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The Strategy of Impunity

From their inception in the 1960s, paramilitaries and their military patrons have enjoyed an impunity that is nothing short of breathtaking. While successive elected leaders have publicly condemned paramilitaries and have vowed to end their reign of terror and root out compromised officers, none can yet claim success. To the contrary, as this report shows, the military-paramilitary partnership is stronger and more lethal than ever.

Impunity remains a prime foundation. Paramilitary forces provide the military with additional strength, but also a means to evade accountability for tactics that violate the law and trample human rights. Supposedly "phantom" paramilitaries that the military claims it can neither identify, locate, nor control take the blame for massacres and forced disappearances, allowing the military to evade responsibility. In fact, paramilitaries take the brunt of criticism for tactics taught, employed, and supported by the armed forces, but which they do not openly endorse.

To the impunity of evasion and denial is added the additional barrier of impunity from prosecution: the military shields from prosecution their officers whose direct involvement in extrajudicial executions and the paramilitary partnership are obvious and egregious. The government's failure to aggressively investigate and prosecute those responsible for organizing, directing, and tolerating paramilitaries has contributed to the consolidation of the tie between the military and paramilitaries and represents a virtual guarantee that such activity will continue to be tolerated.

The only statistic more shocking than the number of identified paramilitary leaders active in Colombia is the number of security force officers implicated in massacres, murder, and torture in league with paramilitaries who remain uninvestigated, unpunished, or on active duty. Although the military frequently complains about the "Procuraduría syndrome" - the fear among officers that they will be unfairly hounded for spurious abuses or allegations fabricated by guerrillas - in fact, the evidence is overwhelming that officers suffer few if any serious consequences even when there are well-documented accusations against them.

When members of the security forces are initially implicated in a crime, several institutions begin simultaneous investigations: the Procuraduría, the attorney general, and the security forces themselves. The Procuraduría focuses on government agents while the attorney general can investigate all involved. Once the attorney general issues an arrest warrant, an investigative judge also intervenes. While the final result is rarely a successful prosecution, this initial phase has in many cases exposed the nexus between the security forces and paramilitaries.

The Procuraduría has met less success than the attorney general's office. In an interview with Human Rights Watch in November of 1995, Procurador Orlando Vásquez Velásquez said that out of their estimated 2,000 cases involving military human rights abuses investigated over the past decade, only a few dozen had concluded with a punishment. These were limited to fines and temporary suspensions. None of the cases resulted in criminal penalties. 201

Although the cases detailed in this section are unique, they reflect a consistent pattern involving the military chain of command in what we consider a strategy of impunity. The military strategy begins with denials that they commit any human rights violations paired with the active and energetic obstruction of outside investigation. 202 For instance, the military routinely denies investigators access to troop orders or records. The military has also shielded implicated officers from questioning and often moves slowly to detain them. In some cases, officers have been immediately transferred and their new postings kept secret, forcing investigators to spend precious months tracking them down. Human rights groups, lawyers, family members, and eyewitnesses have reported harassment and threats from the security forces. Government investigators have reported to Human Rights Watch that they are watched closely by the intelligence services, have their telephones tapped, or warned to limit their inquiries. 203

Equally common is an unwillingness among some investigators to aggressively investigate allegations of human rights abuses based in part on a fear of retaliation if powerful paramilitaries and their military patrons are involved. Such fear is not unfounded. As we describe later in this report, the judge who identified the military masterminds of the La Honduras/La Negra massacre was later forced to leave the country for her safety and her father was subsequently murdered, apparently in retaliation for her investigation. Armed gunmen also killed the judge's replacement along with her bodyguards.

Not only judges are at risk. Anyone who reports on evidence of ties between the military and paramilitaries risks threats or murder. Colombians, including human rights monitors, who investigate or report on ties between the military and paramilitaries are prime targets for attack. In 1995, three human rights activists were killed in Colombia and dozens more were threatened or forced to leave the country because of threats. 204

On June 20, 1996, armed men shot and killed Pedro Malagón, a UP congressman who had campaigned for the respect for human rights and the dismantling of paramilitary groups operating in the department of Meta. Malagón, who survived a similar attack in March, was at home with his seventeen-year-old daughter, who was also killed. Previously, Malagón had reported that Colombian army intelligence agents had promised one of his bodyguards $10,000 to facilitate his murder. 205

Four months later, on October 13, Josué Giraldo, a founding member of the Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights, was also killed by a gunman who attacked him as he played with his daughters in front of his Villavicencio home. Like Malagón, Giraldo had reported to the authorities that a bounty had been offered for his life. 206

But obstruction by the military is not the only problem. Particularly weak has been the record of the office of the Procuraduría Delegate for the Armed Forces, which often appears to have been coopted by the military it is charged with investigating. 207 As we noted in a 1994 report, the investigations of this office are long delayed, superficial, and often are suspended after little effort is made to locate either the victims or the alleged perpetrators. 208

For example, after human rights groups reported two murders, twelve forced disappearances, and a series of threats and attacks on human rights activists by the army in Meta between July and September of 1992, the Procuraduría opened case No. 022-134.872. After a lapse of almost a year, an investigation was finally begun by the Procuraduría Delegate for the Armed Forces. However, its investigators made little effort to find victims or eyewitnesses, often living hours away from city centers or too frightened to talk. Eyewitnesses were notified too late to testify. For its part, the military initially denied that troops had been mobilized at that time and refused to give information on their activities. Finally, almost two years after the incidents, an officer who confirmed that a military operation had taken place allowed a Procuraduría investigator to take notes only on selected pages of the written order. Subsequently, the case was closed. 209

A stronger record of investigations has been compiled by the Procuraduría Delegate for Human Rights. In 1995, Procuraduría Delegate Hernando Valencia Villa successfully completed an investigation of Gen. Alvaro Hernán Velandia Hurtado and issued a decision requesting his dismissal. In 1987, Valencia concluded, Velandia knew and approved of his subordinates' plans to forcibly disappear and kill captured guerrilla Nydia Erika Bautista, a crime he also failed to investigate. Other government investigations have linked Velandia to the paramilitary structure in the Middle Magdalena region. Nevertheless, Velandia had been promoted normally and by 1995 commanded Cali's Third Brigade. 210

The administration of President Samper did little to support the conclusions of Valencia, a respected jurist who performed his duty with integrity and courage. A month after the Procuraduría requested his dismissal, Velandia, still on active duty, received a military medal for distinguished service. President Samper finally cashiered Velandia on September 9. However, eight days earlier, investigator Valencia was forced to flee the country out of fear for his life. On October 30, Velandia was invited by army commander General Bedoya to take part in the ceremony welcoming his successor at the Third Brigade, widely interpreted as an act of defiance by the military. To date, Velandia is the highest ranking officer ever to be dismissed for a human rights crime. 211

Colombia's public order courts have successfully prosecuted some paramilitaries, although the cases have been rare and the due process violations inherent in the system troubling. Since 1989, Human Rights Watch has reported on the development and record of the special civilian courts established to hear cases involving drug trafficking and terrorism, which would include jurisdiction over paramilitaries. Using anonymous judges, secret witnesses, and with severe restrictions on the right to a defense, these courts violate the right to a fair trial and due process. 212 However, it is also clear that far from dealing primarily with supposedly dangerous drug king pins, guerrilla leaders, and paramilitaries, public order courts have devoted most of their time to low-level traffickers and guerrillas, peasants captured in conflict areas, and even non-violent activists. As the Colombian Commission of Jurists has pointed out, "The judge's identity, secret or not, has never been an obstacle against an attack against them by the truly terrorist groups, which easily overcome these artificial barriers." 213

Even while denying complicity in human rights violations, the military almost always files a colisión de competencia, a jurisdictional challenge, with Colombia's Superior Judicial Council (Consejo Superior de la Judicatura) when cases are filed. 214 The council then rules on who should take responsibility for the case, a civilian court or a military tribunal. Among judicial, law enforcement, and human rights groups interviewed by Human Rights Watch, there is a widely shared consensus that the council favors the military in such disputes and rules based on an overbroad interpretation of what constitutes the constitutional definition of an "act of service." 215

Currently, the council's rulings demonstrate that virtually any infraction committed by an officer, even when it is clearly criminal in nature, is considered an "act of service." This includes open support for paramilitary groups. For example, in a 1996 decision, the council ruled that military officers who armed and uniformed paramilitaries who helped carry out the 1991 massacre of seventeen people near Los Uvos, department of Cauca, should be prosecuted by military tribunals since such equipment was provided, the council concluded, as part of the officers' normal duty. 216

The military has also argued that its tribunals are tougher and more efficient than civilian courts. To support this contention, General Bedoya provided Human Rights Watch with a summary of appeals received by the Supreme Military Tribunal (Tribunal Superior Militar) between January of 1993 and August of 1995. Of a total of 9,232 cases, 52 percent resulted in convictions while 39 percent ended either in acquittals or were shelved. However, this accounting makes no distinction between trials for military infractions - like insubordination - and human rights violations, like murder. In fact, according to the Procuraduría, military tribunals are diligent and severe when it comes to infractions of military discipline while most acquittals correspond to human rights violations. 217 To date, the Colombian military has not provided Human Rights Watch with any reports to demonstrate that officers investigated and prosecuted for human rights violations by military tribunals are convicted and punished.

General Bedoya has also faulted civilian courts for releasing individuals captured by the army as suspected guerrillas. However, in a clash that reached the Colombian press, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra admitted that many of these releases stem not from lax judicial procedures, but lack of evidence. 218

Once a case reaches a military tribunal, impunity is usually the result, including for crimes carried out in coordination with paramilitary groups. Since the decree outlawing contact between the security forces and paramilitaries was implemented in 1989, Human Rights Watch is aware of only a handful of cases where an officer was cashiered for involvement with paramilitaries. Often, implicated officers, especially if they are high-ranking, are not even suspended from active duty. Although the military claims that its tribunals are "tougher" than civilian courts, in the case of human rights abuses, the opposite is clearly the case. 219

Assuming that tribunals are staffed with competent officers who investigate the cases brought before them, the record of impunity for the sponsors of the military-paramilitary partnership appears to be the conscious and deliberate result of a strategy to keep this partnership in place and to shield the military's reliance upon extralegal methods.

Once the military wins jurisdiction, a veil of secrecy drops over the investigation, trial, and often the tribunal's ultimate ruling. In the past, the military has argued that secrecy is essential in order to protect the institution. However, secrecy has clearly served not to strengthen the military, but to cover up abuses, including military-paramilitary partnership.

Based on the information available to Human Rights Watch, it is clear that military tribunals are neither impartial nor particularly interested in the details of what happened when officers are alleged to be involved in abuses. Many allegations are dismissed out of hand, with little to no investigation. For instance, in the Los Uvos case mentioned above, the Procuraduría ended up filing formal charges against three officers, including a retired general, who investigated the massacre for the 19th Military Court. According to the investigation, the officers had failed to initiate a serious inquiry, instead simply blaming the killing on guerrillas. 220

Often, officers mysteriously disappear or escape from maximum security facilities. The few officers who do go to trial are investigated by their own superiors, who may have been the ones who ordered them to commit crimes. Usually, officers brought to trial are either acquitted or sent back to active duty with little more than a slap on the wrist. In one case reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the same officer who ordered the 1987 killing of Irma Vera Peña, a pregnant seventeen-year-old in the department of Norte de Santander, was the investigative judge for the case, and acquitted himself and his men. 221

One way to measure impunity in military tribunals is to compare acquittals or light sanctions in key cases with the results of civil suits filed by family members on the same evidence. For instance, even though eyewitnesses linked the 1987 murder of Sabana de Torres mayor Alvaro Garcés Parra to Brig. Gen. Luis Bernardo Urbina Sánchez, at the time head of the Fifth Brigade's intelligence unit, Urbina was never investigated. For his part, Maj. Oscar de Jesús Echandía, a MAS founder who helped plan the killing, took one of the gunmen injured in the attack to the hospital, and paid for his treatment from the battalion budget, was acquitted by a military court. 222

Nevertheless, Garcés's family eventually won a civil suit against the Defense Ministry and were awarded damages. 223 According to the government, in 1995 Colombia's civil courts ordered the Defense Ministry to pay over $6 million in damages to victims of human rights abuse and their families. 224

Few of the hundreds of recommendations on ending impunity submitted to the Colombian government by national and international human rights organizations as well as United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups have been adopted. 225 Among the few initiatives taken to address impunity was President Samper's convocation of a commission to recommend reforms to the military penal code. Including civilian officials and active-duty officers, the commission was able to agree on some points, including the importance of allowing victims' lawyers to take part in military trials, stopping the use of field command officers as judges of their own men, and codifying crimes that correspond to violations of international humanitarian law. There was also agreement on modifying Article 91 of the constitution, which allows officers to plead "due obedience," eluding responsibility for crimes by arguing that they were simply following orders. However, the commission was not able to agree on other fundamental points, most importantly the military's broad interpretation of "acts of service." 226

As of the writing of this report, however, the Samper Administration has not forwarded a reform bill to congress. It is unclear what position the government will take on issues that remain highly controversial, like the interpretation of acts of service. For its part, the Constitutional Court ruled in March 1995 that the military penal code, which allowed active-duty officers to sit on military tribunals, was unconstitutional. 227 That decision was later neutralized by the passage of a bill in congress that reformed Article 221 of the constitution by adding the phrase "[military tribunals] will be made up of either active duty or retired members of the armed forces." 228

Another important government initiative was the creation of a human rights unit within the attorney general's office. Staffed by twenty-five prosecutors and ten agents from the Technical Investigation Corps (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI), the unit is currently handling one hundred cases, among them some of the most important human rights and international humanitarian law cases in Colombia. Initially, the unit was sharply criticized by General Bedoya, who characterized it as "infiltrated by guerrillas," an opinion echoed by many army officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch. In one particularly delicate case involving the Chucurí region, human rights unit prosecutors have not been able to visit the area to interview witnesses, because of threats against their lives and the army's refusal to guarantee their safety. 229 Although tangible results, like convictions, have so far been few, the Human Rights Unit has carried out credible investigations, several detailed in the following pages.

However, progress by the Samper Administration in some areas was met by inaction or open defiance in others. For example, in May and again in September, forty pro-military senators presented to congress six bills that would reform the constitution and substantially increase the military's power, including one that would cede exclusive jurisdiction over investigations and disciplinary sanctions for human rights abuses to the military, ending the role of the Procuraduría, and another that would bar the attorney general from investigating military officers implicated in human rights crimes. 230 The former bill was described by its supporters, including top-ranking officers, as an antidote to the "Procuraduría syndrome." 231

A close examination of the following cases, grim milestones to the development of the military-paramilitary partnership, demonstrates how impunity works to keep the system functioning. Our summary of these cases also includes evidence we collected demonstrating that the military continues to foster its partnership with paramilitaries.

Impunity in Cases of Military-Paramilitary Actions

1. Segovia: On November 11, 1988, a dozen men driving jeeps arrived in Segovia, in the department of Antioquia, and began going house to house looking for individuals by name. The men executed those seized, then attacked a public bus, killing seventeen people. Within an hour, forty-three people were dead and fifty-six injured. The attack followed a series of threats and bombings against members of the UP and local residents. The killings were later claimed in the name of "Death to Revolutionaries in Northeastern Antioquia" (Muerte a Revolucionarios del Noroeste antioqueño, MRN). Despite the fact that the heavily armed assailants passed the Bomboná Battalion twice as they entered and left Segovia, they were not stopped. 232

Simultaneous investigations by the Procuraduría and civilian courts implicated three army officers, two police officers, and four civilians believed to belong to paramilitary groups. According to the government, on December 29, 1994, formal charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, murder, and assault were filed by a regional court in Bogotá against Lt. Col Alejandro Londoño Tamayo, Lt. Edgardo Hernández Navarro, Maj. Marco Báez Garzón and seven others. 233

As of the writing of this report, however, Human Rights Watch has received conflicting information about whether or not the army officers are currently detained. While the government says they are in a military prison, others dispute the claim. Repeated inquiries to the Defense Ministry to clarify the officers' status have gone unanswered. 234

Violence continues to plague Segovia. On March 3, 1995, after the ELN successfully stole a shipment of dynamite from the nearby Frontino gold mine, soldiers from the Bomboná Battalion apparently simulated a guerrilla attack that same day to cover up their negligence in allowing guerrillas to escape. According to CINEP, a guerrilla who remained behind after the theft was captured and executed by soldiers. Witnesses told CINEP that soldiers also killed a civilian with a grenade, wounded four children with random gunfire, and fired on the local elementary school while the children were inside. 235 After winning a jurisdictional challenge, a military tribunal asserted that the guerrilla attack had been real, contradicting eyewitness testimony, and the troops "were in a clear state of necessity." 236

On April 17, members of the police and the Bomboná Battalion reportedly again simulated a guerrilla attack by firing off shots and deploying units through town, forcing residents to take refuge in their homes. With the streets deserted and the military in control, leaflets were posted on homes and shops in Segovia threatening the inhabitants, shopkeepers, and transportation workers with death if they participated in a strike called by guerrillas for the next day. The leaflets were signed in the name of Dignity for Colombia. 237 Five days later, a group of heavily armed men executed fourteen people, including two children, and injured fifteen. The killers left town without incident after passing the Segovia Military Base, the La Trampa Military Base in the Cambambolo sector, and the Remedios Police Station checkpoint. 238

An investigation by the attorney general's human rights unit led to the arrest of Capt. Rodrigo Cañas, the commander of a unit of the Bomboná Battalion known as "Special Plan No. 7." According to eyewitness testimonies, Captain Cañas met six hit men flown in from Medellín at a nearby airport, then escorted them to a military base. Later, the six men were reportedly taken to the Bomboná headquarters in Segovia, where they left to carry out the massacre. 239 Captain Cañas has denied responsibility, and accuses the local human rights groups who provided investigators with information of being guerrillas. 240

Once an arrest warrant was issued, the military filed a jurisdictional challenge with the Superior Judicial Council. However, apparently due in part to pressure from national and international human rights groups, the council ruled in August 1996 that the case should be heard in civilian court, a positive step. 241

Despite evidence directly implicating the military in repeated attacks and murders in Segovia, Antioquia Governor Alvaro Uribe declared the adjoining municipalities of Segovia and Remedios "special public order zones" in May, ceding control of the area to the Fourteenth Brigade and the Bomboná Battalion through the end of October. 242 A curfew was imposed, allowing only the security forces to move about at night. Nevertheless, on the evening of July 15, residents awoke to find walls in the main streets painted with slogans signed in the name of "Death to Communists and Guerrillas" (Muerte a Comunistas y Guerrilleros, MACOGUE). 243

2. La Honduras/La Negra: At midnight on March 4, 1988, a group of about fifteen armed men entered the La Honduras farm in the Urabá region, department of Antioquia, searched out seventeen workers, and killed them. Afterwards, three more workers were killed on the neighboring La Negra farm. All were members of the local banana workers union, SINTAGRO, which the military and local landowners accused of being allied to the EPL. 244

A three-month investigation led by a public order judge revealed that the massacre had been carried out in a highly coordinated manner and with the collusion of Middle Magdalena cattle ranchers allied in ACDEGAM; the army's Tenth Brigade, including its intelligence unit under the command of Maj. Luis Felipe Becerra Bohórquez; the army's Fifth, Eleventh, and Fourteenth Brigades, and Lt. Pedro Vicente Bermúdez Lozano, of the Voltígeros Battalion. Major Becerra had even paid the Medellín hotel bill of some of the assassins, brought in from Puerto Boyacá, with his Diner's Club credit card. Tenth Brigade Capt. Gustavo Parada Parra was identified by an eyewitness as having taken part in the massacre and was the first officer to arrive at La Honduras after the massacre was reported.

In September of 1988, public order judge Martha Lucia Gonzáles ordered the arrests of Major Becerra, Lieutenant Bermúdez paramilitary leader Fidel Castaño, and others. Her requests to take depositions from key military personnel were consistently frustrated, and only lower level officers were made available. A week after issuing the arrest warrants, Judge González received death threats and fled the country. In May 1989, her father was murdered in Bogotá, apparently in retaliation for her investigation. Two months later, González's replacement was killed along with her two bodyguards. 245

None of the principals in the case, including Becerra, were ever punished for their role. When a government official tried to notify Becerra of a judicial decision in 1989, he was told that the officer was not available since he was in the United States taking a course necessary for his promotion to lieutenant colonel. 246 Becerra was later sent to the War College in Bogotá, then became army press secretary. Although abundant evidence implicated Becerra, the Procuraduría eventually closed the case against him. Until the end of his military career, Becerra was promoted normally despite the outstanding arrest warrant against him. 247 For his part, Bermudez was promoted to captain and later awarded a "distinguished service" medal in 1991. 248

Just months after the Procuraduría closed its investigation in 1993, Becerra took part in another combined military-paramilitary massacre (see Riofrío). Within a month, the executive issued the decree that retired him. 249

None of the division or brigade-level commanders were ever investigated for their complicity in planning and directing the massacres. Among them is Gen. Raúl Rojas Cubillos, then commander of the Fourteenth Brigade and a graduate of the Fort Leavenworth Command and Staff Officer School (1980-1981). He is currently the Army Inspector General, responsible for investigating alleged abuses. 250

One of the implicated civilians, Fidel Castaño, was sentenced in absentia to twenty years on June 19, 1991. 251 Since La Honduras/La Negra, Castaño has been linked to at least four additional massacres: Mejor Esquina (twenty-eight people on March 4, 1988), Pueblo Bello (forty-two people in 1988), El Tomate (fifteen people on August 30, 1988), and Pueblo Bello (forty-three people on January 13, 1990). A raid of combined military and police troops on two Castaño ranches in 1990 resulted in the exhumation of at least twenty-four bodies, some of which were those of peasants kidnapped weeks earlier in Pueblo Bello. 252 Castaño, apparently notified of the raid, eluded capture. 253

In 1994, the Supreme Court upheld Castaño's sentence for his role in planning the La Honduras/La Negra and Punta Coquitos massacres. The following year, the attorney general issued a warrant for his arrest for his role in the kidnapping and later murder of Conservative Senator Alfonso Ospina Ospina in 1988. 254 Castaño himself has admitted taking part in planning the 1990 murder of UP presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo. The murder was apparently planned with fellow Medellín Cartel member Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha ("El Mexicano") and his allies in MAS. 255

Nevertheless, he continues to remain at large. Instead of arresting him, the government enlisted his help in negotiating an amnesty with the EPL in 1990. The Castaño family donated land to demobilized EPL guerrillas and, as head of their own foundation, donated funds for former guerrillas to start businesses. 256 In 1994, Castaño wrote to Interior Minister Serpa and offered to negotiate his surrender in exchange for political status, a bid to be treated not as criminals but the same as a guerrilla group operating for political reasons. Calling his men "autodefensas," Castaño referred to the role the army had played in "recruiting and training" them and asserted that "we will never use (violent) methods to pressure the legitimate government because we are with you." 257

Meanwhile, his group - which, under the command of his brother, Carlos, has an increasingly public presence as the Peasant Self-Defense Group of Córdoba and Urabá (Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá, ACCU) - continues to carry out massacres, murders, and death threats in northern Colombia. 258

3. Trujillo: The murders of 107 people in and around Trujillo, department of Valle del Cauca, in separate attacks by a combined military-paramilitary death squad between 1989 and 1991 has become one of the most well-known cases in Colombia. 259 Eyewitnesses linked the killings to a paramilitary death squad operating in coordination with the army's Palacé Artillery Battalion No. 3 under the command of Maj. Alirio Antonio Urueña Jaramillo. Among the men who took part in the killings was Henry Loaiza, known as El Alacrán (The Scorpion), a member of the Cali drug cartel. During the prolonged investigation and court proceedings, a key eyewitness was forcibly disappeared and others were threatened into withdrawing. By 1994, when the case was handed over to a joint NGO-government commission convened under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a public order judge had acquitted the five men accused of the crimes, including two paramilitaries, two local landowners, and Major Urueña, a decision that was upheld on appeal. The military, which pursued its own investigation of Urueña, also acquitted him. 260 The joint commission was convened in an attempt to negotiate a satisfactory settlement between the victims' families and the government before taking the matter to the Inter-American Court.

The commission, which focused on the period between March 29 and April 23, 1990, found that at least sixty-three people had been killed by the combined action of paramilitaries and the military and that the proceedings in both the civilian and military courts had significant errors. In its report to President Samper, the commission concluded that the government, through the actions of Major Urueña and his men, had taken part in the killings. 261

President Samper accepted the commission's conclusions, promised prompt action, and ordered Urueña, since promoted to colonel, dismissed, a move that provoked a public disagreement between the Defense Ministry and the military high command. 262 To our knowledge, however, Urueña has never been punished for his acts other than by this dismissal.

In 1995, the attorney general's office arrested eight men accused of belonging to a paramilitary group still active in the Trujillo area. In a 1996 letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Father Javier Giraldo, who has represented the Trujillo victims in negotiations with the government, reported that not a single state employee, including military and police officers, has yet been sentenced for their role. Investigations against the judicial officials who had failed to prosecute those accused of involvement have also been shelved. Other institutions, including the Procuraduría, have so far failed to aggressively investigate the case, calling into question President Samper's promise to "take all of the actions necessary to honor the recommendations contained in the Trujillo report." To the contrary, as Father Giraldo notes, "Impunity appears to consolidate itself more and more as the months pass. 263

The case was returned to the Commission in October 1996 after the attempt at a negotiated settlement failed. 264 A continuing investigation by Justice and Peace suggests that a total of over 200 people in and around Trujillo may have been murdered as a result of the military-paramilitary partnership between 1986 and 1993. 265

4. Riofrío: In December 1993, the Procuraduría Delegate for Human Rights charged Brig. Gen. Rafael Hernández López for helping cover up the deeds of the officers who had killed thirteen people on October 5, 1993, in Riofrío, department of Valle. As commander of the Third Brigade, Hernández not only had the Palacé Battalion under his command but was the original investigative judge and, according to government investigators, attempted to impede any investigation. 266

Among the implicated officers was Col. Luis Becerra Bohórquez, commander of the Palacé Battalion. Within a month of the massacre, Becerra was forced into retirement by an executive decree, as noted above. In 1994, a military tribunal issued an arrest warrant for him; however, we are not aware of any arrest. 267 In 1994, the attorney general's office issued arrest warrants for four other soldiers implicated in the massacre, including Maj. Eduardo Carrillo Delgado and Lt. Alfonso Vega Garzón. 268

Hernández is currently the commander of the Second Division.

5. Meta: Human Rights Watch has closely followed the human rights situation in the department of Meta since 1992, when we made the first of multiple visits to the area. 269 Especially in the pie de monte area between Villavicencio, the capital, and the Macarena Range, the military presence has gone hand in glove with increased paramilitary activity. Government authorities, municipal leaders, human rights groups, and community organizations all identify Victor Carranza as a paramilitary chieftain, with huge ranches in the area as well as a reputed dominance in the emerald and cocaine trades. Nevertheless, Carranza and his private army, dubbed "Los Carranceros," is reported to operate in close coordination with the military and enjoys virtual impunity for his criminal actions.

Although the government formed a "Diagnostic Commission" in 1995 to evaluate progress on over a hundred cases of murder, forced disappearance, and threats by the security forces acting in collaboration with paramilitaries in Meta, there has been little progress. Neither are we aware of arrests related to the 1992 slaying by suspected paramilitaries of El Castillo mayor William Ocampo, former mayor María Mercedes Méndez, and three others. 270 However, the local authority who helped investigate the case and had replaced an official murdered by suspected paramilitaries was himself murdered on November 6, 1995. 271

For many, reporting information on the identity of killers carries a high risk. One woman Human Rights Watch spoke to was forced to leave her Meta town as an internal refugee after she reported to authorities that a paramilitary recruited by the army had gunned down her husband, a member of the UP. Since moving to the capital, she says she has been followed by unidentified men who she believes are working for the security forces. "It's worse to report it than to remain silent," she told us. "That's what screws you in the end." 272

The military-paramilitary partnership has hit especially hard at human rights monitors. Evaristo Amaya Morales, the La Uribe municipal worker who was already under threat when he spoke with Human Rights Watch for State of War, our 1993 report on Army Mobile Brigades, was murdered on February 24, 1994, allegedly by "Los Carranceros." Amaya, a UP member, was among those reported to be on a death list then being circulated in the area. 273 Since it was formed in 1989, the Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights, which represents thirty-two local civic, religious, and trade union groups, had five members murdered and three members forcibly disappeared. Twenty-five members were forced to flee the area for their safety. 274

Among those forcibly disappeared was Delio Vargas, a government employee and founding member of the Civic Committee. On April 19, Vargas was grabbed off the street by heavily armed men. 275 In an investigation unusual for its speed and aggressiveness, the Procuraduría's Office of Special Investigations, which handles particularly delicate cases, and the Technical Investigation Corps (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI), investigators attached to the attorney general's office, determined that retired army sergeant and intelligence agent Hernando Moreno had driven the abductors in a car. Since 1987, Moreno was reputed to have been a key operative in Carranza's paramilitary group. However, Moreno was the only individual convicted for his role in Vargas's disappearance. 276 In 1995, the Civic Committee closed its Villavicencio office after the remaining members received telephone and written death threats. 277

When Human Rights Watch asked Maj. Gen. Marino Gutiérrez Isaza, commander of the Fourth Division, about Carranza and his paramilitaries, he replied, "They say that he is the head of the paramilitaries, but there is no arrest warrant against him. So if I see him, I can't touch him." 278

In 1995, authorities captured Arnulfo Castillo Agudelo, known as "Razguño," reportedly a leader of Carranza's paramilitaries and the group calling itself Black Snake (Serpiente Negra). According to a Colombian law enforcement document, Razguño and nine other paramilitaries took orders from Carranza and operated in Villavicencio, Puerto López, Granada, San Martín, and Puerto Lleras as well as in the bordering department of Guaviare. Based on testimony given by one of the men, agents exhumed five bodies on Carranza's "La Sesenta" Ranch and identified them as individuals who had vanished in 1988. The informant also listed for authorities six properties where Carranza allegedly stores weapons and ammunition. 279 Numerous Human Rights Watch interviews in Meta corroborated the contention that paramilitaries patrol openly there, carrying weapons restricted to military use. 280

However, there are currently no outstanding warrants for Carranza's arrest. As we noted in the section "Unconvincing Denials," a 1994 police investigation concluded that Carranza controls a private justice group armed with guns licensed by the Defense Ministry as necessary to protect him and his property. 281 Nevertheless, in May 1996, Carranza appeared at a public event in Bogotá with members of President Samper's cabinet. 282

6. El Carmen y San Vicente de Chucurí: In November 1992, the Procuraduría Delegate for the Armed Forces filed formal charges against Gen. Carlos Gil Colorado, Capt. Gilberto lbarra Mendoza, Capt. Germán Pataquiva, Capt. Orlando Pulido, Lt. Francisco Javier Corrales, Lt. Alberto Luis Mancilla, and Lt. Evert Aranda Contreras for their role in organizing paramilitaries in the Chucurí region, in the department of Santander. 283 Gil, as commander of the Fourteenth Brigade and Fifth Brigade, had been repeatedly implicated since 1989 in paramilitary activity. By the time charges were announced, Gil headed military intelligence. 284 Despite the charges, Gil was promoted normally and reached the rank of Major General and commander of the Fourth Division, based in Villavicencio and a paramilitary center of operations. Gil was killed in a FARC ambush on July 19, 1994. 285

On March 29, 1992, a team of prosecutors and judges joined by police and DAS agents travelled to El Carmen de Chucurí to arrest twenty-nine civilians accused of organizing paramilitary groups. However, when the local army commander realized the team's purpose, he ordered his men to defend local residents from arrest. 286 Subsequently, prosecutors returned a second time, arresting four. 287 However, prosecutors from the attorney general's human rights unit have been unable to execute the remaining warrants since the army refuses to guarantee their safety. 288 Captain lbarra has been promoted to the rank of major and now commands a base in Yarima, near San Vicente de Chucurí, where he continues to be linked to paramilitary activity. 289 Captain Pataquiva, now a major, works in the army's central human rights office. 290


201 Vásquez was later dismissed from his post and arrested for allegedly taking money from drug traffickers for a congressional campaign. Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, November 7, 1995.

202 Although the police are also implicated in human rights violations, they have been more willing to investigate and dismiss officers who commit abuses. Human Rights Watch interview, Public Ombudsman's office, Santafé de Bogotá, July 11, 1996.

203 Human Rights Watch interviews, Santafé de Bogotá, July 10, 1996.

204 The three were Ernesto Fernández Fester, a member of the state teachers' union, killed by three unidentified gunmen in Pailitas, department of Cesar; Oscar García Solis, a UP member killed by a gunman in Envigado, department of Antioquia; and Javier Alberto Barriga Vergel, a human rights lawyer killed by two gunmen in Cúcuta, department of Norte de Santander. CCJ, Colombia: derechos humanos y derecho humanitario: 1995, p. 11.

205 Human rights activist Sylvio Salazar was also killed in 1996. Salazar, who worked to stem violence between gangs, police, and guerrilla-backed militias in the city of Medellín, was killed by armed men as he left his office on January 11. Amnesty International Urgent Action 295/94, Further information, June 28, 1996; and Justice and Peace, Boletín, Jan.-March, 1996, p. 9.

206 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, October 13, 1996.

207 In an attempt to fortify civilian jurisdiction over the military, President Barco appointed a civilian to head the office of the Procuraduría Delegate for the Armed Forces in 1987, the first time the post was not assigned to an active-duty officer. Since then, only civilians have occupied this post. Leal Buitrago, El oficio de la guerra, p. 120.

208 Human Rights Watch/Americas, State of War: Political Violence and Counterinsurgency in Colombia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993). pp. 109-112.

209 Letter to interior Minister Horacio Serpa et al. from Ignacio Perdomo Gómez, Justice and Peace, March 13, 1996.

210 CCJ, Colombia, derechos humanos y derecho humanitario: 1995, pp. 87-89.

211 Ibid.

212 For more on our concerns about public order courts, see Human Rights Watch/Americas, State of War, pp. 35-39.

213 Translation by Human Rights Watch. CCJ. Colombia, derechos humanos y derecho humanitario: 1995, p. 37.

214 Before the 1991 constitutional reform, jurisdictional disputes were settled by the Supreme Court and the Disciplinary Tribunal, the latter of which also usually ruled in favor of the military. However, there were a few exceptions. including the La Honduras/La Negra case. The Superior Judicial Council is divided into two sections: administrative and disciplinary. The disciplinary section, which decides jurisdictional disputes, is made up of seven members currently chosen by President César Gaviria and serving an eight-year term. When this term concludes, they will be replaced by a slate of candidates (terna) chosen by the executive and sent to congress for a final vote. The Council is made up of representatives from the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the State Council.

215 Article 221 states that "crimes committed by members of the Public Force in active service and in relation to their service will be judged by military courts or tribunals." Translation by Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch interviews, Santafé de Bogotá, Nov. 7-15, 1995.

216 Armas sin uso privativo," El Espectador, October 8. 1996.

217 Declaration by Hernando Valencia Villa, Procuraduría Delegate for Human Rights, to the Interamerican Court, San Jose, Costa Rica, November 28, 1994.

218 "Colombia: Defense Minister Says Mistakes by Military Found," El Tiempo, FBIS, June 10, 1996.

219 Human Rights Watch interview, Gen. Ramón Niebles Uscátegui, Santafé de Bogotá, November 7, 1995.

220 "Cargos a general (r) Arévalo Pinilla," El Tiempo, June 2, 1994.

221 After international protest, the Military Superior Court overturned the decision and reopened the case, which is apparently still in progress. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Second Report on Human Rights in Colombia (Washington, D.C.: Organization of American States, 1994), pp. 81-93.

222 OMCT and others, Terrorismo de Estado, pp. 38-39, 110-112.

223 Amnesty international, Colombia: Political Violence, Myth, and Reality (London: Amnesty International, 1994), p. 95.

224 República de Colombia, Comisión para el análisis y asesoramiento en la aplicación de las recomendaciones formuladas por los órganos internacionales derechos humanos, Informe sobre el cumplimiento de las recomendaciones de los relatores temáticos y grupos de trabajo de la organización de las Naciones Unidas, February 22, 1996, p. 19.

225 U.N.-related groups or individuals that have visited Colombia and made recommendations include the Working Group on Forced and Involuntary Disappearance (1988), the Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions (1989, 1994), the Representative of the Secretary General for Forced Displacement (1994), and the Special Rapporteur on Torture (1994). Comisión para el análysis. Informe, pp. 1-2.

226 Human Rights Watch interview, Gen. Ramón Niebles Uscátegui, Santafé de Bogotá, November 7, 1995.

227 Constitutional Court decision C-141/95.

228 Translation by Human Rights Watch. CCJ, Colombia, derechos humanos y derecho humanitario: 1995, p. 102.

229 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, July 9, 1996.

230 The bill proposed the revision of Article 220 of the Colombian Constitution. Televisión Cadena 1, FBIS, May 17, 1996.

231 "Proposal Seeks Revision of Article, Security," Semana, FBIS, April 30, 1996.

232 This is a summary of the case description in Americas Watch, The Killings in Colombia, pp. 61-62.

233 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Dr. Jorge Iván Cuervo Restrepo, office of the Presidential Counselor for Human Rights, November 23, 1995.

234 Requests for further information were made by letter on May 7 and July 26 and in person on June 24, 1996.

235 "Relación del caso ocurrido en el municipio de Segovia, nordeste antioqueño, el 3 de marzo de 1995," a CINEP investigation, March 12-13, 1995.

236 Letter from Dr. Jorge Iván Cuervo, office of the Presidential Counselor for Human Rights, to Human Rights Watch, November 23, 1995.

237 The name Dignity for Colombia first appeared in 1995, used to take responsibility for an attack on President Samper's defense lawyer and the November killing of Conservative leader Alvaro Gómez. Gómez's killing was followed by President Samper's declaration of a state of internal commotion.

238 Amnesty International Urgent Action 241/95, October 19, 1995, with updates on April 24. 26. and May 20. 1996.

239 Amnesty International Urgent Action, Further information on 241/95, issued on June 17. 1996.

240 Human Rights Watch interview with Capt. Rodrigo Cañas, Medellín, July, 5, 1996.

241 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Fernando Valencia, Corporación Jurídica Libertad, October 30, 1996.

242 "Colombia: Mining Region Declared Special Public Order Zone," El Tiempo, FBIS, May 16, 1996.

243 Amnesty International Urgent Action, 241/95. Further information, July 19, 1996.

244 For a fuller description of this case. based almost entirely on the official investigation, see El Camino de la Niebla, Vol. III, pp. 155-246.

245 CAJ-SC. Justice for Justice: Violence against judges and lawyers in Colombia, 1979-1991 (Santafé de Bogotá: International Commission of Jurists-CAJ-SC, July 1992), pp. 25, 31.

246 "Lost illusions? Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Colombia in 1992," CAJ-SC. Santafé de Bogotá, January 1993.

247 Letter from Father Javier Giraldo to Human Rights Watch, May 14, 1996.

248 OMCT and others, Terrorismo de Estado, pp. 56-57, 64-65.

249 Decree No. 2353, November 10, 1993. Letter to Human Rights Watch from Jorge Iván Cuervo Restrepo, office of the Presidential Counselor for Human Rights, November 23, 1995.

250 El Espectador, July 11. 1995.

251 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Dr. Jorge Iván Cuervo Restrepo, office of the Presidential Counselor for Human Rights, November 23, 1995.

252 "Identificados sólo 7 cadáveres en Córdoba," La Prensa, April 19, 1990.

253 Mauricio Romero, "Transformación rural, violencia politica y narcotráfico en Córdoba, 1953-1991," Controversías, No. 167, October-November, 1995, pp. 94-121.

254 "Medidas de aseguramiento contra Fidel Castano Gil," El Tiempo, July 28, 1995.

255 "Yo fui creador de los Pepes," Semana, May 31, 1994, pp. 38-46.

256 The Castaño family set up the Peace Foundation for Córdoba (FUNPAZCOR). Human Rights Watch interview with Rafael Kergelen, former EPL commander, Montería, Córdoba, October 17, 1992.

257 Translation by Human Rights Watch. "Revelan carta de 'Rambo' a Serpa," El Tiempo, September 20, 1994.

258 According to Carlos Castaño, Fidel disappeared on an overland trip to Panama in mid-1994. Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Castaño, July 9, 1996.

259 For a fuller summary of this case, see Americas Watch, Political Murder and Reform in Colombia, pp. 34-35.

260 Comisión de Investigación de los Sucesos Violentos de Trujillo, Informe Final, Santafé de Bogotá, January 1995.

261 Ibid.

262 "Botero's meeting with Officers called 'Tense'," El Tiempo, FBIS, February 15, 1995.

263 Comisión para el análysis y asesoramiento, Informe sobre el cumplimiento, p. 40.

264 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Father Javier Giraldo, Justice and Peace, October 9, 1996.

265 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Letter from Father Javier Giraldo, Justice and Peace, to Jorge Taiana, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, July 4, 1996.

266 "Ejército retiró a juez del proceso por masacre de Riofrío," Nuevo Siglo, February 15, 1994.

267 Detención contra oficial del Ejército por masacre en el Valle," El Espectador, September 1, 1994.

268 "Juicio por masacre de Riofrío," El Espectador, December 6, 1994.

269 For a broader description, see Human Rights Watch/Americas, State of War, pp. 84-106.

270 In 1995, the case was assigned to the newly constituted Attorney General's Human Rights Unit. For more on this case, see Human Rights Watch/Americas, State of War p. 103. Human Rights Watch interview, Colectivo de Abogados "Jose Alvear Restrepo," Santafé de Bogotá, March 1, 1993, and Letter to Human Rights Watch from Hernando Valencia Villa, Procuraduría Delegate for Human Rights, November 11, 1993.

271 Justice and Peace, Boletín, October-December 1995, p. 55.

272 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, October 12, 1992.

273 Justice and Peace, Boletín, Jan.-March, 1994, p. 57.

274 Diego Pérez, "Evaluación de los Derechos Humanos en el primer año de Samper," CINEP, October 31, 1995.

275 Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights, Denuncia No. 12, April 20, 1993.

276 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Mariana Escobar, office of the Presidential Counselor for Human Rights, June 2, 1993.

277 Diego Pérez, "Evaluación de los Derechos Humanos en el primer año de Samper," CINEP, October 31, 1995.

278 Human Rights Watch interview, Villavicencio, October 10, 1995.

279 Colombian law enforcement investigation, May 5, 1995. Source agreement prevents us from further identification.

280 Human Rights Watch interviews in Santafé de Bogotá and Villavicencio, October 12, 1992.

281 Official Response number 2970, reserved, November 24, 1994, DIJIN Intelligence Section, Villavicencio, Meta.

282 Human Rights Watch interview, Corporación Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo," Santafé de Bogotá, July 10, 1996.

283 "Pliego de cargos a siete militares," El Tiempo, November 18, 1992.

284 "Acusan a siete militares de promover a paramilitares," Reuter, November 18, 1992.

285 Justice and Peace, Boletín, July-Sept, 1994, p. 48.

286 Human Rights Watch interview with "Enrique," a member of the team, Santafé de Bogotá, June 13, 1992.

287 Comisión para el análysis y asesoramiento, Informe sobre el cumplimiento, p. 40.

288 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, July 11, 1996.

289 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Padre Javier Giraldo, Justice and Peace, May 14, 1996.

290 Human Rights Watch interview, Defense Ministry, Santafé de Bogotá, June 24, 1996.

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