February 3, 2010

II. The Successor Groups: A Predictable Outcome of a Flawed Demobilization

The successor groups, though different in important respects from the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC), have taken on many of the same roles, often with some of the same personnel, in some cases with the same counterinsurgency objectives of the AUC. And whether categorized as new paramilitaries or organized criminal gangs, the successor groups are committing egregious abuses and terrorizing the civilian population in ways all too reminiscent of the AUC. As detailed in this chapter, the successor groups have been able to play this role in part because of serious flaws in the AUC demobilization process, which left portions of the paramilitary blocks active and failed to dismantle their criminal networks and sources of funding and support.

A Fundamentally Flawed Demobilization

Between 2003 and 2006 the Colombian government implemented a demobilization process for the AUC. The Colombian government reports that 31,671 paramilitaries demobilized as part of this process, meaning that they participated in “demobilization” ceremonies in which many of them turned over weapons, pledged to abandon their groups and cease criminal activity, and entered government-sponsored reintegration programs.[11] The majority of the persons who went through the ceremonies received pardons for their membership in the group, but were never investigated for other crimes. Since 2005, approximately 1,800 of the demobilized have begun a process of confessions in exchange for sentencing benefits under the “Justice and Peace Law”—a special law drafted by the Uribe administration to offer a single reduced sentence of five to eight years to paramilitaries responsible for serious crimes who fulfill various requirements.[12]

The demobilization process suffered from two basic problems. First, the government failed to take basic steps to verify who was demobilizing. As a result, in at least some regions there was fraud in the demobilizations, and a portion of the groups remained active. Second, the government failed to take advantage of the opportunity to interrogate demobilizing individuals about the AUC blocks’ criminal networks and assets, which may have allowed groups to hide assets, recruit new members and continue operating under new guises.

Failure to Verify Who Was Demobilizing

It is clear that many paramilitary combatants did in fact go through the demobilization process and abandoned their groups for good. However, there is substantial evidence that many others who participated in the demobilization process were stand-ins rather than paramilitaries, and that portions of the groups remained active. There is also evidence that members of the groups who supposedly demobilized continued engaging in illegal activities.

For example, Human Rights Watch has for years received reports that, during the demobilization of the Cacique Nutibara Block in Medellín in 2003, paramilitary forces recruited young men simply for the purpose of participating in the demobilization ceremony, luring them with promises of a generous stipend and other benefits. The reports of fraud were so widespread that Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, stated that “48 hours before [the demobilization] they mixed in common criminals and stuck them in the package of demobilized persons.”[13] Officials from the Permanent Human Rights Unit of Medellín’s Personería said that, based on surveys in Medellín neighborhoods, they estimate that about 75 percent of the persons who demobilized as part of the Cacique Nutibara and Heroes de Granada Blocks in Medellín were not really combatants in those groups.[14]

Similarly, a demobilized man in Norte de Santander said that, in the demobilization of the Catatumbo block, while most of the group’s members did go through the process, “there were people who never belonged to the group but demobilized because they wanted a benefit. He claims they approached the commander, who said ‘if you want to you can enter.’”[15] In other regions, such as Nariño, Human Rights Watch has received reports that paramilitary commanders put on a show of demobilizing while in fact leaving behind a core group of members who could continue exerting territorial control.

In other cases, combatants and mid-level commanders who supposedly demobilized have continued engaging in the same activities. One demobilized individual told Human Rights Watch that his unit participated in the demobilization process “due to pressure from the high commanders, but our local commander told us that whoever wanted to return should just come back to [the region]. They’re still there. That hasn’t finished.”[16]

The most obvious case of fraud is that of the demobilization of the Northern Block, which had a strong presence in the coastal states of Cesar, Magdalena, Atlántico, and La Guajira. Between March 8 and 10, 2006, 4,759 supposed members of the Northern Block demobilized alongside their commander, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, also known by his alias as “Jorge 40.”[17] But the next day, investigators from the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office made a huge find: as part of a long-standing criminal investigation, they arrested Édgar Ignacio Fierro Flórez, also known as “Don Antonio,” a member of the Northern Block who had participated in the demobilization ceremonies but who was reportedly continuing to run the group’s operations in that part of the country.[18] In a search, the investigators found computers and a massive quantity of electronic and paper files about the Northern Block.

Human Rights Watch had access to internal investigative reports about the contents of a computer, hard drives, and files, which show that there was widespread fraud in the Northern Block’s demobilization.[19] The files reportedly contain numerous emails and instant messenger discussions, allegedly involving Jorge 40, in which he apparently gave orders to his lieutenants to recruit as many people as possible from among peasants and unemployed persons to participate in the demobilization. The messages include instructions to prepare these civilians for the day of the demobilization ceremony, so that they would know how to march and sing the paramilitaries’ anthem. They address details such as how to obtain uniforms, and include instructions to guide the “demobilizing” persons on what to say to prosecutors, telling them the questions prosecutors would ask, and how to answer. For example, the messages emphasize that these persons must make clear that there are no “urban” members of the organization—sectors of the group continued operating in urban areas like Barranquilla. One message says that the paramilitaries gave a list of individuals who were demobilizing to the National Intelligence Service (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad or DAS) in advance, to see if any of them had criminal records, and that the DAS had said they did not. Other messages discuss the members of the group who would not demobilize, so that they could continue controlling key regions.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, which was present at the Northern Block’s demobilization, described its concern over fraud:

[M]any persons claiming demobilization status did not appear to be combatants... [T]he delegation was concerned at the low number of combatants compared to the number of persons who said they were radio operators, food distributors, or laundresses.... They repeatedly claimed that they were following direct orders of the “maximum leader” of Bloque Norte, Jorge 40, and they provided no information to identify lower ranking officers of the armed unit, thus undermining the credibility of their statement.[20]

As Human Rights Watch has previously documented, the demobilization process lacked mechanisms designed to ensure that those who were going through the demobilization ceremonies were in fact paramilitaries or that all paramilitaries in each block in fact demobilized.[21] As noted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with respect to the Northern Block’s demobilization, “there were no mechanisms for determining which persons really belonged to the unit, and were therefore entitled to social and economic benefits, nor for establishing consequences in case of fraud.”[22] The authorities failed to effectively interrogate the persons seeking demobilization benefits, or conduct even a cursory investigation of who they were and what they did.

Contrary to common belief, the vast majority of persons who have “demobilized” have not done so pursuant to the “Justice and Peace Law”—the specialized law designed to grant reduced sentences to demobilized persons responsible for serious crimes.[23] Rather, they have simply sought to receive economic benefits and pardons for their membership in the group pursuant to Colombian Law 782 of 2002 and Decree 128 of 2003.

Until July of 2007, the Colombian government interpreted Law 782 and Decree 128 to allow the government to offer a pardon or “cessation” of criminal proceedings for the crime of concierto para delinquir (conspiracy, the standard charge against paramilitaries) and related crimes such as illegal weapons possession.[24]

Thus, thousands of individuals going through the demobilization ceremonies were simply asked to answer a handful of questions by prosecutors, and later granted pardons or “cessation.”[25]They then entered reintegration programs that offered them stipends and other economic and social benefits, with no further scrutiny from the authorities.[26]

Because of the lack of rigor of the process, it is now very difficult to determine how many of the demobilized were combatants, or how many of the real paramilitaries remained active.

The government has had opportunities to restructure the demobilization process to address some of these problems, but so far has failed to do so. Specifically in July 2007, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that paramilitaries’ crimes did not constitute “political crimes,” the only type of offense that is pardonable according to Law 782 of 2002 and Colombia’s Constitution.[27] Until the Supreme Court ruling, the government had been applying pardons for paramilitaries on the ground that their crimes were political.[28] The Court’s ruling, while not specifically addressing the application of Law 782, contradicted the government’s interpretation of “paramilitarism” as a political crime that could be pardoned.

But instead of taking advantage of this new opportunity to restructure the demobilization process and conduct more thorough interviews and investigations of the demobilized persons, President Uribe reacted to the ruling by accusing the Court of operating with an “ideological bias,” and claiming that the Court’s independence was only “relative” because “all the institutions of the State must cooperate with the good of the Nation.”[29] Uribe administration officials claimed that the ruling threatened to derail the demobilization process because approximately 19,000 individuals who had gone through demobilization ceremonies had not yet received pardons, and now they would be barred from doing so.[30]

To avoid having to investigate the demobilized paramilitaries, in July 2009 the Colombian Congress amended the country’s Penal Code to allow the Office of the Attorney General to apply what is known as the “principle of opportunity” (a form of prosecutorial discretion) to suspend investigations against or refuse to prosecute demobilized persons.[31]

Failure to Dismantle Paramilitaries’ Criminal and Financial Networks

To secure a genuine and lasting paramilitary demobilization, the government should have focused on the sources of their power: their drug trafficking routes and criminal activity, their assets, their financial backers, and their support networks in the political system and military.

But as Human Rights Watch has documented in past reports, the government actively resisted efforts to dismantle paramilitaries’ networks and to investigate their accomplices.[32] For example, the Justice and Peace Law, which offers reduced sentences to paramilitaries responsible for atrocities in exchange for their demobilization, as originally drafted by the government, did not provide for effective sanctions if paramilitaries seeking reduced sentences failed to confess their crimes or turn over illegally acquired assets.

Some of these problems were corrected thanks to a Constitutional Court ruling, which said that paramilitaries who wanted reduced sentences would be required to give full and truthful confessions and turn over illegally acquired assets, and that they would risk losing reduced sentences if they lied.[33] As a result, throughout 2007 and part of 2008, prosecutors began to obtain some valuable information from paramilitary commanders about their crimes and accomplices. At the same time, the Colombian Supreme Court began a series of unprecedented investigations of paramilitary collaborators in the political system.[34] Today, more than 80 members of the Colombian Congress have come under Supreme Court investigation or have been convicted for links to paramilitaries.[35]

Yet the implementation of the reformed Justice and Peace Law has continued to suffer from serious problems.[36] The vast majority of paramilitaries who demobilized are not actively participating in the Justice and Peace Law process, as only the ones who already had criminal records or were afraid they might be caught had a real incentive to participate—the overwhelming majority simply sought pardons under Law 782. The Attorney General’s Office lists 3,712 persons as having applied for benefits under the Justice and Peace Law.[37] Of these, only 1,836—less than half—have started their “versiones libres”—the statements to prosecutors in which they’re supposed to confess their crimes if they wish to receive reduced sentences. And only five are reported to have completed their confessions.[38] The leaders who probably had the most information to offer have been extradited to the United States, where they have, for the most part, ceased talking to Colombian authorities.[39]

The Colombian government has yet to make a serious nationwide effort to track down the AUC’s massive illegally obtained assets and wealth, which can easily be used to recruit new members and continue running criminal operations under new guises.

Among other illegal activities, the paramilitaries were responsible for widespread land takings, but the government has yet to identify the stolen land. “I left my land with my children because of threats and massacres in Ungía, Chocó,” one displaced woman told Human Rights Watch. “Those who didn’t leave are now dead... The majority of people from there left land that today the paramilitaries possess.”[40] Today, according to official statistics, more than 3 million people are registered as internally displaced in Colombia.[41] A recent national poll of displaced persons found that the largest group—37 percent—was pushed out by paramilitary groups.[42] Most left behind land or real estate.[43] Official estimates of the amount of land left behind by displaced persons range from 2.9 million hectares (between 2001 and 2006, according to the State Comptroller’s Office) to 6.8 million hectares (according to the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation, or “Social Action,” in a 2004 study).[44] The takings have particularly affected Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that have been pushed out of their traditional territories.[45]

As of February 2008, the National Reparations Fund, charged with holding land and assets turned over by paramilitaries during the Justice and Peace Process, contained only US$5 million worth of assets in the form of land, cattle, cash, and vehicles.[46] As of October 2009, only thirty-one paramilitaries, and six paramilitary blocks, had officially turned over assets to the government as part of the Justice and Peace Process.[47]

At least part of the problem is that the government itself decreed that individual paramilitaries could turn over illegal assets anytime before they were actually charged with crimes under the Justice and Peace Law—giving them little incentive to turn them over early on.[48] Once they were extradited, most leaders lost even that incentive.

Identifying and recovering the land that paramilitaries took by force is a complex task that will require a well-planned strategy and the investment of adequate resources. The Justice and Peace Law, various implementing decrees, and Constitutional Court rulings require the government to ensure land restitution.[49] But the government has only recently started to establish the regional commissions on land restitution required by the Justice and Peace Law.[50] And it has yet to invest adequate resources to collect basic information about the displaced persons and the land or other property that was taken from them.[51]

Unless the government takes effective measures to identify the land that paramilitaries took and return it to its owners, it will be leaving intact a significant source of wealth and power for paramilitary accomplices and front men. Due to the lack of investigation of this issue, it is difficult to know for sure to what extent AUC assets and financing sources have continued fueling the activities of the successor groups. However, as described in later sections, in regions such as Urabá landowners who benefited from paramilitary takings have been reported to be working with successor groups to threaten and even kill victims who seek to recover land.

Finally, as Human Rights Watch has documented before, despite the efforts of the Supreme Court and others to investigate and hold accountable paramilitary collaborators in politics and the military, the government has repeatedly taken steps that have undermined or limited progress in this area.[52] In particular, the Uribe administration has repeatedly launched public personal attacks on the Supreme Court and its members, in what looks like a concerted campaign to smear and discredit the court, and has proposed constitutional amendments to remove the so-called “para-politics” investigations from the court’s jurisdiction. It has also blocked meaningful efforts to reform Congress to eliminate paramilitary influence.[53] According to recent news reports, several of the politicians who have come under investigation and have resigned are supporting candidacies of their siblings and spouses to replace them, so that they may retain their influence in Congress.[54]

Links between the AUC and its Successors

There are differences between the successor groups and the AUC. First, the successor groups, for the most part, appear to operate independently from one another—they have yet to form a single coalition articulating their shared goals and interests or coordinating their criminal activities and, in some cases, military-like operations. Second, their leaders are less visible than some of the AUC leaders, such as Carlos Castaño, were. And third, the focus of most successor groups appears to be less on counterinsurgency. Nonetheless, they share with the AUC a deep involvement in mafia-like criminal activities, including drug-trafficking, as has been noted not only by the government but also by the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (the MAPP/OAS).[55] And as described below, there are other significant ways in which these groups are a continuation of, and are similar to, the AUC’s blocks.


Based on police reports about the structure of the successor groups, it appears that most are led by former mid-level commanders of the AUC who either never demobilized or simply continued their operations after supposedly demobilizing. This is true of Pedro Oliverio Guerrero (Cuchillo), the leader of ERPAC; several of the leaders of the groups operating in Medellín; and Ovidio Isaza in the Middle Magdalena region, among others. Daniel Rendón, who led the Urabeños until his arrest in 2009, was also an AUC member and the brother of Freddy Rendón, the leader of the Elmer Cárdenas block of the AUC. The main exception is the Rastrojos group, which is reported to have developed from an armed wing of the North of the Valley drug cartel, which was barred from participating in the demobilization process.

Drug Trafficking and Other Criminal Activity

Like the AUC blocks, the successor groups are deeply involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities, including smuggling, extortion, and money laundering. In fact, the AUC was a descendant of “Muerte a Secuestradores” (Death to Kidnappers), an alliance formed in the 1980s by the drug lords Pablo Escobar, Fidel Castaño, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, and others to free relatives or traffickers who had been kidnapped by guerrillas.[56]

In Norte de Santander, for example, even though the Catatumbo Block of the AUC engaged in horrific massacres and killings of civilians whom they labeled as “guerrilla sympathizers,” sources said they rarely confronted the guerrillas directly. One of their main activities was controlling the lucrative drug corridors and smuggling over the border with Venezuela, as well as extortion and other criminal activity.[57]

Many well-known paramilitary leaders like “Don Berna” or “Macaco” were known primarily as drug traffickers before they claimed the mantle of paramilitarism.[58]

One senior police officer went so far as to tell Human Rights Watch that he saw clear continuity between the paramilitaries and the successor groups, in the sense that the AUC’s blocks “were not paramilitaries; they were narcotrafficking mafias that latched on to paramilitarism. [The successor groups] are the product of a demobilization process that was full of lies. Those guys tricked all of us. They included young boys who were displaced. The ones who killed did not demobilize.”[59]

Counterinsurgency Operations

Human Rights Watch received information indicating that some of the groups (or sectors of them) occasionally engage in counterinsurgency operations and persecute persons whom they view as FARC collaborators, particularly in regions where the FARC still has a presence. For example, in Meta, residents reported that members of the successor groups had been seeking information about persons who might have helped guerrillas, and had threatened some people as “guerrilla collaborators.” In Nariño, too, Human Rights Watch received reports of possible confrontations between some of the successor groups and the FARC.

Many of the threats that trade unionists, human rights defenders, and others have received from the successor groups refer to their targets as guerrillas or guerrilla collaborators, using language similar to that used by the AUC. Similarly, threatening flyers that have appeared in many Colombian towns and cities in the last year or so, and which are sometimes signed by “Black Eagles” or other similar groups, often label their recipients “military objectives” and accuse them of being “guerrillas.”[60]

Most successor groups appear less focused on counterinsurgency than the AUC. In fact, government sources often speak of links between the successor groups and FARC or ELN guerrillas, at least for purposes of drug trafficking. Several sources told Human Rights Watch that in Nariño and Cauca, the Rastrojos (which were never part of the AUC) have developed an alliance with the ELN guerrillas against the FARC to control territory for drug trafficking.[61]

Yet the AUC itself included several groups that did not have a strong counterinsurgency focus, such as Don Berna’s groups in Medellín, which were to a large extent focused on controlling criminal activity. The same is true of the groups run by Carlos Mario Jiménez Naranjo (“Macaco”), the head of the Central Bolívar Block of the AUC; Rodrigo Pérez Alzate (“Pablo Sevillano”), the head of the Liberators of the South Block; and Francisco Javier Zuluaga (“Gordolindo”) who led the Pacific Block of the AUC.[62]

According to one of the specialized prosecutors charged with investigating the successor groups, these groups are “a development from the paramilitaries... That ideological base that the paramilitaries had, which was already very questionable, now they have it even less.”[63]


[11] Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” (Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report), December 2006, www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/libro/Libro.pdf (accessed October 13, 2009), p. 99.

The number refers to paramilitaries who participated in “collective” demobilizations of their blocks. Another 3,682 are reported to have demobilized “individually”—that is, on their own and not as part of a larger block. Colombian National Police, Office to Coordinate with the High Advisor for Reintegration, Collectively and Individually Demobilized Persons: “Monitoring Report,” July 2009, http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/web/noticias/2009/julio/documentos/37%20CONTROL%20DESMOVILIZADOS%20JULIO.pdf (accessed October 14, 2009), p. 3.

[12] “Justice and Peace Law,” Colombian Law 975 of July 25, 2005. Human Rights Watch criticized the law extensively when it first came out. Later, the Colombian Constitutional Court approved the law, but conditioned its approval on various modifications, which corrected some of the most serious problems Human Rights Watch and others had identified. As modified by the Court, the Justice and Peace Law requires full and truthful confessions, provides that reduced sentences may be revoked if paramilitaries lie or fail to comply with various requirements, and sets no time limits on investigations. The Court also struck down provisions that would have allowed paramilitaries to serve reduced sentences outside of prison and to count the time they spent negotiating as time served. Colombian Constitutional Court, Sentence C-370/2006, May 18, 2006.

[13] Néstor Alonzo López, “La Última Noche del Cacique” (The Last Night of the Cacique), El Tiempo, November 26, 2003, http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-1038048 (accessed October 29, 2009). Human Rights Watch interview with officials from the Permanent Human Rights Unit of the Personería de Medellín, Medellín, June 2, 2009. Human Rights Watch interview with a former member of the Catatumbo Block of the AUC, Cúcuta (Norte de Santander), September 2, 2008. Human Rights Watch interview with a former member of the Minero Block of the AUC, Sincelejo (Sucre), February 25, 2008.

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with officials from the Permanent Human Rights Unit of the Personería de Medellín, June 2, 2009.

[15] Human Rights Watch interview with a former member of the Catatumbo Block of the AUC, Cúcuta (Norte de Santander), September 2, 2008.

[16] Human Rights Watch interview with a former member of the Mineros Block of the AUC, Sincelejo (Sucre), February 25, 2008.

[17] The High Commissioner for Peace of Colombia reported two demobilizations of members of the Northern Block: one of 2,215 individuals on March 8, 2006, and another of 2,544 persons on March 10, 2006. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” (Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report), pp. 84, 86.

[18] “El Computador de ‘Jorge 40,’” Semana, September 2, 2006, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=96785 (accessed October 29, 2009); “Así Opera El Imperio Criminal de 40,” El Tiempo, October 8, 2006. http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-2231628 (accessed October 29, 2009).

[19] Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, National Directorate of the Technical Investigative Unit, Central Criminal Analysis Unit, “Report No. 299588 to 5th Specialized Human Rights Unit prosecutor,” August 10, 2006.

[20] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “Report on the Implementation of the Justice and Peace Law: Initial Stages in the Demobilization of the AUC and First Judicial Proceedings,” OEA/Ser/L/V/II.Doc.3, October 2, 2007, para. 13.

[21] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors: Colombia’s demobilization of paramilitary groups, vol. 17, no. 3(B), July 2005, http://hrw.org/reports/2005/colombia0805/.

[22] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “Report on the Implementation of the Justice and Peace Law: Initial Stages in the Demobilization of the AUC and First Judicial Proceedings,” para. 14.

[23] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors.

[24] Law 418 of 1997, as modified by Law 782 of 2002, establishes that “the National Government may grant, in each particular case, the benefit of a pardon to nationals who may have been convicted for acts that constitute political crimes when ... the illegal armed group with which there is a peace process ... has demonstrated its will to reincorporate itself to civilian life.” Law 418 of 1997, art. 50. The same article establishes that “the provisions in this title shall not be applied to those who carry out conduct constituting atrocious acts of ferocity or barbarity, terrorism, kidnappings, genocide, homicide outside of combat or putting the victim in a defenseless state.” In addition, Colombian Decree 128 of 2003, which regulates Law 782 for purposes of the collective demobilization of paramilitaries, establishes that “the demobilized who formed part of illegal armed groups who the Operative Committee for the Abandonment of Arms certifies as having demobilized ... shall have the right to a pardon, conditional suspension of the execution of the sentence, cessation of criminal proceedings, the closing of the investigation, or a resolution abandoning the investigation, according to the stage of the proceeding.” Colombian Decree 128 of 2003, art. 13 (English translation by Human Rights Watch).

[25] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors. The demobilizing individuals were photographed, fingerprinted, and issued government identification. They were also asked to answer a set number of questions from prosecutors, but as Human Rights Watch explained at the time, the questions were very superficial: To which block did you belong? When did you join? Who was your commander? Where did you operate? What was your role in the organization? And, why did you demobilize? After the release of Smoke and Mirrors, following our recommendations, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office altered the list of questions its prosecutors asked demobilizing individuals, adding a question about their aliases, as well as a few other essential questions. However, it never turned these interviews into effective interrogations, and the office did not re-interview those who had already gone through the process.

[26] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors.

[27] Supreme Court of Colombia, Ruling in Case No. 26945 on appeal, July 11, 2007.

[28] Justice and Peace Law, Law 975 of 2005, art. 69.

[29] “Uribe Accuses Justices of Supreme Court of having an ‘ideological bias,’” Semana, July 27, 2007.

[30] “Government presents bill to protect demobilized paramilitaries,” Caracol Radio, July 27, 2007; Amalia Morales, “Sedition bill submitted for consideration,” La Prensa, July 30, 2007; Untitled press release, Presidency of Colombia, July 27, 2007, http://www.presidencia.gov.co/prensa_new/sne/2007/julio/27/14272007.htm (accessed April 3, 2008).

[31] Law 1312 of 2009, July 9, 2009, art. 2(17).

[32] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors; Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?: Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia, ISBN 1-56432-385-4, October 16, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/10/16/breaking-grip-0.

[33] Colombian Constitutional Court, Sentence C-370/2006, May 18, 2006.

[34] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors; Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?.

[35] Indepaz Investigative Unit, Parapolítica Chart, Sept. 12, 2009, http://www.indepaz.org.co/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=332:nuevo-cuadro-de-parapolitica&catid=59:paras&Itemid=74 (accessed October 14, 2009).

[36] Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?.

[37] Fiscalía General de la Nación, Postulados a la Ley 975/05, http://www.fiscalia.gov.co/justiciapaz/Documentos/Postulados975.pdf (accessed October 14, 2009).

[38] National Commission on Reparation and Reintegration of Colombia, Versiones Libres Programadas, http://www.cnrr.org.co/new09/vjr/veresta.html (accessed October 14, 2009).

[39]Juan Forero, “Colombian War Crimes Suspects Sit in US Prisons, Victims Protest,” The Washington Post, October 4, 2009; Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with woman attending the Justice and Peace hearing of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo (aka “ Jorge 40”), Barranquilla, Colombia, October 1, 2007.

[41]The Colombian government reports that there are 3,292,666 internally displaced persons in Colombia as of November 30, 2009. Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation, Sole Registry of the Displaced Population, General Charts of the Displaced population, cutoff date of November 30, 2009, http://www.accionsocial.gov.co/Estadisticas/publicacion%20noviembre%20de%202009.htm (accessed December 29, 2009).

[42]Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública Sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado, “Verificando el cumplimiento de los derechos: Primer informe de verificación presentado a la Corte Constitucional,” (“Verifying the fulfillment of rights: First verification report presented to the Constitutional Court”), pp. 52-53, January 31, 2008. Another 29 percent reported being displaced by the FARC, and 3 percent by the ELN; 22.5 percent either gave no answer or refused to answer the question. The same report notes that there is a discrepancy between this survey and the official information system about displaced persons, which attributes only 11.3 percent of cases of displacement to paramilitaries.

[43] According to the national poll, approximately 73.4 percent reported leaving behind land or homes. Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública Sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado, “Verificando el cumplimiento de los derechos: Primer informe de verificación presentado a la Corte Constitucional,” p. 82.

[44]Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública Sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado, “Verificando el cumplimiento de los derechos: Primer informe de verificación presentado a la Corte Constitucional,” p.81.The Office of Colombia’s Inspector General agrees with Social Action’s numbers. Office of the Inspector General of Colombia, “Project on Preventive Control and Monitoring of Public Policies with Regard to Reintegration and Demobilization,” vol. 1, p. 154. Assuming that paramilitaries took 37 percent of that land, they would have taken 2.5 million hectares.

[45] Office of the Inspector General of Colombia, “Project on Preventive Control and Monitoring of Public Policies with Regard to Reintegration and Demobilization,” p. 157.

[46]Human Rights Watch interview with Marlene Mesa, deputy director for Assistance to Victims of Violence—National Reparations Fund, February 22, 2008. Initially, the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace reported that during demobilization ceremonies the groups turned over 59 urban immobile properties, 149 automobiles, and 3 airplanes, and that the groups provided information about 334 rural properties (adding up to 25,601 hectares). Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” (Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report), p. 101. An updated list of items that have been turned over is available on the website of Social Action. Social Action, Victims Reparation Fund, http://www.accionsocial.gov.co/contenido/contenido.aspx?catID=455&conID=1667 (accessed October 14, 2009).

[47]Social Action, Victims Reparation Fund; Plataforma de Organizaciones de Desarrollo Europeas en Colombia, “Informative Bulletin: Paramilitary Demobilization Process,” http://podec.org/index.php?id=396 (accessed October 14, 2009).

[48] Colombian Decree 3391 of 2006, September 29, 2006, art. 5, para. 1.

[49] By decree, the Colombian government ordered in 2006 that the CNRR design a Program on Restitution of Assets, with the assistance of the Commissions on Restitutions of Assets (although these commissions had not yet been created at the time). Colombian Decree 4760 of 2005, December 20, 2005, art. 21.

The government also provided, via decree, that the Superintendency of Notaries and Records (“Superintendencia del Notariado y del Registro”) would be charged with coordinating and implementing a system to cross-reference all records about land extension, ownership, and possession, and transfers of ownership from various state institutions. This system of information is supposed to include property registered in connection with declarations of a risk of imminent displacement or of forced displacement. The decree, which was issued in 2006, provided that the Superintendency would start implementing this system within one month of the issuance of the decree. Colombian Decree 3391 of 2006, art. 4.

However, that did not happen. In January 2008, the government issued another decree ordering the establishment of twelve Regional Commissions on Restitution of Assets. Colombian Decree 176 of 2008, January 24, 2008, art. 5. The Commissions are supposed to operate in Bogotá, Medellín, Sincelejo, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Valledupar, Pasto, Cali, Mocoa, Neiva, Quibdo and Cartagena.

[50] Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, Arranco Programa de Restitucion de Bienes, July 10, 2009, http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2009/julio/10/05102009.html (accessed September 28, 2009).

[51] As of early 2008, officials from the Superintendency of Notaries and Records reported that there were only 191 offices to record property in Colombia, covering only 17 percent of the country’s municipalities.Human Rights Watch interview with Lida Salazar, Superintendent of Notaries and Records, February 22, 2008.

Much of the information the offices do have is insecure. Nearly half of the offices—93 of them according to SNR officials—still keep all their records only on paper. As a result, records are vulnerable to manipulation in local offices. In January 2006, for example, a fire was set in the records offices in Valledupar—a region where the Northern Block of the paramilitaries exerted control—in an apparent attempt to destroy records. “Effort to destroy by fire records of purchase and sale of land in Cesar,” Caracol Radio, January 30, 2006.

In many cases displaced persons had not registered the land they possessed, or they were forced to sell the land at low prices, so that it now appears registered under another person’s name. Paramilitaries have not necessarily kept the land under their own names, but may instead have used front men, or may have sold it. In addition, state agencies have been notorious for their mismanagement of land claims. For example, in 2006 the Inspector General’s Office issued a report finding 37,618 case files at the Colombian Institute of Rural Development (INCODER) involving adjudication of claims over land that had been stuck with no movement over the previous two years. Office of the Inspector General, Analysis of the Execution of the Social Agrarian Reform and the Management of the Colombian Institute of Rural Development, February 2006, pp.22-23.

There have also been reports that paramilitaries have infiltrated government agencies and altered land records. “‘Raponazo’ de paramilitares afectó política de tierras del primer gobierno de Álvaro Uribe,” El Tiempo, May 27, 2007, http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-3571846 (accessed November 4, 2009); “Paramilitaries convert public records offices into military objectives,” El Tiempo, July 29, 2006.

[52] Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?.

[53] Ibid.

[54] “Silla vacia? Je, je,” Semana, http://www.semana.com/noticias-nacion/silla-vacia-je-je/129863.aspx (accessed October 14, 2009). A recent editorial in El Espectador also expressed concern over the continued influence of political parties and candidates linked to paramilitarism in upcoming congressional elections. “¿Persistirá la Captura del Estado?” (Will the Capture of the State Persist?), El Espectador, January 17, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/opinion/editorial/articulo182626-persistira-captura-del-estado (accessed January 19, 2009).

[55] Organization of American States, “Eleventh Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” OEA/Ser.G, CP/doc.4321/08, June 25, 2008, http://www.mapp-oea.org/documentos/informes/Trimestrales%20MAPP/Eleventh_Quarterly_Report.pdf (accessed September 25, 2009).

[56] Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Colombia’s Checkbook Impunity: A Briefing Paper, September 22, 2003, http://hrw.org/backgrounder/americas/checkbook-impunity.pdf, p. 4.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with representative of Fundacion Progresar, Cúcuta, Sept. 1, 2008.

[58] “Don Berna” is a former security chief for the Galeano family, associates of Escobar and members of the Medellín Cartel. Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Colombia’s Checkbook Impunity: A Briefing Paper, p. 10; “The Untouchable One” (“El Intocable”), Semana, June 9, 2007, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=104296 (accessed April 30, 2008).

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with senior official of the National Police, Bogotá, July 17, 2009

[60]“Personas mencionadas en panfletos de Aguilas Negras fueron asesinadas en Maicao y otras ciudades,” Cambio magazine, March 19, 2009, http://www.cambio.com.co/paiscambio/820/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR_CAMBIO-4885847.html (accessed October 14, 2009).

[61] The media has also reported on these links. Ariel Fernando Ávila, “Cómo se está dando la guerra en el Cauca Hoy,” Semana, October 20, 2009, http://www.semana.com/noticias-conflicto-armado/como-esta-dando-guerra-cauca-hoy/130267.aspx (accessed November 2, 2009).

[62] A retired army lieutenant who claims to have worked closely with the BLS and BCB leadership for several years has claimed that the BLS had even conducted drug-related business with fronts of the FARC and ELN guerrillas in 2004 and 2005. “The New ‘Ventilator’ of the Paras” (“El Nuevo ‘ventilador’ para”), Semana (Bogotá), March 8, 2008, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=110124 (accessed April 22, 2008). In May 2005, fifteen tons of cocaine were found on boats in Tumaco marked with symbols of both the FARC and paramilitaries. “Nariño, puerto de coca en el Pacífico” (“Nariño, coca port in the Pacific”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-1676593 (accessed October 2, 2009).

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the Special Tasks Group (grupo de tareas especiales), National Unit on Criminal Gangs (Unidad Nacional Contra Bandas Criminales), July 23, 2009.