In the Zone and areas in dispute with other parties to the conflict, the FARC-EP has established a pattern of abducting civilians suspected of supporting paramilitary groups, many of whom are later killed. Unlike abductions carried out for financial reasons, these abductions are often kept hidden. The FARC-EP generally does not disclose the victims' fate or even acknowledge custody. Relatives of those who are seized by the FARC-EP in these circumstances frequently are unable to obtain any information from the FARC-EP about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, causing enormous suffering. The victims of these abductions have no protection under the law, let alone legal remedy against false accusations and abuse, nor can their relatives invoke legal remedies on their behalf.
These violations would qualify as forced disappearances under international human rights law if carried out by government officials or organized groups and private individuals acting on behalf of or with the support of a government. The fact that these actions do not qualify at the moment as a violation of specific human rights treaties should not, however, lead to any confusion about their nature. Abductions are serious human rights abuses independent of legal or linguistic niceties. They also constitute blatant violations of the FARC-EP's obligations under international humanitarian law and in particular key provisions of article 4 of Protocol II, which protects against violence to the life, physical, and mental well-being of persons, torture, and ill-treatment.
Human Rights Watch directly investigated three cases of abductions followed by suspected extrajudicial executions during our stay in the Zone, and received information regarding over twenty more suspected executions. For the year 2000, human rights groups reported that the FARC-EP killed 496 civilians nationwide, many accused of being paramilitary or government sympathizers.10
Among the most egregious recent incidents is the killing of Congressman Diego Turbay Cote and six others outside Florencia, Caquetá, on December 29, 2000. The massacre took place as Turbay, chair of the Peace Commission in Colombia's House of Representatives, and his companions were headed toward a meeting with the FARC-EP leadership. According to reports, after puncturing the tires of the vehicles and ordering the passengers to lie face down on the road, gunmen shot each person in the head.
The FARC-EP denied committing this massacre, but the Attorney General's office has opened a formal investigation of alleged guerrillas based on testimonies of captured gunmen and other evidence. In press interviews, prosecutors have characterized the evidence linking the FARC-EP and specifically the Teófilo Forero column to the killings as "decisive."11
Juan de Jesús Ossa Giraldo
According to friends of the young man, he went on a three-day drinking spree at the end of October 1999 after breaking up with his girlfriend. While drunk, he apparently bragged in public that he worked for the Colombian government.12
Ossa returned to work on November 2. The following night, three men dressed in civilian clothes abducted him. According to an eyewitness interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the three men entered the Miniteca bistro at around 8 p.m. and sat down at a table with another man. This man, whom the witness believes was a FARC-EP sympathizer, then pointed at Ossa. At that moment, "the three grabbed him, one by his collar, one by his pants, and one by his belt. He tried to resist them and they pulled out their pistols. They had nine millimeter pistols."13
The three armed men took Ossa outside, forced him into the back seat of a waiting yellow taxi with covered license plates, and drove off. His family and friends have not seen him since that time, nor have they been able to obtain firm information about his fate. One of his friends informed Human Rights Watch that a person connected to the FARC-EP later told him that Ossa had been killed.14
A FARC-EP commander apparently confirmed this at a meeting with representatives of the office of the People's Advocate on May 28, 1999, stating that the FARC-EP had executed Ossa because they had "proof that he belonged to the [Colombian military] special forces and was conducting intelligence actions."15 However, to our knowledge, the FARC-EP did not provide any evidence to support this allegation, nor has it informed Ossa's family of his fate.
The Gnostic Killings
The Attorney General's Human Rights Unit later reported that the FARC-EP had killed ten other members of the group, all adults, and released one.17
On June 14, 1999, a FARC-EP commander identified as Laurentino was reported to have attempted to justify this to the press by saying that he had ordered the killings of the members of the group because he was not prepared to allow paramilitaries to enter the Zone and derail the peace process. Commander Laurentino provided no evidence to support these accusations.18 Commander Laurentino was then reputedly the Teófilo Forero column's head of finances.19
Guillermo Lombana Lizcano and William Vargas Silva
Guillermo Lombana, then sixteen years old, had been a high school student but was not currently enrolled in school. He was seized in front of his home on the evening of April 16. His father, Guillermo Lombana Sr., told Human Rights Watch:
He was in the living room here, sitting in a chair. It was about 9:30 p.m. I was here. There were about fifteen of us, the whole family. The FARC arrived, all men, and all armed and in uniform. My son went out to talk to a friend and they were waiting for him. Two of them grabbed him while one stood aside. They put him in a taxi. We ran outside because friends had yelled, "Look, they're taking your boy!" We hadn't had any threats from the FARC, we never had any kind of problem with them. It was a surprise./21
Early the next morning, Guillermo Lombana Sr. began to search for his son:
At 5 a.m. the next morning I went to the checkpoint. I heard he was at the guerrilla camp. They kept sending me to different commanders, who kept saying they knew nothing about the case. They never say they have him. They never say if he's alive. They don't tell me anything.
According to several people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, a few days after his abduction Guillermo Lombana was shown on national television confessing that he worked for the paramilitaries. A woman who saw the program remembered: "He said he took an instructional course in Puerto Rico on how to be a paramilitary, how to get information on the guerrillas. But he wasn't convincing. There were lots of questions to him, but they didn't show the questioner. He kept looking off to the side. He seemed very afraid."22
Lombana's father continued:
We were watching television and suddenly saw him on the news. He was on RCN [a television channel] and Caracol [a television channel], lots of different stations. He was upset. They didn't say where he was, just that it was a FARC camp. He kept glancing to the side. He was scared . . . . The TV show was the last time I saw him.
Lombana's father has persisted in his quest to find his son, writing letters to FARC-EP commanders and speaking to those who agree to see him. He told Human Rights Watch, "I just want to know if my son is dead or alive. If he's alive, I'd like to see him."
On April 17, 1999, the day after Guillermo Lombana's abduction, William Vargas Silva was also reportedly abducted by the FARC-EP. Vargas, then age twenty-seven, was a metal worker who lived with his parents and three sisters in central San Vicente. His family does not believe he had any connections with paramilitaries. They say he left the house on the afternoon of April 17 and did not return. They were informed by a witness to the event, however, that he was abducted by FARC-EP forces and bundled into a yellow taxi, together with his bicycle, at 9 p.m. that night in the center of San Vicente.23
Members of the family told Human Rights Watch that they searched for him but have been unable to obtain any firm information from the FARC-EP about his whereabouts or fate. His mother said, "We've spoken to all of the commanders. They never say whether they have him. They say to wait. They say they're investigating."24
At a meeting on May 28, 1999, a FARC-EP commander informed the representatives of the People's Advocate that the FARC-EP had detained and was prosecuting both Lombana and Vargas for allegedly conducting paramilitary activities in the Zone. At that time, the office of the People's Advocate was investigating a total of twenty alleged abductions reportedly carried out within the Zone, some by FARC-EP forces and others by armed men of unknown affiliation.25
As stated above, under international humanitarian law, the FARC-EP has an obligation to ensure that any real or alleged enemy combatants or members of their own forces who are accused of offences receive fair and impartial trials. While acknowledging that a number of those named above have been killed or executed by FARC-EP forces for alleged links to opposing paramilitary forces, the FARC-EP has provided no information to indicate that they received fair and impartial trials. Indeed, Human Rights Watch has found no evidence to indicate that the FARC-EP has made any effort to hold fair and impartial trials. On the contrary, the evidence indicates clearly that persons abducted by FARC-EP forces within the Zone have been summarily executed in gross breach of the laws of war.
People's Advocate Investigations
The People's Advocate reported nine other executions by the FARC-EP within the Zone, including Ramiro Herrera Triana, of Vista Hermosa, in September 1999; José Joaquín Reyes López, of Vista Hermosa, in October 1999; and Celiano Taruche Martínez, of Vista Hermosa, in February 2000.27 This figure also includes six people from Guayabal, San Vicente del Caguán, who were reportedly killed by the FARC-EP in late December 1999 or early January 2000.28
In August 2000, the People's Advocate announced that his staff had confirmed a total of twenty-two abductions and twenty-three killings in the Zone since its establishment, although not all were explicitly attributed to the FARC-EP.29
11 "Las explosivas revelaciones de `Pantera', comandante del Teófilo Forero," El Tiempo, March 2, 2001; "Fiscalía vincula a las Farc en asesinato de Turbay Cote," El Colombiano, February 23, 2001; and "Tras Plan contra Gurisatti, El Tiempo, February 23, 2001.
15 Ministerio Público, Defensoría del Pueblo, "Consolidado Personas Retenidas en Zona de Despeje" (undated) ("ajusticiado por las FARC por comprobar que pertenecía a las fuerzas especiales y realizaba acciones de inteligencia"), p. 1 (hereinafter "People's Advocate List"). This document states that Ossa Giraldo was detained on November 5, 1998, but Human Rights Watch's three interviewees said the correct date was November 3, 1998. The Zone formally entered into force on November 7.
17 Human Rights Unit, Attorney General, Report 527 (undated); see also People's Advocate, Press Release No. 420, June 16, 1999 (naming eleven killed in the incident). The Human Rights Unit report also states that the FARC-EP recruited a sixteen-year-old in the group.