Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy with a population of approximately 45 million. In 2006, independent presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe was reelected in generally free and fair elections. Although the government’s respect for human rights has continued to improve, serious problems remain. Societal problems and human rights abuses included unlawful and extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; insubordinate military collaboration with illegal groups; torture and mistreatment of detainees; overcrowded and dangerous prisons; arbitrary arrest; a high number of pretrial detainees, some of whom were held with convicted prisoners; impunity, corruption, and an inefficient judiciary subject to intimidation; harassment, intimidation, and violence against labor leaders, journalists, and human rights activists; violence against women and children; trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation; societal discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and minorities; and illegal child labor.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government's human rights and democracy strategy focuses on strengthening democratic processes and institutions, supporting civil society organizations, increasing state capacity and accountability, enhancing access to justice, and protecting vulnerable populations. U.S. assistance strengthens the government's ability to enforce laws effectively, enhance respect for the rule of law, protect human rights, and extend democratic governance to recently stabilized conflict areas. This assistance also helps the government improve security, work with civil society to respond to victims' needs, combat narcotics trafficking, and strengthen the judiciary. In developing strategic priorities, U.S. officials consult with government institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), indigenous movements, labor unions, and other organizations, and work with these groups to encourage reforms and discuss problems related to human rights and democracy.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States funds human rights-focused programs, such as the Early Warning System, a collection of 22 regional offices operated through the Office of the National Ombudsman that help alert state institutions to situations that could lead to massive human rights abuses. Risk assessments and alerts put out by these offices prevent or mitigate human rights abuses by providing local civilian and military authorities with recommendations for preventive actions. U.S. assistance has also strengthened the national police's understanding of human rights. U.S. logistical and technical support provided to human rights units, in eight regional police offices, assists the Ministry of Interior and Justice Protection Program to protect human rights activists, journalists, politicians, trade unionists and other threatened individuals. The United States also is working closely with the Attorney General’s Office to help train and support its Human Rights Unit and Justice and Peace Unit, which helps the government, investigate and prosecute sensitive human rights cases. As part of this support, the United States provides technical assistance for complex forensic and mass grave investigations. 

U.S. Government programs promote respect for the rule of law and transparency in the criminal justice system. These programs have focused on the ongoing transition to the new oral accusatory system and the implementation of the 2004 criminal procedure code, while also strengthening court administration and access to justice for vulnerable communities. Cases under the new system progress from arrest to verdict in months instead of years, and conviction rates have risen from less than 3 percent to more than 60 percent. Also, with U.S. assistance, the government has established a network of 49 justice houses that have provided formal and informal legal services to more than 7.4 million of the most vulnerable and underserved populations.

The United States offers technical assistance to political parties and civil society organizations. Political party assistance modernizes internal party structures, improves accountability and transparency of party activities, and contributes to political parties that more accurately reflect the diversity of public interests. The United States works to strengthen the government's implementation of political reforms that increase democratic inclusion and competition among political parties. U.S. Government assistance helped the legislature establish an Afro-Colombian Congressional Caucus to develop and promote legislation beneficial to the country's Afro-Colombian population. The United States is also strengthening civil society's role in promoting human rights by awarding more than 40 grants to human rights groups to carry out legal advocacy, to monitor human rights, to strengthen institutions, and to combat impunity. U.S. assistance has supported a civil society network of 10 human rights groups that provides legal and psychological assistance to approximately 6,600 victims of human rights abuses. U.S. assistance also helps unions, employer organizations, and the government to strengthen tripartite social dialogue and promote respect for internationally recognized labor standards, including stakeholder conflict resolution through peaceful dialogue and the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements.

U.S. assistance helps victims of the country's conflict by promoting transparency and accountability, justice that is accessible and efficient and appropriate reparations. The U.S. Government is assisting the government's efforts to respond to the needs of displaced persons by strengthening the government institutions that serve these people. The U.S. Government has helped design policies and procedures for land restitution for victims of the internal armed conflict. To facilitate the reintegration of demobilized members of paramilitary and guerrilla groups into society, the United States provides technical assistance to facilitate demobilization proceedings, social and economic reintegration of the demobilized persons, reparations for victims and their families, and institutional strengthening of the government’s reintegration program.