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    Crisis in Colombia

"Sixth Division" Fast Facts

On attacks on judicial officials

On November 1, 2001, gunmen killed Carlos Arturo Pinto, a prosecutor who was investigating both a paramilitary group and leftist guerrillas in the city of Cúcuta, Norte de Santander. He was the second person in the post to be killed in less than four months. Pinto had replaced Maria del Rosario Rojas Silva, killed in July.

In 2001, paramilitaries said they would "intensify the campaign" to murder prosecutors and investigators who were working on cases that implicated paramilitary leaders The results have been clear and disturbing:

  • On September 20, Juan Manuel Corzo, the director of the Attorney General's investigative unit in the city of Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, was shot and killed as he drove with his mother. At the time, Corzo was investigating several killings of colleagues, including prosecutor Margarita Pulgarín, killed in Medellín in 2000, and Iván Villamizar, the former public ombudsman for the city, killed in February;

  • On September 2, former Apartadó town council member José de Jesús Geman was killed in a Bogotá hotel. Geman was preparing to deliver material to the Attorney General's office as part of the continuing case against Gen. (ret.) Rito Alejo del Río, who is being investigated for supporting paramilitary groups;

  • On August 26, prosecutor Yolanda Paternina, in charge of the investigation of the Chengue massacre, was shot and killed in front of her home in Sincelejo, Sucre. Paternina had reported receiving death threats following her arrest of three local men whom informants linked to the Chengue massacre. In the days following the killings, Chengue survivors implicated Colombian military forces in the massacre;

  • On July 28, prosecutor María del Rosario Rojas Silva, who was directing a series of investigations into paramilitary activity on the state of Norte de Santander, was shot six times as she left a health clinic in the city of Cúcuta;

  • On July 11, CTI agent Miguel Ignacio Lora, in charge of an investigation into the financing networks of paramilitary groups, was killed in the city of Montería, Córdoba, by an assassin believed to have been sent by paramilitaries;

  • On May 27, two investigators for the Attorney General's office investigating the Chengue massacre were detained by presumed paramilitaries and are now presumed dead. Fabio Luis Coley Coronado and Jorge Luis de la Rosa had posed as farm equipment salesmen n an attempt to infiltrate the paramilitary operation;

  • On May 17, a former paramilitary pilot who had agreed to testify in a government case was shot and killed in Bogotá by an assassin believed to have been sent by paramilitaries;

  • On February 12, the former public advocate in the city of Cúcuta, Iván Villamizar, was shot and killed by ten gunmen outside the city's Free University, where he was serving as president. Paramilitaries had threatened Villamizar for his work as a public advocate. At the time of the attack, Villamizar had two government-assigned bodyguards, who were both seriously wounded in the attack.

The office in Colombia of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called these killings "a systematic campaign of retaliation and intimidation" by those seeking "total impunity for the most serious crimes committed in the country."

On political violence

According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, paramilitaries acting with the tolerance or support of the security forces were responsible for 79 per cent of the political killings and forced disappearances registered in Colombia between April and September 2000. Guerrillas were believed directly responsible for 16 percent of the recorded killings and abductions considered international humanitarian law violations. The security forces were believed directly responsible for 5 percent of the political killings and forced disappearances recorded in the same time period

Political violence is worsening. At the end of April 2001, Colombia's social service agency announced that killings that were the result of political violence continued to run at roughly double the number registered the previous year. In only the first eighteen days of January, authorities recorded twenty-six massacres and a combined death toll of 170 Colombians.

In 2000, an estimated 319,000 people were forcibly displaced from their homes by political violence, the highest number of displaced persons recorded in a single year in the last five years.

Barrancabermeja, a city of 250,000 residents and home to Colombia's largest oil refinery, had a homicide rate of 227 per 100,000 in 2000. That translates as 567 murders for the year, exceeding by twelve the total number of homicides registered in Los Angeles, a city of 10 million.

On paramilitaries and the military

The AUC paramilitary organization has grown by 560 percent over the past four years according to its former leader, Carlos Castaño, who now claims to lead a force of over 11,200 fighters.

Of the three hundred arrest warrants pending in Colombia's attorney general's office in 2000, only 65 were carried out, a drop of almost 50 percent since 1998. In one of the most egregious cases, twenty?two arrest warrants for Carlos Castaño, former leader of the AUC, have been issued, but Castaño has not been arrested.

In the state of Putumayo, the AUC paid monthly salaries to local army and police officials based on rank. Captains received between U.S. $2000 and $3000. Majors received $ 2500 and lieutenants $ 1500. In the state of Cauca, soldiers moonlighting as paramilitaries can earn $ 500 per month. These salaries far exceed the average Colombian's monthly income.

Members of paramilitary groups accused of gross human rights violations and arrested often walk to freedom or continue their activities from jail cells. Since 1998, at least fifteen alleged paramilitary leaders who have been arrested have later walked past prison guards, soldiers, and police to freedom. Military officers accused of murder and of supporting paramilitaries also easily elude detention. Since 1996, forty?four soldiers left military installations where they were reported to be held.

On the Pastrana Administration

The Pastrana Administration has cut, not raised funds for human rights protections in Colombia to such an extent that investigators in the Attorney General's Human Rights Unit have trouble finding cars and even money for gas to conduct investigations. The Unit can only offer witnesses protection for three months.

Judicial officials remain among the most threatened Colombians. According to the Judicial Workers' Victims' Solidarity Fund, between January and September of 2000, eleven judicial workers were killed, eleven others vanished, twenty-one received death threats, and three were the targets of attacks and survived. Most of those targeted belong to the CTI.

The Colombian government argues that it has been tough on the military supporters of paramilitaries. On October 16, 2000, it announced that 388 members of the armed forces had been discharged. The government did not release information on the reasons for the discharges. Subsequently, government investigators told Human Rights Watch that none of the 388 faced any prosecution as a result of the information that led to their discharges. In March 2001, the Defense Ministry announced another purge, this time including twenty officers and fifty enlisted men, most from the Colombian Army. Again, no explanation was given for the dismissals, and there was no evidence that any of these individuals faced investigations for human rights violations.

On U.S. Security Assistance

In 2000 and the first three months of 2001 -- a period of fifteen months -- the Attorney General's Human Rights Unit and advisers from the Internal Affairs agency received a measly U.S. $65,763 from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), half spent on flying prosecutors to the United States to learn about the American judicial system, a dubious pursuit given the unit's desperate need for vehicles, travel funds, and resources to protect threatened witnesses. That works out to less than the amount of U.S. military assistance spent in Colombia in only two hours of a single day.

Intelligence-sharing is not covered by the Leahy Provision, even though its consequences for human rights are real. During the hunt for drug trafficker Pablo Escobar in 1992 and 1993, U.S. intelligence on the fugitive was shared with the Colombian security forces, which in turn coordinated its efforts with rival traffickers belonging to the Cali Cartel. In return, traffickers also provided intelligence on Escobar's whereabouts and habits to Colombian authorities. Government investigators told Human Rights Watch that several of the traffickers who took part in this exchange - members of the group calling itself People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar (Personas Perseguidas por Pablo Escobar, PEPEs) -- now lead and fund the AUC

There is little indication that the strategy established by the Clinton Administration will fundamentally change under President George W. Bush. Expressing his support for the Clinton Administration plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced to the U.S. Congress that he would seek another $400 million for Colombia for FY 2002, roughly equivalent to the amount Colombia received in 2000 and in 2001.

Combat Air Command No. 1 (Comando Aéreo de Combate No. 1), part of the Colombian Air Force, continues to receive U.S. aid and training despite its link to the December 1998 rocket attack against the village of Santo Domingo, Arauca, in which seven children and eleven adults were killed. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that all seven aircraft used by the Colombian Air Force in the operation were obtained from the U.S. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, asked to examine evidence collected from Santo Domingo, confirmed that the remains of a U.S.-made AN-M47 fragmentation bomb and fuze were found in evidence collected by Colombia's Attorney General's office.

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