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More face abuse and death as Colombia's government denies human rights situation

Protest in 2006 against the murder of mining trade union leader Alejandro Uribe

Protest in 2006 against the murder of mining trade union leader Alejandro Uribe

© Private

28 October 2008

The Colombian government is in denial about the country's human rights situation, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Leave us in peace! Targeting civilians in Colombia's internal armed conflict says that despite increasing reports of forced internal displacement, attacks against social and human rights activists and killings by security forces, Colombian authorities are attempting to paint a positive picture.

The authorities even refuse to admit there's an armed conflict in their country. "It's impossible to solve a problem without admitting there is one," says Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher at Amnesty International. "Denial only condemns more people to abuse and death."

The most comprehensive up-to-date study on the state of human rights in Colombia, the report is the culmination of in situ research between 2006 and 2008. It recounts the stories of those individuals and communities hardest hit by the conflict, including members of afro-descendant, indigenous and campesino (rural small-scale farming) communities killed or displaced from their homes.

The report also documents the stories of victims of kidnappings; women and girls raped; children recruited by paramilitary and guerrilla groups or maimed by landmines; communities taking an active stand to defend their right not to be drawn into the conflict; and human rights defenders and trade unionists whose work in defence of human rights has cost them their lives.

At least 1,400 civilians were killed in 2007. This figure is up from 1,300 in 2006. Of the cases where the perpetrator is known, the security forces were responsible for at least 330 of these, the paramilitaries for around 300 and guerrillas for about 260.

As many as 305,000 Colombians were displaced in 2007, compared with 220,000 in 2006. At least 190 people were victims of either enforced disappearances by the security forces and paramilitaries or missing following abductions by guerrilla groups in 2007. This figure was up from around 180 in 2006.

The report shows that while some human rights indicators – such as kidnappings and the security situation in some cities – have improved in recent years, many others have deteriorated.

It also debunks statements repeated by the Colombian government, such as paramilitary groups no longer operate, human rights abusers are held to account and the work of social activists and trade unionists is being fully respected.

"For over 40 years, Colombians have been trapped in one of the worst, forgotten conflicts in the world, attacked by the security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups, while the government fails to take any meaningful action to protect them," said Marcelo Pollack.

"To reverse Colombia's tragic reality the government and guerrilla groups must once and for all remove the civilian population from the conflict."

Colombia's internal armed conflict has pitted the security forces and paramilitaries against guerrilla groups since the mid-1960s. It has been marked by extraordinary levels of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), with civilians by far the principal victims - tens of thousands have been killed, with thousands more subjected to enforced disappearance by the security forces, paramilitaries or guerrilla groups.

The effect of such abuses has been to create one of the world's greatest crises of displaced people; between 3 and 4 million Colombians are thought to have fled their homes to escape the violence. These crimes bear witness to the disregard shown by all parties to the conflict for international human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International is calling on all parties to the Colombian conflict to demonstrate the political will to end human rights abuses. The organization also urges the international community to make greater efforts to ensure that both sides of the conflict respect the human rights of Colombians.

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