Colombia’s forty-year internal armed conflict continues to be accompanied by widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Both guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups commit serious violations, including massacres, targeted assassinations, and kidnappings.
As a result of the conflict, Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons in the world. It also has one of the world’s highest numbers of child combatants, with over 11,000 children belonging to guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Human rights defenders, journalists, academics, indigenous leaders, and labor union leaders are frequently targeted for their work.
Units of the armed forces have historically maintained close ties to paramilitary groups, and have been implicated in the commission of atrocities in collusion with such groups. However, the government has yet to take credible action to break these ties. Impunity, particularly with respect to high-level military officials, remains the norm.
Impunity is also a serious problem in relation to atrocities committed by paramilitary groups. These groups are currently in demobilization negotiations with the Colombian government, but have been blatantly flouting their cease-fire declaration. Notably, the government has yet to put in place an effective legal framework to dismantle the paramilitaries’ complex structures and ensure accountability for paramilitary atrocities. As a result, there is a real risk that the current demobilization process will leave the underlying structures of these violent groups intact, their illegally acquired assets untouched, and their abuses unpunished.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia has been playing an extremely important role in monitoring the human rights situation and bringing attention to abuses. Its yearly recommendations to the Colombian government have addressed central problems, such as continuing impunity for atrocities, and have called for such basic and reasonable measures as ensuring the protection of witnesses to human rights violations. At the same time, the Office has been a consistent voice calling for illegal armed groups, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to respect international humanitarian law.
The Commission on Human Rights should recommend the expansion of the United Nation’s human rights work in Colombia, including an increase in the budget and number of permanent staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, and continued visits by thematic mechanisms to investigate specific aspects of Colombia’s human rights record. The Commission should also call on the Colombian government to ensure that the legal framework covering the demobilization of paramilitary groups satisfies international standards on truth, justice, and accountability for atrocities.