Hostage-taking violates international humanitarian law, in particular article 1(b) of Common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and article 4(2)(c) of Protocol II. Hostages are defined by the ICRC as 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."45 In Colombia, acts that qualify as hostage-taking under international humanitarian law are commonly known as "kidnaping."
One of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch is that of Henry A. Grosch-Garces, who was seized by the FARC-EP at his residence at La Bocana, on Buevaventura's harbor, on May 28, 1999. Subsequently, his family received several telephone calls demanding a ransom from a man who identified himself as a representative of the FARC-EP's Thirtieth Front. The family was also sent letters apparently written by Henry Grosch-Garces that pleaded for money. In one of the last calls, the caller told the family that Grosch-Garces was seriously ill.46
A former hostage who claimed that he had been held briefly with Henry Grosch-Garces told Grosch-Garces' family that Grosch-Garces was being held hostage by members of the FARC-EP. The former hostage said he had seen Henry Grosch-Garces in October 1999 and that he had then appeared close to death. The family has received no further information about him.47
In the past, the FARC-EP has promised to stop taking hostages.48 Nevertheless, the FARC-EP recently issued what it termed "Law 002," which states that anyone in Colombia with assets of U.S. $1 million or more must pay "taxes" to the FARC-EP or risk being taken hostage.49 Although the numbers of persons currently held hostage by the FARC-EP are not known, País Libre, an independent nongovernmental organization that studies kidnaping, attributed 701 hostage-takings to the FARC-EP in 2000.50
Human Rights Watch was not able to investigate the use of the Zone as a location for the detention of hostages seized elsewhere, a problem that has been credibly reported by others, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).51 According to that office, among those held in 2000 were Andrés Felipe Navas Suárez, three years old, and Clara Olivia Pantoja, five years old, both seized in Bogotá and taken to the Zone until their families paid a ransom for their release. In its annual report, the UNHCHR singled out the Navas and Pantoja kidnapings as particularly abhorrent, converting children into "object[s] of cruel commerce."52
51 "Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Colombia," E/CN.4/2001/15, February 8, 2001; and "País Libre hace llamado a actores armados: Secuestro, prioritario en negociaciones de paz," El Colombiano, February 27, 2001.