President Álvaro Uribe Vélez won a second term of office in elections held in May. Congressional elections were held in March, with President Uribe's allies winning a majority of seats in both houses.
Speculation that the government and the FARC were about to agree an exchange of FARC prisoners for hostages held by the guerrilla group were dashed after President Uribe blamed the FARC for detonating an explosive device on 19 October inside the Nueva Granada Military University in Bogotá; at least 20 people were injured in the blast. The ELN and government representatives held a fourth round of preliminary peace talks in October in Cuba.
By the end of the year, the government reported that more than 30,000 paramilitaries had laid down their arms in a controversial government-sponsored demobilization process. In July, the Constitutional Court ruled that key parts of the Justice and Peace Law - designed to regulate the demobilization process and criticized by human rights organizations - were unconstitutional. In September, the government issued a decree to implement the Justice and Peace Law. Although it had been amended in the light of some of the criticisms levelled by the Court, concerns remained that the Law would exacerbate impunity and deny victims their right to truth, justice and reparation. Despite the supposed demobilization, there was strong evidence that paramilitary groups continued to operate and to commit human rights violations with the acquiescence of or in collusion with the security forces. In November, three legislators were arrested for their alleged links to paramilitaries. Several other legislators and political figures were also reportedly under investigation by the Supreme Court of Justice at the end of the year.
Abuses by paramilitary groups continue despite supposed demobilization
The Organization of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia published a report in August. This stated that some demobilized paramilitaries had regrouped as criminal gangs, that others had failed to demobilize, and that new paramilitary groups had emerged. Paramilitaries continued to commit human rights violations in areas where they had supposedly demobilized. More than 3,000 killings and enforced disappearances of civilians were attributed to paramilitary groups since they declared a "ceasefire" in 2002.
• On 11 February, demobilized paramilitaries belonging to the Bloque Noroccidente allegedly killed six peasant farmers in Sabanalarga Municipality, Antioquia Department.
Application of the Justice and Peace Law
In September the government promulgated Decree 3391 which revived some of the more controversial elements of the Justice and Peace Law.
Of particular concern was the inclusion of "rural reinsertion" programmes by which the government will finance agro-industrial projects which bring together peasant farmers, displaced people and demobilized paramilitaries. This could result in peasant and displaced communities working alongside those who forced them off their lands and committed human rights violations against them and lead to the legalization of ownership of lands taken by paramilitaries by force. Decree 3391 also failed to adopt measures that would identify and bring to justice third parties, including members of the security forces and politicians, who have supported paramilitary groups, both logistically and financially.
The Justice and Peace Law, which still failed to meet international standards on truth, justice and reparation, was to be applied only to around 2,600 of the more than 30,000 paramilitaries who had reportedly demobilized. The vast majority of paramilitaries had benefited from de facto amnesties under Decree 128 of 2003. On 6 December, the paramilitaries announced they were withdrawing from the "peace process". This followed the government's decision, taken on 1 December, to transfer 59 supposedly demobilized paramilitary leaders from low-security accommodation in a former holiday camp in La Ceja, Antioquia Department, to the high-security prison of Itagüí in the same Department. The government claimed that the paramilitaries had ordered several killings from La Ceja. On 19 December, Salvatore Mancuso became the first high-ranking leader of the paramilitaries to testify before the Office of the Attorney General's Justice and Peace Unit. The Unit was set up under the Justice and Peace Law to investigate human rights abuses committed by those wishing to qualify for the procedural benefits granted by the Law.
Collusion between paramilitaries and state officials
Scandals involving links between paramilitaries and high-ranking members of state institutions threatened to further undermine confidence in the rule of law.
• In November, the Office of the Procurator General accused the former director of the Civilian Intelligence Department (Departamento de Administración de Seguridad, DAS) of having links with paramilitary groups. The allegations stemmed from claims, published in the media in April by another DAS official, that the DAS had provided a list of 24 trade union leaders to the paramilitary group Bloque Norte. Several individuals named on the list were killed, others were threatened, while some were reportedly the subject of arbitrary judicial proceedings.
• On 9 November, the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the arrest of three congressmen from Sucre Department, Álvaro García Romero, Jairo Merlano and Erik Morris Taboada, for their alleged links to paramilitary groups and, in the case of Álvaro García Romero, for allegedly ordering the massacre by paramilitaries of some 15 peasant farmers in Macayepo, Bolívar Department in 2000. Later in the month the Supreme Court ordered that a further six congressmen answer charges over their alleged links to paramilitary groups.
Press reports in November suggested that the Office of the Attorney General was reviewing more than 100 cases of alleged collusion between paramilitaries and state officials, including political figures, members of the public and judicial administration, and the security forces. In November, the Office of the Procurator General also announced the creation of a special unit to investigate alleged links between public employees and paramilitaries.
Paramilitary groups continued to commit human rights violations in collusion with, or with the acquiescence of, members of the security forces.
• On 4 February, community leader Alirio Sepúlveda Jaimes was killed close to a police station in Saravena Municipality, Arauca Department. The gunman, thought to be a paramilitary, was reportedly linked to the local army battalion. Alirio Sepúlveda was one of around 40 social and human rights activists detained by the authorities in Saravena in 2002.
Exhumations of mass graves
More than 80 mass graves were found containing the remains of some 200 people killed by paramilitary groups over the course of the conflict. The Justice and Peace Unit claimed the remains of some 3,000 victims of enforced disappearance were still to be located, although this was thought to be a substantial underestimate. Concerns were raised that some of the exhumations may have been undertaken in a manner which jeopardized forensic evidence and that remains in official custody were being stored in precarious conditions. There were also concerns regarding the lack of positive identification of remains and appropriate forensic analysis of the evidence. Paramilitaries had reportedly removed remains from some mass graves.
Impunity remained a serious problem, and the military justice system continued to deal with human rights cases involving military personnel despite the 1997 ruling of the Constitutional Court that such cases must be investigated by the civilian justice system. However, some cases were transferred to the civilian justice system. Among them was the killing by soldiers of 10 members of the judicial police (the DIJIN), together with a police informer and a civilian, in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca Department, on 22 May. The Office of the Attorney General charged 15 members of the army for their alleged role in the killings, which were reported to have been carried out at the behest of drug traffickers with links to paramilitary groups. Judicial investigators involved in the case were reportedly threatened.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued rulings on emblematic cases of impunity involving massacres carried out by paramilitary groups allegedly with the collusion or acquiescence of the security forces. These included the Pueblo Bello massacre of 1990 in which 43 civilians were killed or forcibly disappeared, and the La Granja and El Aro massacres of 1996 and 1997, in which 19 people were killed. In both cases, the Court held the Colombian state partly responsible and ordered it to make reparations to the victims and their families.
The security forces
There were continued allegations of extrajudicial executions carried out by the security forces.
• On 19 September, army soldiers reportedly killed community and labour activist Alejandro Uribe Chacón in Morales Municipality, Bolívar Department.
• On 14 April, peasant farmer Adrián Cárdenas Marín was reportedly detained by army troops in Argelia Municipality, Antioquia Department. On 15 April, the army reported that Adrián Cárdenas had been killed in combat a short distance from the town of Argelia.
A number of human rights cases involving the army received national media coverage.
• On 25 January, 21 soldiers were reportedly tortured, including sexually, by their superiors in an initiation ceremony at a military training facility in Piedras, Tolima Department. The case was being investigated by the civilian justice system at the end of the year.
• The Office of the Procurator General began an investigation into the alleged role of army personnel in a number of bomb plots in Bogotá in July and August, including a car bomb which killed one civilian and injured 19 soldiers on 31 July and which the authorities had attributed to the FARC.
The security forces, including the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Escuadrón Móvil Anti-Disturbios, ESMAD), were alleged to have used excessive force during mass demonstrations by peasant farmers and Afro-descendant and Indigenous protesters on 15 and 16 May in Cauca and Nariño Departments. At least one demonstrator died and 50 were injured, including several members of the security forces and a 12-year-old child.
• On 8 March, ESMAD agents reportedly injured several students at the National University in Bogotá when they dispersed a student demonstration. During the demonstration students threw stones at police.
One student, Oscar Leonardo Salas, reportedly died on 9 March after sustaining head injuries from a projectile allegedly fired by the ESMAD.
The FARC and ELN continued to commit serious and repeated breaches of international humanitarian law, including hostage-taking and the killing of civilians.
• On 9 October, the bodies were found of four peasant farmers who had been kidnapped by the ELN in Fortul Municipality, Arauca Department. Between March and August, the FARC and ELN allegedly killed more than 20 civilians in Arauca Department.
• On 27 February, FARC guerrillas allegedly killed eight municipal councillors in Rivera Municipality, Huila Department, while they were attending a council meeting.
• On 25 February, the FARC allegedly attacked a bus in Caquetá Department in which at least nine civilians were killed, including two children.
The FARC also allegedly carried out disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks which resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians.
• On 6 March, an attack using explosive devices killed three civilians, including a 76-year-old woman and an eight-year-old boy in San Vicente del Caguán Municipality, Caquetá Department. The government attributed the attack to the FARC.
The FARC and ELN continued to forcibly recruit minors and landmines placed by guerrilla groups continued to kill and maim civilians.
• On 2 August, landmines, allegedly placed by the FARC, killed six civilians working on a government coca eradication programme and five police officers, in La Macarena Municipality, Meta Department.
Trade unionists, human rights defenders and other activists
Human rights, social and community activists continued to be targeted, mainly by paramilitary groups and the security forces, but also by guerrilla groups. More than 70 trade union members were killed in 2006.
• In September, the FARC allegedly tortured and killed Fabián Trellez Moreno, a community leader and legal representative of the Boca de Bebará Local Community Council in Medio Atrato Municipality, Chocó Department.
• In May, in the run-up to the presidential elections, trade unionists, left-wing party activists, human rights and peace non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and university students and staff received e-mail death threats, reportedly from groups claiming to be new paramilitary structures.
• On 2 January, the body of trade unionist Carlos Arciniegas Niño was discovered in Puerto Wilches Municipality, Santander Department. He had been missing since 30 December 2005. His body reportedly showed signs of torture. The killing was attributed to the paramilitary Bloque Central Bolívar (BCB). On
31 August, the BCB allegedly sent a written death threat to the CUT trade union confederation (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores) in Bucaramanga, Santander Department, despite the fact that the BCB had supposedly demobilized by 1 March.
Civilian communities at risk
Afro-descendant, Indigenous and peasant farmer communities, as well as civilians living in areas of intense military conflict, continued to be at particular risk of attack by all parties to the conflict. More than 770 civilians were killed or forcibly disappeared during the first half of the year. More than 219,000 people were forcibly displaced in 2006, compared with 310,000 in 2005. More than 45 members of Indigenous communities were killed in the first half of 2006.
• On 9 August, unknown gunmen killed five members of the A'wa Indigenous community in Barbacoas Municipality, Nariño Department.
• On 5 and 6 March, the FARC allegedly killed Juan Ramírez Villamizar, the former Indigenous governor of the resguardo (reservation) of Makaguán de Caño Claro, Arauca Department, and his wife Luz Miriam Farías, a schoolteacher in the resguardo's school.
Members of "peace communities" and "humanitarian zones", and of other communities which continued to publicly assert their right not to be drawn into the conflict, were threatened and killed.
• On 16 August, paramilitaries reportedly approached inhabitants of the Curvaradó River Basin area of Chocó Department, and informed them that paramilitaries were planning to kill Enrique Petro, a member of the Afro-descendant Curvaradó Humanitarian Zone. In March, members of the armed forces had reportedly accused Enrique Petro of being linked with guerrillas. The paramilitaries also stated that they were preparing to kill other members of the Curvaradó Humanitarian Zone.
• The body of Nelly Johana Durango, a member of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Antioquia Department, was identified on 15 March by a family member in Tierra Alta, Córdoba Department. Witnesses claimed that she had been taken from her home by the army on 4 March. The army claimed she was a guerrilla killed in combat. More than 160 peace community members have been killed since 1997, mostly by paramilitary groups and the security forces, but also by guerrilla groups.
Kidnappings continued to fall, from 800 in 2005 to 687 in 2006. Guerrilla groups, mainly the FARC, were responsible for most conflict-related kidnappings, accounting for some 200 kidnappings. Ten were attributed to paramilitary groups and 267 to common criminals. About 200 kidnappings could not be attributed.
• On 26 June in Antioquia Department, the FARC allegedly kidnapped Camilo Mejía Restrepo, his wife Rosario Restrepo, their son and a nephew. In their efforts to flee from the authorities, the kidnappers were alleged to have killed Camilo Mejía and injured the nephew.
• On 7 June, the ELN allegedly kidnapped Javier Francisco Castro in Yondó Municipality, Antioquia Department. The ELN reportedly accused him of having links with the security forces. No information was received by the end of the year as to whether he had been released.
• On 27 April, armed men killed Liliana Gaviria Trujillo, sister of former President César Gaviria Trujillo, and her bodyguard, Fernando Vélez Rengifo, in Dosquebradas, Risaralda Department, in what appeared to be a botched kidnap attempt. The authorities claimed the kidnapping was ordered by the FARC.
Violence against women
Combatants continued to kill, sexually abuse, kidnap and threaten women and girls.
• On 22 October, 10 army soldiers allegedly entered the home of a woman in Puerto Lleras Municipality, Meta Department. Subsequently, four of the soldiers reportedly raped her in front of her three-year-old son. The woman was reportedly threatened after she reported the rape to the authorities.
• On 9 April, a guerrilla member allegedly raped a woman in Fortul Municipality, Arauca Department.
• On 21 March, paramilitaries reportedly raped and killed Yamile Agudelo Peñaloza of the Popular Women's Organization (Organización Femenina Popular), in Barrancabermeja, Santander Department. Her body was found the next day.
US military aid
In 2006, US assistance to Colombia amounted to an estimated US$728 million, approximately 80 per cent of which was military and police assistance. In June, the US Congress put a hold on US$29 million because of concerns with the US administration's failure to consult adequately with Congress regarding the certification process. Under the certification process, 25 per cent of aid is dependent on progress by the Colombian government and state authorities on certain human rights indicators. Despite Congress' decision, the funds were released by the State Department. However, the State Department subsequently agreed to meet with the Congress and representatives of the US human rights community to discuss concerns about the certification consultation process and recommendations for improving it. Some US$17 million went to support the demobilization process with some US$5 million going to the Justice and Peace Unit. Human rights conditions for the release of such funding were maintained.
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Despite reported efforts by the Colombian government to weaken the mandate of the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), especially in relation to its monitoring role, the government and the UNHCHR announced in September that the full mandate would be extended for a further 12 months. The latest report on Colombia of the UNHCHR, published in January, urged the government to implement UN human rights recommendations and to adopt the long-promised national human rights action plan and increase protection for human rights defenders. It called on the parties to the conflict to respect the right to life and to refrain from indiscriminate attacks, kidnappings, recruitment of child soldiers, and sexual violence. The report also recommended that legislation on the demobilization of members of illegal armed groups be made consistent with human rights principles including the right of victims to truth, justice and reparation. The High Commissioner presented the report to the second regular session of the UN Human Rights Council on 28 September.
AI country visits/reports
• Colombia: Reporting, campaigning and serving without fear - The rights of journalists, election candidates and elected officials (AI Index: AMR 23/001/2006)
• Colombia: Open letter to the presidential candidates (AI Index: AMR 23/013/2006)
• Colombia: Fear and intimidation - The dangers of human rights work (AI Index: AMR 23/033/2006)
AI delegates visited the country in February, March and October.