A woman cries as she speaks of her fear that her ex-boyfriend will kill their children. A member of one of the successor groups, he wounded her in a knife attack after she left him. She is afraid of walking outside because members of his group control many neighborhoods, and if they see her they may report back to him. She is in hiding in a safe house in Barrancabermeja, Santander.

© 2009 Stephen Ferry

Human Rights Watch has revealed that successors to paramilitary groups-which the Colombian government had claimed were demobilized four years ago-have continued committing widespread abuses. Our report brings together evidence gathered in a two-year investigation and builds on more than two decades of research and reporting on Colombia.

These successor groups, whose members number in the thousands, operate in vast areas of Colombia and are responsible for massacres, killings, forced displacement, rape, and extortion, as well as drug trafficking. Their targets have included human rights defenders, trade unionists, and ordinary citizens who speak out and resist involvement in criminal activity. 

Despite the serious and growing threat these groups pose to Colombian citizens, the government has yet to take serious steps to address the problem. Police units tasked with confronting them are not present in many areas where the groups operate, and only four prosecutors are charged with investigating them. In many regions, members of the public security forces appear to tolerate the groups.

Human Rights Watch's previous reporting and advocacy have contributed to the establishment of human rights conditions on US military aid to Colombia, helped prevent the passage of laws that would have undermined accountability for paramilitaries' accomplices, and led to reforms in the paramilitary demobilization process. 

By communicating directly with officials, commenting publicly, and urging international actors to use their leverage with Colombia, we will continue to pressure the Colombian government to protect human rights. We aim to ensure accountability for atrocities committed by public security forces and members of armed groups; to strengthen key institutions, such as the Colombian Supreme Court; and to secure assistance for displaced persons and other survivors of abuses.