IV. Confessions under the Justice and Peace Law

The 2006 Constitutional Court decision set the stage for a process that could, in theory, help to uncover the truth about paramilitaries’ crimes, dismantle their operations and networks, and hold their collaborators accountable. In practice, however, three years after approval of the Justice and Peace Law and two years after the ruling, the promise of the Court’s decision has yet to be fulfilled.

The Colombian government failed to invest adequate resources in institutions, like the Office of the Attorney General, that were charged with implementing the law. And its permissiveness with the paramilitary leadership meant that they were under little pressure to turn over their ill-gotten wealth, to disclose the full truth about their accomplices, or even to cease their criminal activity.

In early 2007, the Justice and Peace Unit of the Office of the Attorney General started taking confessions of paramilitaries who applied for the benefits of the Justice and Peace Law. It is important to note that while the Constitutional Court ruling requires that paramilitaries give a “full and truthful” confession in order to receive reduced sentences, the attorney general’s interpretation of this standard is that applicants for the law’s benefits are only required to provide a “versión libre”—a voluntary statement to prosecutors without taking an oath to tell the truth. Whether or not the confession is complete and truthful is up to courts to decide. 42

While this process had many flaws and moved slowly, by mid-2008 it started to produce some important results. In their confessions, some paramilitaries started to offer bits of information that—while incomplete and selective—helped to clarify some of the truth about their groups’ activities and accomplices. Moreover, as the Supreme Court moved forward in its investigations of parapolitics (described later in this report), paramilitary commanders found it increasingly difficult to avoid talking about their links to the political system.

Problems in the Taking of Confessions

Flawed Lists of Applicants

One reason for the delay in the process is that the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and the Ministry of Interior and Justice waited for over a year after the law’s approval before giving the Attorney General’s Office a list of 2,696 applicants for the benefits of the Justice and Peace Law in August 2006.43 It then took a few more months before the Attorney General’s Office began interviewing the applicants in December 2006.

According to Attorney General Mario Iguarán, the delay was due to the fact that the list of applicants that the High Commissioner for Peace compiled and the Ministry of Interior and Justice gave to Iguarán’s office did not contain basic data identifying the applicants. In an interview at the time, Iguarán stated that of the 2,696 “not even 15 percent were fully identified … all we have is a name with a document ID number. At a minimum we were expecting an authenticated photocopy of the ID document and some description of the person.” In addition, Iguarán stated, “some of those who were in La Ceja and are now in Itagüí were not on the list of applicants.”44

Prosecutors have also faced difficulties because paramilitaries are sometimes listed as having demobilized as part of a different paramilitary block, in another part of the country, from the one to which they belonged.45 In fact, Jorge 40’s computer contains evidence suggesting that one of the most important mid-level commanders of the Northern Block had deliberately gone through a demobilization process with another paramilitary block, while remaining active with the Northern Block, apparently to confuse authorities.46

Finally, the lists are incomplete in the sense that the vast majority of paramilitaries, who are no doubt responsible for a variety of serious crimes (including crimes against humanity and war crimes), have avoided the process entirely. These individuals demobilized under Laws 418 of 1997 and 782 of 2002, which the government interpreted to allow these individuals to receive pardons for their membership in the groups without being seriously interrogated or investigated.47 Among those who benefited are several paramilitary commanders who have remained completely free: as documented by the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), ten individuals from the original list of “representatives” of paramilitaries for purposes of the negotiations never applied to the Justice and Peace Law.48 CCJ also notes that four paramilitary chiefs were set free after initially being arrested because prosecutors did not have any charges pending against them.49 Prosecutors should instead have interviewed these individuals in detail about their groups’ atrocities and accomplices, and should have investigated their responsibility as commanders for the atrocities attributed to their groups.

Insufficient Resources

One substantial obstacle to the effectiveness of the process has been inadequate staffing: the government initially assigned only 20 prosecutors to the Justice and Peace Unit, which is charged with interviewing applicants for reduced sentences under the law. All of those 20 were supposed to be drawn from other units of the Attorney General’s Office. This did not even allow for one Justice and Peace prosecutor for each of the 37 paramilitary blocks participating in the demobilization process.50

Justice and Peace prosecutors also told Human Rights Watch that they had limited resources to travel, and that they required more support from the police and army to travel to different regions to interview witnesses and conduct investigations.51

Security has also been a serious concern for prosecutors. One Justice and Peace prosecutor told Human Rights Watch she was concerned because unknown individuals had approached her daughter and had gone to her house and asked for her. 52 In Colombia, where kidnappings and killings of investigators have been common, such events are reasonably understood to be a threat.

At least two investigators from the CTI (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, investigators attached to the Office of the Attorney General) and one police agent have been killed since the start of the paramilitaries’ Justice and Peace confessions in 2007, apparently because the agents were investigating paramilitaries’ crimes.53

Only recently, and after much criticism, has the government issued a decree authorizing a substantial increase in personnel for the Attorney General’s Office.54 According to Luis González, the Justice and Peace Unit will soon have 39 new lead prosecutors, and 132 supporting prosecutors.55 However, because of the extradition in May 2008 of most of the top paramilitary leadership to the United States, the prosecutors will now face new obstacles in obtaining information, namely, the fact that the most important suspects may no longer have an incentive to cooperate.

Most Applicants Have Withdrawn from the Process

The Attorney General’s Office states that 3,431 persons have applied for benefits under the Justice and Peace law, that it has initiated 1,400 interviews under the law, and that it has completed the interview process for 1,142 applicants.56 These numbers are deceptive, however. In fact, as of this writing, fewer than 300 paramilitaries had been actively confessing and providing information to prosecutors.

The reason for this is that most persons who have been interviewed have simply stated that they want to withdraw from the process. At the start of all the interviews, the Attorney General’s Office, pursuant to government decrees, has been asking the applicants to “ratify” their interest in participating in the process.57 Nearly always, the applicant has stated his desire to withdraw his application, saying that he never meant to apply, and thus leading the Attorney General’s Office to simply stop the interview.58

Accordingly, the 1,142 interviews that the prosecutors have “completed” cannot be considered substantive interviews that contribute to solving cases or uncovering the truth.

Luis González, director of the Justice and Peace Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, said in July 2008 that the office was really conducting only about 289 interviews that were substantive and went beyond the process of ratification or withdrawal from the process.59

In fact, the Attorney General’s Office has, in some cases, deliberately scheduled a series of very short “ratification” sessions with those people it has identified as not already having criminal charges pending against them. Human Rights Watch viewed one document in which Luis González stated his office’s intention to call over 2,000 paramilitaries to render their “versión libre” in short 20-30 minute sessions because they were not under investigation for any crime at the time and could therefore simply be removed from the process.60 Unfortunately, this means that prosecutors are not taking advantage of the opportunity to question these persons carefully about why they signed up, how their group operated, what crimes they committed, and what they know about others’ crimes.

Prosecutors say that many of the applicants they have interviewed said that nobody had explained to them that they were being signed up for the Justice and Peace Law.

Usually, applicants who withdraw from the process know that they are not already under investigation for serious crimes. Thus, if they withdraw they can usually go free.

It is likely that more applicants will withdraw, according to González. “There are about 2,200 applicants who do not have criminal cases” pending against them, he said.61 Nearly all those individuals, he thinks, are likely to withdraw, leaving only at most 1,200 in the Justice and Peace process.62

When asked why the prosecutors do not take advantage of the opportunity to question these individuals more fully, González stated that “we do not ask them about other facts because the process is voluntary and if he says that he didn’t participate then we have to respect their guarantees.”63

But even if these persons do not want to confess their own crimes, another official pointed out that they could be questioned about what they witnessed. “That’s the idea, to get rid of everything in the ratification hearings,” he said. “But … we have to interrogate them about what they know about many acts, about the public security forces, about the military. If they didn’t participate in crimes that are subject to Law 975, then what did they do? They were all cooks or guards with a radio?”64

Types of Abuses Confessed

As of February 22, 2008, according to the Office of the Attorney General, applicants for the Justice and Peace Law had confessed to 714 homicides, 51 cases of forced disappearance, 36 instances of forced displacement (the numbers are not specific as to whether this is displacement of individuals or communities), 8 cases of drug trafficking, 4 cases of money laundering, 2 cases of illegal recruitment, and 109 other unspecified crimes.65 They had also mentioned (as crimes they would later confess in further detail) 3,066 homicides, 117 instances of forced disappearance, 88 cases of extortion, 6 instances of forced displacement, 2 instances of money laundering, 1 rape, 1 case of illicit recruitment, and 390 other unspecified crimes.66

Some of the paramilitaries’ statements have shed light on the magnitude of their atrocities. For example, HH stated last year that between 1995 and mid-1996 alone his group committed between 1,200 and 1,500 killings in the Urabá region.67

Other paramilitary leaders’ confessions have addressed specific unsolved crimes, including several killings of trade unionists. For example, Mancuso described the 2001 assassination of the then president of the USO oil workers union, Aury Sara Marrugo, under orders of Castaño, because they considered the union president a guerrilla. He also described the attempted assassination of then-union leader and later congressman Wilson Borja, also under Castaño’s orders. 68 Edgar Ignacio Fierro (“Don Antonio”) has admitted giving the order for the assassination of trade unionist Miguel Angel Espinosa Rangel.69 HH has spoken of the killing on July 2, 1996, of “Baldovino Mosquera Balas … leader of the union on the property where he worked; it was 7 at night when several armed men arrived and killed him along with another man and a 9-month-old baby.”70

However, so far these confessions have included little mention of such crimes as recruitment of children as combatants, torture, sexual violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, money laundering, voter intimidation, threats, or smuggling, even though paramilitary groups are widely known to have engaged in such crimes. For example, 91 women have reportedly filed complaints of sexual violence in the context of the Justice and Peace process, and experts have documented many more cases of women who were raped—often in front of their husbands who the paramilitaries forced to watch and then killed—but are too afraid to come forward or simply do not know their rights. But so far the paramilitary leadership has said nothing at all about sexual violence—in fact, Mancuso has reportedly denied that sexual violence could have occurred, saying it was “forbidden” by their rules.71 Similarly, HH has said that “if there were excesses or forced pregnancies … that was not our order or our responsibility, but rather often situations that presented themselves among the boys in the region where we were or with girls from the same region …. If it was proven that someone committed a rape the penalty was death.”72

Child recruitment is another issue that most paramilitary leaders have avoided addressing. For example, in his confession, “Jorge 40” claimed that his group had the order never to engage in child recruitment. When questioned about children who authorities had found in the Northern Block, he denied knowledge of their existence.73

Similarly, as of February 22, 2008, according to the Attorney General’s Office, paramilitaries had mentioned their involvement in only 42 instances of forced displacement of civilians. That is only a tiny fraction of the cases of forced displacement for which paramilitaries may be responsible. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that around two million Colombians are officially registered as internally displaced, while approximately one million more may have been displaced without being registered by the government.74 In a recent national poll of persons registered as displaced, the largest group—37 percent—reported that they were pushed out by paramilitary groups.75

According to González, these issues have not been fully covered because the paramilitaries are still in the first stage of their confessions and the prosecutors have yet to interrogate them about crimes that they do not confess on their own. 76 Moreover, the Attorney General’s Office has decided, he says, to focus first on obtaining information about bodies and common graves (as of February 2008, the office said it had conducted 1,056 exhumations of graves and found 1,256 bodies, of which 132 have been returned to their families).77

Paramilitaries’ Statements about Accomplices

Some paramilitary commanders have made very significant—albeit selective and often vague—statements about their accomplices in the military and government and about their financial backers. As of February 22, 2008, these statements had enabled the Justice and Peace Unit of the Attorney General’s Office to issue information to other prosecutors so investigations would be opened into the vice-president, 11 senators, 8 congressmen, 1 former congressman, 1 cabinet member, four governors, 27 mayors, 1 councilman, 1 deputy, 10 “political leaders,” 10 officials from the Attorney General’s Office, 39 members of the army, 52 members of the police, 56 civilians, and 2 members of the National Intelligence Service (DAS).78

However, many questions remain unanswered. According to prosecutors, the attorney general’s resolutions governing the confessions provide that applicants are supposed to talk about “other perpetrators” in the second phase of the confession.79 Since most applicants have yet to complete the first phase, the issue of accomplices has yet to be the focus of specific interrogation by prosecutors. And given their recent extradition to the United States, it is unclear whether the extradited paramilitary commanders will ever answer the remaining questions.

Statements Implicating Members of the Security Forces

Salvatore Mancuso has mentioned collaborating with several members of the military and police. Among others, he has spoken of retired Generals Rito Alejo del Río and Iván Ramírez, as well as the now deceased Gen. Alfonso Manosalva and Col. Lino Sánchez as officers who shared intelligence with him.80 Mancuso has charged that Ramírez met with him and paramilitary strongman Carlos Castaño to coordinate the expansion of the Northern Block of the AUC.81 He also has claimed that he conducted joint operations with deceased general and former army commander Martín Orlando Carreño Sandoval.82 These statements corroborate evidence that Human Rights Watch and others have gathered and reported on for more than 20 years about the military-paramilitary nexus that allowed the paramilitaries to commit massacre after massacre of civilians largely unimpeded and with impunity.

The allegations against Del Río are of particular significance. Gen. Rito Alejo del Río had previously been under investigation for alleged links to paramilitaries while he commanded the 17th Brigade, located in the Urabá region in northwestern Colombia, between 1995 and 1997.83 The evidence against Del Río was compelling enough to prompt then-President Andrés Pastrana to dismiss Del Río from the army in 1998. The U.S. government also canceled his visa to the United States in July 1999 on the grounds that there was credible evidence that implicated him in “international terrorism,” drug trafficking, and arms trafficking.84 Shortly after the visa cancellation, president Uribe (then a candidate for the presidency) delivered the keynote speech at a dinner honoring Del Río and another general, Fernando Millán, whose visa had also been cancelled. According to Newsweek, Uribe, was “particularly chummy with Alejo del Río … whom Uribe met as governor when the general was commander of the 17th Army Brigade …. The candidate characterizes Alejo del Río as an ‘honorable’ man and denies he ever violated anyone’s human rights.”85 The investigation of Del Río suffered a serious blow with the entry of Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio, who demanded the resignation of the prosecutor in the Del Río case. The prosecutor who had ordered Gen. Del Río’s July 2001 arrest was forced to flee Colombia shortly afterwards because of threats on her life. In March 2004, Osorio announced that he would not file charges against del Río and the case was closed.86

In addition to Mancuso, another paramilitary commander who operated in the Urabá region, Ever Veloza, alias HH, has spoken of Del Río’s collaboration with paramilitaries, stating in an interview with Semana magazine that if he had to rate Del Río’s collaboration with his group in Uraba on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most collaboration “from Del Río y all the public security forces I think I can rate collaboration with a 10.”87

Based in part on the paramilitaries’ statements, the Office of the Attorney General recently opened a new investigation of Gen. Del Río for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in conjunction with paramilitaries.88 Also, the Office of the Inspector General has filed a petition with the Supreme Court, requesting that it order that the original investigation—closed by Luis Camilo Osorio—be reopened.89

Victims’ groups are concerned that the new investigation the Attorney General’s Office has opened could be shut down if Del Río claims that, as a former general, he is entitled to be investigated only directly by the attorney general himself. Iguarán has, so far, delegated the investigation to a prosecutor in the Human Rights Unit of the office. In previous cases (for example, the investigation of Jorge Noguera, former director of the intelligence service), the courts have annulled investigations, ruling that the attorney general could not delegate his duty to investigate in such situations.90 Iguarán told Human Rights Watch that he disagrees with the ruling in the Noguera cases, and that in any case, the situation with Del Río is distinct from that of Noguera because Del Río is under investigation for crimes against humanity and so, Iguarán says, Del Río is not entitled to special jurisdiction as a former general.91

Another former paramilitary, Luis Adrián Palacio, has said that General Mario Montoya, who is currently the chief of Colombia’s Army, collaborated with paramilitaries. According to the Washington Post, in a separate interview “Palacio recounted an April 2002 episode in which he says Montoya funneled weapons to a potent paramilitary militia commanded in [Medellín] by Carlos Mauricio García, better known by his alias, Rodrigo 00.”92 Montoya has accused Palacio of lying to secure an early release from prison, but the Post reports that this is not credible. The paper points out that, according to the authorities:”Palacio could have been released within a year, having won credit for time served and good behavior. But joining the demobilization process, and testifying against Montoya while admitting to more than 20 homicides, could mean two to three additional years in jail.”93

The allegations against Montoya are also not new. In 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had obtained intelligence stating that:

Montoya and a paramilitary group jointly planned and conducted a military operation [known as Operation Orion] in 2002 to eliminate Marxist guerrillas from poor areas around Medellin …. At least 14 people were killed during the operation, and opponents of Uribe allege that dozens more disappeared in its aftermath…. The intelligence report, reviewed by The Times, includes information from another Western intelligence service and indicates that U.S. officials have received similar reports from other reliable sources.94

Previously, the Office of the Attorney General had exhumed over a dozen bodies in an area next to Comuna 13, and it is reported to have stated that the bodies were those of “residents of Comuna 13 who were detained on the streets and later ‘disappeared’.”95

The Post has reported that the Office of the Attorney General has opened an initial investigation into the latest allegations against Montoya, though it has yet to open a formal investigation.96 The government reacted defensively: the minister of foreign affairs charged that the Post article is false, while Uribe has defended Montoya as “an honest soldier of the nation.”97 Attorney General Mario Iguarán confirmed, in an interview with Human Rights Watch, that while there was no formal investigation underway yet, there is a “previous” investigation with a case number.98

Statements Implicating Politicians

Mancuso has also implicated a significant number of politicians. For example, Mancuso has asserted that current Vice President Francisco Santos collaborated with his group when Santos was a journalist. Mancuso claims that Santos met with him and other paramilitaries, including Carlos Castaño, on several occasions, at which he asked them (and repeatedly encouraged them) to create the “Capital Block” (a new paramilitary group under the leadership of the AUC) in Bogotá.99 According to media reports, another paramilitary commander, “El Alemán,” who Mancuso said was present at one of the meetings, has said that he saw Santos greet Mancuso, but that he was not present for the rest of the meeting.100 The Office of the Attorney General opened a preliminary investigation of Santos based on Mancuso’s statements, but subsequently shut it down, concluding that Santos’s contacts with the paramilitaries had been appropriate considering his role as a journalist.101

Mancuso also claims that now Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, during the administration of Colombian President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998), met with him and Carlos Castaño in Cordoba, and proposed a collaboration between the paramilitaries, the FARC, and others for “a sort of coup” in which they would get Samper to resign and have a new Constituent Assembly called, with Santos at the helm.102

Mancuso has also spoken about having met with or made political pacts with several specific congresspersons, including Eleonora Pineda, Miguel Alfonso de la Espriella, Rocío Arias, Eric Morris, Muriel Benito Rebollo, and others who have been prosecuted for links to paramilitaries.103

Another commander who is reported to have spoken about his links with politicians—including congressmen—is Hernán Giraldo, head of the “Tayrona Resistance Block,” which operated in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.104

Statements Implicating Businesses and Economic Backers

Mancuso asserts that the paramilitaries enjoyed the financial support of many cattle-ranchers and businessmen—to such a degree that he has even listed a large number of businessmen from Sucre who he says met with the paramilitary leadership to plan the formation of paramilitary groups in that region.105 He has also mentioned several major corporations as having supported the paramilitaries. Among others, he spoke of the multinational banana companies Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte as having made payments to paramilitaries on the coast.106 He says that the major Colombian companies Postobón and Bavaria made similar contributions, as did coal and coal transportation companies.107

HH has stated that the “Convivir” known as “Papagayo” in the Urabá region of Colombia was an intermediary for contributions to the paramilitaries by banana-growing companies and other economic sectors in that region.108 The “Convivirs” were “Special Vigilance and Private Security Services” (Servicios de Vigilancia y Seguridad Privada) groups established by decree in 1994.109 To form a Convivir, individuals petitioned for a license to provide their own security in combat areas where the government claimed that it could not fully guarantee public safety. Convivirs were authorized to gather intelligence for the security forces, join maneuvers, and use weapons banned for private ownership, including machine guns, mortars, grenades, and assault rifles. Although CONVIVIRs received a government license, the identities of their members remained anonymous even to local authorities. Human Rights Watch documented countless abuses by the Convivirs, which were often led by known paramilitary commanders and operated without proper licenses.110 When President Uribe was governor of Antioquia, he was a strong proponent of the establishment of the Convivirs, and repeatedly denied claims that these groups were covers for paramilitaries.111

HH has also stated that at one point in the Urabá region, “all the banana companies” were paying the paramilitaries 3 cents for every box of bananas exported. And he has noted that when the paramilitaries arrived in Urabá, “we went to the fincas [the farms or land] and pressured the workers to work because there had been a continuous series of strikes and orders … not to work and not to make the shipments.”112

It’s expected that HH’s statements will be explained further by Raúl Hasbún, alias “Pedro Bonito,” a former banana industry executive who has recently started talking about his involvement in paramilitary groups in the banana-growing region.113

In 2007 Chiquita Brands accepted a deal with the United States Department of Justice under which it pleaded guilty to engaging in transactions with terrorists for having made over 100 payments to the AUC totaling over $1.7 million between 1997 and February 2004, through its subsidiary Banadex. Chiquita agreed to pay a $25 million fine.114 The company alleged that payments made were protection money to prevent the AUC from killing its employees and attacking its facilities.115

Unanswered Questions

While paramilitaries’ statements have resulted in some important revelations, many more questions remain unanswered.

Technically, as already noted, the commanders’ confessions have not even concluded their first phase, in which the commanders are supposed to describe in general terms the crimes they plan to confess. It is only in the second phase of the confessions, according to the attorney general’s regulations on the process, that they are expected to provide specific details about each crime and their accomplices. And it is not until the third and final phase that prosecutors are supposed to ask them about crimes or facts they do not mention in the earlier phases.

Some of the allegations made by paramilitaries have yet to result in formal investigations of the implicated persons. For example, even though it has been more than a year since Mancuso first spoke of having collaborated with Gen. Iván Ramírez, it is unclear whether the Attorney General’s office has made progress in investigating those allegations. There is no formal investigation against Ramírez for links to paramilitaries based on Mancuso’s statements; according to Attorney General Mario Iguarán, the office is still conducting an initial review of the allegations in what is called a “previous” investigation.116

There are several military officers against whom Human Rights Watch documented credible allegations of links with paramilitaries, about whom Mancuso and others have yet to be meaningfully questioned. Among them is Gen. Fernando Millán, an officer who was dismissed by Pastrana and whose US visa was revoked at the same time as Rito Alejo del Río’s for alleged links with paramilitaries. Another is Gen. Carlos Ospina Ovalle, who Uribe named as commander of the Colombian Armed Forces and who at least one witness has linked to the 1997 paramilitary massacre in El Aro when he was commander of the 4th Brigade of the army. Two more are Gen. Jaime Uscátegui, who has been prosecuted for the Mapiripán paramilitary massacre, and Gen. Rodrigo Quiñónez, who was investigated for the Chengue massacre and was the commanding officer in the region where the El Salado massacre occurred. Those cases are examined in greater detail below.

Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias Don Berna, said little, though he did mention one police colonel, Danilo González (who had also been previously mentioned by Mancuso), but who Don Berna said is now deceased.117 As the head of the paramilitary groups operating in one of Colombia’s leading cities, Medellín, Don Berna should have had a great deal more to say. In the last session of his confession before he was extradited, he is said to have announced that in the following session he planned to talk about a 2005 massacre at the town of San José de Apartadó, in which members of the military have been implicated.118

In addition, paramilitary leaders’ confessions have the potential to contribute significantly to uncovering the truth about major human rights cases that have been pending for years or even decades. In some of their confessions, leaders have started to talk about these cases; however many questions remain unanswered—including, importantly, questions about their accomplices. The following are some of the emblematic cases in which important questions have yet to be answered.

The La Rochela Massacre

Paramilitary leaders Iván Roberto Duque, also known as “Ernesto Báez” and Ramón Isaza (neither one of which has been extradited to the United States) have both been implicated in the notorious 1989 massacre of La Rochela. However, they have so far said little about the massacre that could be used to make progress in the investigation.

On January 18, 1989, at least 40 members of the paramilitary group known as “Los Masetos” detained 15 judges and investigators in the municipality of La Rochela, state of Santander.119 The judges and investigators belonged to a specialized judicial commission that had traveled to the region to investigate a 1987 massacre of 19 merchants by paramilitaries from the group ACDEGAM (Association of Peasants and Ranchers of the Magdalena Medio), with the collaboration of the military.120 After holding the members of the commission for over two hours, the paramilitaries took them to a deserted rural area, left them in the cars, and then proceeded to “shoot indiscriminately and continuously at the members of the Judicial Commission for several minutes.”121 Of the 15 members of the commission, only three survived.122 One of the survivors testified that he only lived because the brain mass of one of his colleagues fell on his head, and the paramilitaries thought that he was dead.123 Another surviving victim testified that he survived because the bullet grazed the side of his head.124

The Inter-American Court, in a recent ruling against the Colombian government, noted that the evidence showed that one of the objectives of the massacre had been to steal or destroy the case files that the commission was carrying with it, an aim they were able to fulfill.125

Paramilitary leader Alonso de Jesús Baquero Agudelo, also known as “Vladimir,” was convicted in 1990 for the killings.126 In subsequent statements to prosecutors he alleged that various members of the military and Sen. Tiberio Villarreal had planned the massacre in conjunction with notorious paramilitaries of the region, including, among many others, Ramón Isaza and Iván Roberto Duque, also known as Ernesto Báez.127

The Court noted that in 18 years of investigation, 41 people were prosecuted, but only six members of “Los Masetos,” one leader of ACDEGAM, and one member of the military were ever convicted:

The Attorney General’s Office received various statements that point to the participation of senior military leaders and other State agents in the events surrounding the Rochela Massacre .... In addition to the testimony of Alonso Baquero Agudelo, two other statements and a public complaint tied Gen. Farouk Yanine to the perpetration of the massacre, and a still [sic] another statement alluded, to the possible responsibility of a navy intelligence network … even though the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Procurator had all of these probative elements since the mid-1990s, it was only in September 2005 that it issued an order to receive the spontaneous declarations of retired General Yanine and other senior military leaders allegedly involved in the Rochela massacre. None of these military commanders has been formally tied to the investigation.128

As a result of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling on this case, the Attorney General’s Office recently re-opened an investigation into Gen. Farouk Yanine for the deaths of the 19 merchants (which the judicial delegation killed in La Rochela had been investigating).129 In addition, the office has reopened an investigation of Sen. Tiberio Villarreal in connection with the La Rochela massacre and alleged links to paramilitaries.130

But the Justice and Peace process appears to have produced little information relevant to these investigations. Both Báez and Isaza have denied participating in the massacre and have refused to identify any other participants.131 In fact, Báez has not confessed any serious crimes in the Justice and Peace process—a fact that has led the Justice and Peace prosecutor charged with interrogating him to announce that he would seek to have Báez withdrawn from the Justice and Peace process and tried under ordinary criminal law for his crimes.132

The Mapiripán Massacre133

From July 15 through July 20, 1997, paramilitaries seized the town of Mapiripán, Meta, killing approximately 49 people, and threatening others with death.134 The paramilitaries had arrived in the region via chartered airplane, on two flights coming from Necoclí and Apartadó that landed at the San José del Guaviare airport days before the massacre.135 Local army and police units ignored repeated phone calls from a civilian judge in the area asking for help to stop the slayings.136 At dawn on July 15, an estimated 200 heavily-armed paramilitaries arrived and began rounding up local authorities and forcing them to accompany them. Paramilitaries detained residents and people arriving by boat, took them to the local slaughterhouse, then bound, tortured, and executed them by slitting their throats. The first person killed, Antonio María Barrera, was hung from a hook, and paramilitaries quartered his body, throwing the pieces into the Guaviare River.137  

Judge Leonardo Iván Cortés reported hearing the screams of the people they brought to the slaughterhouse to interrogate, torture, and kill throughout the five days the paramilitaries remained in the area.138 In one of the missives he sent to various regional authorities during the massacre, he wrote: “Each night they kill groups of five to six defenseless people, who are cruelly and monstrously massacred after being tortured. The screams of humble people are audible, begging for mercy and asking for help.”139 Despite Judge Cortés’s eight telephone pleas for help, neither the police nor the army reacted until the paramilitaries had left town.

Then-paramilitary commander Carlos Castaño publicly took responsibility for the massacre, and promised “many more Mapiripáns” for Colombia in subsequent press interviews.140

Subsequent investigations of military involvement in the massacre resulted in the conviction of Col. Lino Sánchez (now deceased). In 2007, a judge acquitted Gen. Jaime Uscátegui, then commander of the army’s VII Brigade, on charges of homicide and aggravated kidnapping, and sentenced MajorHernán Orozco Castro to 40 years in prison.141 Orozco had previously told prosecutors that he had alerted Uscátegui about the massacre, but he claimed that Uscátegui had ignored the warning and instead ordered Orozco to falsify the documents showing Uscátegui had received word of the massacre.142 Prosecutors have appealed Uscátegui’s acquittal.143

Apparently as a result of his statements in the Justice and Peace process, one paramilitary known as “Monoleche” was recently charged with involvement in the massacre.144 Another individual known as “Carecuchillo,” who was not participating in the Justice and Peace process but was recently arrested, has also been charged.145

During his confession, Mancuso stated that the paramilitaries had flown troops to Mapiripán from other parts of the country. As a result, Mancuso said, Castaño had told him that “they had to make arrangements with the Air Force so they wouldn’t make problems … they had to agree on airports.” Castaño made arrangements, he says, with Col. Lino Sánchez, as well as with a “Colonel Plazas” from army Intelligence.146 However, at the time of his extradition, Mancuso had yet to say much about the potential involvement of other members of the public security forces. He was not questioned about Uscátegui or about the potential collaboration of military officers in the airports through which they traveled. Considering Mancuso’s very senior role in the AUC and regular participation (which he acknowledges) in Castaño’s meetings, he is likely to have much more detailed information about this massacre and the military’s role in it.

The El Aro Massacre

In October 1997, an estimated thirty paramilitaries entered the village of El Aro, Antioquia, rounded up residents, and executed three people in the plaza.147 Witnesses said that paramilitaries told store owner Aurelio Areiza and his family to slaughter a steer and prepare food from their shelves to feed the paramilitary fighters on October 25 and 26, while the rest of Colombia voted in municipal elections. After he had followed their orders, paramilitaries took Areiza to a place near a cemetery, tied him to a tree, then tortured and killed him. Witnesses added that the paramilitaries gouged out Areiza's eyes and cut off his tongue and testicles.148

One witness told journalists who visited El Aro soon afterwards that families who attempted to flee were turned back by soldiers camped on the outskirts of town.149 Over the five days they remained in El Aro, paramilitaries were believed to have executed 15 people, including a child, burned all but eight of the village’s houses, and forced most of the town’s 671 residents to flee. When they left on October 30, the paramilitaries took with them around 1,000 head of cattle along with goods looted from homes and stores. Afterwards, 30 people were reported to have been forcibly disappeared.150

In November 1996, nearly a year before the massacre occurred, Jesús María Valle, an Ituango town councilman, lawyer, and president of the "Héctor Abad Gómez" Permanent Human Rights Committee, had sent communications to government officials, including the governor of Antioquia and the Medellín ombudsman, informing them of the paramilitary presence in the region and requesting protection for the area’s residents. Other organizations repeated the request and sent it to national authorities as well in January 1997.151

After the massacre, Valle helped document it and represented families of some of the victims. In apparent reprisal for his efforts to obtain justice, Valle was assassinated in his Medellín office, on February 27, 1998.152

In statements to the press, Carlos Castaño took responsibility for the massacre.153 In addition, there is substantial information pointing to the military’s knowledge of the massacre. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has noted that “before the incursion in El Aro, the paramilitary group had met with members of the army’s Girardot Battalion in the municipality of Puerto Valdivia…. Agents of the armed forces not only acquiesced to the acts perpetrated by the paramilitary group, but also participated and collaborated directly at times. Indeed, the participation of State agents in the armed incursion was not limited to facilitating the entry into the region of the paramilitary group; they also failed to help the civilian population during the incursion and during the theft of the livestock and its transfer from the area.”154

In sworn testimony to investigators taken on April 30, 1998, Francisco Enrique Villalba Hernández, a former paramilitary who was convicted of taking part in the El Aro massacre, confirmed the testimony of survivors taken by Human Rights Watch that the operation had been carefully planned and carried out by a joint paramilitary-army force. Villalba told authorities that a paramilitary known as "Junior" and Salvatore Mancuso, who was the commander of fighters there, took him and approximately 100 other paramilitaries to Puerto Valdivia to prepare to enter El Aro.155

There, Villalba told authorities, he witnessed a meeting between Mancuso, an army lieutenant, and two army subordinates. Villalba also testified about radio exchanges he overheard between Mancuso and the colonel in charge of the battalion that was taking part in the combined operation. According to Villalba, "[t]hey were planning the entry into El Aro and how the operation would go lower down [the mountain], so that the army would prevent people or commissions or journalists from entering."156

During the operation, Villalba said that the combined army-paramilitary force was attacked by the FARC. "Right when we had contact with guerrillas, which lasted three hours, an army helicopter arrived, and gave us medical supplies and munitions."157

Villalba admitted taking direct part in killings and the mutilations of victims, including a beheading. Once the paramilitaries had rounded up the cattle belonging to El Aro residents, Villalba said, paramilitaries left the area protected by the army, which advised them to take a route that would avoid members of the Attorney General's Office and Inspector General’s Office they believed had been sent to investigate reports of the massacre. While the paramilitaries traveled in several public buses commandeered on the highway, another car preceded them, according to Villalba, ensuring that the buses would pass army roadblocks unhampered.158

In its 2006 ruling on the massacre, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights noted that “the authorities’ delay and lack of diligence in the proceedings is evident, because more than eight years have elapsed since these events, in which dozens of civilians took part with the acquiescence and tolerance of the law enforcement bodies, and most of those responsible have not yet been investigated in any criminal proceedings.”159 At the time, “the State ha[d] only investigated seven individuals ... and only convicted three:” Castaño, Mancuso, and Villalba, of which only Villalba was in prison.”160 Only two soldiers were under investigation.161

In his confession, Mancuso described the massacre as a coordinated operation involving troops brought in from different areas and commanded by various paramilitary leaders.162 Mancuso himself, he says, flew in a helicopter from the Urabá region to the area along with Castaño.163 According to Mancuso, the operation had been planned since 1996 because it was an area where the guerrillas “put all their hostages.”164

Mancuso also confirmed the evidence indicating that members of the military collaborated in planning the massacre. According to Mancuso, he “even went to the IV Brigade to meet with General Manosalva [who gave him] intelligence information ... about all the people and guerrillas in the area, maps, access routes, guerrilla camps, etc.” The meeting, he said was “in Medellín, in the IV Brigade ... in the year 96.”165

Mancuso states that during the massacre “the helicopter of the Antioquia governorship was flying overhead,” as were army helicopters.166 When asked why the helicopter of the Antioquia governorship was there, Mancuso answered “ah, I don’t know, they probably went there to see what was happening in the area because there was probably information that the elections were being blocked, that there was a military operation, that there was combat, so they went to see.”167 At the time of the massacre, now President Álvaro Uribe was the governor of Antioquia.

Gen. Manosalva, the only official who Mancuso directly implicated in connection with the massacre, is now deceased. Mancuso did not say anything (nor was he asked) about whether the commander of the IV Brigade in 1997, Gen. Carlos Ospina Ovalle, knew of or had reason to know of the massacre at the time.168 President Uribe appointed Ospina to serve as commander of Colombia’s army in 2002, and later as Commander General of the Armed Forces from 2004 to 2007.

Villalba, the imprisoned former paramilitary who had previously given extensive testimony about the massacre and the military’s involvement in it, started to provide additional testimony to prosecutors in early 2008. In his new testimony Villalba stated that he observed President Uribe, when he was governor of Antioquia, and his brother Santiago Uribe participate in a meeting with Carlos Castaño to plan the paramilitary incursion in El Aro.169

Villalba gave this statement in the context of an investigation by the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office into another paramilitary massacre that happened at the same time.170

According to several news analyses, Villalba’s recent statements contain serious inconsistencies.171 Also, a July news report stated that in a letter to President Uribe in May 2008, Villalba asked Uribe for his forgiveness.172 Villalba later claimed that he had not written the letter, and that another person, known as “el Chucho Sarria,” who visited him in prison, had pressed him to sign the letter. According to Semana magazine, the handwriting on the letter is similar to that of Sarria, and also to the handwriting used in another letter that imprisoned paramilitary Libardo Duarte supposedly sent to President Uribe, in which Duarte apparently claims that opposition congressmen offered to pay him to testify against the president.173

Certainly, all these events raise credibility questions about Villalba’s testimony. But given the sensitivity of the allegations, it is important that the Attorney General’s Office conduct a careful and serious investigation of the massacre. Mancuso has yet to be questioned by investigators about the role, if any, played by Álvaro and Santiago Uribe. Villalba’s allegations against President Uribe have been transferred to the Commission on Accusations of the Chamber of Deputies of Colombia’s Congress—the only entity that can investigate the president while he is in office.

The El Salado Massacre

On February 18, 2000, an estimated 400 uniformed and armed paramilitaries arrived in the village of El Salado, Bolívar, and proceeded to commit what may have been the most brutal massacre in the country’s history.174 They spent the next two days terrorizing the townspeople, often pulling them out of their houses and dragging them to the local soccer field before torturing and killing them. “They tied them up like animals, they stabbed them, beheaded them ... there were women who were raped,” said one survivor.175

“They pulled my daughter away … she called to me, ‘mommy,’ and they shot her in the head,” one mother who managed to survive told us. “She had been celebrating her 20th birthday that day.” Meanwhile, the woman said, the paramilitaries were killing many of her friends and relatives in the soccer field. “They killed my cousin, they scalped her, tied her up,… they strangled her and finally they cut her head off.”176

The same mother thought another daughter, who was only seven years old, had managed to escape with a neighbor. But three days later she found the child’s body. “They put a plastic bag over her head and she died suffocated … on the top of a hill.”177

The paramilitaries forced yet another survivor, who was nearly nine months pregnant at the time, to watch as they tortured and killed one of her neighbors, Margarita. “They raped her with a club,… they strangled her and beat her … and then they stabbed her sixteen times and shot her twice,” she said. “She was 60 years old.” The woman’s 17-year-old daughter also disappeared in the massacre. “They took her away and we never found her.”178

Prosecutors say they found 56 people dead in El Salado and the surrounding countryside.179 Many others are still missing.180 On the basis of paramilitaries’ confessions, prosecutors estimate that over 100 people may have been killed in the massacre.181 At least 280 persons were forcibly displaced by the paramilitaries’ incursion in the area.182

Several witnesses said that the paramilitaries were using a helicopter, and that they believe the military was involved as well. The New York Times reported at the time that “not only did the armed forces and the police not come to the aid of the villagers here, but the roadblock they set up prevented humanitarian aid from entering the village. Anyone seeking to enter the area was told the road was unsafe because it had been mined and that combat was going on between guerrilla and paramilitary units.”183

Salvatore Mancuso, Carlos Castaño, and Jorge 40 have been charged with the massacre. Both Mancuso and Jorge 40, as well as two mid-level commanders known as “Juancho Dique” and “El Tigre” have acknowledged their participation or presence at the massacre in their confessions.184 In addition, prosecutors have reportedly charged retired navy officer Hector Pita Vasquez, who was then a navy captain in the area of the massacre, with aggravated homicide.185

In his confession, Mancuso described the El Salado massacre as an “antisubversive military operation,” which he conducted with Jorge 40 and Carlos Castaño, among others.186 Mancuso also mentioned that Castaño “gave us a cell phone number that he said belonged to a general or colonel Quiñónez, so that if anything happened that was the contact through which we could get in touch with him.”187

In its report, the New York Times noted that at the time of the massacre:

The senior military officer in this region was Col. Rodrigo Quiñonez Cárdenas, commander of the First Navy Brigade, who has since been promoted to general. As director of Naval Intelligence in the early 1990's, he was identified by Colombian prosecutors as the organizer of a paramilitary network responsible for the killings of 57 trade unionists, human rights workers and members of a left-wing political party. In 1994, Col. Quiñonez and seven other soldiers were charged with “conspiring to form or collaborate with armed groups.” But after the main witness against him was killed in a maximum security prison and the case was moved from a civilian court to a military tribunal, the colonel was acquitted.188

Despite Mancuso’s statements and previous information linking Gen. Quiñónez to paramilitaries, as of this writing no formal investigation of Quiñónez was underway.189 According to Attorney General Iguarán, prosecutors are still conducting an initial review of the evidence, known as a “previous” investigation.190

The Chengue Massacre

On January 17, 2001, an estimated 50 paramilitaries pulled dozens of residents from their homes in the village of Chengue, Sucre. “They assembled them into two groups above the main square and across from the rudimentary health center,” the Washington Post later reported. “Then, one by one, they killed the men by crushing their heads with heavy stones and a sledgehammer. When it was over, twenty-four men lay dead in pools of blood. Two more were found later in shallow graves. As the troops left, they set fire to the village.”191

“At three in the morning, the paras entered, cut off the light and communications,” one survivor told Human Rights Watch. “I ran out of my house and heard screams. The paras ... killed two uncles, two cousins, and eight relatives of my husband ... they killed a sick child.”192 Another survivor told us “the massacre displaced everyone. There was nobody left in the town the following week.”193

Months earlier, local authorities had warned military, police, and government officials that paramilitaries planned to carry out a massacre. Yet their pleas for protection proved futile.194 “The navy knew, and they didn't do anything to stop it, even though they had people in that whole area,” one police captain who testified before prosecutors told the Washington Post. "I told them this was a chronicle of a death foretold."195

In 2001, prosecutor Yolanda Paternina Negrete, who led the Chengue investigation, was shot and killed in front of her home in Sincelejo, Sucre. Paternina had reported receiving death threats after she ordered the arrest of three local men whom informants linked to the Chengue massacre. 196

At the time of the massacre, Gen. Rodrigo Quiñónez was in command of the Navy First Brigade. In the subsequent investigation, members of the police testified that they had informed Quiñónez of the arrival of armed men in the region, and other witnesses, including former paramilitaries, testified that the navy knew of the paramilitaries’ operations in the region. According to documents from the Attorney General’s Office, one witness, Elkin Valdiris, who participated in the Chengue massacre, testified at the time that the navy “knew that they were in the town, that not a single shot was fired against a member of the State security organs because everything was coordinated since days before … it was planned that [the paramilitaries] would be given time to leave … before the Navy entered Chengue.”197 Another witness, Luz Stella Valdez, the wife of a paramilitary, had stated that she had met Quiñónez and had specifically reported his links to paramilitaries.198 Similarly, Jairo Castillo Peralta, another former paramilitary who has for years provided extensive testimony about paramilitaries’ links to politicians, the military, and cattle-ranchers, told Human Rights Watch that he told prosecutors that Quiñónez had links to the paramilitaries in the region and was involved in both the Chengue and El Salado massacres.199

In 2001 the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into Quiñónez. However, as Human Rights Watch has described in previous reports, during the tenure of Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio the investigation was stalled:

During Attorney General Osorio's first weeks in office, the Human Rights Unit prosecutor handling the Chengue case met with him to report that she had compelling evidence linking navy Gen. Rodrigo Quiñonez and other navy officers to the massacre. However, within ten days of that August meeting, the case was reassigned to another prosecutor. The new prosecutor allowed the investigation to stall until December, when he sought to have it reassigned once again to the original prosecutor. The original prosecutor believed her successor had recognized that the evidence already obtained was too compelling to close the case and feared indicting a powerful general. Once again in charge of the case, the original prosecutor informed Osorio's new Human Rights Unit director that she was considering opening a formal investigation of General Quiñonez. A few days later, the unit's director accused her of committing errors on the case and reassigned it to yet another prosecutor. The original prosecutor told Human Rights Watch that the director also pressured her to sign a letter stating that she had never intended to open a formal investigation of General Quiñonez. She refused to sign the letter. After receiving death threats, she fled Colombia.200

In 2004 the investigation was officially closed.201 Two other military officers were charged, but subsequently acquitted by local courts in Sincelejo.202

The Justice and Peace process appears to have yielded little progress in investigations of military officers in this massacre so far. According to the Washington Post, one participant in the process has again stated that as paramilitary units headed for Chengue, the navy's marine units stood aside.203In his confession, mid-level commander Juancho Dique has described his participation in the Chengue massacre, stating that the massacre was committed under the orders of Carlos Castaño who reportedly sent him 20 men, and that another paramilitary commander known as “Cadena” (who has since disappeared) also provided 40 men.204

No formal investigation of Quiñónez has been reopened as of this writing.

Extraditions of Paramilitary Leaders

On May 13, 2008, President Uribe extradited nearly all the top paramilitary leaders to the United States to face drug charges. Mancuso, Jorge 40, Don Berna, Hernán Giraldo, Gordolindo, Cuco Vanoy, and Pablo Sevillano were all extradited. 205 Shortly before, Uribe had extradited Macaco as well.206

The threat of extradition to the United States had been one of the principal factors that led these leaders to initiate demobilization negotiations with the Colombian government.207 When the US Department of Justice announced indictments and extradition requests for Carlos Castaño, Salvatore Mancuso, and Juan Carlos (‘El Tuso’) Sierra in September 2002, commanders who had enjoyed total impunity and collaboration from important sectors of the Colombian state found for the first time that they had something to fear. 208 Castaño, then the top leader of the AUC, and others almost immediately started demobilization negotiations in the hope they could obtain a deal that would allow them to block extradition entirely.209

As a result, Human Rights Watch repeatedly urged President Uribe to wield the threat of extradition effectively. This meant, first, that the President should avoid taking any steps that would permanently bar the commanders’ extradition (for example, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that, should the paramilitaries be allowed to include US crimes in their Justice and Peace sentences, the principle of double jeopardy would apply to bar their subsequent extradition for those crimes, thereby removing the threat of extradition). In addition, it meant that, should there be credible evidence that one of the commanders was not fulfilling his commitments, the government should show it was willing to carry out the threat of extradition.210

President Uribe claims that he has evidence that all the top paramilitary leaders who were extradited were failing to fulfill their commitments. 211 Indeed, there were many signs as early as 2006 that some of these leaders had continued to engage in crimes, though the government did not extradite them at that time and, as is described in later sections, the government did little to prevent them from continuing to run their groups after demobilization.212 It is also clear that the commanders were dragging their feet when it came to the turnover of assets and confessions.213 However, as explained further below, this is in many respects the result of the government’s own failure to ensure that paramilitaries fulfilled their commitments, and its lax treatment of paramilitaries, allowing them to continue engaging in criminal activity.

The impact of the extraditions on accountability and the ongoing investigations in Colombia remains far from clear, and will depend largely on how the US Department of Justice handles the cases.

The Government’s Failure to Ensure Paramilitaries Fulfill their Commitments

Throughout the demobilization process, the government failed to adequately verify whether paramilitaries were fulfilling basic requirements under the Justice and Peace Law, allowing them to get away with failing to turn over most of their illegal assets, failing to disclose the location of hostages, or failing to release child combatants to state authorities. The government’s lax treatment of paramilitaries in detention apparently allowed many of them to continue engaging in the criminal activities that justified their extradition.

The Justice and Peace Law, as interpreted and amended by the Constitutional Court, specifically provided that for members of a paramilitary group to qualify for the law’s benefits, the group must have fulfilled the following eligibility requirements: it must have fully demobilized, ceased all interference with the free exercise of political rights and public liberties as well as any other illicit activity, turned over all recruited minors to the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, released all kidnapped people under its control, and disclosed the fate of all disappeared persons. In addition, the group itself cannot benefit from the law if it was organized for the purpose of drug trafficking or illicit enrichment. The Colombian Constitutional Court describes these as requirements to “access” the law’s benefits. Presumably, they should be met at the time of the demobilization ceremonies orchestrated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace—an entity that is part of the Presidency of the Republic and was charged with conducting the negotiations with the paramilitaries. 214

In addition, for each individual to qualify for reduced sentences he or she must make a “full and truthful confession,” refrain from committing new crimes, turn over all illegally acquired assets at the start of the process, collaborate with the justice system, and, once sentenced, make reparation to victims out of his or her legally acquired assets.215 The Constitutional Court has made clear that even after the reduced sentence is granted, if it is shown that the person failed to fulfill any of these requirements in the law or any requirements set forth in the sentence, the reduced sentence may be revoked.216

To date, however, the Uribe administration and the various state entities that should be involved in verifying these requirements have failed to make a meaningful effort to ensure that paramilitaries are keeping their part of the bargain.

Inadequate Verification of whether the Groups were Originally Organized for Drug Trafficking or Illicit Enrichment

Several paramilitary groups trace their origins to drug trafficking. This is true of the AUC itself, which is a descendant of Muerte a Secuestradores (Death to Kidnappers, MAS), an alliance formed in the 1980s by drug traffickers, including Pablo Escobar, and others to free family members or traffickers who had been kidnapped by guerrillas.217 Paramilitary leaders like Don Berna or Macaco were also known primarily as drug traffickers before they were known as paramilitaries.218 However, the government apparently did not take this into consideration when including them on the officially approved list of applicants for the Justice and Peace Law’s benefits, despite the fact that, according to the Justice and Peace Law’s own requirements, they may not have been eligible to participate in it in the first place.

Failure to Verify Full Demobilization

As described in our 2005 report on the demobilization process, Smoke and Mirrors, the Colombian government set up no effective procedure at the time of the paramilitary demobilizations to determine whether all the members of each group did, in fact, demobilize. 219

There is substantial evidence that the Northern Block, for example, kept factions active to keep running its criminal activities. In fact, the day after the supposed demobilization of the Northern Block, investigators from the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office made a huge find: as part of a longstanding investigation of criminal activity on the Atlantic Coast, they arrested Édgar Ignacio Fierro Flórez, also known as “Don Antonio,” a member of the Northern Block who had participated in the demobilization ceremonies but who was apparently continuing to run the group’s operations in that part of the country.220 In conducting a search, the investigators found computers and massive quantity of electronic and paper files about the Northern Block. Human Rights Watch had access to internal reports about the content of the computers and files, which describe evidence of widespread fraud in the demobilization of the Northern Block.221 For example, the computer contained numerous emails and instant messenger discussions, allegedly involving Jorge 40, in which he gave orders to his lieutenants to recruit as many people as possible from among peasants and unemployed persons to participate in the demobilization. The messages included instructions to prepare these civilians for the day of the demobilization ceremony, so that they would know how to march and sing the paramilitaries’ anthem. They also addressed details such as how to obtain uniforms for them. And they included detailed instructions to guide the “demobilizing” persons on what to say to prosecutors, telling them exactly what questions the prosecutors would ask, and how to answer. In particular, the messages emphasized that these persons must make clear that there were no “urban” members of the organization.

One message stated that the paramilitaries had passed a list of individuals who were supposed to demobilize to the Intelligence Service (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad or DAS), to see if any of them had criminal records, and that the DAS had said they did not. Other messages discussed members of the group who would not demobilize, so they could continue controlling key regions.222

Human Rights Watch also has received credible reports from various sources that indicate that large sections of a paramilitary group called the Liberators of the South Block, under the command of Macaco, remained active in the southern state of Nariño.223

Under the terms of the law, members of these incompletely-demobilized blocks should not have been considered eligible for the benefits of the Justice and Peace Law. Yet the government allowed Macaco, Jorge 40, and several of their henchmen to enter the process without carefully verifying whether their groups had demobilized.

Incomplete Turnover of Child Combatants

Human Rights Watch has previously documented in detail the practice, common among both left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, of recruiting and using children as combatants, including children under the age of 15.224 Several of the former paramilitary child recruits Human Rights Watch interviewed at the time described being forced to mutilate and kill captured guerrillas early in their training. Others described how they saw acid thrown in the faces of captives and how some captives were mutilated with chainsaws.225

Paramilitaries failed to turn over all the children in their ranks during the demobilizations. In a 2006 report about the demobilization process, the Office of the Inspector General (Procuraduría General de la Nacion) pointed out that, up to that point, “the turnover of children is minimal in relation to the total number who are used in the armed conflict and in comparison with the total number of demobilized adults, which implies as a result the failure to fulfill the demobilization condition set forth in Article 10(3) of Law 975 of 2005.”226

The Office of the High Commissioner for Peace responded to the Inspector General’s Office with a letter in which it asserted that 823 children had been turned over to the Colombian Family Welfare Institute over the course of the demobilization process.227 According to news reports, however, fewer than 450 children actually made it to the Child Welfare Institute.228 And both numbers fall well below Human Rights Watch’s conservative estimate in 2003, according to which there were 11,000 child combatants in Colombia, of which approximately 20 percent (over 2,000) formed part of paramilitary ranks.229

The Organization of American States’ Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, which is charged with verifying the demobilizations, has reported that a number of commanders simply sent the children home at the time of the demobilizations.230 A demobilized paramilitary from the Central Bolivar Block told Human Rights Watch what his group did with a minor before the demobilization:

[The minor] couldn’t demobilize because you’re not supposed to be a minor in the armed conflict. Our political leader asked that any minors let him know because minors would damage the process … there couldn’t be any minors. The boss gave the minor some money so he would go away…. He went home. He wanted to go to the demobilization but they wouldn’t let him.231

One reason paramilitary groups may have had for not turning over children is the commanders’ desire to avoid being found responsible for child recruitment.

The groups did not release or account for their hostages

In a positive development, prosecutors have reported making important progress in locating bodies of “disappeared” persons, thanks in part to information that they have obtained through their interviews with paramilitaries participating in the Justice and Peace Law.232 As of April 28, 2008, the Attorney General’s Office reported having located 1,452 bodies in 1,207 common graves.233

However, virtually no progress has been made in locating persons that paramilitaries took hostage over the last decade, despite an explicit requirement that paramilitaries release or account for the hostages under the Justice and Peace Law. According to official statistics, paramilitaries committed 1,163 kidnappings for ransom from 1996 to 2006, including 347 between 2003 and 2006, while the demobilizations were ongoing.234 The majority of the 1,163 hostages have been released, killed, or rescued.235 However, in 254 cases, the fate of the hostages is yet to be known and paramilitaries have yet to account for their whereabouts.236

Continued Criminal Activity

A fundamental prerequisite to sentence reductions (and a key element to ensure genuine demobilization) under the Justice and Peace Law is that the applicant must cease all criminal activity. Very early in the process there was evidence that at least some commanders were continuing to engage in criminal activity. Yet until it suddenly invoked such criminal activity as a justification to extradite the commanders, the government had all but ignored evidence that paramilitaries were ordering criminal acts from prison throughout 2006 and 2007. Allowing continued criminal activity, especially violence against civilians, renders the process almost meaningless.

One example is Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40. Computer files prosecutors seized from his associate, Édgar Fierro Florez, contained information about over 500 killings committed by his group just in the state of Atlántico, including assassinations of social leaders and trade unionists, corruption schemes in the public sector, drug trafficking, and other criminal enterprises. The files also included recorded conversations between paramilitaries and political leaders from the region.237 A substantial number of the killings had occurred after the Justice and Peace Law was approved and were therefore not crimes for which Jorge 40 could receive reduced sentences.

The computer also contained evidence that Jorge 40 was keeping a portion of his group active to continue committing crimes after demobilization. In fact, according to investigators, the computer contains substantial evidence that the Northern Block was starting to expand into the region of Sucre aggressively and was planning to take it over during the course of 2006. The computer also contains evidence that the paramilitaries were going to pretend to turn over land but would later have it returned to them. 238

Even after this information was uncovered shortly after Jorge 40’s “demobilization,” the government did nothing. It did not extradite him at the time, and it did not seek his removal from the Justice and Peace Process.

Instead of sanctioning the commanders, the government repeatedly made concessions to them on the conditions of their detention, making it easy for them to continue engaging in criminal activity.

Although the Colombian Congress approved the Justice and Peace Law in July of 2005, paramilitary commanders remained completely free, with their arrest warrants and extradition orders suspended, for over a year afterwards. In mid-2006, the news media began publishing articles describing how notorious commanders like Salvatore Mancuso were enjoying themselves by going to expensive malls and nightclubs.239

Columnist Daniel Coronell described some of the scenes that caused a public outcry:

Mancuso[’s] … security caravan is well-known in Montería. Long lines of bullet-proof trucks loudly announce the arrival of the former commander and his 20 armed bodyguards. Mancuso travels through the area by helicopter, like a sovereign who is overseeing his realm. When he wants to go shopping, he orders the pilot to head towards Medellín. He can’t go without the Ferragamo shoes that he shows off in his comfortable apartment in the El Recreo neighborhood, now turned into the true headquarters of regional power. There he meets with politicians, settles land disputes, demands the payment of late debts and solves arguments between neighbors….240

Around the same time, Cambio magazine reported that in November 2005 the then deputy director of the national intelligence service (the DAS), José Miguel Narváez, had told two regional directors of the DAS that, following orders of Jorge Noguera, then director of the DAS, they had to assign a bullet-proof truck to paramilitary leader Jorge 40.241 According to Cambio, the truck had been purchased by the state of Atlántico for the exclusive use of President Álvaro Uribe during his visits to the region, and it was equipped with a special chip that allowed the truck to go through official checkpoints without having to stop. The truck was later taken from Jorge 40.242

Former defense secretary and senator Rafael Pardo notes the troubling fact that “during this limbo, while the demobilized paras were moving in different points of [the country], elections were held for Congress (March 11, 2006) and for President (March 26 of the same year).”243

In the weeks following the revelations about the paramilitary leaders’ lifestyles, the government asked the commanders to move to a retreat house in La Ceja, in the state of Antioquia.244 Initially, 59 individuals went into La Ceja, including several commanders, though two commanders, Vicente Castaño and HH, refused and went into hiding.245

According to one news article at the time, “the security of the special reclusion center of La Ceja … is designed more to avoid attacks from the outside than to prevent possible escape from the inmates.”246 The Inspector General’s Office issued a report criticizing the lack of internal security in La Ceja, the fact that inmates had significantly better living conditions than the guards who lived in the same center, as well as the fact that the inmates had free, completely unmonitored use of cell phones and internet.247 “Even in the context of a peace process, free access to communications by the inmates puts the establishment at risk,” the report said. It went on to note: “This rule is not proportional to the goals … of pursuing peace and on the contrary could eventually result in the loss of control by penitentiary authorities and could generate situations of ungovernability. Access to communications in penitentiary establishments should be regulated … by the State.”248

In December 2006, citing the risk that the paramilitaries could escape, the government finally moved them to Itagüí prison, a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of Medellín.249

Yet even in Itagüí prison, the paramilitary leaders benefited from special regulations issued by the National Penitentiary Institute in 2007 that offered them privileges no other prisoner could enjoy. They were assigned to a special section of Itagüí prison, where they could benefit from:250

  • Unrestricted use of cell phones: The regulations provided that they may “use mobile phones with the approval of the General Directorate” of the prison.251 Gen. Eduardo Morales Beltran, Director of the National Prison system, said to Human Rights Watch that the cell phones were necessary “so that the commanders can rapidly get in touch with their people outside prison.”252
  • Flexible visitors’ schedule: According to Morales, normally prisoners would be able to have visitors only on weekends. However, the paramilitary commanders can have visits four days a week.253 In addition, the director of the prison “may authorize interviews with the inmate at his request on other days.”254 Paramilitaries may have up to five visitors at once, not counting their children.255 Morales noted that most prisoners have to get authorization from the INPEC or from a judge each time their visitors enter.256 But the regulations allow the INPEC to suspend that process for family members whose entry the inmates have authorized “in a general manner.”257
  • Access to computers and internet: The regulations allow the paramilitaries to have laptops in their cells and to access the internet, with some restrictions.258 According to Morales, the INPEC monitors what web pages they visit, but it cannot access their e-mail.259
  • Personal Cooks: The regulations provide that food preparation “may be assigned to a contractor” supervised by the director of the prison, if the inmates request it.260 Morales says that for the paramilitary leaders, it is important to allow them access to their own cooks for security reasons.261
  • Medium security measures within the prison: even though Itagüí is considered a “maximum security prison” in terms of its external security, the special sector assigned to participants in the Justice and Peace Law will only have “medium security” measures internally.262
  • No handcuffs for transfers outside the prison: all transfers of prisoners from the Justice and Peace Law sector of the prison are to be conducted “without restrictions on hands or feet.”263

Morales claimed in an interview with Human Rights Watch that these regulations were established because “those who arrive voluntarily cannot be subject to the same regulations as those who are arrested by force.”264

However, such privileges are not granted to all persons who voluntarily turn themselves in to the authorities.265 Moreover, many of the commanders who were in Itagüí had arrest orders pending against them for serious crimes—which President Uribe had suspended during the negotiations—so their imprisonment should not be considered a purely voluntary act.

In mid-2007 Semana magazine published an article alleging—on the basis of recordings of imprisoned paramilitaries’ phone calls—that a number of them were ordering crimes from prison, using the cell phones that the government had authorized.266 Yet even after this scandal broke, the government continued to allow paramilitary commanders to use cell phones from prison for nearly a year.267

Mysteriously, after the extraditions, prison authorities announced that they had been unable to recover the hard drives from the computers belonging to Ramiro 'Cuco' Vanoy, Guillermo Pérez Alzate, 'Pablo Sevillano', Martín Peñaranda or Juan Carlos Sierra ('el Tuso'). Moreover, INPEC director Morales also announced that although his office had recovered cell phones for Mancuso, Cuco Vanoy, and El Tuso, the Sim cards had been removed from the phones so it would no longer be possible to review the paramilitary commanders’ call history. He added that they were not able to find Mancuso’s computer at all because, a few days before the extraditions, the computer had been removed from the penitentiary for maintenance.268

A few days later, the Ministry of Interior and Justice issued a statement confirming that Mancuso’s computer had been removed from Itagüí prison before the extraditions and had not been returned. The statement also noted that the computers that belonged to Juan Carlos Sierra, Ramiro Vanoy, Diego Alberto Ruiz Arroyave, and Guillermo Pérez Alzate had been turned over to the director of Itagüí prison on May 14; however, Vanoy’s computer did not have a hard drive and had been accessed by his relatives. Moreover, given that the extraditions occurred on the 13th, and computers were not in custody for a full day, the chain of custody had been broken. Finally, the statement noted that in a search of the prison on May 22, a hard drive and seven Sim cards had been located.269

Incomplete turnover of illegally acquired assets

The group’s turnover of all the illegally acquired assets under its control is an eligibility requirement, along with full demobilization of the group. As such, it should have been fulfilled at the time of the demobilization ceremonies of each paramilitary block. However, this did not happen.

As of February 2008, the National Reparations Fund contained only US$5 million worth of assets in the form of land, cattle, and vehicles that had been turned over by paramilitary leaders.270 Considering paramilitaries’ extensive drug trafficking and their widespread practice of taking land from displaced persons (paramilitaries are estimated to be responsible for 37 percent of displacement of Colombia’s roughly 3 million internally displaced persons), this is a very small amount.271 Most persons who have registered with the government as displaced left behind land or real estate.272 The Office of Colombia’s Inspector Generalreports that up to 6.8 million hectares of land are estimated to be under the control of drug traffickers, paramilitaries, guerrillas and other armed groups in Colombia. 273 The takings have particularly affected Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, which in many cases have been pushed out of their traditional territories.274

At least part of the problem is that by decree the government itself provided that individual paramilitaries could turn over the illegal assets they held anytime before they were actually charged with crimes under the Justice and Peace Law—thus, they had no incentive to turn them over early on.275

Aside from the assets provided by the paramilitaries themselves, the head of the Money Laundering and Asset Confiscation Unit of the Office of the Attorney General says that they have, separately, moved against many of the paramilitaries’ illegal assets, including assets held by front men.276 The unit has not, however, initiated any investigations against paramilitary leaders for money laundering, with the exception of one case pending against Mancuso.277

After the extraditions of several of the top commanders, the Uribe administration announced that one reason for the extradition was the fact that “they were all failing to fulfill their obligations to provide reparations to victims by hiding assets or delaying their turnover.”278 Shortly after the extraditions, police announced that they had found four suitcases full of land titles for assets held by Mancuso; however, the Office of the Attorney General says that the suitcases did not contain land titles, but rather other information that they are trying to analyze.279

The Impact of Extraditions on Truth and Accountability in Colombia

While the threat of extradition was initially what led the paramilitary leadership to seek negotiations with the Colombian government, in the current context the extradition of nearly all the paramilitary leaders at once could have very serious negative consequences, particularly for ongoing investigations of paramilitaries’ accomplices and human rights crimes in Colombia.

The timing of the extraditions is particularly troubling. The paramilitary leaders were not extradited early on in the process, when it was already clear that many were not fulfilling their commitments and that some of them were continuing to engage in criminal activity. Instead, they were extradited at a time when investigations by the Supreme Court and Attorney General’s Office into paramilitaries’ links with the political system meant that these leaders were now being faced with numerous tough questions, that they would be required to answer truthfully and fully if they wanted to receive reduced sentences under the Law. Pursuant to the Constitutional Court ruling on the Justice and Peace Law, they now faced the prospect of losing the reduced sentences if they were caught in a lie.280

According to Colombian prosecutors, the extradited commanders remain subject to the Justice and Peace process, as they can only be removed from it via court order if it’s proven that they broke their commitments. 281 The Uribe administration has yet to publicize the evidence of breached commitments on which they based the decision to extradite the commanders. Also, some of the commanders have sent letters to prosecutors stating that they want to continue talking to Colombian authorities.282

However, in practice the extraditions have brought paramilitaries’ confessions and collaboration with investigations to a nearly complete halt. 283 This has happened despite the fact that when the extraditions first occurred, both Colombian and US authorities made statements assuring the public that Colombian proceedings would be able to continue. President Uribe stated that “the government has requested, and the United Status has accepted, that the Colombian State and the People may send representatives to the judges in the U.S. with the objective of continuing in the search of truth; the truth about the crimes investigated, committed in their majority before this government; the truth about the processes under way made possible by the strength of our security policy.”284 Similarly, in a public statement after the extraditions, the US Department of State said, with regard to victims’ interest in the truth about their atrocities that “there are existing international legal mechanisms—such as multilateral legal assistance agreements and conventions, as well as the letters rogatory and letter request processes—that may be utilized to seek the truth about these crimes.”285 And US Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield publicly stated that in consultations with the Colombian government they had concluded that “in five specific areas, the victims, their representatives and prosecutors of the Republic of Colombia will have access to the legal system, the property, and the individuals themselves.” According to media reports, Brownfield said that among these areas, “there is a commitment, on the part of the US Department of Justice, to share evidence or information in the handling of these cases with the authorities and prosecutors” in Colombia, and that there is a commitment to “try to facilitate direct access, on the part of Colombian prosecutors responsible for the application of the Justice and Peace Law … to the extradited persons.”286 Since then, there has been an exchange of diplomatic notes between Colombia and the United States establishing that Colombian requests for judicial cooperation are to be submitted to the justice attaché at the US Embassy in Colombia.287

To date, several months after the suspects were extradited, only one extradited paramilitary leader, Mancuso, has given new statements to Colombian authorities via videoconference.288 Part of the problem may be that, as a result of the extraditions, the commanders no longer have a meaningful incentive to continue talking to the Colombian authorities. Instead, their lawyers are likely advising them to remain silent until they strike a deal in the United States. Thus, whether or not they will have a reason to talk about their crimes and accomplices will now depend largely on how much US prosecutors press them, and what incentives they offer them to talk.

What the US Department of Justice Could Do

The extradited leaders now face potentially long sentences in the United States for their drug trafficking crimes. Also, should the US Department of Justice (DOJ) so choose, it could investigate with a view to prosecuting the paramilitary leaders for the multiple acts of torture in which they have been implicated, pursuant to a US federal statute that allows prosecution of foreign nationals for torture committed abroad.289 Thus, depending on how DOJ handles them, the extraditions could have positive consequences in terms of justice for some of the crimes committed by the paramilitary commanders. To the extent the extraditions have interrupted the commanders’ criminal activity they may also have been a blow to their criminal structures.

DOJ could create meaningful incentives (using the threat of full prison terms for drug trafficking and for committing torture) to get the paramilitary commanders to talk not only about their drug trafficking crimes, but also about their atrocities and accomplices in Colombia, and to cooperate actively with ongoing proceedings there.

However, it remains far from clear what US prosecutors plan to do. There have been many reports in the Colombian media about apparently favorable plea bargains struck in the United States by top drug lords, who reportedly serve short sentences and eventually enter witness protection programs.290 Whether or not those reports are accurate, the lawyer for at least one of the extradited paramilitary leaders, Don Berna, has reportedly said that Don Berna hopes to get away with a reduced sentence of as little as 5 years by talking about the drug business.291

Most of the commanders are charged with drug trafficking offenses, which often have statutory mandatory minimum sentences. For example, Jorge 40 and Hernán Giraldo are charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute five kilos or more of cocaine, intending and knowing that the cocaine would be unlawfully imported into the United States. 292 That offense, by federal statute, carries with it a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.293 However, judges can go below the mandatory minimum if they consider that the defendant has provided substantial assistance in other investigations.294

It is likely that all the extradited paramilitaries will seek to have their sentences reduced further by providing substantial assistance. And it is unclear whether prosecutors will seek to have paramilitaries talk about their human rights crimes and accomplices in Colombia as part of such assistance. Victims are therefore reasonably concerned that some of these commanders could get away with sentences that are just as short as those they could have obtained under the Justice and Peace Law, without having to comply with all the other requirements of that Law.

20 Law 975 of 2005, art. 18.

42 Human Rights Watch interview with Attorney General Mario Iguarán, Washington, DC, April 29, 2008. The attorney general has issued a number of resolutions regulating the taking of confessions. The resolutions establish that the versión libre is to be conducted in two phases: first, the applicant is interrogated about his connection to the group, the time he spent in it, and general aspects of the activities of the organization. He is also interrogated about the fulfillment of eligibility requirements from articles 10 and 11 of Law 975, and he is asked to list each of the facts he plans to confess. Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Resolution 3998, December 6, 2006, art. 4. In the second phase, the applicant is asked to provide the date, place, motive, other perpetrators or participants, victims, and other relevant facts about the crimes he is confessing. The victim is supposed to be given an opportunity to present evidence, take positions, and submit questions for the prosecutor to ask. Finally, the prosecutor is supposed to ask about facts that have been “judicialized [that is, are the subject of official investigations] and documented but not confessed.” Once the “versión libre” is over, the Attorney General’s Office is supposed to continue investigating and verifying the leads provided, and it must evaluate whether the applicants have fulfilled eligibility requirements for the benefits of the Law. Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Resolution 387 of 2007, February 12, 2007, art. 2.


43 “El debate de los listados,” Semana, August 4, 2007. Semana notes that the Court ruling led some paramilitary commanders to demand that the government allow them to withdraw from the process.

44 Felix de Bedout, special interview with Mario Iguarán, El Espectador, December 9, 2006. English translation by Human Rights Watch.

45 Human Rights Watch interviews with prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Justice and Peace Unit, September 2007.

46 Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, internal analysis of information about Northern Block of the AUC, August 2006, unpublished document on file with Human Rights Watch.

47 Law 418 as modified by Laws 548 of 1999 and 782 of 2002 and as regulated by Decrees 128 of 2003, 3360 of 2003, and 2767 of 2004. Laws 418 of 1997 and 782 of 2002 provide that members of armed groups may receive pardons for their political crimes, but they bar persons who have committed atrocities from receiving pardons. Law 418, art. 50, as modified by art. 19 of Law 782.

48 Colombian Commission of Jurists, “Colombia: El Espejismo de la Justicia y la Paz, Balance sobre la aplicación de la Ley 975 de 2005” [Colombia: the Mirage of Justice and Peace, Assessment of the application of Law 975 of 2005], Bogotá, November 2007, pp. 45-46.

49 Ibid.

50 Law 975 of 2005, art. 33, special paragraph. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” [Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report], December 2006, (accessed August 12, 2008). Listing all 37 blocks.

51 Human Rights Watch interviews with prosecutors, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Justice and Peace Unit (names withheld), September 21, 2007.

52 Human Rights Watch interview with prosecutor, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Justice and Peace Unit (name withheld), September 21, 2007.

53 Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra Castro, Human Rights Unit Director, Bogotá, February 21, 2008. “Asesinan a funcionaria del CTI en Santa Marta,” El Tiempo, November 16, 2007; “Agente de CTI asesinada en Santa Marta seguía desde hace un año pista de nuevo ‘paras,’” El Tiempo, November 17, 2007, (accessed August 11, 2008).

54 Ministry of Interior Decree 122, January 18, 2008.

55 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General, Bogotá, February 21, 2008.

56 While the initial list provided by the government included only 2,696 applicants, the numbers have gone up due to the addition of guerrilla members and other persons who were in prison at the time of their applications. Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, “3431 postulados a la Ley 975/05” [List of Applicants for the Justice and Peace Law], (accessed April 30, 2008); Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Bogota, Director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General, July 16, 2008.

57 The government established that, at the start of their interviews with prosecutors to confess under the Justice and Peace Law, paramilitaries who have applied for the law’s benefits must be asked whether they still wish to go through the process of application of the law. Decree 2898 of 2006, art. 1, December 29, 2006, (accessed August 11, 2008). Decree 4417 of 2006, art. 1, December 7, 2006, (accessed August 11, 2008). Initially, the government set a deadline of six months after the decree was issued for applicants to make a “ratification.” Decree 4417 of 2006 later eliminated that deadline and simply said that in their interviews they will be asked about their interest in participating in the law. They need to first make that statement so that the rest of the interview can proceed. Decree 4417, art 1.

58 Attorney General’s Office, Justice and Peace Unit, Summary of Justice and Peace Report as of February 22, 2008, emailed to Human Rights Watch.

59 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General.

60 Human Rights Watch interview with justice sector official, Bogotá, September 2007.

61 Human Rights Watch interviews with Luis González, Director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Bogotá, February 21, 2008 and July 16, 2008.

62 Ibid.

63 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, February 21, 2008.

64 Human Rights Watch interview with official from the Office of the Inspector General of Colombia [name withheld], September 2007.

65 Attorney General’s Office, Justice and Peace Unit, Summary of Justice and Peace Report, February 22, 2008, sent to Human Rights Watch.

66 Ibid.

67 “Amenaza de extradición puso a jefe paramilitar 'H.H.' a confesar más crímenes,” El Tiempo, November 10, 2007, (accessed August 19, 2008).

68 Salvatore Mancuso confession, January 16, 2007 and December 19, 2007.

69 Don Antonio confession, June 26, 2007.

70 HH confession, October 30, 2007.

71 “Lo que ellas callan,”Cambio, May 7, 2008.

72 HH confession, October 30, 2007. Translated from Spanish by Human Rights Watch.

73 Jorge 40 confession, July 3, 2007.

74 UN High Commissioner for Refugees Office in Colombia, “2007: Year of the Displaced Person,” (accessed August 18, 2008).

75 Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública Sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado, “Proceso Nacional de Verificación de los Derechos de la Población Desplazadas: Primer Informe a la Corte Constitucional,”[ Monitoring Commission on Public Policy for IDPs, 1st Report to the Constitutional Court.], January 28, 2008 availiable at (accessed August 1, 2008), pp. 31-32. The same report notes that there is a discrepancy between this survey and the official information system about displaced persons, which attributes only 11.3 percent of cases of displacement to paramilitaries. The report notes that the reports of displacement caused by paramilitaries in the official information system have been dropping “probably because, among other factors, of the difficulties that have arisen in the process of registration…due to the paramilitary demobilization process…[because] as has been reported by many organizations… some Territorial Units (TUs) of Acción Social began to systematically refuse to register persons and homes who reported that paramilitaries were responsible for their displacement. According to the reports about the situation, the TUs were operating on the assumption that since the paramilitaries, having demobilized, could not be accused of having caused the displacement.” Ibid.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Bogotá, February 21, 2008.

77 Ibid.

78 Email message from official, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia to Human Rights Watch, February 29, 2008.

79 Resolution 0-3998, December 6, 2006, art. 4.

80 Salvatore Mancuso confession to Justice and Peace prosecutors, May 15, 2007. “Mancuso dice que los generales Rito Alejo del Río, Martín Carreño e Iván Ramírez ayudaron a expandir el paramilitarismo,” Semana, May 15, 2007, (accessed August 11, 2008). “Monumental escándelo por revelaciones de Salvatore Mancuso,” Semana, January 16, 2007, (accessed August 18, 2008).

81 Ibid.

82 Ibid. Carreño denied Mancuso’s statements, but died in a car accident shortly afterwards. “Este martes sera sepultado en Bogotá el general en retiro Martín Orlando Carreño” Caracol Radio, May 21, 2007, (accessed August 11, 2008).

83 In recent statements to the Supreme Court, given via videoconference from the United States, Mancuso specified that he had two meetings with del Río when the latter commanded the 17th Brigade—one in Córdoba and one in Urabá. “Mancuso prendió el ventilador,” El País (Cali), September 26, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008).

84 “Colombia: Prosecution Problems Persist,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 11, 2004,

85 Joseph Contreras, “Colombia's Hard Right,” Newsweek, March 25, 2002.

86 Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, decision to close investigation (resolución de preclusión), Case No. 5767 against Brigadier General Rito Alejo del Río Rojas, Bogotá, March 9, 2004.

87 “Destape de un jefe para,” Semana, August 5, 2007. “El general Rito Alejo del Río vuelve a ser señalado como estrecho colaborador de los paramilitares,” Semana, October 30, 2007, (accessed August 4, 2008).

88 “Por operación para 'pacificar' Urabá vuelve el general (r) Rito Alejo Del Río a prisión,” El Tiempo, September 5, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008); “Fiscalía abrirá nuevo proceso contra el General (r) Rito Alejo del Río, por desapariciones en Urabá” El Espectador, May 5, 2008, (accessed August 11, 2008). “General (r) Rito Alejo del Río está a punto de regresar a la carcél,” Cambio, August 7, 2008, (accessed August 11, 2008).

89 “Por operación para 'pacificar' Urabá vuelve el general (r) Rito Alejo Del Río a prisión,” El Tiempo, September 5, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008).

90 “Abogados de víctimas de 'paras' preocupados por fuero del general (r) Rito Alejo del Río,” El Tiempo, September 7, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008).

91 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán, October 2, 2008.

92 Juan Forero, “Witness Ties Colombian General to Paramilitaries,” The Washington Post, September 17, 2008.

93 Ibid.

94 Greg Miller and Paul Richter, “Colombia Army Chief Linked to Outlaw Militias,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2007, (accessed September 26, 2008).

95 “Don Berna reconoció las desapariciones en Comuna 13,” El Colombiano, October 6, 2006.Instituto Popular de Capacitación, “Fosas comunes: los cementerios de la verdad,” April 3, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008)..

96 Juan Forero, “Witness Ties Colombian General to Paramilitaries,” The Washington Post, September 17, 2008.

97 Sergio Gómez, “Lo Consultaron Sobre Reelección, ‘Parapolítica’, Chávez Y La Charla Con Barack Obama Día De Preguntas Para Uribe,” El Tiempo, September 20, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008). “Gobierno niega que el general Mario Montoya esté siendo investigado,” El Espectador, (accessed September 26, 2008).

98 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán, October 2, 2008.

 99 Confession of Salvatore Mancuso, May 15-17, 2007. “Salvatore Mancuso Mencionó a Generales y a Gente del Gobierno,” El Tiempo, May 16, 2007, (accessed August 12, 2008). With respect to Vice President Santos, Mancuso says the following: “As part of the strategy to get political recognition and to express ourselves … commander Castaño organized the search of bridges towards the news media with the goal of showing our reality and seeking allies who agreed with our ideology … so I met then journalist Francisco Santos … because commander Castaño invited me to a meeting with him. We explained to him the model of the Self-defense forces … their cause and genesis … Santos not only seemed interested but I noticed he was unexpectedly identifying with our antiguerrilla positions and the work we were carrying out…. The journalist proposed to commander Castaño that he let me go to Bogotá to meet ... with El Tiempo and explain the reality of the conflict I think that from the beginning commander Carlos already knew the true intentions behind the meeting. Santos praised the model we presented ... and expressed his interest in having the Self-defense forces replicate that model ... in Bogotá, because the circles in the capital were watching with concern how the guerrillas were advancing ... and that could not be allowed because democracy could be affected according to doctor Santos. I was surprised by the proposal but more so yet by commander Castaño’s answer, because he told Pacho [Francisco Santos’s nickname] to command what would later become known as the Capital block. Santos declined the offer because he felt it was a responsibility he would not know how to assume ... Years later we looked for the right person to manage this franchise of the self-defense forces that Mr. Pacho Santos had asked us for ... it was not easy and only in 1999 the duty fell to a retired army captain called Rojas who is now in detention for the attempted killing of representative Wilson Borja when he was a trade unionist ... until later we handed over the command to Miguel Arroyave. As commander of the North Block I visited the offices of El Tiempo approximately one week after Pachito’s visit to Cordoba. His driver picked me up in the El Dorado airport in Bogotá ... we met with him and other journalists ... the objective was to let ourselves be known in the country through the media ... after that episode I understood the goal set out by Castaño with that meeting of looking for allies in the media too…. And we met that objective because during that first part of our relationship with [Santos] ... he wrote the column “Counterinsurgent Project” on April 29, 1997. [He reads the whole article] ... There was another meeting with doctor Santos in Valledupar in a house ... of the Gnecco family ... in that meeting Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, who was then a businessman and our collaborator at the time, was there, and he was the one who took ... Santos to see me there at [Santos’s] request.... Pachito asked me about two or three people who were supposedly kidnapped by the self-defense forces [the AUC] ... he also asked me to find out from commander Castaño how things were going with the formation of the Capital group to which he had been nominated in our first meeting at which he requested the creation of the group.... I found out later that doctor Francisco Santos met with the Tovar friends in Bogotá ... to discuss some details. He also asked him if Carlos was planning to form the Capital Block. And the same thing with commander Aleman, there was another meeting at which ... Santos was present ... he characterized himself as our ally and expressed with great courage his ideological identification with the self-defense forces phenomenon. We felt that he was a brave support who was opening doors for us … Without him we could not have made our way of thinking known through national and prestigious venues. I’ll highlight another article entitled ‘Table with Four Legs’ in the July 27, 1999 issue of El Tiempo ... by Francisco Santos [he proceeds to read the article].” English translation by Human Rights Watch.

100 “Jefe paramilitar contradijo versión de Salvatore Mancuso contra Francisco Santos,” El Tiempo, June 7, 2007, (accessed August 18, 2008).

101 “Caso contra vicepresidente Francisco Santos por acusación de Mancuso, archivado por Fiscalía,” El Tiempo, August 22, 2008, (accessed September 25, 2008).

102 Ibid. According to Mancuso: “[Santos said] that the penetration of drug trafficking in the Samper government had created a perfect situation, and he wanted to propose to us a plan in which both Colombia and the self-defense forces … would win. He said it was a risky political play … it was some sort of coup to return legitimacy to the government, and which would consist, as he presented it to us, in creating an agreement between the FARC and the Self-Defense forces to propose a joint peace process in which an important group of Colombians would participate to call for a constituent assembly and restructure the State. At the same time all these sectors would ask Samper to leave the government in a joint statement in which they would show him the supposed evidence that commander Castaño said he had in his possession about drug trafficking financing for president Samper…. Two months later there was another meeting … [with] Juan Manuel Santos, a journalist called Germán Santamaría, Víctor Carranza, Álvaro Leyva and Hernán Gómez and two more people … I said hello but didn’t participate in the conversation … Later on Commander Carlos told me that they once again discussed the issue of some kind of coup d'état against Samper … and that it would be Juan Manuel Santos who would lead the peace process and that National Constituent Assembly…. That effort … failed because as commander Castaño told me, the Samper government found out … and denounced a conspiracy.” English translation by Human Rights Watch.

103 Email message from prosecutor to Human Rights Watch. “Relación de Copias de Diligencias de Versión Compulsadas,” May 15, 2008. “Eleonora Pineda fue el nombre mas recurrente en la versión libre de Salvatore Mancuso,” El Tiempo, May 19, 2007, (accessed August 12, 2008). “Mancuso dice que los generales Rito Alejo del Río, Martín Carreño e Iván Ramírez ayudaron a expandir el paramilitarismo,” Semana, May 15, 2007, (accessed August 11, 2008).

104 “’El Señor de la Sierra’ salpica a los más influyentes y poderosos políticos del departamento de Magdalena,”Semana, September 18, 2007.

105 Mancuso confession, May 15-17, 2007. Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Relacion de Copias de Diligencias de Version Compulsadas, sent by prosecutor in e-mail to Human Rights Watch, May 15, 2008.

106 Del Monte and Dole have denied the allegations. Del Monte Fresh Produce Co., “Fresh Del Monte Emphatically Denies Allegations of Jailed Colombian Paramilitary Warlord Regarding Payments to Militia,” May 18, 2007, (accessed August 28, 2008). Patrick Markey, “Colombian militia boss says took U.S. banana payoffs,” Reuters, May 18, 2007.

107 Mancuso confession, May 17, 2007. Both Postobon and Bavaria denied the allegations. Darcy Crowe, “Mancuso dice que directivos de Postobón y Bavaria tenían conocimiento de los pagos de estas empresas a los paramilitares,” Associated Press, published in Semana, May 17, 2007, (accessed August 14, 2008).

108 “El ex jefe paramilitar 'HH' habla de la Convivir 'Papagayo'”, Caracol Radio, March 27, 2008, (accessed August 14, 2008).

109 Colombian Ministry of Defense, Decree 356, February 11, 1994.

110 Human Rights Watch, War Without Quarter : Colombia and International Humanitarian Law (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998), Human Rights Watch, “World Report 1998: Colombia Human Rights Developments,” (accessed August 18, 2008).

111 Catalina Esparza, “Uribe Inaugura Red de Informantes,” BBC Mundo, August 8, 2002, (accessed August 14, 2008).

112 HH confession, October 31, 2007. Translated from Spanish by Human Rights Watch.

113 “Hasbún, empresario bananero, cuenta como se volvió paramilitar,” Semana, July 24, 2008, (accessed August 4, 2008).

114 “Chiquita Brands International Pleads Guilty to Making Payments to a Designated Terrorist Organization And Agrees to Pay $25 Million Fine,” US Department of Justice, March 19, 2007, (accessed August 28, 2008).

115 ”Colombia May Seek Chiquita Extraditions,” The Washington Post, March 21, 2007, (accessed August 12, 2008).

116 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán, October 2, 2008.

117 Don Berna confession, July 18, 2007.

118 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Bogotá, July 16, 2008.

119 Case of the La Rochela Massacre, Judgment on the Merits, Reparations, and Costs, May 11, 2007, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Ser. C, No. 163, para. 74. “[T]he State admitted that on January 18, 1989, at least forty members of the “Los Masetos” paramilitary group, acting with the cooperation and acquiescence of State agents, initially detained the fifteen victims of the present case, who were members of a Judicial Commission (Mobile Investigative Unit) [Unidad Móvil de Investigación] made up of two criminal preliminary investigation judges, two judicial officers and eleven members of the Technical Corps of the Judicial Police (CTPJ) and later carried out a massacre against them, as a result of which twelve of them were killed, while three survived the attack.” English translation by Human Rights Watch.

120 Ibid., para. 90. “[T]he Judicial Commission was investigating the case of the disappearance of the 19 Tradesmen that occurred in 1987, among other cases. This disappearance was perpetrated by the ACDEGAM paramilitary group, which had the support of and close links with senior leaders of the State security forces”. English translation by Human Rights Watch.

121 Ibid., paras. 110-112.

122 Ibid., para. 116.

123 Ibid., para. 114

124 Ibid., para. 113.

125 Ibid, para. 101(h).

126 Ibid., para. 160.

127 Ibid., footnote 74. “Por su culpa…,”Semana, June 2, 2007, (accessed August 14, 2008).

128 Case of the La Rochela Massacre, Judgment on the Merits, Reparations, and Costs, May 11, 2007, Inter-American Court of Human Rigths, Ser. C, No. 163, para. 160-161; para. 154.

129“’Báez’ y ‘Isaza,’ Claves en Caso Contra General (R) Yanine,” El Tiempo, March 10, 2008, (accessed August 12, 2008). “'Báez' y Ramón Isaza serán llamados a declarar contra el general (r) Farouk Yanine Díaz,” El Tiempo, March 10, 2008. “La decisión del Alto Tribunal fue tomada 21 años después del crimen, al decidirse a seguir las recomendaciones de la Procuraduría y de la Corte Interamericana para que Yanine comparezca ante la justicia ordinaria.” Letter from Sandra Castro, Director, Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, to Francisco Etcheverry, Office of International Affairs, Office of the Attorney General, in response to questions by Human Rights Watch, April 3, 2008. The letter notes that General Yanine was initially tied to the case in 1996, but jurisdiction over the case was transferred to the military justice system, which closed the investigation. However, the letter says, “due to the ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, we requested a review of the case and on March 6, 2008, the Supreme Court annulled the proceedings in the military justice system and ordered the ordinary justice system to carry on with the investigation. English translation by Human Rights Watch.

130 Letter from Carlos Fernando Espinosa Blanco, Administrative Secretary of the Unit of Prosecutors Delegated before the Supreme Court, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, to Francisco Etcheverry, International Affairs Office, Office of the Attorney General, in response to questions by Human Rights Watch, March 18, 2008. Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Camargo, Justice and Peace prosecutor and advisor to Human Rights Unit director, Office of the Attorney General, July 16, 2008.

131 “Attorney General Admits that there was Impunity in the La Rochela Massacre for 19 Years,” Caracol Radio, April 28, 2008, (accessed April 3, 2008). “'Ernesto Báez' insiste en no aceptar responsabilidades militares en crímenes de los 'paras,'” El Tiempo, March 27, 2008, (accessed August 13, 2008).

132 “Attorney General’s Office Asks that Báez be Removed from the Justice and Peace Process,” El Espectador, March 28, 2008, (accessed March 29, 2008). “Delitos confesados por ‘Ernesto Báez’ son de poca monta, dice fiscal 14 de justicia y paz,” El Tiempo, June 1, 2007, (accessed August 12, 2008). Luis González confirmed in July 2008 that his unit planned to seek Báez’s removal from the process. Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General, July 16, 2008.

133 The account of the Mapiripán massacre is largely drawn from Human Rights Watch, War Without Quarter: Colombia and International Humanitarian Law (New York: Human Rights Watch, October 1998),, pp. 118,-120.

134 Ibid. Inter-American Court of Human Rigths, "Mapiripán Massacre" v. Colombia. Judgment (Merits, Reparations, and Costs), of September 15. Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No. 134 (2005), para. 96.39.

135 Inter-American Court of Human Rigths, "Mapiripán Massacre" v. Colombia. Judgment (Merits, Reparations, and Costs), of September 15. Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No. 134 (2005), para. 96.30.

136 Ibid., para. 96.36.

137 Ibid., para. 96.40.

138 Ibid., para. 96.36.

139 Human Rights Watch, War Without Quarter (citing “Nobody wanted to stop the massacre,” Cambio, November 3, 1997).

140 Human Rights Watch, War Without Quarter, p.119.

141 Ruling in Case No. 09 – 2004- 00114, Ninth Criminal Judge of the Specialized Circuit of Bogotá,(Defendants Jaime H Uscátegui Ramírez; Hernán Orozco Castro; Miguel Enrique Vergara Salgado), November 28, 2007. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights explains that “in 1997 the municipality of Mapiripán was under the jurisdiction of the ‘Joaquín París’ Batallion of San José del Guaviare, which was attached to the VII Brigade of the National Army of Colombia, headquartered in Villavicencio. There was a team called the II Mobile Brigade that was attached to the Special Counterguerrilla Operations Command. In July of 1997 the VII Brigada of the army was under the command of General Jaime Humberto Uscátegui Ramírez, the II Mobile Brigada was Ander the command of Lieutenant Colonel Lino Hernando Sánchez Prado and the Joaquín París Batallion of San José del Guaviare was under the command of Colonel Carlos Eduardo Ávila Beltrán. But from July 8 to 19, 1997, then Major Hernán Orozco Castro was in command of the ‘Joaquín París’ Batallion of San José del Guaviare, as he was substituting for Colonel Carlos Eduardo Ávila Beltrán, who was on vacation.” Inter-American Court of Human Rigths, "Mapiripán Massacre" v. Colombia. Judgment (Merits, Reparations, and Costs), of September 15. Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No. 134 (2005), para. 96.24.

142 Roxana Altholz, “Human Rights Atrocities Still go Unpunished in Colombia,” Alternet, January 29, 2008, (accessed January 29, 2008).

143 Human Rights Watch interview with prosecutor in Mapiripán case and Sandra Castro, director, Human Rights Unit, Office of the Attorney General, Bogotá, February 21 , 2008.

144 Human Rights Watch interview with Carlos Camargo, Human Rights Unit, Office of the Attorney General, Bogotá, July 16, 2008.

145 Ibid.

146 Mancuso confession, date unavailable.

147 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia, Judgment of July 1, 2006 (Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs), Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No.148 (2006), para. 125(58),(71).

148 Ibid., para. 125(75). Human Rights Watch, Colombia - The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links, vol. 12, no. 1 (B), February 2000,, p. 12.

149 Ibid.

150 Ibid. Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia, Judgment of July 1, 2006 (Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs), Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No.148 (2006), paras. 125(58)-(79), 218.

151 Ibid., para. 125(55).

152 “Una historia de dolor,” Semana, July 28, 2006, (accessed August 13, 2008).

153 Human Rights Watch, Colombia - The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links, vol. 12, no. 1 (B), February 2000,, p. 13.

154 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia, Judgment of July 1, 2006 (Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs), Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No.148 (2006), para. 125(56), (57), (86).

155 Ibid.

156 Human Rights Watch, Colombia - The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links, vol. 12, no. 1 (B), February 2000,, p. 13 (citing testimony of Francisco Enrique Villalba Hernández to the Attorney General's Office, April 30, 1998).

157 Ibid.

158 Ibid.

159 Inter-American Court of Human Rights,Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia, Judgment of July 1, 2006 (Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs), Inter-Am.Ct.H.R., (Ser. C) No.148 (2006), para. 315.

160 Ibid., paras. 311-312.

161 Ibid., paras 311-315.

162 Salvatore Mancuso confesión (exact date unknown), 2008.

163 Ibid

164 Ibid.

165 Ibid.

166 Ibid.

167 Ibid.

168 Ibid.

169Sworn statement by Francisco Enrique Villalba Hernandez to prosecutors, Bogotá, February 15, 2008.

170 Human Rights Watch interview with prosecutor, Office of the Attorney General, Human Rights Unit (name withheld), Bogotá, July 16, 2008.

171 “Uribe: Yo No Me Reuní con Paramilitares,” Semana, April 23, 2008, (accessed July 24, 2008).

172 “Se retracta el ‘para’ que acusó al Presidente y a su hermano Santiago,” El Tiempo, July 23, 2008, (accessed August 4, 2008).

173“Debate Retrechero,” Semana, August 27, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008); Daniel Coronell, “El enviado del Señor,” Semana, August 23, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008).

174 Human Rights Watch interview with prosecutor, Office of the Attorney General, Human Rights Unit (name withheld), Bogota, February 21, 2008.

175 Human Rights Watch interview with survivor of El Salado massacre, Barranquilla, September 30, 2007.

176 Ibid.

177 Ibid.

178 Human Rights Watch interview with survivor of El Salado massacre, Sincelejo, February 24, 2008.

179 Human Rights Watch interview with prosecutors, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Human Rights Unit, Bogota, February 21, 2008.

180 Prosecutors say that “The Tiger,” a paramilitary who participated in the massacre, told them that in fact 72 people were killed. Ibid. Larry Rohter, “Colombians Tell of Massacre, As Army Stood By,” New York Times, July 14, 2000.

181 “Más de 100 fueron las personas asesinadas por ‘paras’ en la masacre del Salado, revela la Fiscalía,” El Tiempo, June 23, 2008, (accessed July 30, 2008).

182 Ibid.

183 Larry Rohter, “Colombians Tell of Massacre, As Army Stood By”, New York Times, July 14, 2000.

184 “Más de 100 fueron las personas asesinadas por ‘paras’ en la masacre del Salado, revela la Fiscalía,” El Tiempo.  “Paras colgaron y degollaron a algunas víctimas de la masacre de ‘El Salado’,” El Tiempo, July 30, 2008, (accessed July 30, 2008).

185 “Más de 100 fueron las personas asesinadas por ‘paras’ en la masacre del Salado, revela la Fiscalía,” El Tiempo.

186 Salvatore Mancuso, Powerpoint Presentation: Facts, Versión Libre 2006, available for download at “Pacto con el Diablo,” Semana, January 20, 2007, (accessed April 3, 2008).

187 Salvatore Mancuso confession, 2007, exact date unavailable.

188 Larry Rohter, “Colombians Tell of Massacre, As Army Stood By”, New York Times, July 14, 2000.

189 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán, October 2, 2008. In response to a request for information about investigations against Quiñónez, the Attorney General’s Office later sent Human Rights Watch a report indicating that as of March 18, 2008 the only information they had about investigations of Quiñónez were some resolutions from 2004 and 2005 closing prior investigations of Quiñónez for the Chengue massacre. Attorney General’s Office Letter No. 1746, to Francisco Echeverri, Director of International Affairs, from Carlos Fernando Espinosa Blanco, Secretary, Unit of Prosecutors Delegated before the Supreme Court, March 18, 2008, sent by Francisco Javier Echeverri to Human Rights Watch, March 27, 2008. Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Relación de Copias de Diligencias de Versión Compulsadas, sent by prosecutor in e-mail to Human Rights Watch, May 15, 2008.

190 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Colombian Attorney General Mario Iguarán, October 2, 2008.

191 Scott Wilson, “Chronicle of a Massacre Foretold,” Washington Post, January 28, 2001.

192 Human Rights Watch interview with Chengue victim, Sincelejo, February 24, 2008.

193 Ibid.

194 Human Rights Watch, The Sixth Division: Military-paramilitary Ties and U.S. Policy in Colombia, (New York: Human Rights Watch, September 2001),, p. 9 (citing letter from residents of Chengue, Don Gabriel, and Salitral, Sucre, Ovejas Personería, to President Andrés Pastrana, October 6, 2000).

195 Juan Forero, “An Elusive Justice: Seven Years after Massacre in Colombian Village, Truth of Paramilitary Attack Remains Hazy,” Washington Post, January 25, 2008.

196 Human Rights Watch, Colombia Human Rights Certification Memo III, February 2002,

197 Office of the Attorney General, Unit of Delegates before the Supreme Court, Decision to Close Investigations, Case No. 5677 against Navy Admiral Rodrigo Alfonso Quiñónez Cárdenas, December 28, 2004.

198 Ibid.

199 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Jairo Castillo Peralta, August 13, 2008.

200 Human Rights Watch, Colombia - A Wrong Turn: The Record of the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, vol. 14, no. 2(B), November 2002,, p. 10.

201 Office of the Attorney General, Unit of Delegates before the Supreme Court, Decision to Close Investigations, Case No. 5677 against Navy Admiral Rodrigo Alfonso Quiñónez Cárdenas, December 28, 2004. The decision to close the case was confirmed in a separate resolution by the deputy attorney general on February 14, 2005.

202 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Admissibility ruling: Chengue Massacre, Report No. 45/07, Petition 1268-05, Colombia, July 23, 2007, para. 19.

203 Juan Forero, “An Elusive Justice: Seven Years After Massacre in Colombian Village, Truth of Paramilitary Attack Remains Hazy,” Washington Post, January 25, 2008

204 “'Paras' colgaron y degollaron a algunas de las víctimas de la masacre de 'El Salado'”, El Tiempo, July 30, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008).

205 “Masiva Extradición de Jefes Paramilitares,” El Espectador, May 13, 2008, (accessed July 20, 2008).

206 “La Paradoja de ‘Macaco’,” Semana, May 10, 2008, (accessed July 23, 2008).

207 UNDP, “Estados Unidos, la extradición y las AUC,” Bulletin Hechos del Callejón, June 2005, pp. 2-5, (accessed July 26, 2008).

208 “United Self Defense Forces (AUC) Indictment,” John Ashcroft, U.S. attorney general, September 24, 2002, (accessed July 23, 2008). “Castaño será juzgado por terrorismo: Bush,” El Tiempo, September 26, 2002, (accessed July 23, 2008).

209 “Colombia: ‘paras’ contra extradición,” BBC Mundo, July 8, 2003, (accessed July 23, 2008). The previous year, the United States Department of State had placed the AUC on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. On several occasions after that, Castaño was reported to have attempted to turn himself over to the U.S. in hopes of negotiating information on the drug trade in exchange for entrance into a witness protection program. “La Entrega de Castaño,” El Tiempo, September 26, 2002, (accessed July 26, 2008). “Las fechas clave,” Semana, undated,

210 Letter from Human Rights Watch to President Álvaro Uribe, “Colombia – serious concerns over demobilization process”, October 29, 2005,

211 “Texto de la alocución presidencial con ocasión de la extradición de los jefes paramilitares,” El Tiempo, May 13, 2008, (accessed July 28, 2008).

212 “Las Revelaciones de David Hernández Macaco,” Semana, April 30, 2008, (accessed July 23, 2008). “El Computador de ‘Jorge 40’,” Semana, September 2, 2008, (accessed July 28, 2008).

213 “Un fiasco han resultado bienes recibidos por ex jefes paramilitares al Fondo de Reparación,” El Tiempo, April 19, 2008, (accessed July 29, 2008).

214 Justice and Peace Law, Law 975 of 2005, art. 10. Colombian Constitutional Court, Decision C-370/2006, para. The law also provides for separate elegibility requirements for persons who demobilize individually, deserting their groups. These requirements include: turning over information or collaborating with the dismantling of the group to which he or she belonged, signing a commitment act with the National Government, demobilizing and disarming, ceasing illicit activities, and turning over illegally acquired assets. Law 975 of 2005, art. 11.

215 Law 975 of 2005, art. 29. Decision C-370/2006, Colombian Constitutional Court, paras.,,

216 Decision C-370/2006, Colombian Constitutional Court, para. The Court noted that “the imposition of an alternative sentence does not annul, invalidate or extinguish the original sentence. The extinction only happens once the [defendant] fulfills in its totality the alternative sentence imposed, the probationary period, and all the obligations derived from all the requirements imposed for the granting of the benefit.” English translation by Human Rights Watch.

217 Human Rights Watch, Colombia’s Checkbook Impunity, September 22, 2003,, p. 4.

218 Ibid., p. 10. “Don Berna” was a former security chief for the Galeano family, associates of noted Medellin drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar. “The Untouchable One?” Semana, June 9, 2007, (accessed April 30, 2008).

219 Human Rights Watch, Colombia - Smoke and Mirrors: Colombia’s demobilization of paramilitary groups, vol. 17, no. 3(B), August 2005,, pp. 28-35.

220 “El Computador de Jorge 40,” Semana, September 2, 2006. “Así Opera El Imperio Criminal de 40,” El Tiempo, October 8, 2006.

221 Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, unpublished internal analysis concerning Northern Block of AUC, August 2006, copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

222 Ibid.

223 Human Rights Watch interviews, Pasto, February 27-28, 2008.

224 Human Rights Watch, You’ll Learn Not to Cry: Child Combatants in Colombia (New York: Human Rights Watch, September 2003),

225 Ibid., p. 97.

226 “Proyecto Control Preventivo y Seguimiento a las Políticas Públicas en Materia de Desmovilización y Reinserción,” vol. II, Office of the Inspector General of Colombia, 2006, p. 339.

227 Letter from Luis Carlos Restrepo, High Comissioner for Peace of Colombia, Edgardo Maya, Colombian Inspector General, December 11, 2007.

228 “Paramilitares escondieron a los niños que tenían en sus filas,” El Tiempo, July 13, 2008, (accessed August 14, 2008).

229 El Tiempo newspaper states that it located several minors who were in paramilitary ranks but were never turned over to authorities, and that in Córdoba, Sucre, Antioquia, Norte de Santander and the plains region in the east of Colombia it is said that days before the demobilization ceremonies, commanders sent them home with a payment and promised to help them if they remained silent. Ibid.                   

230 Organization of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, Eleventh Quarterly Report, p. 12, (accessed August 14, 2008).

231 Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized paramilitary, Sincelejo, February 28, 2008.

232 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Director of the Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General, Bogota, February 21, 2008. Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, “Exhumaciones: Desenterrando la Verdad,” undated, (accessed May 2, 2008). Because of the large amount of complaints about persons who were forcibly “disappeared” by paramilitaries, the Office of the Attorney General has created a special team of prosecutors, investigators, technicians, and experts charged with conducting exhumations.

233 Ibid. The process of identification of the bodies has moved much more slowly: so far the Attorney General’s Office reports that 146 victims’ bodies have been fully identified and returned to their families. Another 23 are reported to have been fully identified but have not yet been turned over to their families. The office reports that they have preliminarily—but not yet fully—identified 524 additional bodies. Moreover, local experts observing the exhumations reported to Human Rights Watch that the discovery of the graves and bodies often does not appear to be the result of information obtained through the “versión libre”s but rather of tips received from informants and other sources, and that some of the bodies in those mass graves may be of paramilitary combatants—not disappeared civilians. Email message from local expert who asked not to be identified to Human Rights Watch, May 7, 2008.

234 Fundación País Libre, “Estadísticas de Secuestro a Diciembre de 2007,” December 2007, (accessed May 2, 2008).

235 Ibid. The breakdown is: 579 were released (46 under pressure), 129 were killed (including 24 of the hostages taken between 2003 and 2006), 13 escaped, and 187 were rescued.

236 Ibid.

237 Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, internal analysis concerning Northern Block of AUC, August 2006, obtained by Human Rights Watch.


239 Hernando Salazar, “Colombia: Peace Process Tested,” BBC World, August 17,2006, (accessed August 14, 2008).

240 Daniel Coronell,”Príncipes y Mendigos,” Semana, July 29, 2006, (accessed August 14, 2008). English translation by Human Rights Watch.

241 “DAS: Sigue el Destape,”Cambio, April 11, 2006.

242 Ibid.

243 Rafael Pardo Rueda, Fin del Paramilitarismo: ¿Es Posible su Desmonte? (Bogota: Ediciones B, 2007), p. 153.

244 President Uribe issued a statement calling on the “representative members” of those demobilized who “due to the nature of their crimes must place themselves at the disposal of a judge” to immediately go to places of confinement on a temporary basis. The statement said that suspension of extradition requests would be lifted for those who did not comply. Colombian Presidency, “Comunicado del Presidente de la República,” Press statement by President Álvaro Uribe, August 14, 2006, (accessed February 4, 2008) . English translation by Human Rights Watch.

245 As a result, the government lifted the suspension of the arrest warrant for Vicente Castaño. “Gobierno restablece orden de captura contra Vicente Castaño,” El Pais , October 11, 2006, (accessed August 14, 2008). Ever Veloza later stated that he was entitled to refuse because the confinement was voluntary. “Destape de un jefe ‘para’” Semana, August 4, 2007, (accessed August 14, 2008).

246 Gloria Castrillón, “Visita Guiada a la Anticárcel de los ‘Paras’”, Cromos , undated, (accessed August 14, 2008).

247 Office of the Inspector General of Colombia, Deputy Inspector General on Prevention in Human Rights and Ethnic Affairs, “Informe de Visita de Inspección al Centro Penitenciario y Carcelario de Reclusión Especial en la Ceja—CPCERE [Report on Inspection Visit to the Special Reclusion Penitentiary Center in La Ceja (CPCERE) ], Antioquia, November 22 and 23, 2006, pp.6-9, 16-17.

248 Ibid., p. 9.

249 Sources within the government told the press that they were concerned over the killings of several of the right-hand men of the paramilitary leaders, which they believed could have been planned from La Ceja. The paramilitary leaders reportedly expressed surprise and anger at the decision, and attributed it to a supposed desire by some officials to distract attention from the “parapolitics” scandal, which was gaining momentum at the time. “Abogados de jefes 'paras' dicen que su traslado a Itagüí busca eludir escándalo de 'parapolítica',” El Tiempo, December 2, 2006, (accessed March 10, 2008).

250 National Penitentiary and Jail Institute (INPEC), Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution No. 231 of 2007, February 16, 2007. Human Rights Watch interview with Evelio Henao, Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Group, Ministry of Interior and Justice of Colombia, Bogota, February 26, 2008. Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Eduardo Morales, Director, Colombia’s National Penitentiary Institute (INPEC), Bogota, February 22, 2008.

251 National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 231 of 2007, art. 25, as modified by National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 7695, August 3, 2007, art. 4. The regulations provide that the number of cell phones that may be authorized is limited to 40 percent of the population of the Justice and Peace sector of the prison, and that no prisoner may have more than one cell phone.

252 Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Eduardo Morales Beltrán, Director of Colombia’s National Penitentiary Institute (INPEC), Bogota, February 22, 2008.

253 Specifically, Tuesdays from 8 am to 3:30 pm are set aside for “intimate” visits. Thursdays are set aside for nuclear family visits, including parents, spouse, and children, also from 8 am to 3:30 pm. Saturdays and Sundays from 8 am to 3 pm are for visits from the nuclear family as well as other relatives and friends “up to 10 (ten) persons.” National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 231 of 2007, art. 31, as modified by National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 7695 of August 3, 2007, art. 1.

254 Ibid., art 31, special paragraph.

255 Ibid., art. 30(2).

256 Human Rights Watch interview with General Eduardo Morales Beltran, February 22, 2008.

257 National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 231 of 2007, art. 30, special paragraph 2.

258 Ibid., art. 25.

259 Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Eduardo Morales Beltrán, February 22, 2008.

260National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 231 of 2007, art. 14.

261 Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Eduardo Morales Beltrán, February 22, 2008.

262 National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 231 of 2007, art. 4.

263 Ibid., as amended by National Penitentiary and Jail Institute, Ministry of Interior and Justice, Resolution 7695 of August 3, 2007, art. 5.

264 Ibid.

265 Email message from legal expert in Colombia [name withheld] to Human Rights Watch, September 26, 2008.

266 ”Te llamo desde la prision,” Semana, May 12, 2007, (accessed August 14, 2008).

267 Human Rights Watch interview with Gen. Eduardo Morales Beltrán, February 22, 2008.

268 “Desaparecidos 5 computadores que paramilitares extraditados a E.U. tenían en la cárcel de Itagüí”, El Tiempo, May 16, 2008, (viewed July 31, 2008).

269 Ministry of Interior and Justice, press statement, May 22, 2008, copied in full in “A computadores de paramilitares tuvieron acceso personas ajenas a organismos de seguridad,” El Tiempo, May 22, 2008, (viewed July 31, 2008).

270 Human Rights Watch interview with Marlene Mesa, Deputy Director for Assistance to Victims of Violence—National Reparations Fund, February 22, 2008. Initially, the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace reported that during demobilization ceremonies the groups turned over 59 urban immobile properties, 149 automobiles, and 3 airplanes, and that the groups provided information about 334 rural properties (adding up to 25,601 hectares). Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” [Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report], December 2006, (accessed August 12, 2008), p. 101.

271 Email message with the List of Assets Offered by Applicants for the Benefits of Law 975 of 2005 as of March 17, 2008 from Attorney General’s Office, Justice and Peace Unit to Human Rights Watch, March 18, 2008.

272 The national survey of displaced persons conducted as part of the Constitutional Court process of monitoring the plight of displaced persons shows that 73 percent of those surveyed say they left assets behind when they left. Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública Sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado, Proceso Nacional de Verificación de los Derechos de la Población Desplazadas: Primer Informe a la Corte Constitucional, pp. 31-32, January 28, 2008. A recent analysis by the Presidential Agency for Social Action, which is charged with providing assistance to displaced person, indicates that 64 percent of displaced persons report leaving behind behind property. Acción Social, Report to the Constitutional Court, Sector Baseline for Public Policy on Assistance to the Population Displaced by Violence, p. 66, Dec. 2007.

273 Office of the Inspector General of Colombia, “Project on Preventive Control and Monitoring of Public Policies with Regard to Reintegration and Demobilization,” Volume 1, page 154. Assuming that paramilitaries took 37 percent of that land, they would have taken 2.5 million hectares.

274 Ibid, p. 157.

275 Decree 3391 of 2006, art. 5, para. 1.

276 Human Rights Watch interview with Gladys Lucia Sanchez, Director, Money Laundering and Asset Confiscation Unit, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, Bogotá, July 16, 2008.

277 Ibid.

278  Las tres razones del Presidente para extraditar a los jefes paramilitares, El Tiempo, May 14, 2008, (accessed October 6, 2008).

279 “Encontrada 'caleta' con 4 maletas llenas de escrituras de bienes propiedad de Salvatore Mancuso,” El Tiempo, June 5, 2008, (accessed June 5, 2008).  Human Rights Watch interview with Gladys Lucía Sánchez, July 16, 2008.

280 “¿Qué significa el fallo de la Corte sobre la Ley de Justicia y Paz?” Semana, May 19, 2006, (accessed 29 July 29, 2008).

281 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis González, Director, Justice and Peace Unit, Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, July 16, 2008.

282 “Más paramilitares extraditados quieren continuar en proceso de Justicia y Paz,” Semana, July 1, 2008, (accessed July 29, 2008).

283 “Victimas piden que no las dejen sin saber lo que pasó,” Semana, May 15, 2008, (accessed July 28, 2008).

284 “Texto de la alocución presidencial con ocasión de la extradición de los jefes paramilitares”[ Text of presidential address on the occasion of the extradition of the paramilitary chiefs], El Tiempo, May 13, 2008, (accessed July 28, 2008).

285 US Embassy in Colombia, Colombia: Extradition of 14 Paramilitary Leaders to the United States, (accessed July 31, 2008).

286 “Máxima justicia, sanción y reparación contra los paramilitares extraditados, dice embajador de EE.UU”, EFE News Service, May 14, 2008.

287 Note from US Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield to Carlos Holguin Sardi, Minister of Interior and Justice of Colombia, June 25, 2008. Note from Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice Fabio Valencia Cossio to US Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield, July 8, 2008.

288 “Salvatore Mancuso acusó a generales y congresistas en declaración vía satélite ante la Corte Suprema,” El Tiempo, September 26, 2008, (accessed September 26, 2008).

289 18 U.S.C. section 2340A (the “Torture Act”), which provides that “[w]hoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life." Torture, in turn, is defined as “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control." 28 USC 2340(1). Congress expressly intended the enactment of the Torture Act to fulfill the obligations of the United States pursuant to Articles 4 and 5 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the “CAT”). H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 103-482, at 229 (1994) (referring to the adoption of 18 U.S.C. § 2340 as “[i]mplementing legislation for Torture Convention”).

290 “¿Visa a la Impunidad?” Semana, July 26, 2008., (accessed July 29, 2008).“El Negocio de Su Vida,” El Tiempo, September 26, 2002, (accessed July 29, 2008).

291 “¿Sólo ocho años de carcel?” Semana, June 21, 2008, (accessed July 24, 2008).

292 U.S. v. Hernán Giraldo-Serna et al, US District Court for the District of Columbia, Second Superseding Indictment, March 2, 2005. Guillermo Pérez-Alzate (known as “Pablo Sevillano”) faces similar charges. U.S. v. Guillermo Pérez-Alzate, US District Court, Middle district of Florida, Indictment, December 11, 2002.

293 See 21 USC §§ 959, 960.

294 Human Rights Watch interview with legal expert, Washington, DC, August 11, 2008.