i. Prohibited Acts and Practices in Internal Hostilities

81. Because of the overall scope for this report, it simply is not feasible or possible for the Commission to examine and attribute responsibility for each and every human rights and/or humanitarian law violation that has been committed by the various parties to the internal conflict in Colombia since the publication in 1993 of its Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia. Instead, the Commission will focus on those violations that are most emblematic of the illicit practices employed by the parties to the conflict.

82. Nevertheless, the Commission deems it necessary to identify, based on the preceding discussion of relevant rules, principles, judicial decisions and commentaries, key customary restraints and prohibitions applicable during all internal armed conflicts. Although perhaps not an all-exhaustive list, the following kinds of attacks, practices, orders or actions are prohibited in the conduct of such hostilities:

  • direct attacks against the civilian population, as such, or individual civilians;

  • launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects;

  • attacks against a person in the knowledge that he is hors de combat;

  • violence to the life, health and physical or mental well being of persons, in particular, murder, assassination or forced disappearance;

  • torture, including rape, and other cruel treatment, outrages against personal dignity, including humiliating and degrading treatment, such as enforced prostitution and other sexual violence of comparable gravity;

  • the taking of hostages;

  • the execution of civilians or combatants without previous and proper trial by independent and impartial courts affording all generally recognized minimum due process guarantees;

  • collective punishment;

  • pillage;

  • perfidy, such as treacherous killing or wounding of civilians or combatants; or the perfidious use of the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent or of other protective signs and signals recognized by international humanitarian law;

  • orders that there shall be no survivors;

  • starvation of civilians as a method of combat, namely attacks whose purpose is to destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, such as food stuffs, crops, livestock and drinking water installations;

  • the recruitment of children under the age of 15 in the armed conflict, or allowing them to take part in the hostilities;

  • the use of civilians and/or civilian objects to shield military objectives from attack;

  • ordering the displacement of the civilian population, unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand;

  • attacks against historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;

  • attacks against buildings, material, medical units and transports and personnel entitled to display the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent;

  • employing arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;

  • attacks, and threats of such acts, that are launched or threatened with intent to terrorize the civilian population; to the extent that attacks are launched or threatened solely or primarily for political ends, they are unlawful and violate the principle of civilian immunity, humanity and proportionality;

  • the use of any remotely delivered mine that is not effectively marked or has no self-activating or remotely controlled mechanism to cause destruction or neutralization of the mine once its military purpose has been served;

  • the use of hand-delivered mines, such as those of the Claymore variety, and booby-traps in or near a civilian locale containing military objectives, if those devices are deployed without any precautions, markings or other warnings or do not self-destruct or are not removed after their military purpose has been served.

j. Territorial Applicability of International Humanitarian law

83. The Commission also wishes to emphasize that, in internal armed conflicts, humanitarian law applies throughout the entirety of national territory, not just within the specific geographical area(s) where hostilities are underway. Thus, when humanitarian law prohibits the parties to the conflict from directing attacks against civilians or taking hostages in all circumstances, it prohibits these illicit acts everywhere. Thus, such acts of violence committed by the parties in areas devoid of hostilities are no less violative of international humanitarian law than if committed in the most conflictive zone of the country.


1. Applicable Legal Norms

84. Based on the information that it has received, the Commission understands that governmental and non-governmental sources alike consider the dissident armed groups in Colombia to be parties to the internal armed conflict. As parties to the conflict, they are directly bound by international humanitarian law, and their belligerent acts are appropriately evaluated by reference to those norms.

85. The Commission will therefore proceed to analyze the activities of armed dissident groups in Colombia in the light of international humanitarian law. The Commission will seek to identify and describe, in this section, those acts of armed dissident groups which are most emblematic and which constitute the most serious and clear infringements of the norms of international humanitarian law. The Commission will not attempt to describe and categorize all of the different types of actions carried out by armed dissident groups in Colombia.

2. Statistical Information Regarding Deaths Caused by Armed Dissident Groups

86. According to statistics provided by various non-governmental organizations, armed dissident groups in Colombia have been responsible, in past years, for approximately 26-38% of all deaths, where the authorship is known, carried out for socio-political reasons, outside of combat-related activities.( 61 ) Thus, for example, in 1995, armed dissident groups killed approximately 376 individuals outside of armed confrontations while the total number of individuals killed as a result of socio-political violence not directly related to combat, where the author was identified, was 982.( 62 ) In 1996, armed dissident groups killed approximately 321 individuals outside of combat while the total number of individuals killed as a result of socio-political violence, where the author was identified, was 1,198.( 63 ) In 1997, armed dissident groups were responsible for approximately 316 socio-political killings outside of combat.( 64 )

87. In addition, according to the same sources, armed dissident groups in Colombia are responsible for the death of a significant number of persons each year as a result of combat-related activities. For example, in 1995, armed dissident groups were responsible for the deaths of 412 persons as a result of combat-related activities.( 65 ) In 1996, the number of killings occurring in combat increased to 469.( 66 )

88. The Colombian State provided additional data regarding the deaths caused by armed dissident groups between 1958 and 1990 without providing information regarding the circumstances of those deaths. According to those statistics, the actions of armed dissident groups left 23,978 civilians dead during that time period.( 67 )

89. These statistics give an idea of the number of violent deaths caused by armed dissident groups for socio-political reasons. However, they do not provide a clear picture of the number of deaths which result from violations of international humanitarian law by these armed dissident groups nor of the percentage of responsibility for violations of humanitarian law attributable to these groups.

90. It is not sufficient to divide the deaths caused by armed dissident groups into those committed outside of combat-related activities and those committed as part of combat-related activities, assigning responsibility for humanitarian law violations for the first category of deaths but not for the latter. Not all deaths occurring outside of actual combat are automatically prohibited by international humanitarian law. On the other hand, some but not all deaths which occur in the course of armed combat are prohibited by the norms of international humanitarian law.

91. In this respect, it is important to clarify that not even all civilian deaths, however unfortunate, constitute humanitarian law violations. During all armed conflicts there are inevitably civilian casualties. The circumstances surrounding such deaths are extremely relevant to establishing whether or not the law has been violated. For example, if a civilian, while assuming the role of a combatant, is killed by the adversary, his death is legitimately combat-related and not unlawful. In contrast, if a civilian is killed as the result of an indiscriminate attack against an otherwise lawful military target, the civilian's death, while combat-related, is unlawful and constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law.

92. Of course, the State may properly prosecute all acts of violence committed by armed dissident groups, regardless of whether they may be considered violations of international humanitarian law. Therefore members of armed dissident groups may be tried and punished for the act of engaging in armed confrontation with the State and for the deaths caused in the course of armed confrontations, as well as for executions which occur outside of any combat. Jurisprudence from the Colombian Constitutional Court confirms this ability to prosecute in the domestic arena.( 68 )

93. Even without clear statistics, the Commission possesses sufficient information from a variety of sources to conclude that armed dissident groups in Colombia carry out, each year, numerous acts of violence which are incompatible with the norms of international humanitarian law. The Commission will proceed to describe the principle types of infringements of international humanitarian law committed by these groups.

3. Massacres of Civilians

94. According to the information received by the Commission, in 1996, armed dissident groups in Colombia committed 13 massacres (four or more victims killed during the same event), which amounts to 24% of the 55 massacres carried out by the different violent actors.( 69 ) Armed dissident groups are attributed responsibility for 14% of the 185 massacres taking place in 1997.( 70 )

95. Armed dissident groups commit massacres of civilians by firing their arms into gatherings of people or by killing groups of individuals at their homes or places of work. A tragic and well-known example of this type of violence occurred in Apartadó, Antioquia.

96. According to information provided to the Commission, heavily-armed members of the FARC entered the neighborhood of Apartadó known as "La Chinita" on January 23, 1994. Many of the residents of this neighborhood have some affiliation with the Hope, Peace and Liberty political party, which incorporated demobilized members of the EPL armed dissident group. The faction of the EPL which continues to function as an armed dissident group and the FARC have persecuted the members of the Hope, Peace and Liberty political party, killing many of its members.( 71 ) Several hundred persons were in the neighborhood, returning to their homes from a political encounter and festival when the members of the FARC arrived. The armed dissidents began to call out the names of some of the residents and then opened fire on the crowd. Approximately 35 people were killed and another 12 were injured. The FARC apparently launched this attack as part of its campaign against those associated with the Hope, Peace and Liberty party. On the day of the massacre, a candidate to the Senate for that party spoke as part of the encounter in the "La Chinita" neighborhood.

97. The FARC has committed additional massacres of Hope, Peace and Liberty party sympathizers in the Urabá region. Victims of these attacks have often been workers in the banana fields who have become associated with this political party. Thus, for example, on September 20, 1995, the FARC stopped a bus in the area known as Bajo del Oso in the municipality of Apartadó. The bus carried 29 workers. The FARC members forced the workers to exit the bus and lie face down on the ground and then tied their hands. The guerrillas then proceeded to execute 24 of the workers. Several others were injured.

98. These massacres of civilians constitute clear violations of the most basic rules of humanitarian law.

4. Use of Car Bombs and Anti-Personal Land Mines

99. Armed dissident groups have sometimes employed car bombs. The Commission received information regarding one of these car bomb attacks by armed dissident groups during its visit to Apartadó, Antioquia. During that visit, the Commission received details and photographs regarding the explosion on February 27, 1997 of a car bomb placed by the FARC outside of the Hotel El Pescador in the town of Apartadó. That explosion killed 13 persons and caused injuries to 52 others. The Commission received no information indicating that the FARC directed the attack at any legitimate military target. Nor does it appear that any of the victims were combatants.

100. The deaths of these persons entail egregious violations of basic prohibitions applicable in all armed conflicts. Specifically, customary law forbids the use of "blind" weapons, i.e., those weapons which cannot with any reasonable assurance be directed against military objectives and thus are of a nature to strike civilians and combatants without distinction. A car bomb is frequently used in a manner as to become the quintessential example of such a weapon.

101. Furthermore, customary law also prohibits in all circumstances the treacherous killing or wounding of civilians and combatants. By purposefully concealing an explosive device in a car, the FARC sought to induce in their intended and incidental victims the belief that, by virtue of its presumptive status as a civilian object, the vehicle was of an inoffensive character. Having been deceived into letting down their guard, these persons effectively became the object of attack. Moreover, the FARC in deploying the bomb against a civilian object which, at the time, according to the evidence, was not being used for hostile purposes, effectively made civilians, who could reasonably have been expected to be in a hotel, the object of attack in violation of their immunity. Further, even assuming the presence of some combatants within the hotel, the civilians therein did not lose their protection against direct and indiscriminate attack. Under this scenario, the number of civilian casualties would clearly suggest that they were the victims of an indiscriminate attack undertaken with the knowledge that it would cause excessive loss of life or injury to civilians. Based on available evidence, the Commission concludes that these civilian deaths were tantamount to perfidious killings.

102. Armed dissident groups in Colombia also continue to use anti-personal land mines in a manner which cause a significant number of deaths in the civilian population.( 72 ) For example, the ELN placed an anti-personal mine in a schoolhouse in the rural area of El Cocuy, Department of Boyacá, in November of 1995. Members of the armed dissident group placed the mine in the desk of one of the students, creating the risk of an explosion which would have placed in danger the lives of the 25 students who study at the school. The explosive device was disarmed by members of an anti-explosive unit of the Army. The placement of this mine clearly suggests that its intended victims were civilians, in flagrant violation of the principle of civilian immunity.

103. Anti-personal land mines may not be directed against civilians and the party deploying such weapons must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from their effects and to guard against excessive damage to the civilian population in relation to the clear military advantage anticipated from the attack. As previously noted, land mines which are laid without any precautions, markings or other warnings or which do not self-destruct or are not removed after their military purpose has been served, are "blind" weapons and their use is indiscriminate in terms of time and victims.

104. In this regard, various authors and sources have noted that "there exist serious difficulties concerning the implementation of the fundamental rules for the protection of the civilian population against the dangers of mines" in internal armed conflict situations.( 73 ) Some authorities thus suggest that the use of anti-personal mines necessarily violates the principle of distinction, as the civilian population cannot be adequately protected against harm from the mines.

105. In any case, the significant number of deaths to civilians which have occurred in Colombia as a result of anti-personal land mine explosions suggest that Colombian armed dissident groups have not taken sufficient precautions to protect the civilian population from the clear dangers arising from the use of these weapons and have therefore violated international humanitarian law. The Commission therefore calls on the armed dissident groups to halt the use of these weapons.

5. Other Indiscriminate Attacks

106. Colombian armed dissident groups also often use grenades and other explosives in areas where the risk to civilians is great and is disproportionate to any military advantage sought.

107. For example, on July 27, 1995, the FARC entered into the municipality of La Ceja, Department of Antioquia and placed dynamite in the back of the local police station. A home for children of drug addicts, known as the Saint Eufrasia Home, is located behind the police station and shares a wall with that building. When the bomb exploded, the roof was blown off the bedroom and the beams fell onto the sleeping children. Nine of the children were seriously injured and were taken to the hospital. It is unclear whether an attack such as this one on a local police station might be legitimate. However, even assuming it were, the attackers were required to consider the possible damage to the civilian population and to take all due precautions to avoid or, at the very least, minimize civilian casualties. If the attack could reasonably be expected to cause excessive casualties, they should have suspended or cancelled the attack. It appears from the fact of this case that the FARC attack on the police station was carried out in such a manner as to constitute an indiscriminate attack.

108. The FARC carried out another indiscriminate attack on May 27, 1996. On that date, members of the FARC urban militias launched explosives targeting the headquarters of the IV Brigade located in a residential district of Medellín. The available information indicates that the FARC did not take adequate measures to ensure that the risk of damage to the civilian population present in this neighborhood would not be excessive in relation to any clear military advantage expected to be obtained from the attack. Thus, the military installation suffered little damage, but one private security guard was killed and three others were wounded, including a child.

6. Individual Executions of Civilians and Combatants Who Are Hors de combat

109. Armed dissident groups also carry out selective killings of civilians who have not in any way lost their immunity from individualized attack. In addition, armed dissident groups execute combatants who have been captured and should be considered hors de combat.

110. The armed dissident groups generally kill civilians who have some real or suspected connection with the military or with paramilitary groups. These groups often target family members or friends of paramilitaries and soldiers. For example, according to information submitted to the Commission, more than 17 women were killed by members of the ELN between January and October of 1994 in Saravena, Department of Arauca. The majority of these women were friends or girlfriends of military or police agents. They were generally between 15 and 17 years old when they were killed.

111. The armed dissident groups also execute individuals who allegedly provide food, lodging, supplies or information to governmental forces and paramilitary groups. On December 16, 1995, members of the ELN armed dissident group entered La Noruega ranch in the municipality of Dagua, Department of El Valle. The guerrillas killed the owner, the manager and a worker. They carried away the son of the owner of the ranch. The guerrillas left signs stating, "killed as spies" ["muertos por sapos"]. The FARC left behind similar signs painted on the houses of several victims in the municipality of Riocha, Department of Guajira after they entered that town on August 16, 1993. On that occasion, the guerrillas had entered the town and ordered the residents to come out of their houses. The guerrillas then shot two individuals, whose names were included in a list they carried.
112. The summary executions described in the last paragraph are particularly worrisome. These acts are often carried out with the justification that the community has previously allowed a paramilitary incursion. Butchers and other small merchants who have allegedly provided food or supplies to the paramilitaries are also directly targeted and are often summarily executed. The civilians who allow the paramilitaries into a community or who provide food and supplies generally do so under threat of violence. Yet, the guerrillas erroneously believe that they thereby become lawful military targets and attack them accordingly. As noted above in this Chapter, such attacks and executions are particularly serious violations of basic rules of humanitarian law.

113. Armed dissident groups also execute individuals who fail to follow the instructions they issue in an effort to exercise control over certain areas of the country. Shortly before the Commission's visit to the town of San José de Apartadó, on October 6, 1997, the FARC had killed three members of the "community of peace" which had been established there. The community of peace had declared its total neutrality in the conflict in March of 1997. The FARC executed these three persons for refusing to give them food. The FARC had previously killed other members of this community soon after the declaration of neutrality was initially made. The guerrillas apparently carried out these first killings because the council for the community had not adequately consulted with the FARC regarding the decision to declare neutrality.

114. The killing of individuals who do not follow instructions imparted by the armed dissident groups often forms part of the strategy of control of these groups. This strategy of control has often been focused on obtaining power at the local level. These groups thus frequently place significant pressure on local elected officials. If these officials fail to act as commanded by the guerrillas, they may be killed. One author estimates that, since local mayorships became elected positions in 1986, one mayor and two local council members have been executed every two months by armed dissident groups.( 74 )

115. Armed dissident groups also carry out fatal attacks against large landowners who are not directly involved in the conflict. These attacks sometimes serve as punishment for failure to pay the "vacuna" or "war tax" to the guerrillas. On other occasions, the attacks appear simply to target the landowners because of their political and economic position and/or because of their opposition to the armed dissident movements. Of course, refusal to pay the "vacunas" and status as a landowner do not convert civilians into legitimate military targets.( 75 ) Attacks against these individuals thus constitute violations of international humanitarian law.

116. The Commission received information regarding the execution of Félix Antonio Vélez White by the FARC, exemplifying this type of killing. Mr. Vélez White owned coffee and sugarcane farms. He also raised cattle and belonged to several cattle-breeder organizations. On August 6, 1997, the FARC intercepted Mr. Vélez White's vehicle as he traveled on the highway near the municipality of Cañasgordas, Department of Antioquia. The guerrillas proceeded to detain and then kill Mr. Vélez White. The Commission has received no information indicating that Mr. Vélez White had ever participated directly in the armed conflict or that he was killed while forcibly resisting detention. Even assuming that he was a combatant, he could no longer be attacked, much less executed, once he was detained.

117. Similarly, according to information given to the Commission, the ELN carried out a fatal attack on June 30, 1997 at the La Ponderosa ranch owned by Mario López in the municipality of La Unión, Department of Antioquia. The guerrillas placed several bombs made of dynamite near the family living quarters on the ranch. One of the bombs was placed immediately outside of the bedroom occupied by the ranch owner's twin sons. The explosion of the bomb killed the two 11-year old boys. The ELN apparently carried out this attack as a reprisal against the family for refusing to pay "vacunas" to the armed dissident group.

118. The Commission has received information indicating that armed dissident groups detain and then kill members of the public forces while those individuals are under their control and custody. International humanitarian law requires that all individuals who have fallen hors de combat as a result of detention by the adversary or for any other reason must not be subjected to violence, much less death.

119. For example, according to information received by the Commission, on August 10, 1997, the FARC placed a roadblock on the highway which connects the municipalities of Liborina and Sabanalarga in Antioquia. The dissidents proceeded to halt all of the vehicles which passed the checkpoint. As part of this operation, the dissidents stopped a public service bus which transported John Jairo Cardona Patiño, a National Police officer. When the members of the FARC identified Mr. Cardona Patiño as a Police agent, they tied his hands and forced him to accompany them away from the scene. Several hours later, the victim's body was found. Forensic studies showed that he received two bullet wounds in the head. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the FARC executed Mr. Cardona Patiño while he was held in their custody, in a defenseless state.

7. Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty and the Taking of Hostages

120. The Judicial Police reported 839 kidnappings in 1995.( 76 ) As was noted in Chapter I of this Report, the National Police Office of Criminal Investigations reported 1,436 kidnappings in 1996. The number of kidnappings apparently increased in 1997 to approximately 1,693.( 77 ) Most sources agree that armed dissident groups commit at least 40% of these kidnappings. Thus, for example, 392 kidnappings were attributed to those groups in 1995.( 78 ) For 1996 and 1997, armed dissident groups were believed responsible for 583 and 867 kidnappings respectively.( 79 ) According to statistics offered by the State, in 1998 armed dissident groups were responsible for 846 kidnappings for ransom out of a total of 1512 kidnappings of this nature.( 80 ) The State also assigns responsibility to armed dissident groups for kidnapping a total of 4,853 civilians between 1985 and 1996.( 81 )

121. These statistics generally do not clarify exactly which types of actions by the armed dissident groups are treated as kidnappings. Of course, members of armed dissident groups may be prosecuted and sanctioned under domestic law for any detentions or captures. However, it is again difficult for the Commission to determine where these groups have violated international law, specifically international humanitarian law, by carrying out captures typified as kidnappings under domestic law. Many of the statistics do not specify, for example, whether the detention of combatants by the armed dissident groups are included in calculating kidnapping numbers. Such detentions generally would not constitute violations of international humanitarian law so long as the detainees do not become hostages and are not mistreated.

122. International humanitarian law specifically prohibits the taking of hostages.( 82 ) The term "hostages" applies when individuals or groups hold persons in their power for the purpose of obtaining specific actions or omissions to act (i.e. release of prisoners, cancellation of military operations, etc...) from a third party. International humanitarian law also prohibits the detention or internment of civilians except where necessary for imperative reasons of security.( 83 ) Despite the lack of clarity in the statistics, it is reasonable to conclude from other information studied by the Commission that the majority of captures carried out by the armed dissident groups would fall within the category of acts prohibited by international humanitarian law.

123. In many cases, armed dissident groups demand a ransom payment in return for the release of the individuals they have seized and hold under their control. In these cases, the armed dissident groups unquestionably convert their captives into hostages and their actions violate international humanitarian law. The Commission has received significant information regarding these types of hostage-takings.

124. Several United States citizens captured on January 31, 1993 by the FARC may be the hostage victims who have been held longest by armed dissident groups. The victims, Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, and Rick Tenenoff, are religious missionaries who were working in the Darien region of Panamá. The FARC seized them in a Kuna village in Panamá and carried them back into Colombia. The captors soon made radio contact with the missionary organization and demanded millions of dollars in ransom. The missionary organization informed the captors that they could not pay the ransom requested. Negotiations continued for the next year, but radio contacts ceased in January of 1994. In 1997, several sources reported that the three victims were still alive and in the custody of the FARC.

125. The FARC also demanded, in 1997 and 1998, ransom payments in return for the release of several engineers and workers associated with palm-growing companies in Puerto Wilches, Department of Santander. After releasing several workers in early 1998, the armed dissident group also demanded that the companies halt work for several days as part of their demands for the release of the remaining captured workers.

126. Armed dissident groups in Colombia also frequently capture local elected authorities and candidates for electoral office. The number of detentions of this nature increased significantly in 1997 after these groups announced that they would boycott the municipal elections held in October of that year. The Commission received information indicating that these groups captured at least 128 elected authorities or persons seeking election during the last trimester of 1997.( 84 ) These groups generally used these kidnappings to threaten candidates for office to withdraw from the elections. Candidates were also sent back with messages from the armed dissident groups to the populace urging citizens not to vote. As a result of these acts, candidates resigned in 132 of the 1,071 municipalities in the country before the elections took place.( 85 ) After the elections took place, the groups continued to capture newly-elected authorities for the purpose of warning them that they would be closely watched and would suffer the consequences of their actions.

127. As part of this same strategy, on October 23, 1997, the ELN took captive two electoral observers sent by the OAS and a Colombian national. The OAS electoral observers were present in Colombia at the invitation of the Colombian Government to provide assistance during the election period. The Commission repudiated this act of the ELN in a press release dated October 24, 1997.( 86 ) The OAS observers were released only after the elections took place on October 26, 1997.

128. The Commission notes that the vast majority of these detentions relating to the election boycott constituted breaches of international humanitarian law. The armed dissident groups repeatedly captured and held civilians, although they did not pose any direct threat to the military operations of the guerrillas. These acts were intended instead to serve as a threat to those who might choose to participate in the elections, as candidates, party activists or voters. In this sense, the armed dissident groups not only engaged in arbitrary deprivations of liberty, but also interfered with the right of the citizenry to participate in politics and elections.

129. Armed dissident groups are also responsible for arbitrary deprivations of liberty carried out against civilians, outside of the context of the elections. For example, on March 23, 1998, the FARC installed a roadblock on the highway connecting Bogotá with the Department of Meta and captured more than 30 civilians during the eight hours which the group maintained the roadblock. The FARC then removed its captives from the area. The group released several of the captives after several days but continued to hold others. The FARC publicly threatened to kill the captives. The FARC suggested that several of the persons held by the group might have ties with paramilitary groups. However, no credible information supporting this assertion has emerged. In any case, once the victims had been placed under their control, the group was required to respect their life and physical integrity at all times and was prohibited from making threats against their life or safety. The FARC's actions therefore were incompatible with international humanitarian law. In a March 31, 1998 press release, the Commission repudiated these acts.( 87 )

130. The Commission notes that many persons captured by armed dissident groups are eventually killed, often as the result of a failure to pay ransom or of a botched rescue attempt. In other cases, the group responsible for the capture decides to kill persons under its control for political reasons or as a warning to intimidate others. Such killings occurred in some of the cases of the kidnapped politicians and elected authorities. It is thus not infrequent that hostage-takings or arbitrary deprivations of liberty result in executions of persons under the control of armed dissident groups, in flagrant disregard of international humanitarian law.

131. The Commission deems it necessary to clarify why it does not condemn, as violative of international law, the acts of armed dissident groups in capturing members of the Army and security forces where the captives are not converted into hostages. On several occasions, these groups have captured and held large groups of soldiers after attacks on military bases or posts. The most well-known incident involves the capture of 60 soldiers by the FARC on August 30, 1996 after an attack on the Las Delicias military base in the Department of Putumayo in southern Colombia. On December 21, 1997, the FARC captured another 18 soldiers in an attack on a military installation at Patascoy, on the border between the Departments of Nariño and Putumayo also in southern Colombia. Most recently, as President Samper prepared to leave office in August of 1998, FARC troops captured another large group of soldiers during an attack on a military anti-narcotics installation in Miraflores in southern Colombia.

132. As noted above, international humanitarian law prohibits the taking of hostages and the detention or internment of civilians other than for imperative reasons of security. International humanitarian law does not prohibit the capture of combatants. It simply treats such captures as a situation of deprivation of liberty which may, in practice, occur in armed conflict. International humanitarian law then proceeds to impose obligations on the captors to treat captives humanely, with respect and dignity. Violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of the captives is expressly and absolutely prohibited. Humanitarian law does not prevent the State from prosecuting and sanctioning under domestic law the individuals responsible for the capture and detention of its troops.

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( 71 ) At least partially as a result of this violence, some demobilized EPL members have become affiliated with the State’s security forces, particularly the DAS, and also with paramilitary groups who allegedly work together with the security forces in the region. This alliance, in turn, fuels FARC and EPL dissident attacks against the demobilized EPL members and the Hope, Peace and Liberty party. The information received by the Commission indicates that the FARC and EPL dissident groups which carry out these attacks often make no distinction between those demobilized EPL members who may have become combatants with the State’s security forces or paramilitary groups and those who have simply chosen to demobilize without more or who have chosen to engage in political activity through the Hope, Peace and Liberty party.

( 72 ) See 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 74.

( 73 ) Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of Humanitarian Law in Armed Conflicts, 1995, at 410.

( 74 ) See Alfredo Rangel, Conference held November 27, 1996 in Melgar, Tolima, during the Seminar/Workshop "El estado del conflicto político armado y su solución negociada."

( 75 ) The Commission recognizes that certain large landowners have directly participated in the conflict by forming, financing and directing paramilitary organizations. However, armed dissident groups may not assume, from this reality, that all large landowners participate directly in the conflict.

( 76 ) See 1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 46.

( 77 ) See "El año del secuestro", El Tiempo, January 25, 1998.

( 78 ) See 1995 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 46

( 79 ) See 1996 Comisión Colombiana Report, at 65; "El año del secuestro", El Tiempo, January 25, 1998.

( 80 ) Presidential Program for the Defense of Personal Freedom.

( 81 ) National Department of Planification, La paz: el desafío para el desarrollo, 1998, pp. 69, 75.

( 82 ) See Protocol II, Art. 4.

( 83 ) See Protocol II., Art. 5(1); Fleck, at 288.

( 84 ) See Balance Sheet, at 10.

( 85 ) See id.

( 86 ) See IACHR, Press Release No. 16/97.

( 87 ) See IACHR, Press Release No. 5/98.