February 3, 2010

IV. Colombia’s Response

Despite clear obligations to act against the rise and threat posed by the successor groups, the Colombian government’s response to date has been weak and ineffective. The government has yet to take adequate measures to confront and dismantle the groups, to protect the civilian population from abuses, or to prevent toleration of the successor groups by state agents, by investigating and vigorously prosecuting officials who are credibly alleged to have tolerated or in any way collaborated with the successor groups.

Obligations to Protect against the Successor Groups

The successor groups have been given various labels including paramilitaries, criminal gangs, illegal armed groups, and drug trafficking cartels. Various non-governmental organizations speak of a “new generation of paramilitaries” or “new paramilitary groups.”[320] The MAPP/OAS speaks of “illegal armed units of a criminal nature,” as well as “illegal armed groups,” and “armed factions closely linked to illegal economic activities.”[321] The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights speaks of “illegal armed groups that have emerged after the demobilization process began.”[322]

For its part, the Colombian government refuses to call the successor groups paramilitaries—asserting that the paramilitaries have demobilized—and instead labels them “emerging criminal gangs” (“bandas criminales emergentes” or BACRIM for short). Some sources have explained that the Colombian government’s refusal to label the groups paramilitaries is designed to prevent them from making future claims regarding entitlements and status as illegal armed groups in future negotiations.[323] But this explanation is inadequate, as the Colombian government has engaged in negotiations with criminal organizations—such as Pablo Escobar’s cartel—in the past, regardless of whether they were considered criminals or armed groups.

Yet, as noted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “whatever their denomination, [the groups] remain a legitimate source of concern because they continue to inflict violence on the civilian population.”[324] And irrespective of their label the Colombian government bears specific responsibilities to address the threat that they pose to the civilian population. Those include obligations to protect civilians from harm, prevent abuses, and ensure accountability for abuses when they occur.[325] The level of state responsibility for the abuses of the successor groups will increase depending on the extent to which state agents tolerate or actively collaborate with these groups.

Whether or not the Colombian government wishes to label the groups as paramilitaries, moreover, some groups could be considered armed groups for the purposes of the laws of war (international humanitarian law, IHL). In practice, the level of organization and territorial control enjoyed by the successor groups varies, and some are more closely linked to the conflict between the Colombian security forces and FARC and ELN guerillas than others.

Groups that can be said to be party to the conflict with the guerillas, operate under a responsible command, and exercise such control over territory “as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations” are considered armed groups for the purposes of international humanitarian law and should be bound by IHL.[326] Several of the successor groups, such as New Generation in Nariño, as well as groups operating in the departments of Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare, fit this description, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.[327] Arguably, the other groups in Nariño, as well as the ones from Urabá, which have at times been reported to confront some of the guerrillas and which have a significant territorial presence, fit as well.

Other groups, enjoying less territorial control, less organization, or not aligned to the conflict may simply be “criminal organizations.” Yet in relation to those groups, the state still has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the commission of human rights violations, to carry out serious investigations of violations if committed, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment, and to ensure victims adequate compensation.[328]

Combating the Groups

The Decision to Use the Police, not the Military, to Combat the Successor Groups

Through a directive issued in 2009, the Ministry of Defense has assigned the primary responsibility for combating the successor groups to the Colombian National Police, strictly limiting the role the military may play. This decision was based on the government’s position that the successor groups are simply criminal gangs (bandas criminales or BACRIM), and that it is the proper role of the police, not the military, to confront them.

The Ministry of Defense’s 2009 directive states that “the National Police will have primacy in the fight against the BACRIM. When it considers it to be necessary, it may request support from the Military Forces in accordance with the procedure established in [another section of the directive.]”[329] Specifically, when the police require assistance, the National Police director may request a meeting with an Advisory Group headed by the commander of the Armed Forces, which will determine the level of force that may be used in responding to such requests.[330] The directive also provides that the advisory group will determine which BACRIM may be the targets of military operations in support of the National Police, though it states that “in any case, in compliance with the Military Forces’ constitutional duty to protect the population, when military units carry out operations and have contact with a group that has not been identified as an object of operations... the use of force shall be applied [only] in legitimate defense....”[331]

The police unit charged with carrying out most operations against the successor groups is the Division of Carabineers and Rural Security.[332] Five zones have been prioritized as the main focus of the Carabineers’ operations. Each zone has several mobile squads of Carabineers (each of which is composed of 3 officers, 10 sub-officers, and 107 patrolmen).[333] Police sources said that there were 71 mobile squads in total, of which 20 belonged to the antinarcotics directorate and were used for eradication, not fighting the successor groups. The other 51 were in the Carabineers unit, and were assigned to the fight against the successor groups in rural areas.

There are some advantages to this approach, as the police are more likely to conduct investigations and carry out arrests. The military is more likely to use force, and has been known to commit extrajudicial executions, as has been extensively documented by many organizations and the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.[334]

But the current assignment of responsibilities has led to some problematic consequences in practice.

First, the police do not have a large territorial presence, particularly in rural areas, and so are simply not active in many regions where the successor groups are operating. Typically, the police operate in urban areas and only the Carabineers units are in rural areas. But in most of the rural areas that Human Rights Watch visited and where successor groups were active, residents had not seen any sign of the Carabineers units. This was true of sectors of Meta, Urabá, and Nariño. Although the police claim that they have sufficient resources to do their jobs, a former senior official in the Ministry of Defense contended that the police do not have the capacity or resources to effectively confront the successor groups in rural areas.[335] For example, in Meta, the Vistahermosa police told Human Rights Watch that they were assigned to work only within the urban areas, and were not responsible for handling the successor groups in neighboring rural areas, such as in the small town of Santo Domingo, where residents repeatedly complained of abuses by Cuchillo’s men. But there was no presence of a Carabineers unit nearby to confront this group.[336]

Second, although the directive provides that the military may combat the successor groups to protect the civilian population in areas where police are not present, at least some sectors of the army are failing to do so.

Human Rights Watch observed this in Meta, where despite numerous reports from residents and civilian authorities that Cuchillo’s men were operating in Vistahermosa, representatives of both the police and the army denied that Cuchillo had a strong presence in the area. Worse yet, each entity said the other was responsible for dealing with the groups. Vistahermosa police denied that there were any groups linked to paramilitaries in the area—just guerrillas. “Cuchillo is not in Vistahermosa—maybe in other parts of Meta,” said the commander of the Vistahermosa Police Department.[337] He said his police unit was not responsible for patrolling rural areas, as that is the responsibility of the army.

Col. Correa, Commander of the 12th Mobile Brigade, said there was some organized crime in the region, “but this is a situation the police have to handle—not the army—because these are criminal gangs. They’re not counterinsurgent groups.... If the groups grow a lot, then it would be expected that the police request help from the army, but the groups aren’t that big... There may be 15-20 men in arms, and another 20 informers. Cuchillo is in Guaviare, not Meta.”[338] The Colonel said that his Brigade had 1,600 troops in Vistahermosa.

Mixed Results and Obstacles to Progress in Combating the Groups

The police have produced some important results in the form of arrests of senior members of the successor groups. For example, the group known as “Los Nevados,” which operated along the Atlantic coast in areas formerly controlled by the Northern Block of the AUC, was significantly weakened after the death of one of its leaders, Victor Manuel Mejía Munera, and the arrest of his brother Miguel Ángel.[339] Similarly, the police arrest of “Don Mario” in Urabá, and the many arrests of leaders of the Envigado Office and other groups in Medellín have been important blows to those groups.

Yet the police appear engaged in a losing battle against the groups. In the words of one MAPP/OAS official, “a dead king is a replaced king.” As leaders of the organizations are arrested, they are often replaced by new leaders, as seems to have happened in Urabá after the arrest of Don Mario. And when groups are dealt major blows, other groups step in to fill their shoes. For example, according to one of the specialized prosecutors charged with investigating the successor groups, after the death and arrest of the Mejía Munera twins, the Nevados were absorbed by the Paisas in Magdalena and Barranquilla.[340] Ongoing recruitment means that the groups are able to easily replace lost members.

As previously described, official police figures indicate that the number of members in the groups has remained almost the same since 2006 (growing slightly from 4,000 to 4,037 between 2006 and mid-2009). But their territorial presence has grown, going from 110 municipalities to 173.

This is especially disturbing because during the same period, the security forces reported arresting 6,403 members of the successor groups and killing 1,184. (Of this total, the police arrested 4,244 members of the groups and killed 39, the army arrested 1,823 and killed 1,138, the navy arrested 155 and killed 1, the DAS arrested 179 and killed 6, and the CTI arrested 2.)[341]

The fact that the membership of the successor groups remains unchanged, despite more than 6,000 arrests of their supposed members, raises questions about the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to combat them.

One explanation of the numbers may be that some of the arrests are not well-grounded. One of the specialized prosecutors investigating the successor groups said in many cases, in an effort to produce results, the police had arrested people for various crimes that were unrelated to the successor groups’ activity (for example, failure to pay child support) and counted them as arrests of new group members.[342] It is also likely that the arrests will be insufficient to stem the growth of the groups if not accompanied by meaningful investigations that get to the groups’ sources of financing and disrupt their ability to replace arrested members and leaders.

Lack of Accountability

The Office of the Attorney General of Colombia has created a specialized group to investigate successor groups. The group started working with four prosecutors and seven or eight investigators in Bogotá in November 2008. It also has a few local prosecutors assigned to work with it in Medellín, Meta, and Antioquia. According to one of the specialized prosecutors, due to resource limitations the group started out by focusing on four main groups: the Nevados, ERPAC, the Urabeños, and the Paisas.[343] The prosecutor said they had yet to focus much on Nariño. “The groups mutate constantly. Six months ago the toughest were the Urabeños. Now it’s the Rastrojos. The judicial process is slow. We’re just now starting with Rastrojos.... The worst right now are Rastrojos, Urabeños, Paisas, and ERPAC.”[344]

The main difficulties the unit faces, the prosecutor said, are: first, a need for more prosecutors and investigators within the unit. One prosecutor per major group is not enough, the prosecutor said.[345] Sources in the police agreed, noting that the prosecutors in the unit are “fabulous” and that they could work with the number they had, but that it would be much better to have more.[346] Second, the prosecutor said the members of the unit often were unable to do their work effectively because officials in other state institutions, such as the police and military, were failing to do their jobs adequately (for example, with poor arrests). Third, the prosecutor said that links between the groups and various state institutions, including law enforcement authorities and public security forces, are a serious problem. The prosecutor explained that their unit also investigates such links, but it is difficult to initiate criminal proceedings against public servants, because “they have more to lose” than other people, so prosecutors are more cautious. Third, the prosecutor said the unit needed better access to wiretaps and other means of intercepting communications if it was to effectively pursue officials. “It’s our greatest investigative strength. Witnesses are difficult, they take things back, they get threatened, they refuse protection. But the technical proof is there. It’s difficult to get access to the system for intercepting communications because we don’t have a set number of [phone tapping] lines we can use.”[347] In other words, while certain agencies or units of the Office of the Attorney General have permanent access to phone tapping technology, through which the calls of officials can be intercepted, their group does not. As a result, it must often wait for the technology to become available before it can carry out legal interceptions.

From October 2008 to July 2009, the prosecutor said, the group had obtained approximately 300 arrest warrants, mostly for members of the Urabeños and ERPAC. They had also arrested 70-80 persons, and were in the process of plea bargaining with some of them. Other units of the Office of the Attorney General have also carried out some arrests (for example, the case against Don Mario is handled by the counternarcotics unit).

Prosecutions are also affected by general problems in the Attorney General’s Office. For example, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly received complaints from prosecutors about the difficulty of obtaining protection for their witnesses, even in highly sensitive cases involving the successor groups.

Toleration by State Agents

One explanation police gave for their failure to stem the growth of the successor groups is that their “power to corrupt is strong. It has touched the army ... [regional] prosecutors’ offices, not to mention Medellín. That creates problems when you arrest them.”[348]

One of the specialized prosecutors investigating the successor groups also pointed to alleged links between the groups and state agents as a problem in Urabá: “There are links with the public security forces, prosecutors, police, and DAS. They move like fish in the water. Whenever there’s an operation, they’re alerted and they leave. That makes it difficult to arrest them. They have a complex network of informants, going from the woman in the store to the guy driving the motorcycle taxi. With one phone call, that’s it. They’re very strong.”[349] The same problem, the prosecutor said, presented itself in Meta, where “there are links with the public security forces, which block the arrests of Cuchillo and [notorious drug lord] El Loco Barrera.... The problem of links is difficult because if it’s not one institution it’s another. In all the institutions there are good and very bad people. And at any level, the information can be very useful for them.”[350]

In each of the regions that Human Rights Watch visited, it received reports of toleration of successor groups by members of the public security forces or other state agents. But the Colombian government has yet to take effective action to investigate such allegations.

Representatives of the police, the MAPP/OAS, and the Office of the Attorney General also said that they had observed serious problems involving, at a minimum, toleration of successor groups and local corruption of state officials. What remains unclear is how widespread the problem is, and whether, in the public security forces, it extends up the chain of command.

For example, an international observer based in Cúcuta explained that, especially in Puerto Santander, a border town, demobilized men had been recruited by the police so they would join successor groups.[351] Other sources in Cúcuta said: “The big difficulty is the degree of corruption. At the Attorney General’s Office and at the police you don’t know who you’re talking with.... The most dangerous thing you can do is have the police next to you.”[352] Representatives of a non-governmental organization in Tibú, a few hours from Cúcuta, said that “the police serve only two purposes: requesting a commission from the gasoline distributors, and charging vacuna [tax] from the people selling drugs.”[353]

In Urabá, according to many residents, members of the army and local police regularly appear to tolerate the activities of the Urabeños, and the police sometimes seem to collaborate with the group. A 2008 report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based on a visit to the region, describes having received formal reports from the Colombian Office of the Inspector General recognizing “the existence of a permanent risk for the inhabitants of the valleys of the rivers Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó, derived among others, from the actions of illegal armed groups in collusion with members of the public security forces, which were reportedly forcibly displacing the population or impeding its access to the community territory.”[354]

“The public security forces don’t do anything. If you tell someone in the military, they let the group know. You can’t report anything here. They control everything that moves, and the public security forces are right there,” said one community member.[355]

A national official who until recently worked in the Urabá region said that “I haven’t noticed collaboration by the army with the [groups], but I have seen total toleration.” According to this official, the army was supposed to be responsible for combating the successor groups in rural areas, while the police were supposed to be in charge of urban areas. But the army “doesn’t confront them.” The same official reported that the police in one town, Belén de Bajirá, appeared to collaborate with the Black Eagles. “It’s all very evident... The police control the entry and exit [of town] and ... they share intelligence. The paras control the area. Belén de Bajirá is very important because that’s where the highway goes through. That’s also where the economic and political power of the region are concentrated..., the management of the palm cultivation, ranching, lumber.”[356] Another man agreed, adding that “in Pavarandó ... the Black Eagles hold meetings with the community in front of the police. In Belén de Bajirá, it’s the same, the police, army and Black Eagles.”[357] He said the Black Eagles had taken 18 young men, including his grandson, from Belén de Bajirá the week before he met with us. His grandson escaped.

On October 15, 2008, the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (which locals say are the same as the Black Eagles) called for a regional armed strike “against the FARC” by distributing flyers in Turbo, Apartadó, and Carepa.[358] According to various sources, much of the Urabá region stopped working. “Everything stopped. We couldn’t do anything. If any businessperson opened and sold something they threatened you,” said one resident.[359] “The AGC announced the strike through pamphlets and by spreading the word on the streets,” said a former national authority who worked in the region at the time. The same authority said, “They put graffiti on the walls. It was their public introduction. The local authorities didn’t acknowledge that the strike had happened. The police in Apartadó helped them carry it out.”[360]

Several sources described a context of substantial corruption of local authorities in Urabá, who allegedly had been bought off by local businessmen and the successor groups. “They have the law and they stick it under their arms, because their law is money,” said one resident.[361]

Similarly, in Meta, several sources said that the army looked the other way when it came to Cuchillo’s groups. One official said he had received “constant complaints that the army threatens people, talking about how ‘the Cuchillos’ are coming behind. In some cases, the army leaves and the Cuchillos come in... The Cuchillos and the army are clearly present in Puerto Gaitán. Some of the Cuchillos are dressed as civilians and others are in uniform.”[362]

One witness said that members of the 12th Brigade had told her, “don’t be afraid of us, be afraid of the ones who come behind us,” alluding to Cuchillo’s group.[363] We received similar reports from a resident of Puerto Rico, Meta, who had previously been in Bajo Guaiamal. He said the army had accused him of being a guerrilla and told him that if he didn’t demobilize the paramilitaries would come: “They say ‘don’t be afraid of us, but be afraid of the men who come behind us.’ In that area, there are men patrolling, wearing the AUC insignia and identifying themselves as AUC members.”[364]

In late 2008, President Uribe publicly questioned whether the Fourth Division of the army was protecting “El Loco Barrera” and Cuchillo. According to Semana magazine, recordings of the Loco Barrera’s phone conversations showed that he was aware of various army movements, and suggested that he had contacts within the army.[365]

While the public security forces have been known to confront some of the successor groups in Nariño—particularly New Generation since 2008—numerous sources described instances in which soldiers and members of the police appeared to tolerate, and in at least one case—that of sectors of the Boyacá Battalion of the Army in 2006 described below—apparently actively collaborated with the successor groups in Nariño.

According to various sources, in May 2006, approximately 10,000 persons in Nariño participated in a massive demonstration—in some cases under coercion by the FARC. The Ombudsman’s Office reported that as residents of Policarpa and Cumbitara began traveling towards the municipality of Remolinos to participate in the May 15 demonstration on the Pan-American Highway, they were harassed by NG.[366] Once the demonstrators arrived at the highway, public security forces reportedly responded with force; 130 civilians were wounded and 17 “disappeared.”[367] Due to the response by the public security forces, the Ombudsman’s Office reported that 4,000 people were forced to go to Pasto, where they remained for several days, receiving assistance from various authorities and international organizations.[368] During the demonstration, witnesses claimed to have observed persons they identified as paramilitaries carrying weapons and moving around in army trucks.[369]

In addition, several days after the demonstration was over, several international organizations and local authorities formed a “humanitarian mission” to accompany the marchers to return to their homes.[370] Human Rights Watch received consistent reports that when the mission arrived at the town of Ejido and asked to speak to the military commander in the area, they were instead introduced to “Armando Paz,” who identified himself as the commander of New Generation and told them not to worry because he would guarantee their security so the marchers could go home.[371] The men under Armando Paz’s command then proceeded to lift two checkpoints that they had set up along the road. Nearby, the mission found bodies of NG members and civilians; apparently New Generation had been engaging in combat with the FARC in the area.[372]

All the witnesses to the encounter in Ejido said that the group was clearly working with members of the army. “They were traveling on army trucks,” said one. “And the army was also present at the entrance to Ejido,” so there was no possibility that they did not know about NG’s presence there, the witness said.[373]

More broadly, victims and others repeatedly described seeing members of the army and navy operating in close proximity to the successor groups—sometimes only ten minutes away on a single road—without confronting them or acknowledging their existence.[374]

In particular, observers said that in 2006 they had observed links between NG and members of the Boyacá Battalion of the Army. Since then, Human Rights Watch received reports that with the entry of a new mobile brigade of the army in the cordillera, the army had confronted NG. At the same time, the police carried out arrests of NG leaders. But, as New Generation has fallen apart, the Rastrojos and Black Eagles appear to be gaining strength. And Human Rights Watch received reports that, in several cases, sectors of the public security forces appeared to be tolerating the activities of these groups, especially the Black Eagles.

An international observer expressed concern over possible toleration of the Black Eagles by members of the army and police in the mountains of Nariño. “The police are 300 meters away and do nothing... The guys are with weapons right next to the police station in Policarpa and Madrigal. There’s a strong military push by the Black Eagles there.”[375] Similarly, the Early Warning System of the Ombudsman’s Office reported in a follow-up note to one of its risk reports that on March 17, 2009, the army’s Boyacá Battalion had confronted the Rastrojos in Santacruz, in the mountains. But after chasing out the Rastrojos, portions of the army had then apparently allowed the Black Eagles to come in and remain there:

According to multiple sources, the entry of the army coincided with the arrival of the new illegal armed group ... the “Black Eagles.” On Wednesday, March 18, the Ombudsman’s Office realized that after the Rastrojos had been removed from the town, the ... Black Eagles had occupied the homes, retaining and taking away one of the inhabitants.... Currently, the community is in a dilemma because if it leaves and becomes displaced, it will become more vulnerable, and hiding in the mountains means they would become the target of attacks by the armed actors. Their defenseless situation is made worse by the lack of effective protection and prevention by the public security forces. In a security council [a meeting of relevant authorities and community members to discuss security in the region] carried out on March 19, 2009, in the municipal capital of Policarpa, the municipal authorities and public security force members confirmed the presence of the Rastrojos in the area... At the same time, the public security forces denied the existence and presence of the Black Eagles in the municipality, even while the local authorities warned about the existence of graffiti of “Black Eagles” on the houses in Santacruz.[376]

As previously noted, when Human Rights Watch asked the Nariño police chief about the Black Eagles, he denied their existence. However, later the police have reported arrests of a number of members of this group.

On the coast of Nariño, multiple sources also described situations of possible toleration of the successor groups by members of the public security forces. “The problem is with all the authorities. In Satinga the police are very young and almost don’t move due to fear. In the community there are people dying close to the police and they say they [know nothing]. I think police are in connivance and receive money” from the groups, said one source from Satinga.[377] In Salahonda, another man told us, there were “some 30 paramilitaries living there...Those men, in that town know all of us because it is very small. The public security forces know about it and know that the men are there and who they are and they never do anything.”[378]

Unfortunately, the Colombian government has yet to take effective steps to prevent and punish such alleged toleration or possible links between members of the security forces or other state agents and the successor groups.

In some cases, the police seemed to respond to allegations of toleration by simply transferring members to different locations—as happened in the previously described displacement of residents in the Pablo Escobar neighborhood in Medellín, where community members said that even though the local police had been replaced on multiple occasions, the same patterns of behavior kept reestablishing themselves.

There have been few prosecutions of state agents for alleged toleration of or links to the successor groups. The exceptions usually have involved widely publicized allegations of collusion by high ranking civilian authorities, not public security forces.

For example, the governor of the state of Guaviare, Oscar de Jesús López Cadavid, has come under investigation for allegedly working with Cuchillo. López, who served three terms as a representative in the national congress, and was elected governor in 2007, is accused of having maintained relationships with paramilitaries beginning over six years ago. The Attorney General’s Office is reported to have uncovered evidence that Cuchillo threatened other candidates to the governorship and ordered voters to vote for López.[379]

A recent article in Semana reports that demobilized paramilitary boss Éver Veloza García, alias “H.H.,” said that Óscar López had worked with paramilitary leader Vicente Castaño to obtain vast tracts of land in Casanare to plant African palm. “While the paramilitaries intimidated or displaced peasants, supposedly López and his front men were buying them [off], reported the former paramilitary.” Semana also reports that López had been a partner of Cuchillo and one of his deputies in a mining company López created in 2005. According to Semana, López claimed that he accepted Cuchillo as a partner because he was demobilizing, and in any case Cuchillo later gave his interest in the company to someone else.[380]

Similarly, Semana reports that investigations by the Supreme Court and the Office of the Attorney General suggest that Cuchillo’s group had a role in supporting the election of former Army Colonel Blas Arvelio Ortíz Rebolledo as governor of Vichada. “They presumably helped him with resources, pressed persons to vote for him, and in some cases ... manipulated the elections and the results.” According to Semana, Ortíz, who had served as commander of the army brigade in Vichada, is facing numerous criminal complaints for supposedly benefiting from electoral fraud, winning by only nine votes.[381]

The former chief prosecutor in Medellín, Guillermo León Valencia Cossio, who is the brother of Colombia’s minister of the interior and justice, is now on trial before the Supreme Court for allegedly working with Don Mario’s group in Medellín.[382] Prosecutors have said they have 1,600 recordings of conversations involving Valencia and the accused drug trafficker John Freddy Manco (known by his alias “El Indio”), as well as businessman Juan Felipe Sierra, which allegedly implicate Valencia. In one of the intercepted calls, Valencia allegedly agreed to remove Manco from his spot on a police flow chart as the second most senior member of Don Mario’s group.[383] General Marco Antonio Pedreros, the commander of the police in Medellín, resigned from the police force as a result of the same scandal, after recordings revealed a conversation between him and Sierra, though Pedreros has denied involvement in criminal activity.[384]

For years, the Colombian government denied the existence of links between the AUC and important sectors of the military. In fact, investigations of high-ranking members of the military for those links continue to progress very slowly. And it is only thanks to the investigations of the Colombian Supreme Court that paramilitaries’ close links with many members of Congress are coming to light. In light of this history, allegations of toleration of or collaboration with successor groups by state agents are an issue that require continued monitoring and close attention, as well as strong preventive action by the government.

In particular, the government must ensure that allegations of toleration of successor groups by security forces result in meaningful criminal investigations, vigorous prosecution, and punishment of those found responsible—not just transfers to other regions. The Ministry of Defense should ensure that members of the public security forces who are credibly alleged to have collaborated with or tolerated the activities of successor groups are suspended while investigations proceed.

Failure to Adequately Protect Civilians

Through the Ministry of Interior and Justice, the Colombian government has for years managed a protection program for human rights defenders, trade unionists, and journalists who are deemed to be at risk. That program offers various levels of protection—from cell phones to bullet-resistant vests to police escorts—to its beneficiaries. The program has provided much-needed protection to persons who were at serious risk. But the program focuses on certain vulnerable groups and does not provide protection to former AUC victims seeking to assert their rights. Nor does it provide protection or assistance to the many ordinary Colombians who are now being threatened or attacked by the successor groups.

Questions about Protection for AUC Victims

More than 200,000 persons have registered as victims for purposes of the Justice and Peace Law.[385] Legally, these victims have the right to assistance, representation, and protection by the state.[386] In August 2007, in response to a petition by a group of victims, a judge ordered the government to “design, implement, and execute a Program for the Protection of Victims and Witnesses in the Justice and Peace Law” within thirty days.[387] In response, President Uribe issued a decree ordering the establishment of a protection program.[388] However, the decree has been controversial, in part because the initial protection is to be provided through assistance by the local police, which many victims do not trust because of what is often a long history of perceived collaboration between the paramilitaries and local police.[389] “We had one case of a person who had been threatened in Barranquilla ... but that person was being pursued by the police in the region,” complained one representative of a victims’ group. “The decree says that the police must protect them ... but with the context of complicity, it’s very difficult.”[390]

Moreover, the government appealed the ruling requiring the establishment of the program. Fortunately, after an initial reversal by the Council of State, the Constitutional Court upheld the initial court ruling requiring a victims’ protection program, and ordered the government to establish one that took into account the victims’ gender.[391]

Carlos Franco, who works in the Presidential Human Rights Program of Colombia, stated that the government is now implementing a protection program through the National Police, which has developed “risk maps” to determine what level of protection to provide to victims in the Justice and Peace process in different regions around the country.[392]

According to the Women’s Initiative for Peace (Iniciativa de Mujeres por la Paz, or IMP), the leading organization that brought the case demanding the establishment of a victims’ protection program, the Police have in fact developed risk maps to determine where to focus their attention. In municipalities with higher levels of risk, the police are supposed to increase their presence and activity. The maps, as described in IMP’s report, state that of Colombia’s 1,099 municipalities, the vast majority (889) present only “low” levels of risk, while in another 124 the risk is “non-existent”. In only 23 did they find “extraordinary” risk, and in only 40 did they find “high” risk. IMP also states that the government has provided direct protection to some victims. From October 2007 to September 2008, the government is reported to have reviewed the cases of 412 persons seeking protection. It provided assistance in 106 of those cases. [393]

It is positive that the government has taken some steps to provide protection to AUC victims in the Justice and Peace process, and to increase security in certain municipalities. Yet the number of municipalities considered to present a “high” level of risk, and of persons who received protection—at least as of mid-2008—appears relatively low, and raises some concern as to whether the program is effectively covering all victims participating in the Justice and Peace Law process who may be at risk. Also, not all AUC victims are participating in the Justice and Peace Law process, and they are not covered by the decree.

In response to a request from Human Rights Watch for more detailed information about the protection program, the Colombian government stated that, while it is implementing a protection program pursuant to the original decree, it has also drafted a new decree that is in the process of being approved. The government states that the new program will be centrally coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, and will have greater regional coverage.[394]

Failure to Adequately Register Displacement by the Successor Groups

Human Rights Watch received information from various sources indicating that in some cases local offices of Social Action were refusing to register as displaced persons people who said they were forced to leave their homes by paramilitaries. As reported by the Monitoring Commission on Forced Displacement in its report to the Constitutional Court:

[T]he reports of displacement caused by paramilitaries in the official information system have been dropping probably and among other factors, due to the difficulties that have arisen in the processes of registration ... due to the paramilitary demobilization process... As has been reported by many organizations ... some Territorial Units (TUs) of Social Action began to systematically refuse to register persons and homes who reported that paramilitaries were responsible for their displacement. According to the reports about the situation, the TUs were operating on the assumption that the paramilitaries, having demobilized, could not be accused of having caused the displacement.[395]

Similarly, Human Rights Watch received reports indicating that in some regions, Social Action was refusing to register persons as displaced when they claimed that they had been displaced by successor groups, on the grounds that those groups were “criminal.” For example, in Medellín alone, the Medellín Personería received 206 statements from victims of forced displacement within the city between January and June of 2009. Of those, 172 statements had been filed within the National Registry of Displaced Persons managed by Social Action. Yet, according to the Personería, 50 percent of those statements (involving 348 persons) had been rejected by Social Action. One of the main reasons for rejection, according to the Personería, was that the victims stated they had been displaced by actors that Social Action considered to be “common crime” or “organized crime.”[396] A representative of Lutheran World Relief told Human Rights Watch that their staff in the state of Córdoba had often observed the same problem, with state officials refusing to register persons as displaced if they reported having been forced out by successor groups.[397]

The state’s failure to register these persons could result in underestimation of the problem of displacement and difficulties in diagnosing its causes, rendering it more difficult to address the problem. And persons who are not registered as displaced do not receive the protection and assistance from the state to which they would otherwise be entitled.

In a meeting with human rights groups, the head of Social Action said that “there is no order not to register victims of the emerging gangs.... It’s not a substantive policy.”[398] Yet in light of the various reports that this was happening locally, he promised to look into the problem.

Inadequate Responses to and Resources for Early Warning System

One agency that has performed an important role in identifying risks to civilians posed by the successor groups is the Early Warning System (EWS) in the Ombudsman’s Office. Often, the regional analysts for the EWS are the first and almost the only civilian state officials traveling to remote regions when there is a humanitarian crisis, threats against the civilian population, or other human rights problems. The EWS regularly produces “risk reports” about threats to civilian populations in various regions. Those reports go to an inter-institutional government committee, composed of the vice-president of Colombia, the president’s high advisor for social action, the minister of interior and justice, the minister of defense, and the director of the National Intelligence Service (the DAS). That committee evaluates the risk and determines whether to issue an “early warning” on the basis of the risk report, issues recommendations to civilian authorities and public security forces to take preventive measures, and monitors the implementation of the measures and the evolution of the risk.[399] The committee has been criticized for often failing to issue early warnings based on serious risk reports, sometimes with fatal consequences.[400] In fact, between 2008 and 2009, the committee only issued Early Warnings based on half of the risk reports produced by the EWS (that is, there were 110 reports of risk, but the committee only issued 55 early warnings).[401]

The EWS has often produced risk reports about the threats posed by the successor groups. Between 2008 and 2009, the EWS listed the successor groups as the source of a risk an equal number of times as it listed the FARC guerrillas (88 times each) as sources of risk.[402] However, the reports have often been controversial and generated negative reactions from other parts of the government. For example, in Meta, various sources told Human Rights Watch that the inter-institutional committee had issued an early warning but then lifted it after local authorities complained.

The Office of the Inspector General of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has noted that the independence of the EWS “has arguably been compromised by giving final decision-making authority to” the Inter-Institutional Early Warning Committee (the CIAT), and that there is “some evidence that CIAT’s involvement has reduced the number of warnings issued... According to several sources, human rights abuses have at times occurred even though a risk report has been forwarded by the EWS to CIAT.”[403] Accordingly, USAID has recommended that the Colombian government reform the system to ensure publicity of risk reports; provide for participation in and oversight of the CIAT by representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office; implement procedures to ensure timely and effective communication between the EWS and the CIAT; and ensure that the EWS has internal timelines for preparing and forwarding risk reports.[404]

The EWS has also suffered due to insufficient or delayed funding, which has led to loss of personnel and difficulties for its analysts in carrying out their work. The EWS was created with significant US support, but over time USAID has drawn down funds, seeking the “colombianization” of the project. According to EWS representatives, as of December 21, 2009, USAID ceased to provide funding for the operating budget of the EWS (though it continued providing funding for some expenses such as cell phone use), transferring responsibility for the operating budget entirely to the Colombian government. Yet, the Colombian government has been slow to step in to cover the shortfall, and much of the staff of the EWS are now working with contracts that go only through July 2010. As a result, EWS officials expressed concern about their job security, stating they feared their positions might not be funded after July.[405]

[320]León Valencia, Fundación Nuevo Arco Iris, “¿Empezó el declive de la seguridad democrática?” (Did the decline of democratic security begin?), November 23, 2009; “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia aparecen también en Nariño,” Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento press release, October 27, 2008, http://www.codhes.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=362 (accessed September 25, 2009).

[321] Organization of American States, “Twelfth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” p. 2.

[322]Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, “Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, 2007,” A/HRC/7/39, February 29, 2008, http://www.hchr.org.co/documentoseinformes/informes/altocomisionado/2007/Report%20HC%202007%20Advance%20Edited.pdf (accessed January 24, 2010), para. 94(a).

[323] Human Rights Watch interview with senior official of the National Police, Bogotá, July 17, 2009. E-mail communication from former Ministry of Defense official to Human Rights Watch, received on January 19, 2010.

 

[324] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, “Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, 2007,” para. 40.

[325]Velásquez Rodriguez v Honduras, Judgment of 29 July 1988, paras 172-175.

[326] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 1125 U.N.T.S. 609, entered into force December 7, 1978, ratified by Colombia August 15, 1995, art. 1(1).

[327] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, “Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, 2007,” para. 39.

[328]Velásquez Rodriguez v Honduras, Judgment of 29 July 1988, para. 174.

[329] Ministry of National Defense of Colombia, Permanent Directive No. 208, section 3(b)(10)(f).

[330] Ibid., section (3)(b)(a)(b).

[331] Ibid., section 3(b)(10)(f).

[332] Letter from Col. Ricardo Alberto Restrepo Londoño, Director of Carabineers and Rural Security of the National Police of Colombia, to Human Rights Watch, September 9, 2009. The letter states that Directive No. 019 of April 16,2009, issued by the Police’s Planning Office, delegates responsibility for combating the “criminal gangs” to the Carabineers Directorate.

[333] Ibid. The zones are:

Zone 1: Urabá (Antioquia and Chocó) Zone 2: Córdoba, Sucre, and the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia Zone 3: Casanare, Meta, Vichada, Guaviare, Guainia Zone 4: Southern region of Cesar, Southern región of Bolivar, Norte de Santander

Zone 5: Nariño, Valle del Cauca, Cauca.

[334]Statement by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Mission to Colombia 8-18 June 2009, June 18, 2009,http://www.hchr.org.co/documentoseinformes/documentos/relatoresespeciales/2009/relatores.php3?cod=2&cat=80 (accessed November 5, 2009).

[335] Email communication from former senior Ministry of Defense official to Human Rights Watch, received January 19, 2010.

[336]Human Rights Watch interview with Lieutenant Lizcano, Commander of Vistahermosa Police Department, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.

[337] Ibid.

[338] Human Rights Watch interview with Colonel Edgar Correa, Commander, 12th Brigade of the Army, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.

[339] Colombian Presidential Program on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Indicators on Human Rights and IHL, 2008, p. 51.

[340] Human Rights Watch interview with specialized prosecutor, July 23, 2009.

[341] Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009, Conclusions. The high number of reported killings of new group members by the Army is particularly disturbing and raises questions in light of the scandals over widespread extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Army.

[342] Human Rights Watch interview with specialized prosecutor, July 23, 2009.

[343] Ibid.

[344] Ibid.

[345] Ibid.

[346] Human Rights Watch interview with senior member of the National Police, July 17, 2009.

[347] Human Rights Watch interview with specialized proseuctor, July 23, 2009.

[348] Human Rights Watch interview with senior member of the National Police, July 17, 2009.

[349] Human Rights Watch interview with specialized prosecutor, July 23, 2009.

[350] Ibid.

[351] Human Rights Watch interview with international observer in Cúcuta, September 1, 2008.

[352] Human Rights Watch interviews with persons working with reintegration program in Norte de Santander, Cúcuta, Sept. 2, 2008.

[353] Human Rights Watch interview with non-governmental organization based in Tibú, Cúcuta, Sept. 2, 2008.

[354] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “Informe sobre la visita al terreno en relación con las medidas provisioniales ordenadas a favor de los miembros de los miembros de las comunidades constituidas por el consejo comunitario del jiguamiandó y las familias del Curbaradó, municipio de Carmen del Darién, departamento del Chocó, República de Colombia,” February 20, 2009, http://www.cidh.org/countryrep/MPColombia2.20.09.sp.htm (accessed September 14, 2009), para. 8.

[355] Human Rights Watch interview with man from Curbaradó, May 30, 2009.

[356] Human Rights Watch interview with former national official who worked in Urabá, Bogotá, July 16, 2009.}

[357] Human Rights Watch interview with man from Curbaradó, May 30, 2009.

[358] “Alarma por Rearme Paramilitar en el PaÍs,” El Espectador (Bogotá), October 24, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/node/85934 (accessed September 14, 2009); “Parálisis en Urabá por amenazas de grupo armado ilegal,” Caracol, October 15, 2008, www.caracol.com.co/nota.aspx?id=690679 (accessed September 27, 2009).

[359] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Turbo, June 1, 2009.

[360] Human Rights Watch interview with former national authority who worked in Urabá region, Bogotá, July 16, 2009.

[361] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Caño Manso, Andalucía (Curbaradó), May 31, 2009.

[362] Human Rights Watch interview with official, Villavicencio, Meta, March 13, 2009.

[363] Human Rights Watch interview with woman from La Cooperativa, Granada, Meta, March 12, 2009.

[364] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Meta, March 12, 2009.

[365] “Las dudas del Presidente,” Semana (Bogotá), November 6, 2008, http://www.semana.com/noticias-problemas-sociales/dinero-rapido-facil-embolatado/noticias-conflicto-armado/dudas-del-presidente/117414.aspx (accessed October 2, 2009).

[366] Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 004-07” (“Risk Report No 004-07”), March 2, 2007.

[367] Ibid.

[368] Ibid.

[369] “Boletín de denuncia n. 2—movilización en Nariño” (“Second Public Complaint: Mobilization in Nariño”), Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights—Nariño press release, May 20, 2006, http://colombia.indymedia.org/news/2006/05/43297.php (accessed October 4, 2009).

[370] Human Rights Watch interviews with international observers and local authorities, Pasto, Nariño, February 27-28, 2008.

[371] Ibid.

[372]Ibid. Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 004-07”) (“Risk Report No. 004-07), March 2, 2007.

[373] Human Rights Watch interview with local authority, Pasto, Nariño, February 27, 2008.

[374] Human Rights Watch interviews with local officials, international observers, victims, Pasto, Nariño, February 27-28, 2008; July 20-21, 2009.

[375] Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Pasto, Nariño, July 21, 2009.

[376] Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Nota de Seguimiento No. 003-09, Primera Nota al Informe de Riesgo No. 024-08A.I. del 31 de octubre de 2008” (“Follow-up Note No. 003-09, First Note to Risk Report No. 024-08A.I. dated October 31, 2008), March 21, 2009.

[377] Human Rights Watch Interview with resident of the Nariño coast who requested anonymity, Tumaco, Nariño, September 17, 2008.

[378] Human Rights Watch interview with resident of the Nariño coast who requested anonymity, Tumaco, Nariño, September 15, 2008.

[379]“Para-politica a la Llanera”, Semana (Bogotá), March 21, 2009, http://www.semana.com/noticias-nacion/parapolitica-llanera/121995.aspx (accessed October 2, 2009).

[380]Ibid.

[381]Ibid.

[382] “Guillermo Valencia Cossio se declara inocente,” El Espectador (Bogotá), January 21, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/articulo110062-guillermo-valencia-cossio-se-declara-inocente (accessed September 24, 2009); “Comienza juicio contra Guillermo León Valencia” El Espectador (Bogotá), November 3, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/articuloimpreso87823-comienza-juicio-contra-guillermo-leon-valencia (accessed September 24, 2009); “Fiscalía pidió retirar dos delitos a Valencia Cossio,” El Espectador (Bogotá), December 18, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/articulo100215-fiscalia-pidio-retirar-dos-delitos-valencia-cossio (accessed September 24, 2009).

[383]“Guillermo Valencia Cossio se declara inocente,” El Espectador (Bogotá), January 21, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/articulo110062-guillermo-valencia-cossio-se-declara-inocente (accessed September 24, 2009).

[384] “General Pedreros es el quinto funcionario que cae por cuenta de su cercanía con Felipe Sierra,” Cambio magazine (Bogotá), August 28, 2008, http://www.cambio.com.co/portadacambio/791/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR_CAMBIO-4470441.html (accessed September 24, 2009).

[385] National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation, “Versiones Libres Programadas,” http://www.cnrr.org.co/new09/vjr/veresta.html (accessed October 14, 2009). The Commission reports that 219,818 victims had registered as such as of May 31, 2009.

[386] The Justice and Peace Law provides that the State must “guarantee the access of victims to the administration of justice.” Law 975 of 2005, art. 37. It also states that state officials must “adopt the adequate measures and all appropriate actions to protect the security… well-being, dignity, and private life of victims and witnesses.” Ibid., art. 38. However, several specific provisions of the law in fact restricted victims’ rights to fully participate in the proceedings. Accordingly, the Constitutional Court modified many of them in its ruling to ensure that victims would have a right to be heard, to access information in case files, to present evidence, and generally to participate in every part of the legal proceedings involving their cases. Constitutional Court of Colombia, DecisionNo. C-370 of 2006, section 6.2.3.2.1.

[387]Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca (Tribunal de lo Contencioso Administrativo de Cundinamarca), Case No. A.T. 25000-23-15-000-2007-00876-01, August 13, 2007. The lawsuit was filed in July 2007. Patricia Buriticá, one of the commissioners on the National Commission on Reparations and Reconciliation and head of the organization Women’s Initiative for Peace, filed the appeal on behalf of 12 women victims of paramilitary groups.

[388] Colombian Decree 3570 of September 18, 2007.

[389] Ibid., art. 19.

[390] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with representative of victims’ groups, March 26, 2008.

[391] Constitutional Court of Colombia, Decision T-496 of 2008

[392] Statements by Carlos Franco, Director of the Presidential Program on Human Rights of Colombia, at a meeting with US-based human rights groups at the Colombian Embassy in the United States, Washington, DC, November 6, 2009.

[393] Colombian Women’s Initiative for Peace (Iniciativa de Mujeres Colombianas por la Paz), Public Document No. 4: Justice and Security for the Victims of Armed Conflict, Analysis from a Gender Perspective (Documento Publico No. 4: Justicia y Seguridad para las Victimas del Conflicto Armado, Analisis con Perspectiva de Genero), April 2009, pp. 68-87.

[394] Email communication from Claudia Cuevas, Second Secretary, Embassy of Colombia in the United States, to Human Rights Watch, received January 19, 2010.

[395]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,” January 31, 2008, p. 53.

[396] Information provided to Human Rights Watch via email from representatives of the Permanent Human Rights Unit of the Personería, August 10, 2009.

[397] Email communication from Annalise Romoser, Acting Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, Lutheran World Relief, to Human Rights Watch, received January 19, 2010.

[398] Statements by Diego Molano, director of Social Action, at a meeting with US-based human rights groups at the Colombian Embassy in the United States, Washington, DC, November 6, 2009.

[399] Colombian Presidential Decree 2862, 2007, arts. 2-3, http://www.presidencia.gov.co/prensa_new/decretoslinea/2007/julio/27/dec2862270707.pdf (accessed October 5, 2009).

[400] “Colombia: FARC Kills 17 from Indigenous Group,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 10, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/02/10/colombia-farc-kills-17-indigenous-group (accessed September 28, 2009). See also USAID Office of the Inspector General, Audit of USAID/Colombia’s Human Rights Program, Audit Report No. 1-514-09-007-P, March 6, 2009.

[401] Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia, Early Warning System, Informe SAT Audiencia de Rendicion de Cuentas (“EWS Report Accountability Hearing”) powerpoint presentation, undated, sent via email by officials from the Ombudsman’s office to Human Rights Watch, January 5, 2010

[402] Ibid.

[403] USAID Office of the Inspector General, Audit of USAID/Colombia’s Human Rights Program, Audit Report No. 1-514-09-007-P, March 6, 2009, pp. 6-8.

[404] Ibid.

[405] Statements by EWS official, sent via email to Human Rights Watch, January 6, 2010.