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I had a friend, Juanita, who got into trouble for sleeping around. We had been friends in civilian life and we shared a tent together. The commander said that it didn't matter that she was my friend. She had committed an error and had to be killed. I closed my eyes and fired the gun, but I didn't hit her. So I shot again. The grave was right nearby. I had to bury her and put dirt on top of her. The commander said, "You did very well. Even though you started to cry, you did well. You'll have to do this again many more times, and you'll have to learn not to cry."1

The roots of Colombia's armed conflict are deep. Modern historians mark La Violencia, a bloody civil war triggered by the 1948 assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, as a pivotal moment. In the 1960s, the influence of the Cuban revolution further engrained violence as a way of gaining political influence and control of territory.

Paramilitary forces, formed by the army, landowners, and business interests to combat guerrillas, emerged in the 1980s.2 "Guerrillas can act outside the law, so this battle is not equal," Carlos Castaño, the founder of the contemporary paramilitary alliance, told Human Rights Watch in 1996. "We realized that we could use the same tactics as the guerrillas and adopt their methods of combat."3

The introduction of children to the ranks of fighters is a relatively new development.4 In the 1950s, children may have accompanied families who escaped attacks and lived in rebel encampments. But they rarely fought themselves. University students were a favored recruiting pool for some guerrillas while others looked to adult trade unionists, farmers, or the unemployed for converts.5

This changed in the 1990s, as guerrillas and paramilitaries began recruiting drives. In 1996, the office of the Public Advocate (Defensoría del Pueblo) released one of the first reports chronicling this development. The report concluded that up to 30 percent of some guerrilla units were made up of children. In urban militias, the majority of recruits, 85 percent, were believed to be under eighteen.6

In addition to recruitment drives, the increase in the use of child combatants might also be explained by worsening conditions for many of Colombia's children and the desperation this provoked among children old enough to wonder about their future. By 2001, according to government statistics, two out of three Colombian children lived below the poverty line. One out of ten was destitute.7 Many of the children joining illegal armed groups had broken off their schooling by the fifth grade.8

At the same time, armed groups see children as an attractive source of malleable recruits. "Children are particularly useful in the war, for they seldom calculate risks, adapt easily to a violent environment, eat less, earn less, and are always ready to obey," said Sen. Rafael Orduz Medina, who has proposed legislation to protect former child combatants.9

Human Rights Watch estimates that the number of child combatants in Colombia at this writing exceeds 11,000.10 We base that estimate on government and other research gathered for this report as well as our own interviews with 112 former child combatants.11

  • We interviewed seventy-nine children who belonged to nineteen rural fronts of Colombia's largest guerrilla force, the FARC-EP. (Of these, two had also served in the UC-ELN.) Based on our information, we estimate that children in the ranks of the FARC-EP number more than 4,100. Children in the FARC-EP's urban-based militias would add another 3,300 children, for a total of over 7,400, over one quarter of the group's total estimated strength.

  • We interviewed twenty former members of the UC-ELN, eight of whom were members of urban militias for at least some part of their time with the group. We estimate that at least one third of the UC-ELN's fighters are children: in other words, at least 1,480 of them.

  • We interviewed thirteen former members of the AUC. We estimate that 20 percent of the group's total troop strength, or 2,200 members, are children.12

These figures are obviously estimates. Other institutions that have studied the issue have reached somewhat different figures.13 Whatever the precise numbers, it is beyond question that the use of child combatants is a serious problem in Colombia and is likely to remain so until these groups change their recruiting practices.

Among the most disturbing results of our investigation was the high

“I was shooting at posts with the AK-47 before I was eight.”

number of young children in the ranks. Of the 112 former child combatants interviewed by Human Rights Watch, more than two-thirds said that they had been recruited before they reached the age of fifteen.14

A former child combatant in Puerto Berrío, Bernardo, told us he was seven when he began handling an AK-47 assault rifle. "The paramilitaries didn't let me fire it at first, just look after it and run errands," he explained. "They teach you bit by bit, first with a .38 [handgun] and then with a bigger weapon. I was shooting at posts with the AK-47 before I was eight."15

The recruitment of children by Colombia's illegal armed groups has been only a secondary issue in the debate over the human rights impact of U.S. policy in Colombia. Concern has focused more intensely on persistent ties between paramilitary forces and units within Colombia's military, as well as on the military's tolerance for and complicity in the paramilitaries' grave violations, such as massacres, political killings, "disappearances," kidnappings, and torture. Indeed, former paramilitary child combatants interviewed by Human Rights Watch told us that some military units continue to help train paramilitaries, are in close and permanent contact with their commanders, and in some cases fight alongside them. This is despite U.S. legislation requiring that Colombia break links between its military and paramilitary groups in order to qualify for military aid.16

The U.S. State Department has reported that both paramilitaries and guerrillas recruit children into their forces. In its annual report on human rights practices for 2002, the department noted that Colombia's government was unable to protect children from this practice. It concluded that "[d]espite [a variety of] legal protections and programs, government commitments to the protection of children's rights were not fully implemented."17

In 2003, Colombia will receive over $750 million in U.S. aid, most of which is dedicated to military and police assistance.18 In 2001, the United States Agency for International Development pledged an initial $2.5 million to assist the Colombian government in maintaining halfway houses for former child combatants.19 That amount was doubled in 2003, and went to support the ICBF rehabilitation program; training for employees of the juvenile justice system on the special treatment needed for child combatants; the implementation of a prevention strategy that seeks to diminish the participation of children in the armed conflict; and developing a contingency plan for an eventual demobilization.20


The FARC-EP is Latin America's oldest guerrilla group. According to the U.S. State Department, FARC-EP guerrillas now count over 16,500 trained and armed fighters among their fighting force.21 That number is more than double the 1998 estimates of the group's size.22

Not included in this figure are the FARC-EP urban militias: known as Bolivarian militias (milicias bolivarianos) and popular militias (milicias populares). The Bolivarians alternate between civilian and military attire and receive military training. Members of popular militias dress in civilian clothes, often live at home, and engage in civilian activities even as they gather intelligence, sabotage, assassinate, kidnap, collect "taxes," obtain supplies, and recruit. They do not normally receive military training, and are usually provided with handguns rather than combat weapons. Together, the FARC-EP's militias are believed to number about 10,000, bringing its total force to around 26,500.23

In an interview with an unidentified journalist, FARC-EP Commander Manuel Marulanda Vélez stated that the two types of militia differed in their combat readiness. "The popular militias are made up of those whose age or physical condition prevents them from participating in direct combat with the enemy. For example, the elderly and children. The Bolivarian militias, on the other hand, have a military structure and are composed of people suited for direct physical combat" 24

The FARC-EP claims that its policies and actions are determined by its high command, not individual commanders, and it maintains a centralized, vertical command structure.25 Ultimate authority is vested in a six-member general secretariat led by Marulanda, also known by the nickname "Sure Shot" (Tirofijo).26 Now in his seventies, Marulanda has led the FARC-EP since its inception in 1966.27 In June 2003, a Bogotá court announced that it had convicted Marulanda in absentia for the crime of recruiting minors. The case was based on charges brought by Colombia's military.28

The Data Bank, a nongovernmental organization run by several human rights groups and among the most reliable sources on human rights and international law violations in Colombia, reported that the FARC-EP was presumed responsible for at least 330 summary executions in 2002.29 That same year, the FARC-EP was also implicated in the deaths of more than 100 civilians in indiscriminate attacks using gas cylinder bombs.30

In 1999, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana initiated formal talks with guerrillas aimed at negotiating peace. Talks took place in a special zone of over 15,000 square miles in southern Colombia that was ceded to guerrilla control, an area the size of Switzerland (hereinafter referred to as the Zone). The Zone included four municipalities in the department of Meta--Mesetas, La Uribe, La Macarena, and Vista Hermosa--and the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán in the department of Caquetá. Guerrillas used this safe haven to recruit fighters, including children who lived in the Zone. The government abolished the Zone on February 20, 2002.31

The number of child combatants presently

Assuming that a third of the militias are children, the total number of child combatants currently in the ranks of the FARC-EP may exceed 7,400.

in the FARC-EP can be gauged roughly from estimates given by the children for the units in which they fought, supplemented by estimates provided in other authoritative sources. Such estimates obviously must be treated with caution. Comparing the children's accounts, it is evident that the proportion of children in each unit of the guerrilla forces varies considerably, from a low of about 10 percent to a high of more than half. Most fronts have a significant minority of children under the age of fifteen.32

Based on the interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, a conservative estimate would put the proportion of children in the FARC-EP at between 20 and 30 percent. Twenty-five percent of the group's estimated regular force gives a figure of 4,125. To this number must be added the children in both of the urban militias, which by the FARC-EP's own admission recruit more heavily among those considered too young for regular combat. Assuming that a third of the militias are children, the total number of child combatants currently in the ranks of the FARC-EP may exceed 7,400.

Camilist Union-National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, UC-ELN)

The UC-ELN is a relatively small and regional group compared to the FARC-EP, yet its influence in areas where it maintains a military presence can be dramatic. A five-member Central Command consisting of the chiefs of the group's military forces is the ruling body of the UC-ELN. Although the Central Command takes political and military decisions, field commanders are believed to act with much greater autonomy than they do in the FARC-EP33 The UC-ELN's military leader is currently Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias "Gabino."34

The UC-ELN has its stronghold in the Middle Magdalena region, and also operates in the departments of Bolívar, Nariño, Cauca, Antioquia, Valle, and the region bordering Venezuela. It has been under strong pressure in recent years from encroachments by paramilitaries into territory formerly under its influence.35 Unlike the FARC-EP and the AUC, which continue to grow, the UC-ELN's membership peaked in the late 1990s at about 5,000 and has since reportedly shrunk to about 4,500.36 In 2000, according to Antonio García, a top UC-ELN military commander, the group had forty-three fronts in rural areas, ten urban fronts, and twenty-two mobile companies deployed in various parts of the country.37

Most analysts agree that the UC-ELN has profited less than other irregular groups from the trade in illegal narcotics, which the group claims to shun.38 Instead, to obtain funds, the UC-ELN relies heavily on kidnappings and extortion, particularly from multinationals and oil companies. It has committed other violent abuses, as well. In 2002, the Data Bank recorded fifty-seven summary killings for which the group is believed responsible.39

It is difficult to know precisely how many children the UC-ELN has in its ranks, since the number of children who have abandoned it or been captured is smaller than in the FARC-EP. Children's accounts suggest that some units are made up predominately of children whereas in other units the number of children is low. Overall, however, we estimate that at least one-third, or over 1,480, of the UC-ELN's fighters are children. This figure includes children from the UC-ELN's urban militias.

Although the UC-ELN is often believed to resort to press-ganging less that the FARC-EP, Human Rights Watch found that some fronts seem to resort to forcible recruitment on a significant scale. Of the twenty former UC-ELN combatants who described the circumstances of their recruitment to Human Rights Watch, six (or nearly one-third) said that they had been recruited against their will. Of the seventy-two former FARC-EP combatants who provided such information, seven (or 9 percent) said they had been forcibly recruited. (Two more said that they had joined the group under pressure.) These figures are not conclusive, but they suggest that forced recruitment is a greater problem in the UC-ELN than it is in the FARC-EP.

Paramilitary Forces

There are at least ten groups loosely allied under the name United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC).40 In addition, there are several independent groups that never accepted AUC leadership or have split from the AUC publicly, among them the Medellín-based "Metro Block."41

AUC leaders claim that the group currently has 11,000 armed members.42 Its units operate throughout Colombia, including the major cites of Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali.43 Within the paramilitary alliance, the largest single group is the ACCU, which emerged in northeastern Colombia in 1994.44

Paramilitary "self defense" groups have a history in Colombia almost as long as the guerrilla groups they were formed to oppose. They have used and continue to use terror directed at what they perceive as the guerrilla's civilian support networks. Often, targets are civilians guilty of nothing more than inhabiting areas where guerrillas are active.45

In a series of reports, Human Rights Watch has documented links between paramilitary groups and units of the Colombian armed forces, some of whose commanders have promoted, encouraged, and protected them, shared intelligence, coordinated military operations, and even shared fighters with them.46 Although paramilitary groups were declared illegal in 1989, the government has failed to disband them or to bring to justice their leaders or the military officers who facilitate or tolerate paramilitary abuses.47

For 2002, the Data Bank reported that paramilitaries were presumed responsible for at least 838 summary executions and 126 forced disappearances.48

In 1996, Castaño told Human Rights Watch that he commanded 2,000 armed and trained fighters, an affirmation that was confirmed by Colombian government analysts.49 By 2002, he claimed 11,200 fighters, more than a five-fold increase in just four years.50

The AUC's spectacular growth is in part due to the recruitment of children tempted by AUC salaries, ranging between 900,000 and 1,200,000 pesos (approximately US $366 to $488) every three months, the frequency many children reported to Human Rights Watch that they were paid.

Some AUC affiliates have held aggressive recruiting drives that include forcible enlistment. In May 2000, for example, the Southern Casanare Peasant Self-Defense Group was reported to have distributed leaflets calling up young people for "compulsory military service." In October 2000, paramilitaries belonging to this group abducted several youths in Puerto Gaitán, Meta, for military training.51 The same group has been alleged responsible for abducting young women for sexual purposes.52 None of the former AUC child combatants interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that they were forcibly recruited, however.

In September 2001, the U.S. State Department put the AUC on its official list of foreign terrorist organizations, where it joined the FARC-EP and the UC-ELN, which had been named previously.53 (The designation requires, among other things, that U.S. banks freeze the accounts of the AUC and its agents.) What followed was a serious shakeup. Within the year, Carlos Castaño and at least two other paramilitaries were indicted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges.54 Castaño announced the dissolution of the AUC, but then claimed the coalition had reunited, albeit prey to divisions over drug-trafficking, a practice that Castaño said he opposed.55

As part of a mea culpa, Castaño has admitted publicly that profits from drug-trafficking have financed the AUC, a practice he has said he would end.56 Some of the paramilitary groups most implicated in drug-trafficking, such as the Central Bolívar Block (Bloque Central Bolívar, BCB), initially rejected this offer, but later said they would honor Castaño's decision.57

In an apparent effort to gain political respectability and status as a possible interlocutor in future peace negotiations, the new-style AUC said it would avoid not only involvement in drugs, but also massacres, "disappearances," kidnappings, and "cruel practices" in the future. It would "respect international humanitarian law to the extent possible in this kind of war."58

On November 29, 2002, Castaño sent an open letter to President Uribe announcing that the AUC would cease hostilities unilaterally and indefinitely from December 1 and declaring his readiness to begin negotiations with the government about the terms of a future demobilization. The letter warned, however, that should the guerrillas enter paramilitary-controlled territory, the AUC would exercise its "right to legitimate defense." Castaño offered to hand over immediately to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative child combatants who had been "liberated by the self-defense groups from the guerrilla forces."59

A day later, two of the dissident paramilitary groups, the BCB and the Conquerors of Arauca (Vencedores de Arauca), announced a ceasefire beginning December 5. That day, the BCB handed over nineteen child combatants, aged fifteen to seventeen, to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Public Advocate's office, and the ICBF.60 One of the BCB commanders announced that the group would cease to recruit children and would surrender others still in its ranks.61 In June 2003, the BCB followed up by releasing forty fighters--thirty-eight boys and two girls--to authorities.62

That same month, a paramilitary group calling itself the Self-Defense Group of Meta and Vichada (Autodefensas de Meta y Vichada) claimed that soldiers belonging to the army's Seventh Brigade attacked a unit preparing to release child combatants to UNICEF and the ICBF. Eleven paramilitaries reportedly died.63 The office of Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace confirmed that a release of child combatants had been discussed with the group and was imminent. The army denied, however, that its soldiers had killed children.64 An investigation by the office of the coroner concluded that the dead were all adults, and the paramilitary group later acknowledged that its initial allegations were incorrect.65

One of the longest-serving paramilitaries we interviewed, a lanky boy named Uriel, told Human Rights Watch that he had lived in a paramilitary camp in the Montes de María region of the department of Sucre. He said that there were about 200 people in the camp, some sixty of whom were children, including some as young as six.66 Another former paramilitary, Óscar, who joined the AUC when he was twelve, said that nearly half of the 800 trainees at his camp were children.67

Leonel, who was fourteen when he joined the paramilitaries, said that there were another fifty children at the training camp he attended in the department of Valle del Cauca, but he insisted that the paramilitaries didn't train many children. "In fact, they didn't want me because I was a minor," he said. "They only accepted me as a favor to my contacts."68

The AUC has not released any data regarding the number of children in its ranks. However, based on the information available, Human Rights Watch believes that the proportion of children in the ranks of paramilitary forces is somewhat less than in guerrilla forces. Based on our research, we estimate that no more than 20 percent of AUC forces, including its urban cadres, are under eighteen, or 2,200 individuals.

1Human Rights Watch interview with "Ángela," Bogotá, June 2, 2002. "Ángela" and "Juanita" are not real names. All of the names of children given in this report, as well as individuals they refer to in interviews, have been invented for the safety of the children involved.

2Carlos Medina Gallego, Autodefensas, Paramilitares y Narcotráfico en Colombia. Santafé de Bogotá: Documentos Periodísticos, 1990.

3Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Castaño, July 9, 1996, cited in Human Rights Watch, War without Quarter: Colombia and International Humanitarian Law (New York: Human Rights Watch, October 1998), p. 102. The report is available online at

4In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, this report defines as a child "every human being under the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." CRC, Article 1, G.A. Res. 44/25, U.N. Doc. A/RES/44/25 (adopted November 20, 1989; entered into force September 2, 1990).

5The group most identified with the recruitment of young people--though not children--was the April 19 Movement, or M-19. For an insider history of the M-19, see Vera Grabe, Razones de vida (Santafé de Bogotá: Planeta, 2000).

6Defensoría del Pueblo, "El Conflicto Armado en Colombia y los menores de edad," Boletín No. 2, Santafé de Bogotá, May 1996.

7 Defensoría del Pueblo, "Informe Sobre los Derechos Humanos de la Niñez en Colombia durante el año 2001," p. 2 [online], (retrieved on May 27, 2003).

8Defensoría del Pueblo, "La Niñez y sus Derechos," Boletín No. 8, 2002, p. 3 [online], (retrieved on May 27, 2003).

9Rafael Orduz Medina, "Preventing boys, girls and children from taking part in the war, a priority for all of us," cited in Symposium I, "Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia," August 24, 2000 [online] (retrieved on June 5, 2003).

10In other reports on children in armed conflicts, Human Rights Watch has used the term "child soldiers" to refer both to children serving in the state's armed forces and in forces opposed to the government. To avoid confusion, however, we use the term "child combatants" in this report, since the term "soldiers" is used in Colombia only to refer to government forces. Combatants, as we use the term, includes both those engaged directly in fighting and those supporting combat actions.

11Of the 112 children Human Rights Watch interviewed, one belonged to a minor insurgency group known as the Revolutionary Army of the People (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, ERP), and another did not provide the name of the group to which he had belonged. A small number of the children belonged to more than one group. In addition, three children we interviewed, whom we do not include in the figure of 112, either declined to talk about their past in detail or gave questionable information that was contradicted by other former combatants. A complete log of interviews is available as an appendix.

12The rationale used to obtain estimates for the three irregular groups is explained later in the report.

13 For instance, the office of the Public Advocate estimates that there are at least 6,000 child combatants in Colombia. "En Colombia, 6.000 menores hacen parte de los grupos armados," El Colombiano, September 26, 2002 [online], (retrieved on September 26, 2002). The ICBF has a slightly higher estimate of 7,000 child combatants. Neither the Public Advocate nor the ICBF, however, include the urban militias in their estimates (e-mail communication from Julián Aguirre, coordinator of the ICBF's Program of Attention to Victims of Violence, May 12, 2003). The estimate of one-third is generally accepted to be accurate by groups dealing with child combatants in Colombia. Inclusion of the militias would bring the ICBF's estimate total close to Human Rights Watch's estimate of 11,000. The Colombia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights gives a higher estimate than Human Rights Watch: 14,000 child combatants, of which 7,000 belong to the regular forces and 7,000 to the urban militias. The UNHCHR noted an increase in recruitment of children into urban militias, reflecting an intensification of the conflict in Colombia's cities during 2002. See Informe Anual del Alto Comisionado sobre Derechos Humanos en Colombia, February 24, 2003, Doc. E/CN.4/2003/13. Available at (retrieved on May 19, 2003).

14The recruitment of young children remains a current practice, judging from children's testimonies, since the majority of these children entered the ranks of guerrillas or paramilitaries between 1998 and 2002. Moreover, our findings regarding the high number of young combatants are confirmed by a study conducted by the Public Advocate. That study, based on a sample of eighty-six former child combatants, found similar proportions (61 percent). Bernardo Bejarano González, "Se disparan deserciones en guerrilla," El Tiempo, August 26, 2002.

15Human Rights Watch interview with "Bernardo," Bucaramanga, June 7, 2002.

16Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107-228).

17 U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002, Colombia chapter, March 31, 2003 [online], (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

18 For a breakdown of amounts, see Colombia Project, "U.S. Aid to Colombia Since 1997: Summary Tables," Center for International Policy [online], (retrieved on May 7, 2003).

19 U.S. Agency for International Development, "Colombia $119.5 million for Economic, Social and Institutional Development" [online], (retrieved on May 7, 2003).

20 U.S. Agency for International Development, Latin America and the Caribbean Overview, FY 2004 Congressional Budget Justification [online], (retrieved May 7, 2003).

21U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002, Colombia chapter, March 31, 2003.

22Human Rights Watch, War without Quarter, p. 131.

23E-mail message from Stewart Tuttle, Political Section, U.S. Embassy-Bogotá, May 9, 2003; and "Pastrana queda en deuda con el país, según balance de expertos," El Tiempo, August, 4, 2002.

24 (retrieved October 15, 2000).

25Human Rights Watch, War without Quarter, pp. 131-91.

26Along with Marulanda, the members of the General Secretariat are Timoleón "Timochenko" Jiménez, Raúl Reyes, Iván Márquez, Alfonso Cano, Efraín Guzmán, and Jorge Briceño Suárez, known as "Mono Jojoy." (The name Mono Jojoy can be roughly translated as light-skinned jungle animal.) With the exception of Suárez, all use "war names" in place of their given names. A list is available at (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

27For a history of the FARC-EP's early years, see Arturo Alape, Las Vidas de Pedro Antonio Marín Manuel Marulanda Vélez Tirofijo (Santafé de Bogotá: Planeta, 1989).

28"Condena a 'Tirofijo' por menores," El Tiempo, June 4, 2003.

29 Banco de Datos, Cifras de la Violencia 2002 [online], (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

30See Human Rights Watch, "Colombia: FARC Responsible for Atrocities," May 8, 2002. For more information on the FARC-EP's use of gas cylinder bombs, see Human Rights Watch, "Beyond Negotiation: International Humanitarian Law and its Application to the Conduct of the FARC-EP," Vol. 13, No. 3 (B), August 2001. The report is available online at

31For more on the Zone and human rights concerns, see Human Rights Watch, "Beyond Negotiation."

32In the unit designations used by the FARC-EP, a "bloque," or block, is an alliance of fronts and exists in a defined region of the country. Among the largest and most active FARC-EP units is the Southern Block, which operates in southeastern Colombia. Each block roughly corresponds to an army division. A front corresponds roughly to an army brigade and can contain hundreds of fighters.

33Human Rights Watch, War without Quarter, pp. 161-84.

34Bautista is one of the original members of the UC-ELN. The UC-ELN maintains a web site with interviews held with its leaders at (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

35 In areas like the department of Arauca, for instance, formerly a UC-ELN stronghold, its units have either been absorbed by or allied with the stronger FARC-EP. "Le reconquista de Arauca," Semana, February 1, 2003 [online], (retrieved on May 6, 2003).

36U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002, Colombia chapter, March 31, 2003.

37Liam Craig Best, "An interview with ELN commander Antonio García," Information Network of the Americas, Colombia Report, August 27, 2000, (retrieved September 5, 2002).


39 Banco de Datos, Cifras de la Violencia 2002, (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

40They include the Peasant Self-Defense Group of Córdoba y Urabá (Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba and Urabá, ACCU), the largest and most public group; the Mountain Self-Defense Group (Autodefensas de la Sierra), based on the north coast; the Southern Cesar Self-Defense Group (Autodefensas del Sur del Cesar); the Tolima Self-Defense Group (Autodefensas del Tolima); the Puerto Boyacá Self-Defense Group (Autodefensas de Puerto Boyacá); Ramón Isaza's Self-Defense Group (Autodefensas de Ramón Isaza), in the Middle Magdalena region; and the Cundinamarca Self-Defense Group (Autodefensas de Cundinamarca). The ACCU is further subdivided into seventeen "fronts" and "blocks" that include units in southern Colombia, Bogotá, Antioquia, Casanare, and the Pacific Coast. The AUC maintains a web site at (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

41Although using the same terminology of "block" and "front" as guerrillas, paramilitaries in similarly named units number far fewer. "Disidencia de los paramilitares acusa a Carlos Castaño de haber permitido los vínculos con el narcotráfico," El Tiempo, September 30, 2003.

42Interview with Salvatore Mancuso, Newsweek, reproduced on the official AUC website, (retrieved on October 20, 2002).

43The AUC's units and their geographical locations are available at (retrieved on May 6, 2003).

44For a history of the ACCU, see Mauricio Aranguren Molina, Mi Confesión: Carlos Castaño revela sus secretos (Santafé de Bogotá: Editorial Oveja Negra, 2001).

45Human Rights Watch, War without Quarter, pp. 100-31.

46See especially Human Rights Watch, The "Sixth Division": Military-Paramilitary Ties and U.S. Policy in Colombia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001) [online],; and The Ties that Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2000) [online],

47 In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch demonstrated how the attorney general appointed in July 2001, Luis Camilo Osorio, has undermined criminal investigations of these abuses, reversing much of the progress made by his predecessors. Human Rights Watch, "A Wrong Turn: A Record of the Colombia Attorney General's Office," Vol. 14, No. 2 (B), November 2002. The report is available online at

48Banco de Datos, (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

49Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Castaño, July 9, 1996; and Colombian government intelligence analyst, Bogotá, December 2, 1997.

50Interview with Carlos Castaño, September 5, 2002 [online], (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

51Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, Commission on Human Rights, 57th session, March 20, 2001, 6:110

52In April 2003, the group, which claims a force of 3,500 fighters, announced a break with the AUC on the issue of talks with the government, though its status as an ally remained unclear. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, Commission on Human Rights, 58th session, February 28, 2002, 6:172; 7:B:208; and "Autodefensas del Casanare afirman que silencio del Gobierno indica rompimiento unilateral de acercamientos," El Tiempo, April 20, 2003 [online], noticias/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR-1063314.html (retrieved on April 21, 2003).

53The designation expires automatically after for two years, unless the group is redesignated. See U.S. Department of State, "Fact Sheet: Foreign Terrorist Organizations," May 23, 2003 [online], (retrieved on June 10, 2003).

54The three that have been publicly indicted are Castaño; ACCU chief Salvatore Mancuso; and Juan Carlos Sierra Ramírez. The U.S. Justice Department accused the three of importing over seventeen tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe since 1997. According to the indictment, Carlos Castaño directed cocaine production and distribution activities in AUC-controlled regions of Colombia, including protecting coca processing laboratories, setting quality and price controls for cocaine, and arranging for and protecting cocaine shipments both within and outside of Colombia. U.S. Department of Justice, "Attorney General remarks on indictment in AUC drug trafficking case," September 24, 2002.

55Scott Wilson, "Cocaine Trade Causes Rifts in Colombian War," Washington Post, September 17, 2002.

56Aranguren, Mi Confesión: Carlos Castaño revela sus secretos, pp. 205-19.

57"'Cumbre' de 2.000 paramilitares reunificó a las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (Auc)," El Tiempo, September 7, 2002.

58 Cecilia Orozco, "No soy un trofeo de Guerra," interview with Carlos Castaño, September 5, 2002 [online], (retrieved on December 8, 2002).

59 Letter from Carlos Castaño to President Álvaro Uribe, November 29, 2002; and "Autodefensas de Colombia silencian sus fusiles con miras a la paz," El Colombiano, December 1, 2002 [online], (retrieved on May 2, 2002).

60U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002, Colombia chapter, March 31, 2003 [online], (retrieved on May 1, 2003).

61In a joint statement published on the BCB's website, these two blocks claimed to have conducted a census which numbered their combatants at 5,670. It stated "categorically" that the two blocks had no children in their ranks and that "exceptional cases" would be handed over to the ICBF or the Public Advocate's office., undated statement, (retrieved on December 7, 2002).

62 "Bloque Central Bolívar de los paramilitares entregó a Bienestar Familiar a 40 combatientes menores de edad," El Tiempo, June 12, 2003 [online] (retrieved on June 12, 2003).

63 "'Paras' del Meta suspenden contactos con el Gobierno," El Tiempo, June 7, 2003 [online], NACION_HISTORICO/2003-06-07/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR_HIST-1119938.html (retrieved on June 7, 2003).

64 "Muertos en combate doce terroristas de las autodefensas ilegales," Agencia de Noticias del Ejército Nacional de Colombia, June 6, 2003; and "COMUNICADO DE LA OFICINA DEL ALTO COMISIONADO PARA LA PAZ," June 6, 2003 [online], (retrieved on June 9, 2003).

65 "Autodefensas de Meta y Vichada reanudarían contactos con el Gobierno Nacional," El Tiempo, June 10, 2003 [online], (retrieved on June 10, 2003).

66Human Rights Watch interview with "Uriel," Bogotá, May 31, 2002.

67Human Rights Watch interview with "Óscar," Medellín, June 5, 2002.

68Human Rights Watch interview with "Leonel," Bogotá, June 1, 2002.

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September 2003