The country’s decades-long internal armed conflict involving government forces and two terrorist guerrilla groups (the FARC and the 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 its hope to open formal peace negotiations with the ELN.
Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize on an individual basis. During the year through July, according to the Ministry of Defense, 659 members of guerrilla groups demobilized (546 from the FARC, 111 from the ELN, and two 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.
During the year through July, the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the ICRC, conducted 10 human rights training sessions for 600 ministry personnel. In addition the Ministry of Defense reported giving more than 16,600 employees additional training related to human rights. In September the International Defense Institute for Legal Studies conducted training for 40 unit commanders and military legal advisers with the objective of strengthening the working relationships between unit leaders and their operational legal advisers.
The government’s Legal Framework for Peace serves as a basis for an eventual transitional justice system, to be devised by government and FARC negotiators in Havana. The framework stipulates that the judiciary prioritize cases involving those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in a systematic manner and that it provide suspended 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 other cases and permits former combatants not convicted of crimes against humanity to serve as elected officials.
Critics of the legislation argued that provisions for reduced or suspended sentences and stipulations that only those most responsible for the worst crimes be prosecuted, as well as the focus 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 2013 hearing, the NGO 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 because it would be impossible to investigate and criminally prosecute all crimes committed during the past 50 years.
In 2013 the Constitutional Court conditionally upheld the Legal Framework for Peace. Through two special communiques, the court declared that such a transitional justice strategy was a legitimate mechanism for achieving peace and 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.
On September 23, the government and the FARC announced a preliminary framework agreement on transitional justice. The full text of the agreement was under negotiation as of November. A joint government-FARC communique indicated that those deemed most responsible for the most serious crimes would face a tribunal and would be required to provide the complete truth to receive special judicial benefits, including sentences of five to eight years of restricted liberty and labor, while those that opt not to confess would face prison sentences of up to 20 years.
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 implementation. Participants in the justice and peace process may receive reduced sentences if they comply with the terms of the JPL. Testimony from voluntary confessions also initiated 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 June 30, a total of 5,024 former paramilitary and guerrilla defendants participated in confession hearings. During these sessions the defendants confessed to 57,207 crimes, and information was obtained that resulted in the exhumation of 978 victims. As of the same date, 813 defendants were formally charged in presentations before the courts by the Office of the Attorney General Office’s Justice and Peace Unit. During the year through June, 1,106 defendants reached their eight-year maximum incarceration dates under the agreed arrangement, and authorities released 39 for reintegration into society. The Justice and Peace Unit moved to expel from the JPL process those defendants who do not fully comply by confessing crimes, turning over illegally acquired assets, and ceasing their criminal activity.
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 to be used for required victim reparations.
On August 18, the Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the sentence against three former mayors of the municipality of Astrea, Cesar Department. Garibaldi Lopez Acuna, Jaime Sajonero Pallares, and Edgar Orlando Barrios Ortega were convicted of conspiracy and providing support to paramilitary groups. The three were linked to the G8 criminal group, led by former paramilitary leader Jorge Tovar Pupo.
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 for being granted legal status and suspended sentences for lesser crimes. The law also provides for establishing and institutionalizing formal archives, a Center for Historical Memory for collecting oral testimony and material documentation concerning violations of international human rights norms and law, and for 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, 80 percent of whom were unarmed civilians.
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 13 such killings during the first half of the year.
CINEP reported that criminal organizations were also implicated in 57 unlawful killings during the first six months of the year.
The investigation continued into allegations that military personnel of the army’s Heroes of Arauca battalion killed civilian Ever Lopez on March 5 in the municipality of El Castillo, Meta Department.
According to the human rights advocacy NGO Minga, as of August 21, seven years after the events took place, the legal cases involving five victims associated with the 2008 Soacha extrajudicial killings scandal were still in the initial investigation stage at the Attorney General’s Office. The cases of three more victims were in evidence hearings, the case of another victim was pending plea bargain arrangements with four soldiers who accepted their responsibility in the crimes, and the cases of five victims were in final allegation hearings. As of August 21, there were no convictions.
Guerrilla groups were also responsible for killings of government security forces and civilians. The FARC killed persons it suspected of collaborating with government authorities or rival drug-trafficking groups. The Ombudsman’s Office documented numerous actions affecting the civilian population. For example, on May 29, members of the FARC Daniel Aldana Mobile Column killed Selgibes Jasier Zambrano Rosero, a 38-year-old civilian, and seriously injured Diana Marcela Quinones Garcia, a 16-year-old who was pregnant at the time.
In some areas of the country, the FARC and the ELN worked together to control drug production, processing, and transit areas, and 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 including aggravated homicide.
Abductions: According to the NGO Fundacion Pais Libre, between January 1 and July 31, criminals and illegal armed groups kidnapped 111 persons, including 65 for extortion. Pais Libre also reported that authorities rescued 37 kidnapping victims, 54 were released by captors, 12 were presumed to remain in captivity, two were released due to pressure by authorities, five were able to escape, and one 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 in prisoner exchanges. The government reported that guerrillas kidnapped 22 persons (seven by the FARC and 15 by the ELN) from January 1 to July 31.
The FARC and the ELN released some kidnapping victims. On July 7, members of the FARC’s 32nd Front kidnapped army Lieutenant Cristian Moscoso Rivera during an attack on a convoy of petroleum trucks. Moscoso was released on July 19.
The ICRC reported that from January 1 through September 21, it participated in 14 operations to release persons in the hands of nonstate actors, six with the ELN and eight with the FARC.
On October 17, the government and the FARC announced an agreement to locate and identify the missing and disappeared victims from the armed conflict and to begin immediately to share information with the ICRC.
Courts convicted some FARC members of kidnappings. During the year through June, the Attorney General’s Office reported four convictions for kidnappings committed by the FARC. On April 7, FARC leader Henry Castellanos Garzon was sentenced to 30 years for the 2000 kidnapping of Alexander Carmona and Esteban Madero Velilla in Bogota. Carmona and Madero were taken to the Sumapaz region and delivered to the FARC’s Eastern Block, who kept them in captivity for almost two years.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The Presidential Directorate for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines reported that IEDs, deployed primarily by the FARC and the ELN, caused 13 deaths and 107 injuries from January 1 through the end of July, including at least 11 minors. 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. 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 military’s humanitarian demining battalion cleared more than 36 acres and destroyed 57 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions during the year through July. HALO Trust, a civilian organization, also continued to engage in demining activities. From January 1 through August 15, HALO Trust cleared more than 18 acres and destroyed 60 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions. In total, since September 2013, when HALO Trust initiated operations in the country, the group has cleared approximately 38 acres and destroyed 168 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions.
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 illegal armed groups 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 the ELN routinely engaged in forced recruitment of persons under age 18. According to the UN, illegal armed groups killed or threatened children with death on suspicion of being informants for the military. The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) estimated the average age of recruitment was 12 years. Having admitted a practice of recruiting minors in the context of the peace talks, on February 12, the FARC announced that it would cease recruitment of individuals younger than 17.
The ICBF stated that it was impossible to know how many FARC child soldiers exist but reported that more than 5,800 children demobilized from illegal armed groups between 1999 and July 2015. Of the children who demobilized through July, 9.36 percent were of indigenous descent and 6.49 percent were Afro-Colombian. Between January and September, 176 children demobilized. The FARC and other illegal armed groups reportedly used children as combatants and recruiters of other children to act as spies, gather intelligence, serve as sex slaves, and provide logistical support.
The ICBF provided demobilized children extensive assistance, including education, health care, and psychological support. The ICBF continued its educational outreach program, which included a component on prevention of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups. The program, with a budget of more than 79 billion Colombian pesos (COP) ($26.5 million), maintained teen and preteen clubs and other avenues for educational outreach in 32 departments and 926 municipalities, reaching 196,000 children.
During the year the Interagency Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children by Illegal Armed Groups implemented 53 programs and projects in 991 municipalities aimed at preventing recruitment, use, and sexual violence against children. The committee supported 102 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 29 municipalities across 20 departments. The Attorney General’s Office prioritized key cases for processing under the JPL. Cases in which former paramilitaries were accused of recruiting child soldiers were included in the prioritized cases.
The penalty for leaders of armed groups who use child soldiers is life imprisonment.
International organizations continued to identify recruitment of indigenous youth by illegal armed groups as a serious concern.
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, including efforts of international relief and humanitarian organizations. These actions strained local economies and increased forced displacement. In June and July, the FARC conducted multiple strikes against oil pipelines and tanker trucks. On June 8, FARC guerrillas conducted the first of five attacks on the Transandino Pipeline. The attacks resulted in an estimated 410,000 gallons of crude oil entering the river systems of Narino Department in what the government described as the worst oil spill in the country in a decade. Also on June 8, FARC attackers hijacked 19 oil tankers in Putumayo Department and forced the drivers to dump 130,000 gallons of crude oil on the road, contaminating local water supplies for thousands and damaging the fragile riverine ecosystem, which local inhabitants depend on for sustenance and livelihood.
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, the 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 displace residents forcibly in order to clear mining areas.