionary measures, and Jugiamiandó and Curbaradó, protected by provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, appeared during the Commission’s visit to report on their situation.


The IACHR Rapporteur noted with concern consistent reports of attacks by paramilitary groups, allegedly carried out with the acquiescence and collaboration of law enforcement personnel operating in the region.  It also received information on the deforestation of the collective lands and on acts of harassment intended to force some of these communities to accept the planting of African palm–a classic prelude to the introduction of illicit crops.  He also emphasized the vital importance of the follow-up tasks carried out by Peace Brigades International in support of the communities of African descent in Chocó and their positive effect on the protection of these communities.


In his meetings in Bogotá with the Vice President of the Nation, Francisco Santos; the Minister of Foreign Relations, Carolina Barco; the Minister of the Interior and Justice, Fernando Londoño; the Vice Minister of Defense, Andrés Peñate Giraldo; and the Attorney General of the Nation, Luis Camilo Osorio; the Commission’s Rapporteur for Colombia expressed his concerns over these matters and over the implementation of the precautionary measures mechanism in general; such measures are now in effect for dozens of situations in which indigenous communities, communities of African descent, human rights defenders, social leaders, unionists, journalists, and others are in grave peril.  The Rapporteur stressed the importance of effective implementation of these measures by all parties involved, in a climate of negotiation and dialogue.  He also offered his good offices in helping to overcome a degree of tension between state institutions involved in fighting impunity and representatives of victims of violence, thereby paving the way for the achievement of common goals.


Many of these precautionary measures have had to be granted to prevent violence by paramilitary groups, often in areas of the country where law enforcement personnel are present.  The IACHR delegation expressed concern over continuing reports of acquiescence by law enforcement personnel or their cooperation with the self-defense groups in committing acts of intimidation and violence against persons or groups protected by these measures, and over the lack of effective judicial inquiries, which has prevented clarification of the facts and reparations in many of these cases.


The delegation availed itself of this contact to raise other issues and concerns, such as the need to support human rights defenders in their work, in keeping with resolutions both of the Organization of American States and of the United Nations.  He also reaffirmed that it was important that any measure to regulate the fight against armed outlaw groups be kept within the parameters established by the American Convention on Human Rights and the interpretation presented by the Commission in its recent Report on Terrorism and Human Rights.  Here he assured the authorities that he would closely monitor the approval and application of such regulations.


The delegation also had a cordial meeting with the President of the Constitutional Court, Dr. Eduardo Montealegre Lynett, the purpose being to comment on the latest developments in jurisprudence promoted by the Court and to express its support for the important work of the judges.  It also met both with the Defender of the People and with the Director of the office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to discuss matters of common interest.  Salient among the working meetings held during this visit was one intended to consolidate the efforts toward a friendly settlement in the Patriotic Union case, which was declared admissible by the Commission in 1997 and has been the subject of intense negotiations since 1998, under the good offices of the Commission.  Both the IACHR delegation and the representative of the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples held a series of meetings with indigenous leaders and organizations from vast regions of the country, during which information was received on murders, massacres, displacements, and the precarious food, health, and education situation that jeopardizes indigenous people’s right of cultural survival.





Toward the end of the visit, the IACHR Rapporteur called attention to the challenges facing the Government of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez as it seeks to establish peace and to demobilize the members of armed outlaw groups.  In this context, he emphasized the state’s obligation to refrain from adopting measures that would leave crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law unpunished.


Lastly, the Rapporteur expressed his appreciation for the cooperation extended during his visit, for the willingness to engage in constructive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Colombia, and for the improvement measures proposed by the Government.


Bogotá, June 27, 2003