The country’s decades-long internal armed conflict involving government forces and two terrorist guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN) continued. Multiple abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking. The government continued formal peace negotiations with the FARC throughout the year, and in June it announced plans to open formal peace negotiations with the ELN.
Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize on an individual basis. As of the end of August, according to the Ministry of Defense, 868 members of guerrilla groups had demobilized (762 from the FARC, 105 from the ELN, and one from other dissident groups). The Organization of American States (OAS) verified all stages of demobilization and reintegration into society of former combatants from the guerrilla and former paramilitary groups.
Through June the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the ICRC, conducted six human rights training sessions for 932 ministry personnel. During the same period, the Ministry of Defense trained 32 military justice and civilian personnel through its Defense Institute of International Legal Studies. In addition the Ministry of Defense reported that it reached a total of more than 250,000 employees through additional training related to human rights.
The government’s Legal Framework for Peace serves as a framework for transitional justice should peace talks succeed. The framework allows the judiciary to prioritize cases involving those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in a systematic manner and to provide suspended sentences or alternative sentences in exchange for demobilizing, acknowledging responsibility, clarifying the truth about crimes committed, providing reparations to victims, and releasing hostages and child soldiers. It also allows for waiving criminal prosecutions for all other cases and permits former combatants not convicted of crimes against humanity to serve as elected officials.
Critics of the legislation argued that the provisions for reduced or suspended sentences and stipulations that only those most responsible for the worst crimes must be prosecuted, as well as focusing only on war crimes committed in a systematic manner, would amount to permitting impunity for many who should otherwise be investigated, tried, and punished in accordance with the country’s international obligations. At the Constitutional Court’s July 2013 hearing, Human Rights Watch argued the legislation is at odds with victims’ rights and that this reform would violate international obligations. In response President Santos asserted at the hearing that the law closes windows for impunity and upholds the rights of victims of conflict. Santos stated the Legal Framework for Peace was a realistic, transparent, and holistic transitional justice strategy in that it would be impossible to investigate and criminally prosecute all crimes committed during the past 50 years.
In August 2013 the Constitutional Court conditionally upheld the Legal Framework for Peace. The court expressed, through two special communiques, the view that such a transitional justice strategy was a legitimate mechanism for achieving peace and that it was in accordance with the constitution. The court clarified, however, that authorities would need to implement the framework in compliance with the country’s international obligations. The court also included parameters for interpretation and development of future implementing legislation, including that those deemed “most responsible” could not have their sentences suspended completely.
Implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law (JPL) continued. The Justice and Peace Unit in the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for the required investigation and prosecution of demobilized persons, and an interagency commission on justice and peace coordinates its implementation. Participants in the justice and peace process could receive reduced sentences if they complied with the terms of the JPL. Testimony from voluntary confessions also triggered investigations of politicians, military members, major agricultural producers, and government officials’ past ties to paramilitary forces. Some of the investigations resulted in prosecutions and convictions.
As of October 1, a total of 4,995 former paramilitary and guerrilla defendants (postulados) had participated in confession hearings (versiones libres). During these sessions the postulados confessed to 39,546 crimes, and information was obtained that resulted in the exhumation of 5,616 victims. As of October 1, a total of 978 postulados had been initially charged, and 15 of these had been formally charged in presentations before the courts by the Attorney General’s Office’s Justice and Peace Unit. Through September, 232 defendants reached their eight-year maximum incarceration dates under the agreed arrangement and five were released to be reintegrated into society. Defendants who do not fully comply by confessing crimes, turning over illegally acquired assets, and ceasing their criminal activity are moved for expulsion from the JPL process by the Attorney General’s Justice and Peace Unit.
Application of the JPL continued to face many challenges. Thousands of former paramilitary members remained in legal limbo due to resource and capacity constraints at the Attorney General’s Office. There was also little land or money confiscated from former paramilitary leaders.
On July 29, the Attorney General’s Office charged 14 persons with aggravated conspiracy for their alleged past links to the Elmer Cardenas Block of the now disbanded AUC. Among those charged were city council members, former mayors, former employees of mayoral offices, notary employees, and businesspersons. A delegate prosecutor to the Supreme Court also brought charges against two military generals. In addition to the criminal investigations, the Inspector General’s Office also opened disciplinary investigations through its regional offices in Cordoba, Antioquia, Choco, and Apartado. All disciplinary investigations were in initial stages at the end of June.
The creation of a truth-seeking mechanism in Law 1424 of 2010 (the Legal Status for Ex-Combatants Law) requires demobilized paramilitary fighters who did not commit crimes against humanity to provide testimony on the actions and structures of illegal armed groups to the Center for Historical Memory as a requirement to being granted legal status and suspended sentences for lesser crimes. Moreover, the Victims’ Law provides for the establishment and institutionalization of formal archives, a Center for Historical Memory for collecting oral testimony and material documentation concerning violations of international human rights norms and law, and directing construction of the National Museum of Memory in consultation with victims. The Center for Historical Memory documented the killing of at least 220,000 citizens in the context of the armed conflict from 1958 to 2012.
Civil society groups also accused all sides of the armed conflict of having engaged in activities that targeted noncombatant civilians, including women and children.
Killings: Security forces were implicated in alleged unlawful killings. CINEP reported there were nine such killings during the first six months of the year (CINEP attributed four to the army, four to the CNP, and one to INPEC employees).
A criminal investigation continued into the 2013 alleged extrajudicial executions by military personnel of peasants Gumercindo Guerrero Preciado and John Freddy Garcia Bastidas. The Inspector General’s Office had not opened any disciplinary investigation in this case as of September.
According to the human rights advocacy NGO Minga, the legal cases involving three victims associated with the 2008 Soacha extrajudicial killings scandal were still in the initial investigation stage at the Attorney General’s Office as of September. The case of one more victim was in an evidence hearing, and the case of one additional victim was in a final allegation hearing. From January to September, there were no convictions reached.
Guerrilla groups were also responsible for unlawful killings of government security forces and civilians. For example, on July 30, in Miranda, Cauca, as a result of a FARC IED attack on military units, a neighboring house exploded, killing a two-year-old girl and wounding her four-year-old brother and parents.
In many areas of the country, FARC and ELN worked together to attack government forces or demobilized paramilitary members; in other areas they fought each other. Various courts convicted members of the FARC secretariat in absentia on charges that included aggravated homicide.
The FARC killed persons it suspected of collaborating with government authorities or rival drug-trafficking groups. For example, on March 15, in the rural area of Tumaco, Narino, police officers Major German Olinto Mendez Pabon and Edilmer Munoz Ortiz were kidnapped by rebels belonging to the Daniel Aldana group of the FARC’s 29th Front, while the police officers were allegedly unarmed and doing community service in plain clothes. Three days later the dead bodies of both were found with evident signs of torture.
Abductions: According to the NGO Fundacion Pais Libre, between January 1 and June 30, a total of 135 persons were kidnapped, 61 percent of which for extortion. Pais Libre also reported that authorities rescued 57 kidnapping victims, 58 were released by captors, 10 were presumed to remain in captivity, one was released due to pressure by authorities, three were able to escape, and six died in captivity. FARC and ELN guerrillas continued to take hostages for ransom and for political reasons. The FARC also held prominent citizens and security force members to use as pawns in prisoner exchanges. The government reported that guerrillas kidnapped 36 persons (19 by the FARC and 17 by the ELN) from January 1 to July 31.
The FARC and ELN released some kidnapping victims. For example, in March in Meta department, on the road between Vista Hermosa and San Juan de Arama, five petroleum company employees kidnapped by the FARC’s 27th front were released due to pressure by the army and air force. The ICRC reported that in some exceptional cases, it had requested and been granted access to persons in the hands of nonstate armed actors, but from January through August, it had not participated in the release of any such persons.
Several victims’ groups continued to demand that the FARC reveal the whereabouts of hundreds of police officials, soldiers, and civilians considered missing. The Ministry of Defense reported that through July, it had registered 25 civilians, no members of the armed forces, and one member of the police who were presumed to be in FARC captivity.
Courts convicted some FARC members of kidnappings. Through July the Attorney General’s Office reported one conviction during the year for kidnappings committed by the FARC. In January, FARC leaders, including Timoleon Jimenez and Ivan Marquez, were sentenced in absentia by a criminal judge in Valledupar to 38 years in prison for the 2001 kidnapping and killing of Maria Consuelo Araujo, former minister of culture. Since Marquez was a member of the FARC’s peace negotiating team in Havana, arrest warrants against him were suspended.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The Presidential Program of Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines declared that IEDs, deployed primarily by the FARC and ELN, caused 27 deaths and 161 injuries from January through the end of August, including at least 30 children or adolescents.
Several human rights NGOs stated that the FARC charged civilian families for the replacement cost of the land mines and IEDs when innocent family members accidentally set them off. The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines declared that the FARC continued to be the largest individual user of land mines and IEDs and that the ELN also continued to use land mines and IEDs. Government humanitarian demining brigades cleared more than 456,982 acres and destroyed 48 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions between January 1 and July 31.
The government continued to employ one civilian organization to engage in demining activities, the Halo Trust. From January through July, the Halo Trust cleared more than 16,812 acres and destroyed 28 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions. One other civilian organization completed the accreditation process during the year, while two other civilian organizations were preparing their applications for accreditation.
There were numerous reports that FARC and ELN guerrillas mistreated civilians and prisoners, including injured and sick persons.
International organizations reported that systemic sexual violence against women and girls by some armed actors persisted (see section 6, Women). Human rights NGOs Sisma Mujer, Amnesty International, and others reported that sexual violence remained one of the main tools used by armed actors to instill fear and force displacement. The standing orders of the FARC, which had large numbers of female combatants, prohibited pregnancies among its troops, and there were numerous credible reports of compulsory abortions. The government continued to employ an interagency investigative unit in Bogota, the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit (GEDES), which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases (see section 6, Women).
Child Soldiers: The recruitment and use of children by illegal armed groups was widespread. The FARC and ELN routinely engaged in forced recruitment of persons under 18 years of age, with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) estimating that the average age of recruitment was 12 years.
The ICBF stated that it was impossible to know how many children were serving as soldiers for the FARC but reported that more than 5,564 children had demobilized from illegal armed groups between 1999 and June 2014. Of the children who had demobilized by June, 24.6 percent were of indigenous descent and 15.4 percent were Afro-Colombian. The FARC and other illegal armed groups reportedly used children to fight, recruit other children to act as spies, gather intelligence, serve as sex slaves, and provide logistical support.
The ICBF continued its educational outreach program that included a component on prevention of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups. The program, with a budget of more than 65 billion pesos (COP) ($28.9 million), maintained teen and preteen clubs and other avenues for educational outreach in 32 departments and 811 municipalities.
During the year the Interagency Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children by Illegal Armed Groups implemented 47 programs and projects aimed at preventing recruitment, use, and sexual violence of children. The committee supported 213 cases in the Attorney General’s Office and constructed a communication strategy with a focus on the integral rights of children and guidelines for the prevention of sexual violence. The committee also formed immediate action teams in 186 municipalities across 22 departments.
The use of child soldiers by armed groups was prohibited by law.
International organizations continued to identify recruitment of indigenous youth by illegal armed groups as a serious concern. The FARC continued to issue warnings to indigenous communities outlining a policy to conduct child recruitment and warning recipients not to challenge it.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: Guerrilla groups and organized criminal groups prevented or limited the delivery of food and medicines to towns and regions in contested drug-trafficking corridors, straining local economies and increasing forced displacement.
Guerrillas routinely used civilians to shield combatant forces and forcibly displaced peasants to clear key drug and weapons transit routes in strategic zones. Guerrillas also imposed de facto blockades of communities in regions where they had significant influence. For example, international organizations reported many incidents in which illegal armed groups forcibly recruited indigenous persons or forced them to collaborate, restricted their freedom of movement, and blockaded their communities. During the year the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues received reports of rape, forced recruitment, use of minors as informants, and other abuses in the context of conflict.
Organized criminal gangs, and FARC and ELN guerrillas forcibly entered private homes, monitored private communications, and engaged in forced displacement and conscription. Organized criminal groups also continued to displace civilians residing along key drug and weapon transit corridors (see section 2.d.).
There were reports that the FARC, ELN, and other armed actors engaged in the extraction of and cross-border trade in conflict minerals, which contributed to abuses by providing funding for weapons and by prompting rebels to forcibly displace residents in order to clear mining areas.