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The local priest was first to challenge the darkness in Guintar by stringing Christmas lights from the church steeple. Then someone hung lights above a nearby door and window. On the December 1997 day Human Rights Watch visited this village of 2,000 in central Colombia, Robert Jaramillo (not his real name) opened his coffee shop for the first time in four months, and light from this single door spilled onto a lovely, deserted, and dark central square.

Several months earlier, armed men had seized Guintar and accused its residents of supporting leftist insurgents. The men forced everyone from their homes, residents told us, then chose one local man and cut off his nose. One of the men told Jaramillo and other store owners that if they opened again, he would return, cut them open alive, and string their entrails from the manicured bushes in the square. The reason? Store owners were suspected of having sold food and medicine to the leftist insurgents who have operated in these dry mountains for decades.

Weeks later, guerrillas entered Guintar and vowed that their enemies would never win. To underscore their power, they killed the mayor, a town councilman, and a resident of the nearby town of Anzá, accused of supporting their enemies. Seven families left Guintar the next day, joining the thousands forced to flee their homes because of political violence in Colombia.

Jaramillo, though, holds on. He says he has no choice.“I have eleven people in my family, so how are we supposed to live?” Jaramillo asked Human Rights Watch near his store. The only one to reopen since August, Jaramillo knew he was risking his life and the lives of his family to reprisals. A mixture of fury, fear, and humiliation twisted his boyish features. “The minute we see them coming again, we are going to run for our lives.”

The drama of Guintar is repeated throughout Colombia, where war is not fought primarily between armed and uniformed combatants on battlefields, but against the civilian population and in their homes, farms, and towns. Many of the victims of Colombia’s war wear no uniform, hold no gun, and profess no allegiance to any armed group. Indeed, battles between armed opponents are the exception.Instead, combatants deliberately and implacably target and kill the civilians they believe support their enemies, whether or not the civilians are even aware that they are in peril.

It is store owners like Jaramillo, truck drivers, farmers, teachers, doctors, community leaders, food vendors, and washerwomen who run the highest risks in today’s Colombia.1

As much as a battle for control over territory, Colombia’s conflict is one waged on the hearts and minds of its people, a cruel inversion of the Vietnam War-era strategy of winning the population’s support. In Colombia, there is often no attempt to win allegiance, only punish it as it is perceived by men with guns.

In some wars, civilians can flee the front lines in the hopes of saving their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But there are no front lines in Colombia. According to the office of the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, which represents the executive in peace negotiations with guerrillas and paramilitaries, Colombia’s three guerrilla groups and paramilitaries are present in over half of Colombia’s 1,067 municipalities.2 Colombia’s war has no quarter, which in the strict definition means mercy or safe haven.

In the words of former Apartadó mayor Gloria Cuartas, “This war is total... unofficial and waged in disguise.”

Witnesses may later describe assailants as uniformed, which can identify any combatant, since all can wear military-style uniforms. In other cases, however, those same combatants wear civilian clothing. Occasionally, investigators examine the type of atrocity itself to determine probable responsibilities, since some armed groups have a reputation for particular horrors. Yet Human Rights Watch has alsoreceived credible reports that parties to the conflict have committed unusual atrocities deliberately, to implicate their enemies.3

Indeed, the use of extreme means and a willingness to deliberate atrocity to send a swift message are among the most striking features of Colombia’s war. Combatants speak to their enemies and the population at large in a language made up entirely of bodies, not sounds.

Despite increased attention to human rights and the laws of war, the toll of Colombia’s war on the civilian population intensified in 1997. According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists (Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, CCJ), a human rights group that compiles information on human rights and international humanitarian law violations, 2,183 people were killed for political reasons in Colombia that year.4

Killings peak around political events, like elections. In the months preceding the October 1997 municipal elections, for example, 110 mayors, town council members, and candidates were killed for political reasons.5 According to the Colombian Federation of Municipalities, at least forty-five mayors were kidnapped in 1997, most by guerrillas who threatened them in exchange for political concessions or to force them to resign.6

“The death penalty does not exist in Colombia, but more people are executed here than in the United States, except without a trial,” one massacre survivor told Human Rights Watch. “The reason is that people have different ideas, nothing more. For that reason, you are given a sentence of death.”7

In cases where a perpetrator is known, 67 percent of these killings in 1997 were attributed by the CCJ to paramilitaries, 20 percent were attributed to

guerrillas, and 3 percent to state agents. Many of the paramilitary killings, however, were carried out with the tolerance or active participation of the security forces, particularly the army.8

Most victims of political killings are men. Women and children dominate the ranks of the forcibly displaced. Guerrillas, state agents, and paramilitaries have on occasion killed women because they were family members of a perceived enemy or because they investigated the death of a relative or colleague.9

“One woman whose husband had been taken by paramilitaries received a visit five days later, from the same men,” one humanitarian aid worker told us. “They asked why she was still living in the house. That day, she abandoned it along with her five children.”10

Combatants also target civilians because of their occupation. The most dangerous professions are often the most quotidian, like store owner, bus driver, street vendor, or teacher. What is key is that the occupation brings or appears to bring the civilian in contact with an adversary. For example, Jesús María Barrenechea Zuleta, an elementary school teacher who worked near Chigorodó, Antioquia, was seized from his home by ACCU members on February 3, 1996, and reportedly threatened for “recruiting boys for the guerrillas.” After his release, he refused to leave his home. Three days later, residents discovered his mutilated corpse in a pasture outside town.11

Defending human rights is also a dangerous profession. In 1997, fifteen human rights defenders were murdered, among them personeros, the municipal officials charged with receiving complaints about rights abuses from the citizenry. Among the most dangerous departments for human rights work is Antioquia.12

The killings continued as this report went to press. On February 27, 1998, three assassins gunned down human rights lawyer Jesús María Valle, president of the “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Committee for Human Rights in Antioquia, in his Medellín office. He was the fourth president of the committee killed since 1987. Less that two months later, three assassins killed human rights lawyer Eduardo Umaña in his Bogotá apartment.13 Government investigators believe both killings may be the work of the Colombian army’s Twentieth Brigade, recently disbanded because of human rights violations.14

Location can also condemn civilians. One government investigator termed it the “McCarthyization” of entire towns.15 For instance, a 1997 government intelligence report Human Rights Watch reviewed identified all of the residents of Recetor, Casanare, as guerrillas or their collaborators, simply because they lived in an area where guerrillas operate.16

“Entire towns have been written off as belonging to one side or another, putting them at risk of attack,” according to Álvaro Gómez, the former Antioquia public advocate (Defensoría).17

Even the most ordinary civilian chore can suddenly turn deadly. Boarding a bus, buying beef, or sharing a meal can compromise civilians in the eyes of combatants. At a routine army roadblock in the department of Arauca on July 20, 1996, for example, soldiers informed the driver of an interstate bus carrying twenty-six passengers that guerrillas were in the area. Despite the obvious risk tocivilian passengers, the army commander ordered the driver to carry six soldiers to a point further along the highway, so they could mount a new roadblock. There, the soldiers left the bus and it continued its regular route. Minutes later, guerrillas opened fire on the bus, apparently believing that soldiers remained on board. Guerrillas killed the driver, his assistant, and a nurse’s aide, who was a passenger. Five other passengers were wounded, including a four-year-old boy.18

In a communiqué circulated in Arauca soon after the attack, guerrillas tried to justify their behavior by claiming that soldiers had gotten off unobserved by guerrilla lookouts. For its part, the army has no pending investigation of the commander.19 In this case, both sides violated Article 13 of Protocol II, which requires combatants to protect civilians from the “dangers” of military operations.

The laws of war and Colombia

The laws of war have a long and complex history rooted in humankind’s attempt to limit the damage caused by war to civilians and combatants who have been wounded or captured. In modern times, nations codified the laws of war into the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which deal primarily with conflicts between states.20

Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions is virtually a convention within a convention. It is the only provision of the Geneva Conventions that directly applies to internal (as opposed to international) armed conflicts.21

Common Article 3, section 1, states:

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who had laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) taking of hostages;

(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Common Article 3 thus imposes fixed legal obligations on the parties to an internal conflict to ensure humane treatment of persons not or no longer taking an active role in the hostilities.

Common Article 3 applies when a situation of internal armed conflict objectively exists in the territory of a State Party. It expressly binds all parties to the internal conflict including insurgents, although they do not have the legal capacity to sign the Geneva Conventions.22

The obligation to apply Common Article 3 is absolute for all parties to the conflict and independent of the obligation of the other parties. That means that the Colombian government cannot excuse itself from complying on the grounds that the other parties to the conflict are violating Common Article 3 and vice versa.

Application of Common Article 3 by the government cannot be legally construed as recognition of an insurgent party's belligerence, from which recognition of additional legal obligations beyond Common Article 3 would flow. Nor is it necessary for any government to recognize a party’s belligerent status for article 3 to apply.

Unlike international conflicts, the law governing internal armed conflicts does not recognize the combatant's privilege and therefore does not provide any special status for combatants even when captured.23 Thus, the Colombian government is not obliged to grant captured members of non-state groups prisoner of war status. Similarly, government combatants who are captured by parties to the conflict need not be accorded this status. Any party can agree to treat its captives as prisoners of war, however.

Since World War II, most conflicts have taken place within states: wars of self-determination, wars of liberation, and internal armed conflicts. A new Diplomatic Conference was called to draft agreements to cover these radically different circumstances. The result – Protocols I and II Additional to the Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1977 – offer more precise and detailed standards for the protection of civilians and combatants rendered hors de combat by their capture or wounding. Protocol I addresses mainly international armed conflicts while Protocol II addresses the new circumstances of internal armed conflict.24

After initially refusing to consider the new protocols in the 1980s, Colombia adopted Protocols I and II without reservation in the 1990s.25 Among those who aggressively supported the adoption of Protocol II was Colombia’s firstpublic advocate, who sponsored the first government report on international humanitarian law violations in 1993.26

In interviews with Human Rights Watch, all groups engaged in the conflict said they support some form of enforcement of minimum humanitarian standards. In 1997, each submitted to the National Conciliation Commission (Comisión de Conciliación Nacional, CCN), a coalition of civic groups led by the Catholic Church, peace proposals and comments on the laws of war.27 In some regions, parties to the conflict have established temporary agreements on standards, and have exchanged prisoners or suspended fighting to care for the wounded, demonstrating that it has been possible on occasion to agree on conduct in observance of the laws of war.28

In 1995, Colombia sought to implement the protocols with public education and security force training.29 With the assistance of the ICRC, a government commission has been preparing legislation that would typify Protocol II violations as crimes in Colombia’s penal code and has launched humanitarian aid programs to attend the forcibly displaced, discussed later in this report.30

A notable advance was the agreement that allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up a permanent office in Colombia,with part of its mandate dedicated to reporting on international humanitarian law violations.31 In May 1998, President Ernesto Samper signed a law to punish individuals who misuse the emblem of the red cross and guarantee protection for the work of the ICRC.32

As we demonstrate in this report, however, there continues to be, at best, a profound lack of understanding of the laws of war among combatants. At worst, as one European humanitarian group concluded after visiting the Urabá region of Antioquia, “the actors involved in the conflict [have no] willingness to respect international humanitarian law, a theme all invoke lightly solely for political benefit.”33

This manipulation of the laws of war is frequent and ubiquitous. For instance, the Colombian security forces characterize almost all guerrilla activities as violations of the laws of war, in an apparent attempt to damage them in public opinion and gain sympathy. Yet they consistently fail to supply the evidence necessary to show how these actions violate the laws of war.

In a similar vein, guerrillas argued in repeated interviews with Human Rights Watch that although they support humanitarian standards in theory, they do not accept Protocol II since it was not negotiated directly with them. In fact, the international community made a determined effort to include non-state groups in the conference that led to the protocols. All told, eleven such groups, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Southwest African Peoples Organization (SWAPO), took part.34 During the conflict in El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) publicly announced its decision to abide by bothCommon Article 3 and Protocol II, which the government had refused to apply but had ratified.35

For his part, AUC leader Carlos Castaño has repeatedly stated a willingness to pledge his forces to respect the laws of war, but qualifies that support by claiming that Colombia needs a “creole” version of international humanitarian law, adapted to Colombia’s irregular warfare and specifically allowing the execution of combatants hors de combat.

The application of laws of war does not depend on the discretion of any one of the parties to the conflict. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies automatically once a situation of armed conflict exists objectively. Protocol II is applicable when opposing forces in an internal conflict are under a responsible command, exercise enough control over territory to mount sustained and coordinated military operations, and are able to implement Protocol II, all of which Colombia clearly satisfies.36

Although the Colombian government has expressed its willingness to invite the International Fact-finding Commission, established by Article 90 of Protocol I, to Colombia to investigate reports of laws of war abuses, none of the other parties to the conflict have invited the commission to come to Colombia, a necessary step.37

Colombia is one of 126 governments that has signed the Convention on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Ontheir Destruction since December 1997 (referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty). This comprehensive treaty prohibits in all circumstances any use of antipersonnel land mines. It also requires that stockpiles be destroyed within four years of the treaty's entry into force and that mines already in the ground be removed and destroyed within ten years.38

The use of antipersonnel land mines by all parties to the conflict is already banned under the provisions of international humanitarian law that protect civilians from indiscriminate attack and that mandate that parties to a conflict refrain from using weapons that exact a disproportionate toll on civilians. Because the Mine Ban Treaty has been signed by two-thirds of the governments of the world, it has established an emerging global consensus against antipersonnel mines.

In Colombia, there are mechanisms in place to encourage compliance with the laws of war. For instance, Common Article 3 states that humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC may provide humanitarian services during armed conflict if invited to do so. In Colombia, the ICRC has advised the government since 1969. Two days after Protocol II went into effect in 1996, the ICRC and the Colombian government signed a new agreement that allows the ICRC to move freely within Colombia and maintain contacts with all armed groups.

Although clearly limited given the magnitude of violations, the ICRC’s role is crucial. Representatives visit hostages and the detained, oversee their release when invited to do so, provide the parties with information and training about the laws of war, assist civilian victims and the wounded, and, when appropriate, present the government with cases of alleged violations.39

In the future, stronger mechanisms to punish serious violations of the laws of war may be available through the International Criminal Court (ICC).40 Already, individuals charged with violating Common Article 3 are being tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. As the YugoslavTribunal has determined, “customary international law imposes individual criminal responsibility for serious violations of Common Article 3, as supplemented by other general principles and rules for the protection of victims of internal armed conflict, and for breaching certain fundamental principles and rules regarding means and methods of combat in civil strife.”41

In a similar vein, the U.N. Security Council expressly empowered the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute persons for crimes against humanity, including systematic murder and torture. Individual criminal responsibility under the statutes of both the Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals extends to a person who commits or orders serious crimes like massacres and hostage-taking.42

Types of Combatants and Targets

Any report on laws of war violations must first marshal the facts necessary to distinguish civilians and combatants hors de combat from those actively engaged in hostilities. This can be a difficult, though not impossible task in Colombia.

All parties to Colombia’s conflict overtly and aggressively target civilians, yet claim that civilian casualties are in fact combatants in disguise. All sides also seek to draw civilians into direct participation in the war. The government did this by organizing civilians into paramilitary groups in the 1980s and CONVIVIRs in the 1990s.43 The guerrillas create militias, whose tactic of forcibly recruiting children is discussed in a later section of this report. Paramilitaries routinely describe civilians as combatants simply because they cross paths with guerrillas, if only to share a dipper of water or witness the passing of an armed unit.

Similarly, all sides routinely attack civilian persons and objects, in clear violation of the laws of war. Yet rarely does anyone take responsibility for errors; instead, combatants find ever more cynical ways to justify or deny attacks that merit international condemnation.

In this, Colombia is not unique. Parties in many internal armed conflicts blur the distinction between civilians and combatants, who attempt to apply the narrowest definition possible of “civilian” to justify attacks against those they suspect of allegiance to their enemies.44

In this section, we discuss how Human Rights Watch has interpreted the laws of war, in particular the definition of civilian, combatant, and military target. We then apply these definitions to the cases we have documented on each of the parties to the conflict to show how the laws of war have been violated.

In this report we have chosen to highlight cases where eyewitness testimony and credible investigations point to a responsible party. Human Rights Watch traveled to conflict areas to interview witnesses, government investigators, security force personnel, guerrillas, and paramilitaries, and collected abundant documentary evidence to support each case. As part of the research for this report, we also met with Carlos Castaño, leader of the AUC, and guerrilla representatives, and submitted to each of the parties engaged in Colombia’s internal conflict lists of violations attributed to their forces for comment or additional information.

The Colombian army, National Police, and the AUC responded in written and verbal form. The UC-ELN and EPL promised to respond in repeated interviews, but did not. The FARC failed to respond to repeated requests. In our interview with a FARC representative, he had no information on the cases we presented, although he denied categorically that his organization committed violations.

To define civilian, we have relied on the laws of war as well as the body of theoretical and practical commentary published since Protocol II was adopted. In New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts: Commentary on the Two 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (hereafter New Rules), an authoritative commentary on the laws of war, a civilian is defined as someone who does not actively participate in hostilities by intending to cause physical harm to enemy personnel or objects.45

It is crucial to underscore that simply feeding a combatant, providing information outside the immediate battle zone, disseminating propaganda, or engaging in political activities in support of an armed group does not convert a civilian into a combatant. Both direct participation and the intent to cause physical harm to a combatant must be present in order for a civilian to lose his or her protected status. If there is any doubt about an individual’s status, combatants should presume that the individual is a civilian unless there is clear proof that the individual meets the criteria for being a combatant.46

The issue of intelligence gathering is particularly important. While Protocol II was being negotiated, conference participants agreed that residents of territories where combatants are present necessarily come across information of use to the parties to a conflict and may, either knowingly or unknowingly, transmit it, a common occurrence in Colombia. However, this does not make them combatants. Essential to the definition of a combatant who is a spy or intelligence agent is that the person use disguise to gain access to information, acquire it under false pretenses or deliberately clandestine acts, or knowingly supply information that is of direct and immediate use in launching an attack.47

In addition, as the New Rules stress, the mere presence of combatants, off-duty combatants, or persons doing business with parties to the conflict within a civilian population does not rob it of its civilian character.48

A civilian can also be someone who has previously taken part in hostilities, but has ceased to play a role. In Colombia, all men are required to complete between twelve to twenty-four months of obligatory military duty. While in the military, these individuals are combatants. Once they cease taking part in hostilities, however, they are civilians and are protected by the laws of war.49 Also protected as civilians are the civilian employees of a group of combatants, such as mechanics, and the crews of civil aircraft who transport military personnel, material, and supplies.50

“There should be a clear distinction between direct participation in hostilities and participation in the war effort,” the ICRC noted in its Commentary on the Additional Protocols. “The latter is often required from the population as a whole to various degrees.”51

As the ICRC Commentary notes, wars like Colombia’s make the determination of who is a civilian “more difficult... but not to the point of becoming impossible.” Ultimately, there must be “a direct causal relationship between the activity engaged in and the harm done to the enemy at the time and the place where the activity takes place.”52

To define a military target, we have used as a starting point Article 52 (2) of Protocol I, which says a military target by its nature, location, purpose, or use, must make an effective contribution to military action. Although Protocol I applies only to international armed conflicts, it provides useful guidance because of the precision with which it has developed concepts contained in other instruments. The total or partial destruction, capture, or neutralization of the military target in the circumstances ruling at the time must offer a definite military advantage. Both conditions must be present in order for an object to be a military target.

The element of time is crucial. An object that serves a civilian use may at a given moment provide one of the parties with a distinct military advantage and may at that moment satisfy the conditions defining a military target. For instance, if paramilitaries detect a guerrilla column using a bridge to transport supplies or as a regular transit point and there are no civilians present, the bridge may be a military target, since its destruction would serve a definite military advantage. However, the bridge may not qualify as a military target the next day, when farmers are using it to carry goods to market. In that case, there is no definite military advantage at that moment and its destruction would be a violation.53

As the New Rules note, in the dynamic circumstances of armed conflict, “objects which may have been military objectives yesterday may no longer be suchtoday and vice versa. Thus, timely and reliable information of the military situation is an important element in the selection of targets for attack.”54

A civilian object can forfeit its immunity from attack when it is occupied and used by military forces in an armed engagement. In all cases, however, the force launching an attack must not only determine that it can gain a direct military advantage in the circumstances ruling at the time, but also that an attack would not cause excessive harm to civilians.

As the New Rules elaborate, the rule of proportionality “clearly requires that those who plan or decide upon attack must take into account the effects of the attack on the civilian population in their pre-attack estimate.” Just as the rules regarding objects that can have dual civilian-military functions demand that there be a direct military advantage evident in such deliberations, so too does the rule of proportionality require that the advantage be specific, not general, and perceptible to the senses.

“A remote advantage to be gained at some unknown time in the future would not be a proper consideration to weigh against civilian losses,” the New Rules state.55

An influential manual used by the U.S. Air Force echoes the language of Protocol I, Article 57 in stating that “in conducting military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population... and civilian objects.” In each attack, the manual stresses, officers in command must “take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects.” If it is impossible to minimize damage to civilians, “an attack must be canceled or suspended.”56

Even when an objective is clearly military, however, the parties to the conflict do not have unlimited license to attack. For example, in Article 51(5) (b) of Protocol I, an indiscriminate or disproportionate attack is an attack that “may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Among other cases, the rule of proportionality applies to guerrilla attacks on towns where there are significant civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects, like stores, homes, and churches. In many instances, it is clear that guerrillas have taken few, if any, precautions to minimize excessive harm to civilians and often attack when there is little if any direct military advantage. Clearly, faulty intelligence and unforeseen circumstances can lead to unplanned damages. However, combatants cannot claim error if there is evidence that they omitted taking into account obvious risks to civilians or a reasonable estimate of potential damage.

It is important to note, however, that the rule of proportionality in no way justifies or ignores civilian casualties that may result from an attack. If a force suspects that civilians may suffer from an attack, the attack must be suspended or canceled until the commanders have taken specific measures to avoid or minimize civilian casualties.57

Just as combatants are required to consider an individual a civilian if there is any doubt about his or her status, so too must they refrain from attacking a normally civilian target if there is any doubt about the uses to which it is being put.58

The laws of war also protect civilians against indiscriminate attack. Although Protocol II does not define these terms, the New Rules infer a protection from Protocol I, which expressly forbids belligerents from attacking objectives without distinguishing between military targets and civilians and civilian objects.

Article 51 (4) of Protocol I describes indiscriminate attacks as:

(a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;

(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or

(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol...

In Colombia, for instance, the army has reacted to guerrilla offensives by launching rocket attacks against areas where civilians live, violating the laws of war by treating the region as a single military objective and failing to properly separate out and identify the legitimate military targets within the area.

Article 51 (5) (a) of Protocol I considers a bombardment indiscriminate if it “treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village, or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects.”

A civilian object may forfeit protected status through use that only incidentally relates to combat action, but which effectively contributes to the military aspect of a party’s general war effort. For instance, a power station providing electricity to a military base may qualify as a military target since it contributes directly to the combat capability of a party to the conflict.59

However, attacks on Colombia’s oil pipeline are almost always violations, since its destruction serves no direct military advantage.60 The UC-ELN itself has said that it targets the pipeline not for military reasons, but to protest Colombian economic policy. They argue that attacks are justified since oil provides the Colombian government with money used to fund the war effort. However, Human Rights Watch rejects this logic as dangerous and ungrounded in the laws of war, since it could be used to justify any attack on a source of government revenue, including tax-paying civilians.

Types of Violations

We have divided cases according to two criteria: by party to the conflict and, within each of those sections, by type of violation of the laws of war. In choosing cases to highlight, we have not attempted to include all violations reported nor necessarily the best-known ones. Instead, we have selected cases that either illustrate a common violation or stand out as particularly egregious or inhumane.

For each case described, there are perhaps dozens more that share similar horrors. We have established the facts to the best of our ability, despite thetremendous difficulties due not only to the failure in many cases of the relevant government authorities or the party to the conflict implicated to carry out even a cursory investigation, but also to the high level of violence against those who dare report abuses, which has made many Colombians fearful of reporting or talking about cases.

Each section begins with the killings of civilians, led by massacres. Massacres constitute multiple violations of the most fundamental rights guaranteed in Common Article 3 and Protocol II and in many cases also constitute a “collective punishment” meant to threaten and terrorize. Both civilians and combatants placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause are protected under international humanitarian law and as such cannot be subjected to murder, torture, or other ill-treatment.

In 1997, the Data Bank on Political Violence (Banco de Datos de Violencia Política), run by the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz, hereafter Justice and Peace) and the Popular Research and Education Center (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, CINEP), which compiles information on human rights and international humanitarian law violations, recorded 185 massacres in Colombia.61 Although massacres might appear to be the fruit of chaos and disorder, in fact they more often serve the closely weighed and measured purpose of promoting terror. In one blow, massacres eliminate those close or perceived to be close to an opposing side, punishing a family or population for the perceived action of one or a few of its members. The threat to those who survive or witness or hear of the massacre afterwards is clear. If you have had or may be seen to have had contact with the enemy, it is best to flee.

Often, combatants claim that they have killed individuals proven through trial to be guilty of certain crimes, like support for their enemies. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that either the AUC or guerrillas can guarantee the fair trial required by the laws of war. Indeed, none of these groups makes any serious attempt to argue that their trials satisfy these conditions.62 In fact, these aresummary executions dressed up as judicial procedures and are abhorrent violations of the laws of war.63

In addition, Human Rights Watch has serious reservations about the government’s ability to carry out fair trials in the so-called regional court or public order system, which prosecutes individuals charged with rebellion, terrorism, and the formation of paramilitary groups. These courts have failed to provide the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality required by Article 6 (2) of Protocol II.64

These courts lack essential fair trial guarantees, among them access to a proper defense, restrictions on the defense’s ability to fully review evidence brought before the court or question secret witnesses presented by the prosecution, and a reliance on evidence brought by the military, which on some occasions has presented deeply flawed or illegally obtained material. In some cases, prosecutors who present evidence are strongly biased in favor of the military, particularly prosecutors who do business from military barracks.65

In previous reports, we have called on the government to reform this system in accord with its obligations to ensure for all of those accused of crimes a fair and impartial trial. Colombia had determined that these courts will be dissolved as of June 30, 1999. This is a first step. However, given the deeply flawed nature of these courts, we call on the government to abolish these courts immediately. In addition, Colombia should establish an independent commission to review cases of individuals convicted by regional courts and rectify injustices done.

We follow with cases involving murder and torture, expressly banned by the laws of war. These cases include non-combatants, elected and government officials, and combatants hors de combat.

The Data Bank recorded 150 cases of torture in 1997, all but nine attributed to paramilitary groups. Often, victims are tortured before being summarily executed.66 As the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in its 1998 report, torture is severely under-reported in Colombia. “Many of the persons tortured only appear in the lists of victims of enforced disappearance or extrajudicial execution.” State agents, the report notes, often threaten their victims to force them to declare in writing that they were well treated or risk reprisals.67

The mutilation of bodies is also expressly banned by the laws of war. Both torture and mutilation are often used to threaten survivors, also a violation of the ban on acts of terror and threats of violence against civilians.

Often, forced disappearances are carried out by state agents or their paramilitary allies in the course of other violations, like the killing of non-combatants. A forced disappearance occurs when state agents or their allies conceal the fate or whereabouts and deny custody of persons who have been deprived of their liberty. Clearly, forced disappearances are a violation of Colombia’s responsibilities under human rights treaties. At the same time, forced disappearances violate the ban contained in Article 4 of Protocol II against violence to the life, health, and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment.68

Currently, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has registered 1,006 cases of forced disappearance in Colombiasince 1981, most carried out by paramilitary groups acting with the complicity of the armed forces. In 1997 alone, the Working Group received sixteen new cases.69

We also include cases of arbitrary detention, when a force engaged in the conflict detains individuals without explanation. Like forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions can end with executions and the secret disposal of bodies, meaning that people are never seen or heard from again. Often in Colombia, the bodies of individuals who have been arbitrarily detained are mutilated in a variety of ways meant to maximize terror: with machetes, chain saws, acid, and even surgical instruments. Often, paramilitaries eviscerate the bodies of the dead to ensure that the bodies will not float and be found after they are thrown into a river.

Cases involving hostage-taking follow. According to the ICRC, hostages are “persons who find themselves, willingly or unwillingly, in the power of the enemy and who answer with their freedom or their life for compliance with [the enemy’s] orders.”70

Although the international press has paid most attention to non-Colombians who have been taken hostage, by far the largest number of victims are Colombian nationals. According to País Libre, a non-governmental organization that studies the phenomenon, known popularly as kidnapping to extort money or political concessions, at least 1,693 people were taken in 1997, over half by guerrillas. In the same time period, paramilitaries were considered responsible for twenty-six kidnappings.71 In only the first three months of 1998, 509 people were reported kidnapped, an increase of 25 percent over the same period in 1997.72

Most hostages are taken by guerrillas, who deny that they engage in hostage-taking. The UC-ELN, for instance, claims that victims are “retained” (retenido) and that these acts are not violations, since any ransom or political concessions gained for release do not benefit individual guerrillas, but the group as a whole.

However, there is an international consensus that a hostage-taking occurs when something is demanded in exchange for release, whether it be money or political concessions. Hostage-taking is prohibited by Article 1(b) of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions as well as Article 4 (2) (c) of Protocol II. According to the laws of war, hostage-takers seek to influence the behavior of third parties in some way by threatening a hostage with physical harm; the definition relies on the hostage’s disempowerment in the hands of a party to the conflict and the possibility that the hostage will be exchanged for some concession made by a third party. Indeed, the ICRC definition differs little from ones we found in authoritative dictionaries, like Webster’s, which defines a hostage as “a person kept as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement.”73

In all cases where an individual is either detained or taken hostage, combatants are required to treat captives humanely and, when a release is planned, guarantee their well-being during that release.

Attacks on medical workers and installations and lack of respect for the emblem of the red cross follow. Few prohibitions are as clear in the laws of war as the prohibition against harming medical facilities, medical vehicles, and medical professionals for the simple act of caring for the wounded, whether they be combatants or civilians. Ambulances and formal hospitals are not the only facilities protected; any structure or vehicle marked with the red cross and used exclusively at a given moment to treat the wounded is protected.

The next category of abuses are actions that harm or threaten the civilian population. We include in this category the use of land mines and the indiscriminate use of bombs; indiscriminate attacks; attacks that violate the rules of proportionality and cause excessive harm to the civilian population; attacks on essential civilian installations, like potable water; and pillage.

We follow with a section on land mines. The Mine Ban Treaty prohibits in all circumstances any use of antipersonnel land mines. As delayed action weapons, they are not meant for immediate effect, but rather are primed, concealed, and lie dormant until triggered. However, they are not triggered solely by combatants, but by anyone who happens to be the first to activate the mechanism. Therefore, they are by their nature indiscriminate weapons.74

Often in Colombia, they are used around a perimeter to defend a base. But since bases are often within or close to civilian areas, civilians and their children are frequent victims. According to the Public Advocate’s Office, in 1995 and 1996, forty-four children were killed by landmines in Colombia.75 To our knowledge, all land mines used in Colombia are rudimentary and are not designed to self-destruct.

Booby traps would fall under a similar category when they are used indiscriminately. Also, when bombs are disguised as non-military objects, like books, or are placed in and around corpses, they may qualify as a violation of the ban against perfidy, a concept contained in customary international law and defined as inviting a person’s confidence, betraying that confidence, and leading the adversary to believe that the perpetrator of a perfidious act is entitled to the protection of the laws of war.76

We also include other types of violations, such as the failure to take precautions in attacks to spare the civilian population and civilian objects. These kinds of violations sometimes occur during the temporary seizure of towns, called tomas. While tomas are not per se violations, since towns can contain military targets, such as security force bases, military vehicles, and troops, often the force involved fails to clearly identify these targets and determine if an attack may cause excessive harm to civilians and damage to civilian installations. Other atrocities during seizures — including the execution of police officers who are wounded or have surrendered, indiscriminate fire that kills or harms civilians, and looting — are clear violations.

Following the sections devoted to each of the forces engaged in combat, we have described two types of abuses that are endemic in Colombia: the forced recruitment of children and forced displacement, both expressly prohibited by the laws of war.

As we note, both guerrillas and paramilitaries forcibly recruit children or allow them to fight in their ranks, violating Article 4 (3) (c) of Protocol II, which forbids the recruitment of children under fifteen or their inclusion in hostilities. The Colombian state is also bound by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which fixes the minimum recruitment age at fifteen.

Human Rights Watch fully supports the adoption of an optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to raise the minimumage for recruitment and participation in hostilities from fifteen to eighteen. Persons under the age of eighteen have not reached physical or psychological maturity, and are ill-prepared to face the harsh conditions of warfare. Many who have volunteered or who have been forced to serve emerge at the end of hostilities physically and psychologically scarred by their experience, and unprepared to live in and contribute to a peaceful society. More than their adult counterparts, these children require extensive social and psychological rehabilitation after participation in hostilities.

Forced displacement is also prohibited, as laid out in Article 17 of Protocol II. Unless civilians are forced to move for safety reasons or a clear military imperative, any displacement for reason of conflict is a violation. In addition, forced displacement often occurs as the result of other violations, including indiscriminate attacks, the terror caused by massacres, selective killings, torture, and threats. In some cases we document, an armed force has used internally displaced civilians to shield or strategically favor military operations, a violation of the guarantee in Protocol II that protects civilians from the harm produced by military operations.


In this section, we discuss laws of war violations by three state agents: the Colombian army, the National Police, and CONVIVIRs.

Numerous international organizations, including the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have repeatedly submitted to the Colombian government detailed recommendations to improve human rights protections and combat impunity. We fully support those recommendations, most of which have yet to be adopted and implemented.

It is appropriate here to include our concern about Colombia’s failure to provide humane conditions in detention for many of the individuals charged and convicted of terrorism or rebellion. In general, conditions are grim, especially for individuals believed by the state to occupy middle to lower level positions within insurgent organizations. While leaders may be provided with virtual suites within maximum security facilities and access to foods and medicines of their choosing, rank-and-file prisoners live in severely overcrowded cell blocks where acts of violence are common along with chronic shortages of food, water, and medical care.77 According to the National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, which runs Colombia’s prisons, 49 percent of the prisoners are awaiting sentence for a crime. Although Colombia’s prison are built to hold about 32,000 prisoners, the actual population is well over 41,000.78


I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stopped at a joint army-paramilitary roadblock. The soldiers are there with their green uniforms and the paramilitaries with their blue uniforms. It’s like different units of the same army.

Humanitarian aid worker, Antioquia

May 1997

The Colombian army had its beginnings in the country’s fight for independence from Spain. Legally, all of Colombia’s 121,000 soldiers, 18,000 Navy sailors, and 7,300 Air Force members are under the command of the president.79 In practice, however, civilians have limited influence, and

decisions are made by the armed forces commander and the commander of each branch.

The army is organized by task and has infantry, cavalry, artillery, mechanized units, military engineering, logistical and administrative corps, and military intelligence. The army’s five divisions are arranged into a total of twenty-four brigades, themselves divided into 154 battalions, two regional “operative commands,” and sixteen specialized anti-extortion units with a combined military-police staff. In addition, Colombia has three mobile brigades, specialized counterinsurgency units with up to 2,000 professional soldiers; military schools; and an aviation brigade.80

All Colombian males are required to serve a minimum of eighteen months in the armed forces, and most serve in the army.

The Colombian army and International Humanitarian Law

The army has taught its officers the basics of international humanitarian law and made instructional material available to officers, professional soldiers, andrecruits. Officers who wish to advance must take laws of war courses. The army also receives courses from ICRC instructors, and the ICRC told Human Rights Watch that Colombia’s armed forces have incorporated their curricula in training.81

Some commanders make an effort to emphasize the importance of human rights and international humanitarian law to field officers and their men. In one 1992 memo circulated by Brig. Gen. Agustín Ardila Uribe, then commander of the Fifth Brigade, officers are told to make it clear to their men that they must observe “irreproachable conduct, respectful of human dignity and underscoring that no military procedure or operation can violate constitutional, legal, moral, or ethical boundaries.”82

In 1997, the Colombian government forced the retirement of Gen. Harold Bedoya, whose hostility to human rights and career-long association with the dramatic increase in joint army-paramilitary operations is notorious. “We took Bedoya out because of human rights,” President Ernesto Samper told Human Rights Watch in an interview.83

Despite these measures, the army continues to commit serious violations, with little apparent will to investigate or punish those responsible. At the root of many violations is the Colombian army’s consistent and pervasive failure or unwillingness to distinguish civilians from combatants in accordance with the laws of war. As the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in its 1998 report, the Colombian army has publicly stated that 85 per cent of the “subversives” they must attack are engaged in a “political war,” not combat, and include some non-governmental organizations, trade unions, and political parties. Indeed, for the Colombian army, only 15 percent of so-called subversives even carry a weapon.84

In effect, this is a rejection of the most basic principle of the laws of war, the distinction between civilians and combatants. This attitude is not new or unusual. In a 1995 memo addressing army strategy in the Middle Magdalena region, then-Second Division Commander Gen. Manuel Bonett instructed his troops to focus intelligence-gathering on towns and strike civilian “support networks” since guerrillas “reclaim their sick and wounded there, their weapons caches, their tailors, their bank accounts, their businesses, and other types of logistical activities essential to subversive combat.” Targeting civilians, Bonett stressed, would “noticeably weaken [the guerrillas’] capability.”85

Nowhere in the letter does this officer, later promoted to the position of commander in chief of Colombia’s armed forces, caution his men that these same tailors, bankers, and medical professionals are not themselves combatants and are therefore protected under the laws of war.

This attitude had led, among other things, to repeated threats and attacks against elected officials. For instance, after Gloria Cuartas courageously accepted the position of mayor of Apartadó, Antioquia, replacing a series of murdered mayors, local army commanders repeatedly described her as a “guerrilla supporter” (“auxiliadora de la guerrilla”), putting her life, in her words, in “imminent danger.”86

After Cuartas told journalists that the armed forces favored paramilitary groups in her city — a conclusion shared by many national and international organizations, including Human Rights Watch — the commander of the Seventeenth Brigade brought charges of slander against Cuartas.87 When she was deposed in the subsequent investigation, Cuartas noted that she had repeatedly warned the Seventeenth Brigade about paramilitary activity in the Pueblo Nuevo section of Apartadó. At the time, the ACCU was carrying out a coordinatedcampaign to push the Fifth and Thirty-Fourth Fronts of the FARC south and out of Urabá. Apartadó, for decades a FARC stronghold, was among their objectives.88

Nevertheless, General Del Río did nothing to pursue paramilitaries. When Cuartas visited Pueblo Nuevo on August 21 and spoke before a hundred children gathered at an elementary school, she reported that suspected paramilitaries grabbed twelve-year-old César Augusto Romero from the school, killed him, and cut off his head.89

“To speak does not mean to take sides or negotiate or provide support,” Cuartas noted in a letter to President Samper. “My obligation has been to ensure

Live ammunition training of soldiers from the 17th Brigade at the army base in Carepa, Antioquia.that the civil population is respected as such, whether or not they have political sympathies with one or the other side in the conflict.”90

Types of army violations vary according to region and unit. For instance, in eastern Colombia, where paramilitaries are weak or have yet to fully penetrate, the army is directly implicated in the killing of non-combatants and prisoners taken hors de combat, torture, and death threats. In the rest of the country, where paramilitaries have a pronounced presence, the army fails to move against them and tolerates their activity, including egregious violations of international humanitarian law; provides some paramilitary groups with intelligence and logistical support to carry out operations; and actively promotes and coordinates with paramilitaries and goes on joint maneuvers with them.

In 1997, of the 185 massacres recorded by human rights groups, four were committed by the Colombian army. Many of the paramilitary massacres, however,were carried out with army tolerance or support. The army was also believed to be responsible for fifty-four selective killings.91

Although the government and Colombia’s military leaders deny that they promote or even tolerate paramilitaries, abundant evidence— reflected in dozens of investigations carried out by the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even the U.S. State Department— is consistent and terrifying. As the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in its March 1998 report, “Witnesses frequently state that [massacres] were perpetrated by members of the armed forces passing themselves off as paramilitaries, joint actions by members of the armed forces or police and paramilitaries, or actions by paramilitaries enjoying the complicity, support or acquiescence of the regular forces.”92

The army’s use and tolerance of paramilitaries has not reduced the overall number of violations recorded in Colombia or their effect; yet it has allowed high-ranking officers to claim that soldiers are directly implicated in fewer abuses than in years past. Overall, the army’s willingness to talk about human rights and international humanitarian law while at the same time tolerating and promoting paramilitary activity in large parts of Colombia is striking.93

“The army tendency is to make this war increasingly clandestine and assign the dirty work to paramilitaries,” one human rights investigator told Human Rights Watch.94

Fueling direct abuses by soldiers is the army’s emphasis on body counts as a means of measuring the performance of officers eager for promotion. Officers who fail to amass lists of enemy casualties risk seeing their careers stalled and ended. As the cases below demonstrate, soldiers often execute detainees, then claimthe bodies as guerrillas killed in action as a way of boosting the body count for their superiors.95

“The commander would give the order, and says that he wanted results, casualties (bajas),” one former army officer told Human Rights Watch. “So anyone who came near our patrol would be killed.” This officer also told us that soldiers would receive bonuses for a high number of casualties produced during operations, directly linked to how medals would be awarded.96

This practice continues despite assurances to the contrary. Less than a month after Armed Forces Commander General Bonett told Human Rights Watch that the army had revised the way it measured success and planned to put a black mark on an officer’s record if massacres were registered in his jurisdiction, Gen. Iván Ramírez summarized the work of his First Division, responsible for much of northern Colombia, by releasing to the press long lists of people claimed killed in action by his troops. Absent from the review was any measure of the chaos and terror produced by the paramilitary groups that soldiers under Ramírez’s direct command allowed and often helped massacre civilians.97

The Twentieth Brigade, which centralized military intelligence, was among the most feared in Colombia because of its record of targeted killings until it was formally disbanded on May 19, 1998, in part because of human rights violations.98 Among others, the Twentieth Brigade is believed responsible for the 1995 murder of conservative political leader Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, in an apparent plot to destabilize Colombia’s civilian leadership and provoke a military coup d’etat.

The U.S. State Department first reported on Twentieth Brigade death squads in its 1996 human rights report. Far from improving, the situation deteriorated the next year, when the State Department noted that authorities wereinvestigating the brigade commander for the murder of several of the brigade's own informants.99

Government investigators believe that a group within the Twentieth Brigade calling itself “The Hunters” was implicated in the murders of these informers as well as cases of extortion and car theft.100 According to press reports, one of the Hunters, former army Sgt. Omar de Jesús Berrío Loaiza, is believed by government investigators to have hired the gunmen who carried out the Gómez killing and is currently under arrest along with three other Twentieth Brigade members and three civilians.101

In November 1997, four Twentieth Brigade intelligence officers were passed over for promotion, effectively ending their careers, and the military retired a former brigade commander, apparently because of involvement with human rights crimes.102 However, we are not aware of any investigations of Twentieth Brigade commanders who presided over the unit when it amassed its homicidal record or may have ordered killings. Former Twentieth Brigade commanders Gen. (ret.) Álvaro Velandia and Gen. Iván Ramírez have never been effectively investigated for their involvement in alleged human rights abuses.103

The Twentieth Brigade is also implicated in the killing of human rights defenders, among them Jesús María Valle, president of the “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Human Rights Committee of Antioquia, and Eduardo Umaña, a noted human rights lawyer.104

Twentieth Brigade threats against defenders continued until shortly before it was reorganized and renamed the Military Intelligence Center (Centro de Inteligencia Militar, CIME).105 After a retired general and former defense minister was assassinated in Santafé de Bogotá on May 12, 1998, the Twentieth Brigade supplied fraudulent information to the Attorney General’s Office linking the crime to Justice and Peace, a respected human rights group.106 The following day, soldiers seized the offices. Soldiers concentrated their search on the office of “Nunca Más,” a research project that is collecting information on crimes against humanity. Soldiers forced employees to kneel at gun point in order to take their pictures, a gesture apparently meant to evoke a summary execution. During the search, soldiers addressed employees as “guerrillas” and filmed them and documents in the office. At one point, soldiers told the employees that they wanted precise details of the office in order to later construct a scale model, apparently to plan further incursions. After human rights defenders gathered outside out of concern, soldiers set up a camera to film them, an act of intimidation. 107

In addition to forming death squads like “The Hunters,” the army directly promotes, supports, and takes part in paramilitary actions. Human Rights Watch has identified specific units with a pattern of this activity. They are the First, Second, and Fourth Divisions; the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Fourteenth, and Seventeenth Brigades; Mobile Brigades One and Two; and the Barbacoas, Bárbula,Batín No. 6, Bomboná, Cacique Nutibara, Caycedo de Chaparral #17, Héroes de Majagual, Joaquín París, La Popa, Los Guanes, Girardot, Palonegro #50, Rafael Reyes, Ricuarte, Rogelio Correa Campos, and Santander Battalions. These make up over 75 percent of the Colombian army.108

Though high-ranking officers deny that units under their command organize and promote paramilitary activities, the evidence is overwhelming that such activity is commonplace. Although in cases of joint army-paramilitary action, both share responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law, we believe the onus lies with the state force in these cases, pledged to protect the rights of citizens and uphold the law, not develop and support means to circumvent and violate it.

One army colonel in command of an important base told Human Rights Watch that there are army bases “clearly identified as paramilitary organization points, where officers know that there is support from certain civilians. Officers sent there have been clearly identified as supporting this type of work.”109

A humanitarian aid worker who travels frequently in Urabá was as direct. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stopped at a joint army-paramilitary roadblock,” he said. “The soldiers are there with their green uniforms and the paramilitaries with their blue uniforms. It’s like different units of the same army.” Other times, witnesses have told us, the only way to tell the difference between camouflage-wearing men is that soldiers wear black army-issue boots while paramilitaries prefer “Brahma” brand boots, which are yellow.110

In the departments of Cesar and Norte de Santander, army commanders have openly organized and promoted paramilitary groups and shared intelligence with them. There, residents told us, they have seen paramilitary vehicles freely enter military bases and coordinate with military vehicles in joint operations.111

In 1993, the U.S. Embassy reported that Gen. Carlos Gil Colorado, just given the command of the Fourth Division, not only supported the actions of paramilitary groups, but had admitted to providing them with army weapons. Colorado was never punished and died in what was reported to be a FARC ambush in 1994.112 Human Rights Watch also received consistent reports throughout Colombia that soldiers patrol without any insignia identifying name, unit, or rank, thus adding to the confusion among forces.113

In the Urabá region, army commanders use informants who double as paramilitaries, as in the El Aracatazo case described below. In Colombia, it is common for former guerrillas who surrender to serve their prison sentences within military bases. In exchange for leniency in sentencing, former guerrillas inform on their former comrades. Also called “guides,” these individuals have been implicated repeatedly in joint military-paramilitary operations.114

“Violations directly attributable to the army have decreased in this region, but reports of direct support for paramilitaries have increased,” one government investigator from the Middle Magdalena region told Human Rights Watch. “The paramilitaries do the dirty work that the army wants done.”115

Even high-ranking security force members outside the army agree that, at the very least, the military high command has a policy of tacitly accepting andprotecting army-paramilitary links. “Their policy is not mine,” said one well-known officer who requested anonymity. “They protect these bad elements within the institution.”116 A high-level government investigator, also speaking on condition of anonymity, echoed this statement. “The army does nothing against paramilitaries,” he told Human Rights Watch.

While army support for paramilitary groups varies from region to region, the policy of tacit acceptance and the protection of officers who work with paramilitaries is nearly universal. Officers who dare question the army-paramilitary alliance are swiftly marginalized or dismissed from service.

This was made clear in 1996, when Col. Carlos Alfonso Velásquez, a highly decorated officer who had received praise for pursuing members of the Cali drug cartel, reported to his superiors that his commanding officer supported paramilitaries in Urabá. At the time, Velásquez was the chief of staff for Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, Seventeenth Brigade commander.

“At a minimum,” Velásquez reported, “[Del Río] is not convinced that [paramilitaries are] also a dangerous factor of public disorder and violence in Urabá.”117

Colonel Velásquez also reported that General Del Río maintained a relationship with a retired army major who worked with the ACCU.118 This officer, Velásquez said, attended a party at the Seventeenth Brigade to celebrate General Del Río’s promotion and repeatedly attempted to contact Velásquez personally, on one occasion inviting him to work with the ACCU.119

Colonel Velásquez verbally reported these incidents to his superiors. His written report was sent to the commander of the First Division, Gen. Iván Ramírez.120 Instead of prompting a serious investigation into his charges of Seventeenth Brigade support for paramilitaries, however, the reports prompted the army to investigate Velásquez, in an apparent attempt to silence him. Even as General Del Río punished Velásquez by cutting him off from the day-to-day responsibilities of a chief of staff, an army investigation noted that Velásquez met with human rights groups, unions, members of the Patriotic Union party, and Apartadó Mayor Gloria Cuartas, behavior, it noted, that revealed mental problems and was “more than sufficient to [withdraw] confidence in an officer... who maintains a great friendship with people and institutions that have openly declared themselves enemies of the army.”121

Nevertheless, the report noted that Velásquez had credible information about ties between soldiers and paramilitaries in Necoclí, another Urabá town. In that case — in which no high-ranking official was named — the army filed formal charges against the soldiers for “failing to act” to prevent paramilitary activity.122

The army concluded the inquiry by recommending punishment not for General Del Río, who was later promoted, but for Colonel Velásquez, for “insubordination, [acts] against duty and esprit de corps.” Velásquez was forced to retire on January 1, 1997.123

Despite the international condemnation of the army-paramilitary link and its responsibility for the majority of human rights and international humanitarian law violations in Colombia, neither the military itself nor the government has taken the steps necessary to break this tie. As the U.S. State Department noted for 1997, “There was no credible evidence of any sustained military action to constrain theparamilitary groups. While the President announced on December 1 a series of measures to combat paramilitary forces, including a task force to hunt down their leaders, these measures had not been implemented by year's end.”124

Stung by yet another series of massacres, the government vowed in 1998 to aggressively pursue paramilitaries, among them Víctor Carranza, a legendary emerald dealer, rancher, and paramilitary chieftain linked to hundreds of political killings in the department of Boyacá and Colombia’s eastern plains. Carranza was arrested near midnight on February 24, 1998, and is being prosecuted for violating Decree 1194, which prohibits the formation of paramilitary groups.125 Human Rights Watch has noted an increasing number of government attempts to confront and arrest paramilitary groups, usually led by the Attorney General’s Technical Investigation Group (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI), which captured Carranza, the National Police, and the DAS.126

The army also continues to be implicated in the torture of detainees, whether for political or common crimes. However, torture can be especially intense if a detainee is implicated in a soldier’s death. Methods are crude: beatings and the “submarine,” near suffocation in buckets of often filthy water, are most common.127

Regardless of the violation, however, impunity remains the rule for officers who operate with or without paramilitaries. In general, the government has failed to exercise minimum control over its armed forces by properly investigating and punishing individuals who commit abuses.

Colombia’s military argues that its courts are effective and cites high overall conviction rates. For instance, as commander of the armed forces, General Bedoya cited a 47 percent conviction rate for investigations carried out by military tribunals. However, he could not cite a single conviction for a human rights crime like extrajudicial execution. Indeed, most military tribunal convictions are for military offenses, like failing to follow an order. In cases of human rights and humanitarian law violations, allegations against officers are rarely investigated. Historically, the few officers who face a formal inquiry see the charges dropped or are acquitted.128

Typical is the case involving the Naval Intelligence Network No. 7 and its responsibility for the killings of dozens of people in and around the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander from 1991 through 1993. Despite overwhelming evidence showing that Lt. Col. Rodrigo Quiñones and seven other soldiers planned, ordered, and paid hit men to carry out these killings, all eight were acquitted by a military tribunal in 1994.129

The only people to be convicted for the crimes were two civilian employees of Naval Intelligence Network No. 7. In his ruling on the case, the civilian judge admitted that he was “perplexed” by the military tribunal’s acquittals of the officers, since he considered the evidence against them “irrefutable.” “With [this acquittal] all that [the military] does is justify crime, since the incidents and the people responsible for committing them are more than clear.”130

As the U.S. State Department noted in its 1997 annual human rights report, “At year's end, the military exercised jurisdiction over many cases ofmilitary personnel accused of abuses, a system that has established an almost unbroken record of impunity.”131

Although Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled on August 5, 1997 that cases involving members of the armed forces accused of human rights and international humanitarian law violations should be prosecuted in civilian courts, the Superior Judicial Council, the body charged with resolving jurisdictional disputes between civilian courts and military tribunals, continues to rule frequently in favor of the military.132 Even though the Constitutional Court ruling clearly applies to pending cases that were sent to military tribunals, but are yet to conclude, the council has argued that unless new evidence is admitted, “no judicial authority can ignore [our jurisdictional ruling], modify it, or change it."133

The government has also failed to aggressively push for existing cases to be transferred, reflecting a long-standing passivity when faced with the military’s determination to preserve impunity. “I would describe the government’s role as absent in this effort to ensure accountability,” one government investigator told Human Rights Watch.134

When Human Rights Watch asked General Bonett if officers who failed to act to prevent paramilitary massacres would be punished, he cited the case of Gen. Jaime Uscátegui, commander of the Seventh Brigade during a series of paramilitary massacres in his jurisdiction in 1997. In the Mapiripán massacre, detailed in the paramilitary section, General Uscátegui failed to act despite repeated requests for assistance from the Mapiripán judge and is currently under investigation by Internal Affairs (Procuraduría).135

For this “omission,” General Bonett told us, General Uscátegui had been relieved of his command and would be called to retire. Nevertheless, we learnedlater that not only was General Uscátegui still on active duty, but in 1998 he was chosen as second-in-command for an army offensive in the department of Caquetá.136

According to Internal Affairs, in the six months following the Constitutional Court ruling, the Superior Judicial Council sent 141 cases involving security force officers to civilian courts and thirty-three cases to military courts.137 For its part, the Defense Ministry claimed that over the same time period, thirty-three other cases had been transferred from military tribunals to civilian courts. Most involved police officers, not soldiers, and none ranked above the level of major.138

However, Colombia’s civil jurisdiction, known as the contencioso administrativo, has consistently found the armed forces and especially the army liable for damages resulting from violations. In one case settled in 1997, for instance, the Arauca Administrative Tribunal found the army liable for the 1991 deaths of a peasant couple near Tame, Arauca. Soldiers killed them as they ran in fear, the court concluded. As the court wrote in its judgment, the soldiers then lied about the presence of guerrillas in order to cover up their mistake.139

Civilian investigators who take on cases involving the military continue to be harassed and threatened, and some have been forced to leave their posts – or the country. “During my investigation, I was subjected to constant harassment and evasion, when the military would refuse to provide material I had requested or delay in locating an officer I wanted to question,” one investigator from Internal Affairs told Human Rights Watch.140 Another, from a different institution, echoedthis opinion. “The doors are closed, and officers believe they are being persecuted by guerrilla sympathizers hidden within the government.”141


El Aracatazo: On August 12, 1995, a group calling itself the “People’s Alternative Command” (Comando Alternativo Popular) carried out a massacre of eighteen people — including two children — at the El Aracatazo bar in the El Bosque neighborhood of Chigorodó, Antioquia. Armed gunmen surrounded the bar with its patrons inside, then systematically shot into the premises and executed some of the patrons at point blank range. Subsequent government investigations linked the “People’s Alternative Command” to the army’s Voltígeros Battalion, which shares a base with the Seventeenth Brigade and is under that unit’s command, and amnestied EPL guerrillas with ties to the Hope, Peace, and Liberty party (Esperanza, Paz y Libertad, hereafter Esperanza), the political party they formed. An internal army investigation determined that Voltígeros soldiers had allowed at least two former guerrillas who were working as informants to leave the base two days before the El Aracatazo massacre.142 One of them, Gerardo Antonio Palacios, was later convicted of having taken part in the massacre.143 Another, José Luis Conrado Pérez, known as “Carevieja,” was identified by eyewitnesses as also having taken part. Three months before the massacre, Carevieja had appeared in a photograph published in the magazine Cambio 16, uniformed, heavily armed, and speaking directly to then-Army Commander General Bonett.144 A humanitarian aid worker told Human Rights Watch that it was well known that Carevieja worked forthe army and took part in joint army-paramilitary operations.145 The Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office is investigating the civilians believed responsible for the massacre, but the soldiers have gone unpunished.146

Segovia, Antioquia: The region around Segovia, called the “northeast,” has been a battleground for over a decade, with joint army-paramilitary units and guerrillas targeting their suspected adversaries within the civilian population.147 On April 22, 1996, a group of men, including six gunmen driven to Segovia by Bomboná Battalion Capt. Rodrigo Cañas, seized a bar in the El Tigrito neighborhood and executed four people. Continuing to the La Paz neighborhood, they killed five more people. By the time they left town, authorities registered fifteen dead, among them two children, and as many wounded. Although Segovia was heavily militarized, the gunmen passed three army bases and a police station with no trouble. Subsequently, the driver of a car commandeered to replace one of their vehicles and the driver’s fifteen-year-old assistant were forcibly disappeared.148 The massacre had been preceded by written and telephoned death threats to community leaders, creating an atmosphere of terror.149 In an important decision on July 25, 1996, the case against Captain Cañas for arranging the massacre with paramilitaries was sent to a civilian court over the army’s objections. The attorney general formally charged Cañas and his driver with homicide and the formation ofparamilitary groups.150 It is worth noting that in their 1996 summit conclusions, the paramilitary coalition known as the AUC singled out the Segovia massacre as an example of the difficulties involved in mounting joint operations with the army.151 Military authorities allowed Human Rights Watch to interview Cañas on July 4, 1996, in the military police barracks where he was lodged. Despite the gravity of the case, Cañas was not confined and remained on active duty.152 Within a month of our visit, a military court acquitted him of compromising “military honor” for the Segovia massacre and released him, despite the fact that he was still under arrest and formal investigation by the attorney general. In addition, government investigators believe he continued to coordinate paramilitary actions while in military confinement. While Human Rights Watch was in Medellín in December 1997, civilian authorities arrested Cañas as he did errands in the office building where the civilian prosecutors investigating his case work. In civilian custody, he was then sent to that city’s Bellavista Prison to await the outcome of his trial in a civilian court.153

Tiquisio and Puerto Coca, Bolívar: Residents say that on March 28, 1997, a combined army-paramilitary force of 200 entered Tiquisio and seized two Franciscan priests, Friar Bernardo Villegas and Friar Diego García, imprisoning them in the parish house for twenty-four hours. Paramilitaries told Villegas that he would be killed and that others had eight days to leave the area. The armed men also said that they planned to kill Father Jesús Martínez, who was in another village at the time. The armed men also seized medical doctor Navarro Patrón, and told him that they had an order to execute him. Only after hours of interrogation were Villegas and Patrón allowed to live.154 Witnesses later identified the men as ACCU members and soldiers from the Nariño Battalion, which had been patrolling the region the previous week.155 The unit continued to Puerto Coca and assassinated four men — Robinson Acevedo Chamorro, Jairo Jaramillo Acosta, Wilson García Carrascal, and Wilson Simanca Acosta. During the maneuver, the ACCU distributed a death list with thirty-four names. When they left the area, they took 600 head of cattle, mechanical water pumps belonging to a community development project, money, medicines, and goods looted from local pharmacies and stores.156 In addition to slaying civilians, the army violated Article 4 (g) and (h) which prohibit pillage and threats to commit murder, and Article 17, which prohibits the forced displacement of civilians except when necessary to protect their security or for "imperative military reasons," conditions that were clearly not satisfied in this case.

San José de Apartadó, Antioquia: During 1997, Human Rights Watch received numerous credible and consistent reports of army-paramilitary patrols around this town of 850. One paramilitary roadblock set in February was less than a mile from the army base in town. There, paramilitaries routinely stopped, searched, and occasionally killed and forcibly disappeared travelers for the next several months. Despite frequent and detailed reports from local authorities and residents, humanrights groups, the church, and national and international humanitarian aid workers, the army did nothing to dismantle the patrols or arrest those responsible. Indeed, in one case, a humanitarian aid worker told Human Rights Watch that soldiers had told residents that unless they abandoned their houses, the “head cutters will come and eliminate you.”157 Yet when Human Rights Watch presented this case to Armed Forces Commander Gen. Manuel Bonett, he replied curtly: “These roadblocks don’t exist.”158 The army is directly responsible not only for the killings in which soldiers took a direct role, but also for failing to act to prevent future killings by arresting the men who set up and staffed the roadblocks. The largest single massacre took place on March 29, 1997, only seven days after community leaders had declared the town a “Peace Community.” That day, residents say the ACCU entered the village of Las Nieves. There, they seized and executed at least five people: brothers Elias and Heliodoro Zapata; Alberto Valle; his fourteen-year-old son, Félix; and Carlos Torres, a hired hand. According to human rights groups, the Zapata brothers had left their house that morning to purchase the family’s breakfast. When they did not return, family members Valle and his son went to look for them. Finally, Torres left to check on all four, who had not returned. When the mother of the Zapata brothers left the house to find her sons, she was fired on, but managed to escape unharmed, She later found burned and bloody clothing and personal documents in the vicinity. Later, an army helicopter collected the bodies. Paramilitaries told villagers that they had five days to abandon their homes.159 The Seventeenth Brigade continues to describe the four as guerrillas killed in combat.160 Dozens of other residents were seized and killed at paramilitary roadblockstolerated by the army. Among them was Francisco Tabarquino, a local leader who supported the Peace Community. Tabarquino was forced from a public bus at a checkpoint on May 17, bound, and executed despite the pleas of fellow passengers and the Catholic priest who runs the diocese’s regional human rights program.161 Although the Attorney General’s Office is investigating the killings that were reported, including that of Tabarquino, we are aware of no arrests to date.162

Nudo del Paramillo, Antioquia: On October 25, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that a joint army-ACCU force surrounded the village of El Aro and the 2,000 people who live in and around it. The operation was part of a region-wide offensive launched by the army and ACCU against the FARC and designed to force residents to abandon villages identified as providing the FARC with supplies and “conquer” the region, in the words of ACCU leader Castaño.163 While soldiers maintained a perimeter around El Aro, an estimated twenty-five ACCU members entered the village, rounded up residents, and executed four people in the village plaza. Among the ACCU leaders were men who called themselves “Cobra” and “Junior.” Store owner Aurelio Areiza and his family were told to slaughter a steer and prepare food from their shelves to feed the ACCU fighters on October 25 and 26, while the rest of Colombia voted in municipal elections. The next day, Areiza was taken to a nearby house, tied to a tree, tortured, and killed. Witnesses say the ACCU gouged out his eyes and cut off his tongue and testicles. One witness told journalists who visited El Aro soon afterwards that families who attempted to flee were turned back by soldiers camped on the outskirts of town. Over the five days they remained in El Aro, ACCU members executed at least eleven people, including three children, burned forty-seven of the sixty-eight houses, including a pharmacy, a church, and the telephone exchange, looted stores, destroyed the pipes that fed the homes potable water, and forced most of the residents to flee. When they left on October 30, the ACCU took with them over 1,000 head of cattle alongwith goods looted from homes and stores.164 Afterwards, thirty people were reported to be forcibly disappeared.165 Carlos Castaño assumed responsibility for the El Aro killings but denied that the army took part in the operation. He claimed the victims were guerrillas, fugitives, or their supporters. He made one exception, saying that the execution of a fifteen-year-old boy was an “error.”166 By year’s end, hundreds of displaced families were divided between shelters in Ituango, Puerto Valdivia, and Medellín.167 Jesús Valle Jaramillo, a local town councilman and president of the “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Human Rights Committee, helped document the massacre and was representing the families of victims when he was assassinated in his Medellín office on February 27, 1998. Members of the army’s Twentieth Brigade are currently under investigation for his murder.168 Because of its role facilitating every aspect of this paramilitary operation, we hold the army responsible for this egregious violation of the laws of war.

Murder and Torture

María Celsa Pernía and Bernardo Domicó: According to an investigation done by the Office of Special Investigations of Internal Affairs, eight FARC guerrillas came to the home of this couple near Dabeiba, Antioquia, on May 5, 1996, anddemanded shelter. The next morning, the couple awoke to the sounds of an army attack on their home. Using grenades and automatic weapons, soldiers killed three of the guerrillas. Also killed were Pernía and Eduardo, her eight-year-old son. Two other children – an eleven-year-old and a six-year-old – were wounded. Although the army later claimed that the civilians had been killed in the crossfire, Internal Affairs concluded that they had been killed by the army at a distance of less than a meter, making it clear that soldiers could see they were firing on a woman and a child.169 The use of the house by guerrillas is a violation of the laws of war, since it put civilians in danger. However, the army is responsible for a more serious violation, failing to properly identify a military target and weigh the potential damage to civilians in a pre-attack estimate.

Joaquín Bello and Luis Evelio Morales: These farmers were arbitrarily detained by an army patrol on September 8, 1996, near Caranal, Arauca. Bello, a peasant from Caranal, was the victim of an extrajudicial execution by soldiers on September 8, 1996.170 On that date at about 2:45 a.m., soldiers came to his house looking for him by name. The soldiers were wearing ski masks and handkerchiefs to cover their faces. They handcuffed Bello, searched his house, and asked “Where are the arms?” When Bello asked why he was being handcuffed they responded that it was for security precautions. The soldiers accused Bello of collaborating with the guerrillas and took him away. When asked where he was being taken, the soldiers replied to the military base at Tame or the city of Arauca. Bello’s wife was ordered not to leave her house until 7:00 a.m. Shortly afterwards, residents heard significant gunfire, so much that it sounded like a battle about one kilometer away. Residents found Bello corpse, apparently bearing signs of torture, on a bridge about one kilometer away from Caranal. Bello’s widow went to military installations in Fortul to attempt to identify the soldiers responsible for her husband's detention. Over the course of half a day, approximately fifteen soldiers passed in front of her some half-dozen times. She did not recognize any of the soldiers.171 Soldiers extrajudicially executed another man from Caranal, professional driver Luis EvelioMorales, that same night. About five soldiers, faces uncovered, arrived at his house and informed family members that they were detaining Morales. They handcuffed him, telling his family to remain calm, that they were only taking care of an official act (diligencia), and that they had three more houses to search. Morales's family members asked why he was being detained, and where they could find him. The soldiers replied that they were taking him to either Tame or Yopal. After Morales's body was found, relatives lodged a complaint at the Fortul municipality and before military authorities. A community protest took place about a month after the killing.172 Notice of his death aired publicly, together with that of Bello. Local press cited Operative Command No. 2 stating that soldiers of the Héroes of Pisba Counter-guerrilla Battalion No. 24 had engaged in armed combat with the UC-ELN.173 The army continues to report the two as guerrillas killed in combat.174

Antonio Angarita and Carmen Angel Clavijo: These farmers were detained and executed by soldiers belonging to the Batalla de Palonegro Battalion No. 50, near San Calixto, Norte de Santander, on October 6, 1996. Angarita was president of the San Juan Neighborhood Action Committee. When the bodies were found four days later, authorities did an autopsy that revealed that Angarita had been tortured before being executed.175 In the months following these killings, municipal officials were flooded with reports of joint army-paramilitary operations around San Calixto, Ábrego, and Ocaña.176

Jefferson Dario, González Oquendo, Oscar Orlando Bueno Bonnet, and Jhon Jairo Cabarique: These three young men were on a motorcycle in the 6 de Octubreneighborhood of Saravena, Arauca, when soldiers belonging to the Rebeiz Pizarro Battalion detained them on January 10, 1997. Local human rights groups reported that a professional soldier known as “Careleche,” in charge of an army patrol, fired on the three indiscriminately. Human Rights Watch also received reports that Bueno, a technician, was hit and took off his shirt to show his wounds, at which point Careleche beat and executed him. We also received reports that witnesses heard one of the men beg for mercy before soldiers killed him with four shots. González ran for three blocks before being shot down and killed. The army later presented all three bodies as guerrillas killed in combat. In the weeks surrounding this killing, the walls of Saravena were filled with graffiti signed by a group calling itself “The Black Hand,” which government authorities and residents believed was made up of Rebeiz Pizarro soldiers.177 Internal Affairs has opened a formal investigation against army soldiers.178 The army continues to claim that the three were guerrillas killed in combat.179 However, the evidence strongly suggests that this is a violation of the ban on killing civilians, since these young men were not combatants but were targeted because of their youth and the fact that they were in a neighborhood believed by the army to be under guerrilla control.

Miguel Angel Graciano: This young man was seized by an army unit patrolling with paramilitaries near his home in Salto de Apartadó, Antioquia on March 26, 1997. A brother-in-law later told authorities that he had been detained before Graciano, who came to his house to bring him some fish. An army officer asked the brother-in-law to identify Graciano, which he did. The two were taken to the El Trebol Ranch. Paramilitaries freed the brother-in-law, who was told to tell his neighbors that they had only eight days to abandon their homes and farms.180Neighbors found Graciano’s body tied to a tree near the El Trebol Ranch, bound and garrotted. His eyes had been removed, his teeth shattered, his skin burned, and his throat slit.181

El Carmen del Cucú, Bolívar: After a clash between the UC-ELN and the army’s Héroes de Majagual Battalion No. 45 on June 20, 1997 guerrillas asked townspeople for help in treating six wounded fighters. With no medical workers or Red Cross officials available, El Carmen del Cucú Police Inspector Edinson Canchila, a driver, and a local resident used a tractor to pick up the wounded guerrillas. With wounded fighters on board, the tractor was ambushed by soldiers, who killed Canchila and driver Ismael Guarín. The six wounded guerrillas were apparently executed on the spot. All eight, including Canchila and Guarín, were later presented to the press as guerrillas killed in combat.182 The massacre of wounded combatants and townspeople who assisted them is an egregious violation of the laws of war.

Ortiz family: On November 11, 1997, brothers José Rosario and Jesús Salvador Ortiz and their nephew, sixteen-year-old Diomar Eli Ortiz, were on their way to make purchases at a store near Ábrego, Norte de Santander, when soldiers from the Santander Battalion began firing on them. The three first ran, then surrendered and were captured alive. However, soldiers delivered their cadavers to a local funeral home later that day. The bodies showed signs of torture. A Santander Battalion press release described the three as guerrillas killed in combat.183

Attacks on medical workers, installations, and ambulances

Gaitania, Tolima: After a clash between soldiers and guerrillas in this mountainous area on January 13, 1997, medical workers from the Planadas Central Hospital sent an emergency medical team. Since their ambulance was not working, two nurses, a medical worker, and a driver traveled in a green vehicle. At the entrance to Gaitania, one of the nurses later told reporters, soldiers ordered them to stop, which they did. The soldiers, from the Caicedo Battalion and under the command of Sixth Brigade Col. Hernán Gutiérrez, fired on the vehicle even though the team identified itself and its mission. Apparently, soldiers believed there was an injured guerrilla in the vehicle. Miraculously, none of the passengers was hurt. However, the car behind the medical team was also fired on, killing Israel Tapiero, a civilian, and wounding three others, including a seven-year-old girl.184

Fredy Yessid Contreras Osorio: This Saravena, Arauca medical worker had reported threats from a professional soldier known as “Careleche” in 1997. On April 20, Careleche and several other soldiers reportedly broke into the Sarare Regional Hospital and executed Contreras. Contreras was also a member of a medical workers union. Soldiers again broke into the hospital to interrogate medical workers and patients on May 23.185

Ascanio family: Long a target of army and paramilitary threats, the Ascanio family had their home in Mesa Rica, Norte de Santander, seized by soldiers belonging to the Santander Battalion on July 20, 1997. Accompanied by known paramilitaries, soldiers interrogated Elizabeth Ascanio about the whereabouts of her father and husband, beating her. Although she was pregnant, soldiers jumped on her and put a knife to her neck. Several children were also beaten, and others in the household were pistol-whipped, one so severely that his skull was fractured. When ElizabethAscanio went via ambulance to the Hacarí hospital the next day, soldiers stopped the vehicle and again interrogated her.186


José Estanislao Amaya Páez: This San Calixto, Norte de Santander personero reported receiving death threats from soldiers of the Santander Battalion on July 13, 1997, apparently because he accepted written complaints by residents of army abuses. As Amaya was in his home with a friend, the friend saw a death threat slipped under the door. Rushing to investigate, Amaya discovered that the threat had been delivered by a group of soldiers wearing ski masks patrolling town. The threat read: “Personero: You have exactly eight days to abandon Norte de Santander and especially San Calixto. Auto Defenzas [sic] del Catatumbo. Death to those who aid or collaborate with guerrillas. After you, many more will follow.” After reporting the threat to authorities, Amaya received continued threats, and reliable sources told him that soldiers had been given orders to kill him. Amaya was murdered on December 9, 1997, in circumstances that remain unclear.187 We believe the army authored the death threat against Amaya.

Other acts that violate international humanitarian law

Army bases: Repeatedly, Human Rights Watch received credible information that army bases were located in or adjoining civilian structures, endangering non-combatants. Often, bases are surrounded by land mines, endangering the civilian population. Near Arauquita, Arauca, for example, the municipal education secretary requested that a military base be moved from a location adjoining a school attended by 180 students. Local authorities were concerned not only about a potential guerrilla attack; according to news reports, soldiers occasionally fired on the school, pockmarking its walls.188 Another army base within the limits of Calamar, Guaviare has put the civilian population in repeated danger. Residents told Human Rights Watch that the location of the army’s Joaquín París Battalionis dangerous not only for adjacent houses, but also to a school serving 500 students that shares a border with the base. During attacks, residents have taken shelter under furniture. Witnesses told us that it is common after attacks to find bullet casings on the streets and rooftops.189 In Miraflores, Guaviare, the Anti-Narcotics Police, the army’s Joaquín París Battalion, and Mobile Brigade Two have joined their bases and now completely surround the only Catholic Church and what was formerly the town’s only playground.190 The army should not use residential and protected areas to shield bases in war zones.

Operation Genesis: After the ACCU began a sweep into the department of Chocó in 1996, the army’s Seventeenth Brigade followed in February 1997 with aerial attacks, some indiscriminate. Called Operation Genesis, the army operation prompted widespread and credible reports that soldiers coordinated openly with paramilitary groups and attacked civilian dwellings indiscriminately, provoking mass displacement and severe hardship to the civilian population in violation of Protocol II. Following army bombings and rocket attacks, ACCU paramilitaries repeatedly entered villages and ordered residents to leave. While in some places paramilitary threats were enough to convince people to flee, in others the paramilitaries executed village leaders or other residents to show that they meant business.191 According to one survivor who fled from Riosucio with a family of eight and was later interviewed by Human Rights Watch,

At around 6:15 a.m., the bombs began to fall. One bomb fell fifty meters from a house. In Caño Seco, Salaquí, a school was destroyed and in Tamboral and La Loma, three houses were destroyed. The paramilitaries threatened us that the bombing would continue so the communities began to flee in wave after wave. Some of us walked for twenty and thirty days. Two children died on the way and another woman and her baby died during childbirth. About sixty woman who were pregnant madethe journey. Four babies were born, but the mothers had to walk again the next day. We had to keep moving because we were afraid that our way would be blocked and it was the only way out.192

Subsequently, in a public meeting with representatives of the displaced at Pavarandó in June 1997, Gen. Rito Alejo Del Río, then-commander of the Seventeenth Brigade responsible for Operation Genesis, claimed that army attacks had been provoked by fire from the ground and said that no “decent people” (gente de bien) had been harmed. Human Rights Watch rejects this notion entirely because it ignores the most basic tenet of the laws of war — that combatants must make careful distinctions between combatants and civilians regardless of whether individuals may qualify for army officers as “decent people.” The displaced who had witnessed the attacks told humanitarian aid workers that military airplanes had initiated many of the attacks when there was no ground fire or guerrillas present.193 In this case, the army treated this region as a target, harming the civilian population and causing between 15,000 and 17,000 people to flee. In addition, we hold state forces responsible for paramilitary killings and forced disappearances, which they apparently promoted and certainly failed to prevent even though they had troops in the area.

Operation Destructor II: According to Yaguará indigenous leaders, on September 4 and 5, 1997, on and near this indigenous reservation in the departments of Caquetá, Meta, and Guaviare, 220 people were forced to flee because of indiscriminate rocket attacks from five army helicopters and one army airplane. A strong FARC contingent was reportedly in the area.194 Nevertheless, these attacks set some civilian homes on fire when there were no guerrillas present according to a report by the Public Advocate’s Office after an on-site visit. The Public Advocate’s Office also noted that army projectiles killed animals and seriously damaged crops. Some families had dug holes in the dirt floors of their houses, toprotect themselves from stray bullets as they slept at night.195 Because of a motion filed by the Public Advocate’s Office, the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca ruled July 30, 1998 that the Colombian government and the Ministry of Defense must pay $24,000 (US) to residents of Yaguara II for damages suffered during the military operation.196

Roadblocks: Human Rights Watch has received numerous credible reports of civilians killed or seriously injured at army roadblocks. According to the army, there are two types of roadblocks: public ones, to provide security on highways, with soldiers identified by road signs and reflective jackets; and occasional ones, often hidden to travelers, to capture suspects.197 This latter style has resulted in numerous civilian casualties, when soldiers open fire from hidden locations and without warning, harming non-combatants. For instance, on February 15, 1998, soldiers shot at a car that did not stop when they said they hailed it near Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, killing seventeen-year-old Carlos Eduardo Flórez Méndez.198 Near midnight on January 25, 1998, soldiers from the Colombia Infantry Battalion 28 fired on civilian vehicles near Villeta, Cundinamarca, killing five people and wounding five. Survivors told reporters that the roadblock was poorly marked, and they didn’t realize it was there until they heard shots. Apparently, soldiers believed a guerrilla caravan was near, but failed to check before attacking.199 The army commander later admitted that the deaths “could have been avoided” and that there were “mistakes made in the planning, procedures, and execution of the military operation.200 The case was closed to independent inquiry when it was passed to amilitary tribunal on March 15, 1998.201 During a similar roadblock set up a week later near Puerto Carreño, Vichada, the army fired on UC-ELN guerrillas traveling with five kidnapped shop owners, killing both guerrillas and their hostages, even though the army knew that guerrillas had the shop owners in their custody.202

Public buses: Repeatedly, Human Rights Watch has received credible information that the Colombian army has failed to remove civilian passengers before using public buses to transport troops during operations. This practice puts the civilian population at serious risk, and there have been numerous attacks by guerrillas against these vehicles. The army should not use these vehicles to transport troops when there are civilian passengers present. In one particularly egregious case, a combined army-paramilitary patrol forcibly boarded a public bus near Ituango, Antioquia, that was later attacked by the FARC. In the attack, the driver was reportedly paralyzed.203

National Police

If the civilian population fails to collaborate with us, well, we’ll withdraw the police and let the guerrillas enter and finish them off.

Gen. Rosso José Serrano, Sucre

March 13, 1996

Colombia’s National Police were formed in 1891 as a constabulary independent of the military. During the period of internal conflict known as La Violencia from 1948-1958, the police were incorporated into the armed forces andremain under the direct command of the military officer in command of the armed forces. Police are responsible for keeping public order within towns where their stations are located and in the villages they visit. Colombia’s 103,000 police officers are present in over 90 percent of Colombia’s municipalities.204

The National Police is divided by task. Most agents work at either the metropolitan or departmental level. Colombia also has specialized units, including the Anti-Narcotics Police, responsible for pursuing traffickers and destroying laboratories and drug crops, and police intelligence. The Judicial Police (Dirección Nacional de Policía Judicial e Investigación, DIJIN) are responsible for investigating cases destined for a judge. This unit is divided at the departmental level into Sectional Judicial Police (Seccional de Policía Judicial, SIJIN). Police also join soldiers in the anti-kidnapping groups known as the GAULA and in Search Blocks, set up to investigate and capture well-known criminals.205

With the appointment of Gen. Rosso José Serrano as chief in 1994, the police began a improvement campaign, in part to instill a greater respect for human rights and recoup lost credibility among a populace that considered the institution corrupt and abusive. A new law, implemented in 1993, established the position of civilian commissioner to pursue complaints or evidence of human rights abuse. Although the commissioner’s office has been hampered in its ability to oversee the police and abuses continue, human rights groups agree that the National Police have improved their record in the 1990s.

National Police and International Humanitarian Law

Like the military, the National Police have embraced the language of human rights and international humanitarian law and conduct regular training on these international standards. Various sources consulted by Human Rights Watch agreed that overall, Gen. José Rosso Serrano and the National Police are more responsive to reports of violations by their members than in previous years, whenofficers were routinely linked to massacres, political killings, forced disappearances, and torture and little was done about it.206

For example, using Decree 573, passed in 1995, General Serrano can summarily fire officers accused of abuses if there is convincing evidence against them.207

“If they believe a report is credible, the officer is relieved of duty immediately and put at the disposition of government investigators,” one government investigator told us.208

Nevertheless, police continue to be implicated in violations, as described below.209 Most notorious are cases where officers belonging to the SIJIN capture and execute suspected guerrillas. In areas where paramilitaries are present, policehave been directly implicated in joint army-paramilitary actions and have sometimes organized paramilitaries and supplied information to them to assemble death lists. For instance, government investigators concluded in 1998 that police in La Ceja, Antioquia organized and deployed paramilitaries considered responsible for at least thirty killings in 1996 and 1997.210

Police have also stood by while paramilitaries select and kill their victims. Over a four-day period in October 1997, for instance, the Anti-Narcotics Police based in Miraflores, Guaviare failed to apprehend or even question the paramilitaries who killed at least four people. According to residents who spoke later to government authorities, police left their barracks only to collect the bodies of the dead. The Anti-Narcotics Police commander later confirmed to a journalist that police neither patrolled the town nor investigated the killings, a shocking passivity in the face of such atrocities.211

Police frequently and publicly describe whole populations as guerrillas or sympathetic to them and withdraw police protection, in part as punishment for their perceived allegiance. This is especially apparent after guerrilla attacks on towns, known as tomas. The police attitude reflects a profound disregard for international humanitarian law and of their own duty, as defined by Colombia’s laws. In effect, police punish civilians for their perceived support for insurgents or, worse, allow and encourage a paramilitary attack to occur.

For instance, after a guerrilla attack on Chalán, Sucre that resulted in the deaths of eleven officers in March, 1996, General Serrano told journalists, “If the civilian population fails to collaborate with us, well, we’ll withdraw the police and let the guerrillas enter and finish them off.” His assistant, Gen. Luis Montenegro, now head of the DAS, echoed his words, calling residents “[guerrilla]accomplices... The people of Chalán don’t deserve the police they have... The people either support [guerrillas] or support us.”212

In the case of Chalán, instead of reinforcing the police, commanders withdrew their officers from Chalán and six nearby municipalities. In the weeks following, paramilitaries threatened and killed dozens of local teachers, community leaders, and farmers, prompting hundreds of families to flee. More than a year after the attack, police had still not returned to Chalán, and its mayor was forced to move his office to a larger city for safety reasons. The same threats to remove the police were repeated in several towns in 1996 and 1997.

“Recently, General Serrano said that he wanted to withdraw all police officers from southern Bolívar, after a guerrilla takeover of a town,” one government investigator told Human Rights Watch. “He said his men were being massacred by the indolence of the civilian population and didn’t deserve their protection.”213

Many police commanders have an openly hostile attitude to human rights and the people who defend them by reporting on violations. “Whoever complains about human rights to you is by definition a guerrilla,” commented Antioquia Deputy Commander Col. Antonio D’León Martínez in an interview with Human Rights Watch.214

After the Catholic Church sponsored workshops on human rights in El Peñol, Antioquia in March 1998 and invited local police, organizers learned that police planned to attend only to “take notes and photograph those present,” which organizers interpreted as an attempt to identify and later persecute human rights defenders and discourage residents from taking part. Subsequently, the workshop organizers began receiving telephone death threats, which they attributed to police.215

It is important to note, however, that some police officers have courageously defended civilians from attacks from all sides and have investigatedparamilitaries. We have reported in the past, for example, that the police commander in Aguachica, Cesar told government prosecutors about army support for paramilitaries responsible for several massacres.216

When paramilitaries told the police commander of Peque, Antioquia that they would begin a “cleansing of the town” on December 6, 1997, and told him to detain and deliver certain people to them, he refused to comply. When paramilitaries attempted to enter by force that evening, police resisted. Nevertheless, over the next two days, paramilitaries set up roadblocks outside town, killing at least five. Only on December 8 did the army appear. However, the paramilitaries had enough time to pack up and leave the area via the major highway that connects Peque to Medellín.217

Like members of the armed forces, members of the police are often tried for alleged abuses by military tribunals. More police officers than soldiers have been convicted of human rights-related crimes in these tribunals. Increasingly, cases involving police are being sent to civilian courts, as we note below. Cases involving civil damages are also frequent, and the National Police have consistently been found liable for wrongful death and damages.

In 1997, for instance, a court in Arauca found the National Police liable for the 1989 murder of Arauquita personero Jorge Álvaro Flórez Santiz and ordered the institution to pay the family the equivalent of 1,000 grams of gold. In a separate proceeding, the officer involved was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison.218


Jorge Eliécer López, Gustavo Adolfo Díaz, and Edinson Echeverry: López and Echeverry, who were soldiers, and Díaz, a mechanic, were detained by SIJIN agents based in Palmira, Valle on February 8, 1996. According to an investigationby the Public Advocate’s Office in Cali, eight police officers operating in an area known as Aguaclara detained the three as suspected guerrillas near a fruit stand and forced them into one of their vehicles. The bodies of López and Echeverry were found several days later on the banks of the Cauca River. To our knowledge, Díaz’s body has not been found.219 Subsequently, police investigated the incident and concluded that Second Lt. José Fernando Montoya Castellanos had violated police regulations by planning and ordering the abduction and killings. Montoya was removed from the force along with the four officers who took part. Also removed from the force were Commander Olga Lucía Largo and two officers who helped cover up the killings.220 In July 1998, all eight were convicted and sentenced to prison for murder.221

Fabio Fonseca Guerrero: This former mayor of Uribia, La Guajira was killed by six members of the Anti-Narcotics Police near Puerto Chimare as he accompanied a group of civic leaders to a meeting on July 17, 1996. The group was apparently ambushed by police officers who fired without warning. Six officers were later accused of carrying out the attack.222 At the time of this writing, the case was before a military tribunal.223

José David Negrette, Guillermo Martínez, and Alejandro Teheran: Negrette, Martínez, and Teheran were detained along with John Negrette by a four-manpolice patrol under the command of Francisco Guzmán in a Tierralta, Córdoba bar on February 13, 1997. Forced to board a police vehicle, the four were taken to a site known as Puente de las Torturas (Bridge of Tortures). John Negrette managed to disarm Officer Diego Guzmán [no relation to the commander], then shot and killed him before fleeing. Subsequently, police beat and executed their three remaining captives. Once he had fled to nearby Montería, John Negrette presented himself to police, turned in Guzmán’s revolver, and told what had happened. Nevertheless, the initial police report of the incident listed the three men as guerrillas killed in combat.224 Internal Affairs is investigating the case.225 A later police report corrected their version of events, acknowledging that the three civilians had been executed by Officer Francisco Guzmán, who also fired on the police vehicle to simulate a guerrilla attack. At the time of this writing, Guzmán had been formally removed from the police force and was awaiting trial by a military tribunal in the Las Mercedes prison in Córdoba. The other three officers were suspended and awaiting trial by civilian courts.226


Jesús Cevardo Giraldo, Álvaro Viera Díaz, Carlos Arias Alberto Giraldo, and John Francisco Cruz Romero: These individuals were detained as suspected guerrillas in Santafé de Bogotá by police on February 21, 1996, and tortured with near-suffocation, beatings, and mock executions. The four were suspected of having taken part in the murder of the son of Gen. (ret.) Ricardo Emilio Cifuentes five days earlier. According to their lawyer, the torture took place within the first ten hours after their arrest. Giraldo and Viera were later released, while Arias and Cruz were formally charged with murder.227

Martín Jerez Balquicet and Teobaldo Díaz Márquez: These young men were detained as suspected guerrillas by a police patrol on November 16, 1997 in the LasGranjas neighborhood of Barrancabermeja, Santander. During their arrest, they were kept incommunicado. Human rights groups reported that police beat them with sticks and their fists.228

Misuse of the red cross emblem

Florencia, Caquetá: On August 22, 1996, National Police officers used a red cross, the internationally-protected emblem for medical workers, ambulances, and medical facilities, on a vehicle used to transport smoke and tear gas grenades in their effort to break up a peasant protest march. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, National Police Human Rights Officer Col. Julio Moreno claimed that the laws of war do not apply to this incident, since police were acting to maintain public order, not fight guerrillas. However, we believe this interpretation seriously mischaracterizes the evidence. At the time, the department of Caquetá was under emergency legislation because of the marches, which the government repeatedly described as organized by guerrillas.229 The police violated the ban contained in Article 12 of Protocol II against misuse of the emblem. To their credit, Colombian government investigators have aggressively investigated the incident. The Internal Affairs delegate for the judicial police filed formal charges against the former commander of the Caquetá police, Col. José Edilberto Rojas, for illegal use of the emblem, prohibited by Article 169 of the military penal code.230 Also charged were his assistant, Lt. Col. Fabio Sánchez Múnera; Maj. Humberto Guarín Rojas; Sgt. Luis Alfonso Barajas; agent Giovany Yepes, who drove the vehicle; and agent Rigoberto Jara Andrade.231

Other acts that violate international humanitarian law

Caicedo, Antioquia: In only two years, this Cauca Valley town was attacked five times – three times by the FARC and twice by the ACCU. After a 1996 FARC attack, National Police left the town, claiming that its residents were sympathetic to guerrillas (see case in ACCU section). As proof, police cited the fact that store owners obeyed a FARC edict threatening them with death if they sold police food,clothing, or medicine, forcing police to truck in supplies.232 In 1997, police returned and built a new barracks that shared a wall with Caicedo’s Catholic Church. Predictably, the FARC attacked again on October 15, 1997, destroying the church along with the barracks.233 Although we hold the FARC responsible for a violation, since they apparently set explosives under the wall the structures shared and did nothing to minimize damage to the church, a protected structure, the police also committed a violation by constructing the barracks to share a common wall with the church, in effect using it as a shield from attack. Given Caicedo’s history of FARC attacks, a future attempt to attack police there was predictable and should have dissuaded the National Police from locating a barracks next to a church. According to Article 58 (b) and (c) of Protocol I, parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible, avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas and take the other necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations.

Special Vigilance and Private Security Services (CONVIVIR)

We are paramilitaries, macetos, or CONVIVIR, whatever the hell you want to call us.

– Commander Cañón, CONVIVIR leader, Santander


In 1994, the Colombian government announced a plan to establish “Special Vigilance and Private Security Services” (Servicios de Vigilancia y Seguridad Privada), later renamed CONVIVIR. CONVIVIRs were meant to be formed in combat areas, where the government said it could not fully guarantee public safety. Authorized by Decree 356, these groups were to be made up of individuals who petition the government for a license to “provide their own security... in areas of high risk or in the public interest, which requires a high levelof security.”234 Unlike paramilitary groups, outlawed in 1989, CONVIVIRs enjoy explicit government support.

Human Rights Watch visited one CONVIVIR in Rionegro, Antioquia, in 1996. At the time, then-Antioquia Gov. Álvaro Uribe Vélez and his vice-governor, Pedro Juan Moreno, were outspoken supporters of CONVIVIRs. Considered a model association, the Rionegro CONVIVIR counted among its members Moreno and seventy others, anonymous except to the government and local army and police chiefs. We were accompanied by Vice-Governor Moreno, the local police chief, and army Col. Guillermo Cock, in charge of setting up new CONVIVIRs in Antioquia.

The Rionegro CONVIVIR covered the municipalities of Rionegro, home to the international airport that serves Medellín, La Ceja, and Retiro. Upon obtaining a government license, CONVIVIR members contributed a monthly fee, which covered the salaries of CONVIVIR employees, equipment, vehicles, and expenditures for office space. Each member bought a radio for his or her ranch, which allowed communication with the central office staffed twenty-four hours a day by young men hired by the CONVIVIR to monitor radio frequencies and patrol the area.

If a CONVIVIR member noticed suspicious activity, the member would radio the central office, where he or she would be identified by a number code corresponding to the ranch. CONVIVIR employees also conduct intelligence operations and provide information to the police and army.235

When we visited, the Rionegro CONVIVIR was based in an apartment in a residential complex. Opposite a playground and amid closely-spaced apartments, nothing distinguished the CONVIVIR door from a residence. According to the CONVIVIR administrator, an employee who asked to be identified as “Mario,” heand his employees were retired soldiers recommended for the job by Medellín’s Fourth Brigade. None wore uniforms or any visible CONVIVIR identification.236

Mario told us that the Rionegro CONVIVIR worked closely with the security forces to patrol and respond quickly in emergencies. Information collected by the CONVIVIR on its regular patrols, he noted, had been provided to the security forces and used to mount operations. A CONVIVIR representative also joined local authorities for periodic meetings to discuss security matters. By the end of 1996, some Antioquia CONVIVIRs had also met with ICRC representatives and had received information on international humanitarian law.237

Like companies that sell security services to banks, commercial establishments, and private offices, CONVIVIRs are supervised by the Superintendency for Vigilance and Private Security (Superintendencia de Vigiliancia y Seguridad Privada), a government agency within the Defense Ministry that issues licenses and is charged with monitoring their activities.238

From the start, CONVIVIRs were controversial even within the government. They gained immediate support among influential groups, among them ranchers, businesspeople, some municipal officials, and the security forces, in particular the army.239 Others, including then-Interior Minister Horacio Serpa, said they feared a return to 1980s-style paramilitary activity, a concern echoed by some human rights groups. Defense Minister Fernando Botero assured the public that CONVIVIRs would operate under intense scrutiny and that only individuals without criminal records would be allowed to join.240

CONVIVIR and International Humanitarian Law

Human Rights Watch believes that CONVIVIRs dangerously blur the distinction between civilians and combatants, putting civilians at increased risk of attack. In cases detailed in this report, we show that some CONVIVIRs have taken a direct role in hostilities in close coordination with the army and police and have committed serious violations of the laws of war, in some cases with government-supplied weapons.

Since these groups are licensed by the state, we consider them state agents acting under official authority. When they commit abuses, the Colombian government is ultimately responsible.

In general, the government has failed to properly supervise and control CONVIVIRs. Like other perpetrators of political violence in Colombia, CONVIVIR members implicated in abuses have largely gone uninvestigated and unpunished.

A key to the blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants is the enlistment of anonymous civilians who operate without uniform or visible insignia and in unmarked vehicles. Indeed, the government takes advantage of this anonymity by permitting CONVIVIRs to set up operations in civilian areas, as was the case with the Rionegro CONVIVIR. We have also received credible reports that some CONVIVIR members in northeastern Antioquia work while hooded.

Although CONVIVIR proponents claim the groups are closely supervised by local authorities, our investigation found that CONVIVIRs work almost exclusively with local army and police commanders, who are not required to share this information with civilian authorities.241 Indeed, elected officials, like mayors, are often unaware of who belongs to a CONVIVIR, how and where they operate, if they have obtained the proper license, or even if one exists within their jurisdiction.

For instance, in 1997, Mayor Gloria Cuartas wrote Antioquia Governor Uribe to express concern about plans to form CONVIVIRs in Apartadó without notifying her. “I don’t believe it is prudent to continue to arm, legally or illegally, the civilian population, especially since in this town we have representatives from every state security agency,” she wrote. “Daily, private individuals gain increasingcontrol over weapons, which directly affects the ability of elected officials to do their job.”242

Mayor Cuartas received a response from Vice-Governor Moreno. Using insulting language, he referred her to the army for any questions about CONVIVIRs.243 As Cuartas pointed out when she wrote a second time to Governor Uribe, it was disturbing that civilian authorities who strongly support CONVIVIRs could not or would not answer questions from the mayor of the city where CONVIVIRs were supposed to provide security.244

Indeed, some army officers have ignored the license requirement and set up and supported CONVIVIRs without consulting the Superintendency. For example, the Las Colonias CONVIVIR in Lebrija, Santander, was set up by Gen. Fernando Millán at the Fifth Brigade base he commanded. The Las Colonias CONVIVIR operated throughout 1997 without a license but with army support according to the testimony of former members. The group regularly extorted money from residents and allegedly committed a series of killings, robberies, and death threats and included among its members known paramilitaries from the Middle Magdalena region.245

When the Attorney General’s Office investigated the case, the army high command prevented prosecutors from questioning Millán, then interposed a jurisdictional dispute, claiming that since Millán was on active service and carrying out his official duties, the case should be tried before a military tribunal. As prosecutors later argued, the setting up of paramilitary groups cannot be considered an act of service, a conclusion upheld in 1997 by Colombia’s Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, the judicial body that resolves these disputes continues to rule in favor of military tribunals, where officers are swiftly acquitted.246

We are also concerned at the absence of proper government supervision and control of CONVIVIRs. Although CONVIVIRs can play an integral role in counterinsurgency operations, the government office in charge of supervising them, the Superintendency, does not have the staff or resources to properly train CONVIVIR employees in human rights and international humanitarian law, supervise their operation, or review the records of CONVIVIRs that have been accused of abuses.

“The ‘Convivir’ associations have been operating without effective control or adequate supervision,” in the words of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.247

For example, although by law CONVIVIR licenses should be reviewed every two years, by mid-1997, the Superintendency had suspended all visits to the field for lack of personnel. At that time, the superintendent automatically renewed all licenses for an additional two years, without having even visited most associations.248

As Human Rights Watch discovered, even serious government authorities have difficulty agreeing on the exact number of groups licensed as CONVIVIRs. Although the president’s office claimed to have registered only 414 CONVIVIRs by 1997, press and other accounts cited other authorities saying there were as many as 600 or more CONVIVIRs.249 In the department of Chocó, for instance, departmental authorities reported in January 1998 that of the five CONVIVIRs operating in Chocó, only one was licensed.250

Just as authorities appear unable to agree on the exact number of CONVIVIRs, they have failed to account for what type of weapons, if any, the government issues to CONVIVIRs. Although the government repeatedly assuredHuman Rights Watch that CONVIVIRs would not be armed with special weaponry, during our investigation we found that the government repeatedly issued these groups weapons restricted for the sole use of the armed forces.251

By 1996, these weapons included 422 submachine guns, 373 nine mm. pistols, 217 repeating rifles, seventeen mini-Uzi machine guns, seventy rifles, and 109 thirty-eight-caliber revolvers, according to the office of the Superintendency of Vigilance and Private Security.252 Although Superintendent Arias assured Human Rights Watch in 1997 that no restricted weapons had been issued to CONVIVIRs, three of the forty-seven CONVIVIRs registered with his signature received weapons that year that were restricted for the sole use of the armed forces, including Galil rifles, mortars, grenades, and M-60 machine guns.253

Lack of accountability has led to other serious problems. The Superintendency has proved unable and even uninterested in preventing known paramilitaries from joining CONVIVIRs. Indeed, some army officers opposed the creation of CONVIVIRs in the Urabá region because they believed that there was a high risk of paramilitary infiltration.254 Repeatedly, Human Rights Watch was told that only “decent people” – gente de bien – would be allowed to joinCONVIVIRs.255 As is clear, however, the definition of “decent people” is entirely subjective and is often used in Colombia as a euphemism for civilians who support paramilitaries as a way of “cleansing” the country of guerrillas.

When Human Rights Watch asked Superintendent Arias what measures he had taken to insure that paramilitaries did not join, he answered that they review all criminal convictions in a court of law. But since so few paramilitaries have been prosecuted or even captured, we asked, what other measures had he taken. “Anyone who would volunteer for a CONVIVIR has to be a decent person,” he answered, a tautology that fails entirely to address the very real problem of paramilitary infiltration.

Indeed, the Superintendency has supplied known paramilitaries with military-style weapons. For example, nine months after police named brothers Martiniano and Roberto Prada Gamarra as suspects in the 1995 Puerto Patiño massacre of eight men in the department of Cesar, the Superintendency approved the Pradas as members of the Renacer CONVIVIR, which operated in the Puerto Patiño area.0 Martiniano successfully petitioned the government for a 9-mm submachine gun for his personal use along with nine other submachines guns for the “Los Arrayanes” CONVIVIR.1 In May 1998, the Attorney General’s Office formally accused eight men, including Roberto Prada Gamarra, with having carried out the Puerto Patiño massacre.2

In practice, some CONVIVIRs make no distinction between illegal paramilitary groups, which they embrace, and their own organizations. For example, when butchers from Lebrija, Santander were told to attend a Las Colonias CONVIVIR meeting, they found armed men who demanded that merchants pay them a monthly quota or face the consequences, interpreted as a death threat. Whenone of the merchants asked if the group was paramilitary, also known in the region as macetos, the commander, a retired army officer, replied, “We are paramilitaries, macetos, or CONVIVIR, or whatever the hell you want to call us.”3

When Human Rights Watch presented evidence that known paramilitaries belonged to the Renacer CONVIVIR to the Superintendent in a meeting, he claimed that since no Prada had been convicted in a court of law at the time the CONVIVIR license was issued, he saw no impediment to approving his membership in a CONVIVIR. This response clearly demonstrates that the Superintendency lacked any will to keep known human rights criminals out of the CONVIVIRs.4

Salvatore Mancuso is another CONVIVIR member currently being prosecuted for forming paramilitary groups. Known as “El Mono,” Mancuso is a well-known Córdoba rancher currently wanted by the authorities for his role in massacres carried out in the departments of Bolívar, Cesar, Córdoba, and Sucre. Mancuso has used paramilitaries to force farmers from productive land, which he then buys for cut-rate prices. Despite his criminal record, Mancuso is registered as the official representative of two CONVIVIRs, one in Sucre and one in Córdoba, called Asociación Horizonte, Ltd. Government investigators believe he is an adviser to Carlos Castaño and the ACCU.5

In similar cases, after the UC-ELN’s “Héroes de Anorí” Front ambushed the Al Sol CONVIVIR on July 27, 1997 near Anorí, Antioquia, among the six killed was a paramilitary known locally as “The Fox” (El Zorro), believed to have ordered the April 23, 1997 murder of Campamento personero Emilio de Jesús Penagos. “The Fox” was later identified as Leopoldo Guerrero Torres, an army non-commissioned officer.6 In another case, police discovered that one of theparamilitaries killed during the massacre of fourteen people in La Horqueta, Cundinamarca, on November 21, 1997, was the legal representative of the La Palma CONVIVIR, based in San Juan de Urabá, Antioquia.7 In some areas, CONVIVIR jobs are considered stepping stones to important paramilitary commands or ways for known paramilitaries to form groups that appear to enjoy government approval.8

Indeed, the danger of once again giving government support to paramilitary groups prompted Attorney General Alfonso Gómez to oppose the creation of CONVIVIRs as a violation of Decree 1194, promulgated in 1989, which prohibits the formation of paramilitary groups. “With the appearance of ‘Convivir,’ the Colombian state has once again fallen in the mistake of promoting ‘armed actors’ that worsen problems of illegal repression and war without quarter.”9

Also dangerous is the army’s use of CONVIVIRs to monitor legal political activity, contributing to the atmosphere of danger and threat that permeates public service in Colombia. For example, in September 1997, the chief of staff of the army’s Fourth Brigade wrote Antioquia CONVIVIRs urging them not only to collect “information to be used to neutralize and/or impede the plans of subversive cartels,” but also investigate “candidates... to determine their political affiliation and degree of acceptance within the population. Determine if they sympathize with democratic institutions, the government, the military forces, and what their level of influence is.”10

CONVIVIRs have also endangered the civilian population, in violation of the guarantees contained in Protocol II. In one incident, families fleeing political violence in the Nudo del Paramillo region of Antioquia were prevented from traveling by a CONVIVIR in the town of Dabeiba. Dabeiba Mayor Gabriel Eduardo González told authorities that the CONVIVIR president had told localtransportation companies not to transport emergency food or pick up the displaced, a group he summarily dismissed as “guerrillas.”11

By the end of 1997, CONVIVIRs had been linked to at least thirty-five criminal investigations involving homicide, torture, and other serious crimes according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.12 In August, President Samper acknowledged that some CONVIVIRs had “assum[ed] combat roles” and had committed abuses, prompting the government to suspend the creation of new CONVIVIRs.13

In November 1997, the Superintendency reorganized CONVIVIRs into two categories: “Special Services,” companies authorized to provide security in high risk areas or protect special installations, like multinational corporations; and “Community Services” (Servicios Comunitarios), which work at the local level and would include neighborhood associations or cooperatives.14

The same month, the Constitutional Court ruled on a challenge to CONVIVIRs submitted by fifteen human rights groups. In a five to four vote, the court upheld the decree legalizing CONVIVIRs, but stipulated that members and employees of “Community Services” groups could not collect intelligence for thesecurity forces and could only possess non-military use weapons.15 By year’s end, former CONVIVIRs had returned a reported 237 “restricted use” weapons to the government.16

In addition, a government decree implemented a month later required “Community Services” to be supervised by a locally-elected committee, a welcome end to the total anonymity of organization members.17 Nonetheless, these groups remain out of uniform and poorly supervised. In the first months of 1998, the Superintendency revoked the licenses of dozens of former CONVIVIRs, for failing to return restricted-use weapons and submit records confirming the judicial status of CONVIVIR members.18


San Roque, Antioquia: According to an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and information collected by human rights groups, seven men, a woman, and a twelve-year-old child set out by car for Puerto Berrío, Santander on August 14, 1996. Mainly businesspeople and land owners, the men were apparently planning to renew their handgun licenses at the Fourteenth Brigade. Near a turn-off known as Brasil, armed men whom government investigators believe belonged to the San Roque CONVIVIR stopped their car and forced its passengers to board another. The woman was released five days later and reported the incident. Government investigators believe the men and child were executed, mutilated, and thrown into the Magdalena River.19

Murder and Torture

Norte del Cauca: In March 1996, a CONVIVIR calling itself the “Rural Security Cooperative of Northern Cauca” began circulating a list of 103 local residents accused of maintaining ties with guerrillas and criminals, and threatened them with death. Among them were the leaders of area indigenous communities and local farmers. Within a month, on April 11, gunmen believed to belong to the CONVIVIR began to torture and kill those named, among them three Páez Indians near Tacueyó, Cauca: Jaime Conda, Serafín Escué, and Wilmer López. The following May 29, three farmers — Juan Bautista, Marco Tulio Bautista, and Jorge Enrique Zambrano — were shot by presumed CONVIVIR members near Suárez, Cauca.20 There is no indication that those killed were combatants; in any case, they were not killed in combat, but were detained before being tortured and shot.

Rioblanco, Tolima: Disputes between farmers living near this highland town were complicated in 1996 by the formation of a CONVIVIR, which began targeting and killing suspected guerrilla supporters as well as individuals embroiled in land and other non-political disputes. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, displaced farmers from the area said that the CONVIVIR maintained close ties with local paramilitaries, who were among those who began to identify themselves as CONVIVIR. In addition, CONVIVIR members worked in coordination with the army base in Chaparral, and, disguised by ski masks, would patrol with soldiers. At frequent roadblocks, the CONVIVIR would charge a “war tax” and engage in robbery. Farmers who refused to patrol with them were threatened and accused of supporting the FARC. In the village of Bilbao, farmers said the CONVIVIR circulated a death list of sixty suspected guerrilla sympathizers, a common paramilitary tactic.21 On September 22, 1996, CONVIVIR members in ski masks seized José Chepe Yate and Ferney Parra from their homes in villages near Rioblanco and executed them. As a result, an estimated 1,300 people from the villages of Maracaibo, Rionegro, Campo Alegre, Peñas Blancas, La Autora, La Ocasión, Lagunas, La Esmeralda, and La Reina fled the area. Subsequently, the same CONVIVIR was implicated in the killing of farmer Javier Leyton, onDecember 31, 1996.22 After farmers reported these incidents to authorities, soldiers captured five alleged CONVIVIR members, but later released them. At the farmers’ request, the army sent the Caicedo de Chaparral Battalion to the region, and some displaced families chose to return. However, CONVIVIR attacks resumed once the army left the area and at least 300 people once again fled.23 Internal Affairs continues to investigate the case.24

Yondó CONVIVIR: On February 3, 1997, residents reported that a CONVIVIR operating with Counterguerrilla Battalion No. 43 “Palagua” tortured and killed four people near the village of San Francisco, among them Norberto Galeano Cuadros, Jesús Antonio Cabal, and Reynaldo Jesús Ríos, all elderly men. The bodies were then dismembered and castrated. The combined unit, which included a soldier identified by residents as “El Zarco,” had terrorized surrounding villages for four days previous to the killings, threatening the population, killing farm animals, and torturing farmer Antonio Arévalo.25

Las Colonias CONVIVIR: Organized by the Fifth Brigade, this group began operating in Lebrija in 1997 without a license, but with the support of the army and local police commander. According to residents and victims’ families, the group committed at least fifteen targeted killings before the director, Commander Cañón, a retired army officer, and the employees he hired were arrested and prosecuted under the Decree 1194, which prohibits the formation of paramilitary groups. Among the cases currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office are the killings of two Protestants, brothers Oscar and Armando Beltrán Correa,taken captive by the Las Colonias CONVIVIR as they headed to work on July 29, 1997 and killed on the road leading from Lebrija to the hamlet of La Puente. Apparently, the CONVIVIR accused them of passing information to the guerrillas.26 On September 4, 1997, father and son Leonardo and José Manuel Cadena were forced out of their home by CONVIVIR members and killed according to a family member’s testimony to the Attorney General’s Office, apparently because the CONVIVIR accused the Cadenas of bringing food to guerrillas.27 According to a former CONVIVIR member who was also an army informant, during its months of operation, the Las Colonias CONVIVIR went on frequent operations with army units, setting up roadblocks and detaining suspected guerrillas and criminals.28 In December 1997, three civilian members of the Las Colonias CONVIVIR were arrested in connection with these killings. As we detailed above, the Attorney General’s Office is investigating Fifth Brigade commander Gen. Fernando Millán and his staff for their role in setting up paramilitary groups. Human Rights Watch holds the government responsible for these killings, a serious violation of the ban in Common Article 3 and Protocol II against killing civilians. In this case, CONVIVIR members also extorted money from civilians by threatening them with death.

1 In this report, we use the terms “civilian” and “non-combatant” interchangeably to mean an individual who does not participate directly in hostilities. For other examples of where and how Human Rights Watch has applied the laws of war, see Robert Kogod Goldman, “International Humanitarian Law: Americas Watch’s Experience in Monitoring Internal Armed Conflicts,” The American University Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 1993, pp. 56-65. See also Human Rights Watch, Civilian Pawns: Laws of War Violations and the Use of Weapons on the Israel-Lebanon Border (New York: Human Rights Watch, May 1996) and Weapons transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey (New York: Human Rights Watch, November 1995). 2 “Violencia política,” Semana, April 1, 1997. 3 Human Rights Watch interviews with humanitarian aid workers, Apartadó, Antioquia, July 5-7, 1996. 4 This figure does not include combatants killed in combat, recorded at 1,250 for 1997. This a low estimate since many guerrillas and paramilitaries killed in combat are never reported. CCJ, statistical summary, 1997. 5 Héctor Torres, “Apuntes sobre las elecciones,” Utopías, Año V, No. 50, November-December 1997, pp. 8-10. 6 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Gilberto Toro Giraldo, Colombian Federation of Municipalities, February 5, 1998. 7 Human Rights Watch interview with El Tomate survivors, Montería, Córdoba, October 16, 1992. 8 These statistics reflect only reported cases with a presumed responsible party. An estimated 19 percent of reported cases are without an alleged perpetrator. CCJ, statistical summary, 1997. 9 Human Rights Watch interviews in Antioquia, June 1-6, 1996. 10 Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian aid worker, Apartadó, Antioquia, July 6, 1996. 11 CCJ, Colombia, Derechos Humanos y Derecho Humanitario: 1996 ( Santafé de Bogotá: Colombian Commission of Jurists, 1997), pp. 28-29. 12 The list was compiled by the CCJ in March 1998. 13 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Committee for Human Rights in Antioquia, February 27, 1998; and Public Declaration, Corporación Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo,” April 18, 1998. 14 Human Rights Watch interviews with government investigators, Santafé de Bogotá, May 7-8, 1998. 15 Human Rights Watch interview with government authority, Medellín, Antioquia, July 2, 1996. 16 The report was filed by the Administrative Security Department (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS), attached to the executive branch of Colombia’s government and similar to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Oficio No. 2090, signed by Marco Andronio Girón Zorrilla, Intelligence Chief Coordinator, DAS, Seccional Casanare, May 2, 1996; and Human Rights Watch interviews in Yopal, Casanare, February 7, 1997. 17 Human Rights Watch interview with Álvaro Gómez, Medellín, Antioquia, July 2, 1996. 18 We have received numerous reports of the army forcing civilian vehicles like buses to board armed soldiers. Human Rights Watch interview with a government investigator, Medellín, Antioquia, July 2, 1996; and “Farc hicieron más de mil tiros al bus,” El Tiempo, July 22, 1996. 19 “Caen más civiles en medio del conflicto,” El Corredor (Arauca), August 3-16, 1996; Human Rights Watch interview with María Victoria Uribe de Guzmán, Human Rights Office, Defense Ministry, Santafé de Bogotá, January 29, 1997. 20 Colombia ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1963.

21 See Appendix I for the full text of Common Article 3.

22 As private individuals within the national territory of a State Party, certain obligations are imposed on them. ICRC, Commentary on the Additional Protocols, p. 1345.

23 The combatant's privilege is a license to kill or capture enemy troops, destroy military objectives and cause unavoidable civilian casualties. This privilege immunizes members of armed forces or rebels from criminal prosecution by their captors for their violent acts that do not violate the laws of war but would otherwise be crimes under domestic law. Prisoner of war status depends on and flows from this privilege. See Solf, "The Status of Combatants in Non-International Armed Conflicts Under Domestic Law and Transnational Practice," American University Law Review 33 (1953): p. 59.

24 For a history of the Geneva Conventions and the two Additional Protocols, see Sylvie Junod, “Additional Protocol II: History and Scope,” American University Law Review, Vol. 33: 29, 1983, pp. 29-40.

25 Although Colombia took part in the drafting of the protocols, the delegation initially objected, arguing that states should have the power to invoke the protocols instead of having them apply once the objective criteria exist for their application. Subsequently, however, Colombia adopted the protocols: Protocol I came into effect on March 1, 1994, and Protocol II came into effect on February 15, 1996. Human Rights Watch interview with Interior Minister Horacio Serpa, Santafé de Bogotá, June 25, 1996; República de Colombia, “Actividades del Gobierno de Colombia relativas a la aplicación del Derecho Internacional Humanitario,” Santafé de Bogotá, December 1, 1995; and Alejandro Valencia Villa, Humanización de la Guerra, pp. 55-69.

26 Jaime Córdoba Triviño, Informe sobre infracciones del Derecho Internacional Humanitario en 1992 (Santafé de Bogotá: Defensoría del Pueblo, August 1993).

27 CCN, La Paz sobre la Mesa (Santafé de Bogotá: CCN, International Committee of the Red Cross, and Cambio 16, 1997).

28 Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Castaño, July 9, 1996; and “Eln y autodefensas canjean secuestrados,” El Tiempo, February 4, 1997.

29 Among the texts we were provided with during our research was Derecho Internacional Humanitario: Manual Básico para Personerías y Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia, published by the Defense Ministry, Public Ministry, and Colombian Red Cross in 1995. Although valuable and necessary, the manual fails to make any explicit link between international documents and the Colombian situation, making it of only limited utility.

30 Currently, only Colombia’s military penal code directly addresses the laws of war. Article 169 expressly prohibits the mistreatment of prisoners of war, the looting of the dead on the field of battle, the improper use of the red cross or other internationally protected emblems, and the use of weapons prohibited by international law. Alejandro Valencia Villa, Derecho Humanitario para Colombia (Santafé de Bogotá: Defensoría del Pueblo, 1994), pp. 213-214.

31 Accord between Colombia and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, November 29, 1996.

32 Press release, “Presidente Samper Pizano defiende misión de la Cruz Roja Internacional en Colombia,” Office of the President, May 8, 1998.

33 Press release from Pax Christi, November 7, 1995.

34 Michael Bothe, Karl Josef Partsch, and Waldemar A. Solf, New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts: Commentary on the Two 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (The Hague/Boston/London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982), p. 8.

35 When a government ratifies a convention, it does so on behalf of all its nationals, including those who may revolt against it. Charles Lysaght, “The Scope of Protocol II and its relation to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and other human rights instruments,” American University Law Review, Vol. 33: 9, pp. 9-27.

36 The Colombian state is also bound by many international treaties, including the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. On October 28, 1997, Colombia signed the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, which is awaiting ratification. Articles 12, 18, 24, and 28 of the Colombian Constitution also prohibit summary execution and torture, the death penalty, forced disappearance, and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. It also guarantees freedom of expression, thought, movement, and due process.

37 Gustavo Gallón, “Derecho Internacional Humanitario en Colombia,” in Álvaro Villarraga Sarmiento, editor, Derecho Internacional Humanitario Aplicado: Los casos de Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Yugoslavia y Ruanda (Santafé de Bogotá: ICRC, Office of the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Pontífica Universidad Javeriana, Fundación Konrad Adenauer, 1998), pp. 319-329.

38 Colombia signed on December 3, 1997. For a detailed legal analysis of the use of antipersonnel land mines, see Human Rights Watch, Land Mines: A Deadly Legacy (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993), pp. 261-318.

39 ICRC, “Actividades en Colombia,” May 1997.

40 On July 17, 1998, more than 160 governments signed a treaty that provides the basis for establishing the ICC. The mission of the court is to prosecute individuals charged with crimes accountable under international law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The final treaty formalizing the establishment of the court has yet to be ratified.

41 International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Appeals Chamber decision on the Tadic Jurisdictional Motion, Case No. IT-94-1-AR72, Prosecutor vs. Dusko Tadic a/k/a “Dule,” October 2, 1995, paragraph 134.

42 Ibid., paragraph 133.

43 Human Rights Watch reviewed the history of government support for paramilitaries in Human Rights Watch/Americas, Colombia’s Killer Networks: The Military-Paramilitary Partnership and the United States (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996), pp. 10-26.

44 Roman Jasica, “Civilian Population,” in Guerilla (sic) and International Humanitarian Law: International Symposium of the Red Cross, Antwerp, February 2 and 3 1984 (Brussels: Belgian Red Cross, 1984), p. 77.

45 The authors were members of the West German and American delegations at the Diplomatic Conference that led to the drafting of Protocol II. Michael Bothe, Karl Josef Partsch, and Waldemar A. Solf, New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts: Commentary on the Two 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (The Hague/Boston/London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982), pp. 293-296.

46 Ibid., p. 296.

47 Ibid., pp. 123-128, 148-150.

48 Ibid., p. 296.

49 Former combatants may be subject to prosecution for acts committed while they were combatants. Ibid., pp. 293-296.

50 Ibid., pp. 293-296.

51 Yves Sandoz, Christophe Swinarski, and Bruno Zimmermann, eds, Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1987), p. 619.

52 Ibid., p. 516

53 Michael Bothe, et. al., New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts, p. 326; and Fritz Kalshoven, Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts: The Diplomatic Conference, Geneva, 1974-1977, Neth. Y.B. International Law 107, 111 (1978).

54 Michael Bothe, et. al., New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts, p. 326.

55 Ibid., pp. 310, 365.

56 U. S. Department of the Air Force, “International Law - The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations,” Air Force Pamphlet 100-31, November 19, 1976, p. 5-9.

57 Yves Sandoz, et. al., Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, p. 626.

58 Michael Bothe, et. al., New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts, p. 326.

59 Yves Sandoz, et. al., Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, pp. 632-33.

60 The ICRC Commentary names “installations providing energy mainly for national defense [sic], e.g., coal, other fuels, or atomic energy, and plants producing gas or electricity” (emphasis added) as military objectives, a criteria that Colombia’s oil pipeline does not meet.

The Colombian government considers attacks on the oil pipeline a violation of Article 4 (d) of Protocol II, which prohibits acts of terrorism. Ibid., pp. 632-33; and “Denunciado terrorismo contra oleoductos y medio ambiente ante ONU,” Office of the President, October 3, 1997.

61 Human Rights Watch and most Colombian human rights groups define massacres as the killing of four or more people in the same place, at the same time, and by the same force. CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla: Balance Sheet 1997, p. 6.

62 During the Salvadoran conflict, the FMLN argued unconvincingly that its trial procedures satisfied Protocol II. For our analysis of their claim, see Americas Watch, “Violation of Fair Trial Guarantees by the FMLN’s Ad Hoc Courts,” An Americas Watch Study (New York: Human Rights Watch, May 1990).

63 To qualify as fair according to Article 6 of Protocol II, these trials must guarantee due process rights, including ensuring that the accused is informed of the charge against him or her as well as the trial procedure; allowing the accused a proper defense, including competent counsel; charging defendants based only on individual responsibility for a crime, not group responsibility; affording the accused the presumption of innocence; and avoiding in absentia trials. Moreover, Protocol II requires a clear appeals process. If these guarantees are not assured, no sentence may be carried out.

64 The right to a fair trial is also guaranteed by treaties ratified by Colombia, including Articles 14 and 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 8 of the American Convention of Human Rights.

65 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigators, Santafé de Bogotá, December 4, 1997; and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Comments Relating to the Fourth Periodic Report on Colombia before the U.N. Human Rights Committee (New York: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 1997).

66 CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla: Balance Sheet 1997, pp. 4-5; and Commission on Human Rights, “Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 54th Session, E/CN.4/1998/16, March 1, 1998.

67 Commission on Human Rights, “Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 54th Session, E/CN.4/1998/16, March 1, 1998.

68 In 1992, the United Nations make an explicit link between the Geneva Conventions and forced disappearances and determined that this practice was a violation of international law. Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, General Assembly resolution 47/133, December 18, 1992.

69 Report of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, E/CN.4/1998/43, January 12, 1998.

70 Yves Sandoz, et. al., Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, p. 874.

71 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Francisco Santos, País Libre, July 3, 1998.

72 Andrea Domínguez Duque, “Colombia, en la cima del secuestro,” El Colombiano, April 15, 1998.

73 Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 402. See also CCJ, Colombia, Derechos Humanos y Derecho Humanitario: 1996, pp. 17-23.

74 The Arms Project: A Division of Human Rights Watch/Physicians for Human Rights, Land Mines: A Deadly Legacy (New York: The Arms Project: A Division of Human Rights Watch/Physicians for Human Rights, 1993).

75 Public Advocate’s Office, Cuarto Informe Anual del Defensor del Pueblo al Congreso de Colombia, p. 42.

76 Michael Bothe, et. al., New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts: Commentary on the Two 1977 Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, pp. 204-205

77 Public Advocate’s Office, Cuarto Informe Anual del Defensor del Pueblo al Congreso de Colombia, p. 50-51.

78 Press Bulletin No. 187, “Gobierno anuncia medidas de emergencia frente a crisis carcelaria,” Office of the President, March 20, 1998; “Reyerta en La Picota: 15 muertos,” El Tiempo, April 14, 1998; and “Renunció Director del Inpec,” El Colombiano, April 15, 1998.

79 The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 1997/98 (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 213-214.

80 Unit names are available on the Internet at For more on Mobile Brigades, see Human Rights Watch/Americas, State of War: Political Violence and Counterinsurgency in Colombia (New York: Human Rights Watch/Americas, 1993), pp. 65-113.

81 “Normas sobre derechos humanos,” distributed by the army in 1996; sample agenda from the Fourth Brigade, June 26, 1996; Letter to all division and brigade commands from Gen. Harold Bedoya Pizarro, army commander, June 26, 1996; and Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Guillermo García, army human rights office, Santafé de Bogotá, June 24, 1996.

82 Memo No. 010/BR5-CDO-ODH-743, from Brigadier General Ardila, Fifth Brigade, 1992.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with President Ernesto Samper, Santafé de Bogotá, September 10, 1997.

84 Commission on Human Rights, “Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 54th Session, E/CN.4/1998/16, March 1, 1998.

85 Letter from Maj. Gen. Manuel José Bonett Locarno to Brigade and Battalion Commanders within the Second Division, No. 2554, July 24, 1995.

86 Letter from Mayor Gloria Cuartas to President Ernesto Samper, August 28, 1996.

87 Cuartas was interviewed by Nelson Freddy Padilla, who published a story on August 26, 1996, in the magazine Cambio 16 under the title “La tierra donde decapitan niños.” Letter to the regional office of the Attorney General from Gen. Rito Alejo del Río Rojas, August 28, 1996.

88 Human Rights Watch interviews in Apartadó, Antioquia, July 4-6, 1996.

89 Nelson Freddy Padilla, “La tierra donde decapitan niños,” Cambio 16, August 26, 1996 pp. 24-25.

90 All charges against Cuartas were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Letter from Mayor Gloria Cuartas to President Ernesto Samper, August 28, 1996.

91 CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla: Balance Sheet 1997, pp. 2, 6.

92 Commission on Human Rights, “Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 54th Session, E/CN.4/1998/16, March 1, 1998.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with human rights investigators, Santafé de Bogotá, December 1-3, 1997.

94 Ibid.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. (ret.) Carlos Velásquez, Santafé de Bogotá, May 12, 1997.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with former army officer, Santafé de Bogotá, November 12, 1995.

97 Tonny Pérez Mier, “Balance de I División del Ejército,” El Tiempo, December 23, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with General Bonett, Santafé de Bogotá, December 12, 1997.

98 Press Bulletin No 339, “Comandantes del Ejército ordenan desmonte de la Brigada XX,” Office of the President, May 20, 1998.

99 U.S. State Department, “Colombia Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997,” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1998), p. 454. The report is also available at; and “‘Poda’ en servicio de inteligencia,” El Tiempo, November 21, 1997.

100 The Gómez case remains complicated and may never be fully resolved. Investigations are on-going within the Attorney General’s Office and Internal Affairs. Human Rights Watch interview with U.S. Embassy officials, Santafé de Bogotá, December 2, 1997; Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, December 4, 1997; and “‘Cazadores’ de inteligencia,” El Tiempo, November 2, 1997.

101 Attorney General’s Office press release, “Otros cinco acusados por crimen de Álvaro Gómez Hurtado,” March 2, 1998; and “‘El cazador’,” El Tiempo, March 3, 1998

102 Laura Brooks, “Army Unit Investigated In Colombia, Washington Post, May 10, 1998.

103 Velandia was forced to retire in 1995 and Ramírez was forced to retire in 1998, both because of human rights problems. In May 1998, the U.S. revoked Ramírez’ visa to the UnitedStates, allegedly because of his long-standing ties to drug trafficking, paramilitaries, and human rights violations. The Washington Post also reported that he had been a paidinformant for the CIA, a charge he denied. Douglas Farah and Laura Brooks, “Colombian Army's Third in Command Allegedly Led Two Lives, General Reportedly Served as a Key CIA Informant While Maintaining Ties to Death Squads Financed by Drug Traffickers,” Washington Post, August 11, 1998; and Douglas Farah, “Colombian Official Denies CIA Link, Resigning General Says He Was Not a Paid Informant,” Washington Post, August 12, 1998.

104 Human Rights Watch interview with Attorney General Alfonso Gómez Méndez, Santafé de Bogotá, May 7, 1998.

105 “Revolcón militar,” Semana, August 24, 1998.

106 “A calificar servicios,” Semana, May 25, 1998.

107 Public Statement, Justice and Peace, May 19, 1998.

108 This list is based on Human Rights Watch interviews throughout Colombia in 1995, 1996, and 1997. A list of Colombian military units is available through the Colombian Defense Ministry web page at

109 He spoke on condition of anonymity.

110 Human Rights Watch interviews in Santafé de Bogotá and Antioquia, May 1-14, 1997.

111 Human Rights Watch interviews with Aguachica and Ábrego residents, Cesar, April 14-15, 1995. For more, see Human Rights Watch/Americas, Colombia’s Killer Networks, pp. 42-60.

112 Memorandum to Deputy Chief of Mission John B. Craig from Thomas Hamilton, Political Section, U.S. Embassy, Santafé de Bogotá, November 17, 1993.

113 Human Rights Watch interviews with Calamar residents, San José del Guaviare, Guaviare, May 5, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interviews with social workers, Barrancabermeja, Santander, April 8, 1995.

114 This is authorized by Law 81, passed in 1983, which allows the army to keep these individuals in barracks confinement. In February 1997, the magazine Alternativa published a letter from former FARC member Angel Augusto Trujillo Sogamoso claiming that after he surrendered to the army in 1994, soldiers sent him to work with paramilitaries in the departments of Cesar and Norte de Santander. Trujillo also claimed that while working with the army’s Twentieth Brigade, he had taken part in the kidnapping of José Ricardo Sáenz, the brother of FARC commander Alfonso Cano. Trujillo later recanted in an army-sponsored press conference. Equipo de Alternativa, “‘Ejército secuestró al hermano de Cano,’” Alternativa, No. 6, January-February, 1997, pp. 18-19; and “Pille el detalle,” Alternativa, No. 7, February-March, 1997, pp. 14-15.

115 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Barrancabermeja, Santander, June 28, 1996.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with security force officer, Santafé de Bogotá, September 1997.

117 Report to Gen. Manuel José Bonnet from Col. Carlos Alfonso Velásquez, Carepa, Antioquia, May 31, 1996.

118 Maj. (ret.) Guillermo Visbal Lazcano was named on a 1983 list published by Internal Affairs of military officers who belonged to Death to Kidnappers (Muerte a Secuestradores, MAS), a paramilitary group that operated in the Middle Magdalena region. Internal Affairs considered Visbal, at the time a member of the Bomboná Battalion, the intellectual author of the murder of Jaime Nevado, a member of the Puerto Berrío, Antioquia town council on July 22, 1982. El terrorismo del Estado en Colombia (Brussels: Ediciones NCOS, 1992), p. 369.

119 Report to Gen. Manuel José Bonnet from Col. Carlos Alfonso Velásquez, Carepa, Antioquia, May 31, 1996.

120 While he was attached to the Twentieth Brigade, General Ramírez was implicated in at least two extrajudicial executions, including the 1985 murder of Oscar William Calvo, secretary general of the Communist Party. The area under Ramírez’s command as First Division chief became a paramilitary stronghold in the mid-1990s. Human Rights Watch interview with Col. (ret.) Carlos Velásquez, Santafé de Bogotá, May 12, 1997; and El terrorismo del Estado en Colombia (Brussels: Ediciones NCOS, 1992), pp. 269-270.

121 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Nelson Freddy Padilla, “Enredo de Sables,” Cambio 16, January 13, 1997, pp. 20-23.

122 Ibid.

123 Translation by Human Rights Watch. “'Hay omisión en lucha contra paramilitares,'” El Tiempo, January 10, 1997.

124 U.S. State Department, “Colombia Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997,” p. 453.

125 According to press reports, the case against Carranza is based largely on the testimony of former gunmen who belong to the paramilitary groups he organized and led. U.S. officials also believe Carranza is directly involved in shipping cocaine into Europe and the United States. “Carranza, a responder por ‘paras’,” El Tiempo, February 20, 1998; “A rendir cuentas,” Semana, March 2-9, 1998; and testimony of Amb. Rand Beers, International Narcotics Matters, Department of State, before the House International Relations Committee, Washington, D.C., February 27, 1998.

126 For instance, in March, DAS agents shot and killed Jaime Matiz Benítez, known as “El 120,” leader of the so-called Contraguerrilla Llanera. According to press reports, Matiz had left the AUC after being criticized for leading a deadly attack against a government judicial commission near San Carlos de Guaroa in October 1997. The commission had been seizing the assets of a convicted drug trafficker when they were attacked by over one hundred well-armed paramilitaries. Eleven of the commission members were killed. “La contabilidad secreta del abatido ‘120,’” El Tiempo, March 21, 1998.

127 Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian aid workers, Santafé de Bogotá, December 3, 1997.

128 Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Harold Bedoya, Santafé de Bogotá, March 6, 1997; and “Defensa de la justicia penal militar,” El Tiempo, February 25, 1997.

129 Human Rights Watch/Americas, Colombia’s Killer Networks, pp. 40-41.

130 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Sentence of the Regional Court, No. 1953, Cúcuta, February 24, 1998.

131 U.S. State Department, “Colombia Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997,” p. 452.

132 Constitutional Court ruling C-358/97.

133 Consejo Superior de la Judicatura, Sala Jurisdiccional Disciplinaria, Santafé de Bogotá, December 4, 1997.

134 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigators, Santafé de Bogotá, March 6, 1997.

135 Human Rights Watch interview with Attorney General Alfonso Gómez Méndez, May 7, 1998.

136 Human Rights Watch interview with General Bonett, Santafé de Bogotá, December 12, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with Alfonso Gómez Méndez, Attorney General, May 7, 1998.

137 Comité de Seguimiento a las Recomendaciones del Comité de Impulso en los casos de Los Uvos, Caloto y Villatina, Santafé de Bogotá, February 12, 1998.

138 Fuerzas Militares de Colombia, Tribunal Superior Militar, "Procesos enviados justicia ordinaria - observancia pronunciamiento Corte Constitucional," Santafé de Bogotá, January 28, 1998.

139 The state was ordered to pay the families the equivalent of US $79,000 in gold. “Nación debe pagar US $79 milliones por dos muertes,” El Tiempo, June 21, 1997.

140 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Santafé de Bogotá, June 25, 1996.

141 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Santafé de Bogotá, December 1, 1997.

142 Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, July 11, 1996; and Report to Gen. Manuel José Bonett from Col. Carlos Alfonso Velásquez, Carepa, Antioquia, May 31, 1996.

143 “Condenan a paramilitar,” El Tiempo, March 4, 1997.

144 In 1996, the Seventeenth Brigade provided Human Rights Watch with a briefing packet that identified Carevieja as a member of an “organized crime group (improperly called paramilitaries).” Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Rito Alejo del Río Rojas, commander, Seventeenth Brigade, Carepa, Antioquia, July 6, 1996; and Nelson Freddy Padilla, “Enredo de Sables,” Cambio 16, January 13, 1997, pp. 20-23.

145 Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian aid worker, July 6, 1996.

146 The army has denied involvement. Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, July 11, 1996; and Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Rito Alejo del Río Rojas, commander, Seventeenth Brigade, Carepa, Antioquia, July 6, 1996.

147 Human Rights Watch has reported on Segovia numerous times, most recently in Human Rights Watch/Americas, Colombia’s Killer Networks, pp. 70-73.

148 Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, July 11, 1996, and December 5, 1997; Urgent Action, “Otra masacre anunciada en Segovia,” Corporación Jurídica Libertad, et al., April 23, 1996; Marisol Giraldo Gómez, “Masacre fue anunciada hace 15 días,” El Tiempo, April 24, 1996; and “Colombia: Armed Groups Fuel Mistrust of Segovia People,” El Tiempo, Foreign Broadcast Information Service (hereafter FBIS), Latin America, April 30, 1996.

149 Public complaint, Corporación Jurídica Libertad, et al, May 1996.

150 Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, July 11, 1996; and Letter to Human Rights Watch from the office of the presidential human rights counselor (Consejería presidencial para los derechos humanos), September 12, 1997.

151 “III Cumbre Nacional,” Movimiento Autodefensas de Colombia, 1996.

152 Cañas was also implicated in a March 3, 1995, laws of war violation. According to a Public Advocate’s investigation, Cañas ordered his troops to fake a guerrilla attack on Segovia, to distract attention from a UC-ELN dynamite heist earlier that day. During the exercise, soldiers extrajudicially executed two men and fired on the local school, putting the sixty-five students inside in serious danger. Human Rights Watch interview with regional Public Advocate’s Office, Medellín, Antioquia, April 16, 1995; and Letter to Human Rights Watch from Alejandro Valencia Villa, national director, Office of Complaints, Public Advocate’s Office, September 28, 1995.

153 Cañas denied orchestrating the massacre. Previously, he had been accused of other violations, but has been repeatedly acquitted by military tribunals. Human Rights Watch interview with Capt. Rodrigo Cañas, Medellín, Antioquia, July 4, 1996; Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Medellín, Antioquia, December 10, 1997; and “Que justicia ordinaria juzgue militar vinculado en masacre,” El Colombiano, July 5, 1996.

154 Letter to Gustavo Castro Guerrero, Colombian ambassador to the United Nations, from John Quigley, OFM, Franciscans International, April 8, 1997.

155 Acción Urgente, CREDHOS, April 1997.

156 The ACCU accepted responsibility for killing four people, but denied threatening the local priest, looting, or stealing cattle. Letter to Human Rights Watch from the ACCU, July 27, 1997; Letter to Human Rights Watch from Franciscan order, April 8, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with the Asociación para la Promoción Social Alternativa, known as MINGA, Santafé de Bogotá, December 1, 1997.

157 Human Rights Watch letter from humanitarian aid worker, June 1997; Human Rights Watch interviews with humanitarian aid workers, Santafé de Bogotá, May 8, 1997; and Letter to President Ernesto Samper from Father Javier Giraldo, Justice and Peace, July 22, 1997; and Amnesty International Urgent Action 393/97, December 16, 1997.

158 Human Rights Watch interview with General Bonett, Santafé de Bogotá, September 11, 1997.

159 The case is currently being investigated by the Internal Affairs Special Investigations Unit. Human Rights Watch interview with María Girlesa Villegas, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Medellín, Antioquia, December 9, 1997; Letter to Human Rights Watch from San José de Apartadó leaders, June 1, 1997; and “‘Comunidad de Paz’ en la mira de los violentos,” Utopías, Año V, No. 43, April 1997.

160 Letter from Major General Velasco Chávez, inspector, Colombian armed forces, to Human Rights Watch, December 31, 1997.

161 Letter to Human Rights Watch from San José de Apartadó leaders, June 1, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with María Girlesa Villegas, Defensoría, Medellín, Antioquia, December 9, 1997.

162 Colombian government’s response to cases submitted to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, January-June, 1997.

163 This wasn’t the first time the ACCU entered this area. In 1996, the group was implicated in the killings of three people in the hamlets of El Inglés and La Granja. Human Rights Watch interview with a government investigator, Medellín, Antioquia, July 2, 1996.

164 Areiza’s common-law wife was allowed to bury his body, but it was later moved. During these five days, the FARC apparently attacked the army perimeter and penetrated to the village outskirts, causing some paramilitary casualties. There are also reports of a helicopter retrieving paramilitary casualties, though it is unclear whether the vehicle belonged to the ACCU or the army. Human Rights Watch interviews with El Aro survivors, Medellín, Antioquia, December 11, 1997; Human Rights Watch interview with Jesús Valle, president, “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Human Rights Committee, Medellín, Antioquia, December 11, 1997; and Javier Arboleda, “Cinco días de infierno en El Aro,” El Colombiano, November 14, 1997.

165 Amnesty International Urgent Action 01/97, January 3, 1997.

166 He also challenged authorities to find Areiza’s body to prove that he had been tortured. Family members told us that the ACCU told them they would be killed if they searched for it. “Autodefensas niegan barbarie en El Aro,” El Colombiano, November 15, 1997.

167 “Los desplazados no se veían en el norte de Antioquia,” El Tiempo, November 6, 1997.

168 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Human Rights Committee, February 27, 1998; and Human Rights Watch interview with Attorney General Alfonso Gómez Méndez, May 7, 1998.

169 Domicó is a common surname among the indigenous Emberá Katío people. Justice and Peace, Boletín, April-June 1996, p. 44.

170 Human Rights Watch interview with witness, name withheld for security, Arauca, February 1997.

171 Human Rights Watch interview with witnesses, Arauca, February 1997; and “Acusan el Ejército de dos asesinatos,” El Corredor, September 14-27, 1996.

172 Human Rights Watch interview with witness, name withheld for security reasons, Arauca, February 1997.

173 El Corredor, "Acusan al Ejército de dos asesinatos," September 14-27, 1996.

174 Letter from Major General Velasco Chávez, inspector, Colombian Armed Forces, to Human Rights Watch, December 31, 1997.

175 CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 2, October-December, 1996, p. 89.

176 Acción Urgente, Comisión para los Derechos Humanos, Comunidades eclesiales de base, Ocaña, Norte de Santander, April 11, 1997; Letter to Human Rights Watch from Francisco Antonio Coronel Julio, Personero Municipal, Ocaña, Norte de Santander, November 21, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with MINGA, December 1, 1997.

177 Human Rights Watch interview with Colombian government investigator, Santafé de Bogotá, January 30, 1997; Human Rights Watch interviews with human rights defenders and family members, Saravena, Arauca, February 4, 1997; and statement from Arauca residents to Human Rights Watch, June 1997.

178 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Jesús Orlando Gómez López, Internal Affairs delegate for human rights, November 28, 1997.

179 Letter from Major General Velasco Chávez, inspector, Colombian Armed Forces, to Human Rights Watch, December 31, 1997.

180 Declaration of Bernardo Moreno Londoño to the regional Public Advocate’s Office, Apartadó, Antioquia, April 7, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with María Girlesa Villegas, Public Advocate’s Office, Medellín, Antioquia, December 9, 1997.

181 Declaration of José Isaias Graciano Moreno to the regional Public Advocate’s Office, Apartadó, Antioquia, April 7, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with María Girlesa Villegas, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Medellín, Antioquia, December 9, 1997.

182 Human Rights Watch interview with MINGA, Santafé de Bogotá, December 1, 1997; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 4, April-June 1997, p. 54.

183 A day earlier, the army reported combat with the UC-ELN nearby. Letter to Human Rights Watch from Francisco Antonio Coronel Julio, personero, Ocaña, Norte de Santander, November 21, 1997; and Letter from MINGA to Volmar Pérez, national director, Office of Complaints, Public Advocate’s Office, November 21, 1997.

184 “Denuncian disparos de soldados contra civiles,” El Tiempo, January 14, 1997.

185 According to the Colombian government, the case is under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office. Statement from Arauca residents to Human Rights Watch, June 1997; CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 5, July-September 1997, p. 168; and Colombian government’s response to cases submitted to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, January-June, 1997.

186 Human Rights Watch interview with Ascanio family, Mesa Rica, Norte de Santander, April 15, 1995; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 5, July-September, 1997, pp. 91-92.

187 Formal complaint by José Estanislao Amaya Páez to the Cúcuta District Judge, July 16, 1997.

188 “Piden trasladar base militar,” El Tiempo, April 25, 1997; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 4, April-June, 1997, p. 101.

189 Human Rights Watch interviews with Calamar residents and authorities, San José del Guaviare, Guaviare, May 5-6, 1997.

190 Human Rights Watch interview with authorities, San José del Guaviare, Guaviare, May 5, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with Public Advocate’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, November 9, 1995.

191 Human Rights Watch interviews with displaced, Santafé de Bogotá, July 22, 1997.

192 Ibid.

193 Letter to Human Rights Watch from humanitarian aid worker, June 1997.

194 “Pacto de guerra,” Semana, September 22, 1997.

195 The army denied destroying any civilian structure. Public Advocate’s Office, “Informe Comisión a los Llanos del Yarí,” September 25, 1997; CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 5, July-September, 1997, p. 135; and Orlando Restrepo and Jorge González, “‘Destructor II, éxito estratégico’: Galán,” El Tiempo, October 20, 1997.

196 "Minidefensa pagará errores de la operación ‘Destructor II,’” El Espectador, September 4, 1998.

197 “ABC de retenes,” El Tiempo, January 27, 1998.

198 CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 4, April-June, 1997, p. 156.

199 “Extraña muerte de 5 personas en retén militar,” El Colombiano, January 26, 1998; and “Muertos cinco civiles en retén militar en Villeta,” El Tiempo, January 26, 1998.

200 “Ejército admite fallas en retén militar,” El Tiempo, January 27, 1998.

201 Guillermo Restrepo Gutiérrez, “Retenes, ¿Peligro o seguridad en la vía?” El Colombiano, February 15, 1998; and “Justicia militar sigue con el caso del retén de Villeta,” El Tiempo, March 6, 1998.

202 “Cinco muertos en otro ‘reten’,” El Espectador, February 3, 1998; and “Sabíamos que iban comerciantes,” El Tiempo, February 14, 1998.

203 Human Rights Watch interview with Jesús Valle Jaramillo, president, “Héctor Abad Gómez” Permanent Committee for Human Rights, Medellín, Antioquia, December 10, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with Antioquia businessman, Guarné, Antioquia, December 11, 1997.

204 Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Rosso José Serrano, Santafé de Bogotá, September 8, 1997; and Grupo de Estrategas para el Cambio, Transformación Cultural y

Mejoramiento Institucional (Santafé de Bogotá: Policía Nacional, 1995), p. 48.

205 SIJIN agents are often identified by civilians as F-2 agents, reflecting a former police structure that no longer exists. More information is available at

206 Among the more well-known cases were the Trujillo, Valle del Cauca killings of over 100 people, most of which took place in 1990 and included the participation of the National Police; the Caloto, Cauca massacre of seventeen people on April 7, 1991, carried out by National Police and Anti-Narcotics Police officers working with paramilitaries; and the 1992 Villatina massacre, carried out by police intelligence agents in Medellín, Antioquia and resulting in the deaths of eight children. According to the Attorney General’s Office, two National Police officers are currently being prosecuted by civilian courts for their alleged participation in the Villatina massacre. President Samper has acknowledged the state’s responsibility for all three massacres. Centro de Información de Colombia, Press Bulletin No. 338, “Fiscalía entrega resultados de investigaciones sobre masacres,” May 19, 1998; and Tim Johnson, “Samper apologizes for state killings,” Miami Herald, July 30, 1998.

207 According to the decree, a judge can request that a junior officer be suspended based on evidence he or she deems credible. The suspension becomes permanent if the judge does not revoke it within 180 days or convicts the junior officer. In the cases of officers with the rank of colonel or above, in addition the a judge’s request for a suspension, a committee of officers evaluates the accusation and collects evidence from police, the attorney general, Internal Affairs, and non-governmental organizations. If credible evidence is found suggesting that an officer has committed a crime, including human rights abuses, the officer can be fired within twenty-four hours and the case forwarded to authorities for investigation and prosecution. Decree 573, April 4, 1995.

208 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Santafé de Bogotá, December 1, 1997.

209 Also, police continue to be implicated in abuses related to public order, particularly the use of excessive force in evicting poor squatters from urban areas, and the arrest and treatment of common criminals. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with CCJ, August 26, 1998.

210 Lt. Daniel Horacio Mazo Cardona and agents Carlos Alberto Rentería Lemos and Luis Alfredo Berrocal Moreno are under arrest, charged by the attorney general’s office with creating paramilitary groups. Press Release, “Aseguran a policías paramilitares de La Ceja, Antioquia,” Attorney General’s Office, March 30, 1998.

211 We are not aware of any credible investigation into the behavior of the Anti-Narcotics Police unit in this case. Human Rights Watch interview with town authorities, San José del Guaviare, May 5, 1997; Letter to Human Rights Watch from town authorities, October, 1997; and Tod Robberson, “Killings could cost Colombia: Human-rights review may cut off U.S. aid,” Dallas Morning News, January 10, 1998.

212 “Chalán no merece la Policía: Montenegro,” El Heraldo, March 14, 1996; and “Farc asesinan a 11 policías en Chalán, El Tiempo, March 14, 1996.

213 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Barrancabermeja, Santander, June 28, 1996.

214 Human Rights Watch interview, Medellín, Antioquia, July 2, 1996.

215 Letter from Father Javier Giraldo, Justice and Peace, to Gen. Rosso José Serrano, National Police commander, April 17, 1998.

216 In March 1998, Internal Affairs ordered that army Maj. Jorge Alberto Lázaro Vergel be removed from service for his role in forming and deploying paramilitary groups. The following June, the Attorney General’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Lázaro for a 1994 murder. “Destitución para oficial,” El Tiempo, March 6, 1998; “Asegurados ex sargentos de ejército,” El Tiempo, June 18, 1998; and Human Rights Watch/Americas, Colombia’s Killer Networks, pp. 48-50.

217 “‘Cumplí con mi deber’,” El Colombiano, December 10, 1997; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, October-December 1997, p. 46.

218 “Policía pagará por muerte de personero,” El Tiempo, November 4, 1997.

219 Letter to Public Advocate’s Office from Hernando Toro Parra, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Cali, Valle, November 25, 1997; and Justice and Peace, Boletín, Vol. 9, No. 1, January-March, 1996, p. 46.

220 Letter from Lt. Col. Gustavo de Jesús Agudelo Carrillo, Subcomandante, Valle Police, to National Police Human Rights Office, November 28, 1997.

221 “Por asesinato, condenan a ocho ex policías,” El Tiempo, July 25, 1998; and Letter to Public Advocate’s Office from Hernando Toro Parra, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Cali, Valle, November 25, 1997.

222 Letter to Public Advocate’s Office from Wilder Rafael Guerra Millán, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Riohacha, La Guajira, December 1, 1997; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 1, July-September, 1996, p. 22.

223 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Gen. Leonardo Gallego, Anti-Narcotics Police, November 11, 1997.

224 CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 3, January-March, 1997, p. 41; and José Fernando Hoyos, “En Tierralta la muerte hizo su ronda,” El Tiempo, February 23, 1997.

225 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Jesús Orlando Gómez López, Internal Affairs delegate for human rights, November 28, 1997

226 Letter from Lt. Col. Germán Alonso Bernal, subcomandante, Córdoba Police, to Human Rights Division, National Police, November 28, 1997.

227 Justice and Peace, Boletín, January-March 1996, p. 48.

228 CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 6, October-December 1997, p. 41.

229 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Julio Moreno, National Police, Santafé de Bogotá, May 8, 1997.

230 Alejandro Valencia Villa, Derecho Humanitario para Colombia, pp. 213-214.

231 “Cargos contra policía por uso indebido de emblemas,” El Tiempo, April 11, 1997.

232 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Julio Moreno, National Police, Santafé de Bogotá, May 8, 1997.

233 Eight officers were killed in combat. “Ocho policías muertos en toma guerrillera a Caicedo,” El Espectador, October 17, 1997; and “Vuelan iglesia para atacar a la Policía,” El Colombiano, October 17, 1997.

234 Defense Ministry, Decree 356, República de Colombia, February 11, 1994, pp. 19-20; and Resolution 368, April 27, 1995.

235 After our visit, Governor Uribe told the newsweekly Semana that Human Rights Watch had found “nothing irregular” in the Rionegro CONVIVIR. As this section demonstrates, quite the opposite is true. Human Rights Watch visit to Rionegro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996; and “Mano dura,” Semana, October 15, 1996.

236 In contrast, private security companies who arm their employees are required by law to clothe their employees in uniform with visible identification. CONVIVIRs and private security companies are supervised by the same government agency. Human Rights Watch interview with Mario, Rionegro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996; and Resolution 1846, December 29, 1995.

237 Human Rights Watch interview with Mario, Rionegro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996; and “Cruz Roja se reunió con las Convivir,” El Tiempo, January 16, 1997.

238 Human Rights Watch interview with Hermán Arias Gaviria, Superintendente de Vigiliancia y Seguridad Privada, Santafé de Bogotá, May 15, 1997.

239 Jesús Ortiz Nieves, “Rumors of Friction between Botero, Serpa,” El Tiempo, FBIS, Latin America, December 13, 1994.

240 “Defense Minister issues communiqué,” El Espectador, FBIS, Latin America, December 7, 1994; and Human Rights Watch visit to Rionegro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996.

241 Human Rights Watch interview with Mario, Rionegro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996; Human Rights Watch interview with Hermán Arias Gaviria, Superintendency, Santafé de Bogotá, May 15, 1997.

242 Letter to Gov. Álvaro Uribe from Apartadó Mayor Gloria Cuartas, April 10, 1997.

243 A similar letter was also sent to Human Rights Watch. Letter to Mayor Gloria Cuartas from Pedro Juan Moreno, April 17, 1997; and letter to Human Rights Watch from Vice Gov. Pedro Juan Moreno, March 20, 1997.

244 Letter from Mayor Cuartas to Governor Uribe, April 29, 1997.

245 Testimony of Carlos Julio Espitia Hernández to the Attorney General’s Office, October 20, 1997; and testimony of Luis Antonio Jaimes to the Attorney General’s Office, January 30, 1998.

246 “Quién debe investigar al general Fernando Millán?”, El Tiempo, August 21, 1998.

247 Commission on Human Rights, “Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 54th Session, E/CN.4/1998/16, March 1, 1998.

248 Equipo de Alternativa, “CONVIVIR, embuchado de largo alcance,” Alternativa, March 15-April 15, 1997, pp. 9-16; and Juanita Darling, “Armed Civilian Groups Add Fuel to Ongoing Colombian Firefights,” Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1997.

249 Human Rights Watch interview with Hermán Arias Gaviria, Superintendency, Santafé de Bogotá, May 15, 1997; and Alfredo Molano, “‘Las Convivir, un medio para acercarnos a una guerra de carácter civil y irregular,’” Utopías, Año V, No. 48, September 1997, pp. 10-11.

250 “Las convivir de Chocó, se ajustan a la ley o desaparecen,” El Tiempo, January 10, 1998.

251 In Colombia, firearms are classified under three categories according to Decree 2535, promulgated in 1993: high calibre and automatic firearms restricted for the sole use of the armed forces; firearms restricted for the sole use of individuals carrying valuables or employed by security companies; and firearms available to the public that are licensed by the army. Since CONVIVIRs were created, Colombian government officials repeatedly misled groups asking about weapons and CONVIVIRs by asserting that members would only have access to the third category of weapon, available to any Colombian citizens who has made the proper request. Human Rights Watch interview with Amb. Juan Carlos Esguerra, Washington, D.C., November 16, 1995.

252 We base this on a list of weapons disbursements provided to Human Rights Watch by the office of the Superintendency of Vigilance and Private Security.

253 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, May 15, 1997; and Equipo de Alternativa, “Convivir, embuchado de largo alcance,” Alternativa, March 15-April 15, 1997, pp. 9-16.

254 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. (ret.) Carlos Velásquez, Santafé de Bogotá, May 12, 1997.

255 “Defense Minister issues communiqué,” El Espectador, FBIS, Latin America, December 7, 1994; and Human Rights Watch visit to Rionegro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996

0 Roberto Prada Delgado, son of Prada Gamarra, was approved as the security chief of the Renacer CONVIVIR. Defense Ministry, Superintendency Resolution 1496, November 14, 1995; and Human Rights Watch/Americas, Colombia’s Killer Networks, pp. 42-60.

1 Roberto Prada Gamarra was arrested in 1996 and is currently incarcerated in Bogotá’s El Modelo prison. Defense Ministry, Superintendency, Comité de Revisión y Coordinación de Trámites, Acta No. 012, May 2, 1996; and Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, May 15, 1997.

2 Centro de Información de Colombia, Press Bulletin No. 338, “Fiscalía entrega resultados de investigaciones sobre masacres,” May 19, 1998;

3 Testimony of Germán Peña Hernández to Attorney General’s Office, January 22, 1998.

4 Human Rights Watch interview with Hermán Arias Gaviria, Superintendency, Santafé de Bogotá, May 15, 1997

5 Human Rights Watch interview with Human Rights Unit, Attorney General’s Office, Santafé de Bogotá, December 4, 1997; and Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian aid worker, Santafé de Bogotá, June 25, 1996.

6 Human Rights Watch interview with Rafael Rincón, Medellín personero and president of the National Association of Personeros, Medellín, Antioquia, December 10, 1997; “Cinco muertos en ataque del ELN en Anorí,” El Tiempo, July 28, 1997; and CINEP-Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 5, July-September, 1997, p. 145.

7 “Para muerto en la Horqueta era de Convivir,” El Tiempo, January 15, 1998.

8 Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Medellín, Antioquia, December 10, 1997.

9 Statement by Attorney General Alfonso Gómez Méndez to the Constitutional Court, August 26, 1997.

10 Letter to Antioquia CONVIVIRs from Fourth Brigade Chief of Staff Col. Juan Octavio Triviño Herrera, September 12, 1997; and “Escándolo por circular del Ejército,” El Tiempo, October 8, 1997.

11 Human Rights Watch interview with María Girlesa Villegas, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Medellín, Antioquia, December 9, 1997; and “Investigarán a jefe de Convivir en Dabeiba,” El Tiempo, December 3, 1997.

12 Commission on Human Rights, “Report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” 54th Session, E/CN.4/1998/16, March 1, 1998.

13 CONVIVIRs have also been implicated in other types of abuses that go beyond the scope of this report, including so-called “social cleansing” killings of indigents, street children, suspected drug addicts, and thieves. In Medellín, for instance, where twelve CONVIVIRs were reportedly operating by the end of 1997, residents reported frequent incidents of CONVIVIR employees shooting down street people and pedestrians they suspected of robbery. “Las Convivir se han desbordado: Samper,” El Tiempo, August 16, 1997; “Suspenderán la creación de nuevas CONVIVIR,” El Tiempo, August 18, 1997; Human Rights Watch interviews with Medellín residents, December 7-11, 1997; Letter to President Ernesto Samper from Rafael Rincón, personero, July 7, 1997; and Frank Bajak, “Legality of armed citizens’ watch groups in dispute,” Associated Press, November 5, 1997.

14 Orlando León Restrepo, “Gobierno modifica las Convivir,” El Tiempo, November 3, 1997.

15 Claim filed by fifteen groups, August 26, 1997; and Constitutional Court decision, November 7, 1997.

16 “Gobierno pone en orden a cooperativas de seguridad,” El Tiempo, December 18, 1997.

17 Decree 2974, December 16 , 1997.

18 “Suspenden a 54 Convivir,” El Tiempo, January 18, 1998.

19 Letter from Public Advocate’s Office, December 4, 1997; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, October-December 1997, p. 143.

20 Justice and Peace, Boletín, April-June 1996, pp. 10, 48.

21 Human Rights Watch interview with Rioblanco displaced, Santafé de Bogotá, December 5-6, 1997.

22 Human Rights Watch interview with Rioblanco displaced, Santafé de Bogotá, December 5, 1997; and Letter to Public Advocate’s Office from Santiago Ramírez Calderón, regional Public Advocate’s Office, Ibagué, Tolima, November 25, 1997.

23 Human Rights Watch interview with Rioblanco displaced, Santafé de Bogotá, December 5-6, 1997; “Capturan sindicado de paramilitarismo,” El Nuevo Día, October 9, 1996; and “‘Paras’ están libres en Rioblanco,” El Nuevo Día, October 18, 1996.

24 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Jesús Orlando Gómez López, Internal Affairs Delegate for Human Rights, November 28, 1997.

25 Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian aid workers, Santafé de Bogotá, December 5, 1997; Amnesty International Urgent Action further information on 05/97, February 11, 1997; and CINEP and Justice and Peace, Noche y Niebla, No. 3, January-March, 1997, p. 33.

26 Report from Miguel Antonio Rico Machado, chief, SIJIN (Santander) Homicide Division, to the Attorney General’s Office, December 5, 1997.

27 Testimony of Ana Mercedes Cadena to Attorney General’s Office, October 6, 1997.

28 Testimony of Nilson Eduardo Ramírez to the Attorney General’s Office, December 23, 1997.

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