1.                 For almost twenty years, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission," the “IACHR” or the "Inter-American Commission") has monitored the human rights situation in Colombia in conformity with the relevant provisions of  the Charter of the Organization of American States ("OAS"), the American Convention on Human Rights (the "Convention" or the "American Convention") and the Commission's Statutes and Regulations.  The Commission has placed special emphasis on the situation in Colombia, given the endemic violence and civil strife that have wracked the country and the many complaints of human rights violations received by the Commission attributing direct or indirect responsibility to the Colombian State.  

2.                 The Commission carried out its first on-site visit to Colombia in April of 1980.  That visit had the stated purpose of allowing the Commission to examine the general situation of human rights and to witness the oral proceedings in the courts martial conducted under the Colombian Constitution and laws.  The Commission was also asked to observe, during that visit, the investigations being conducted into alleged human rights-related abuses of authority reported in a document released by Amnesty International on April 1, 1980. 

3.                 During the April 1980 visit, the Inter-American Commission served an instrumental role in resolving the difficult situation which arose when the Commando Group of the M-19 (April 19th Movement – Movimiento 19 de Abril) occupied the Embassy of the Dominican Republic on February 27, 1980.  More than 50 people were taken hostage during the take-over, including diplomats from a number of countries, government officials and Colombian citizens.  The Commission acted in this crisis at the request of the Colombian Government, of the governments of countries whose diplomats had been taken hostage, of the Holy See and of the leadership of the M-19 movement.  

4.                 As a term of the negotiation process which led to the release of the hostages, it was agreed that the Commission would provide international oversight to monitor trials of the M-19 and the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces - Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) armed dissident groups.  As a result, several different teams of attorneys from the Commission’s Executive Secretariat traveled to Colombia, each team replacing the one that preceded it, to be present at, observe and report on the proceedings.  These visits by IACHR staff continued for just over a year after the on-site visit, until May 1981. 

5.                 A special report on the on-site visit, the observations resulting from that visit, the trial proceedings and the general human rights situation in Colombia was prepared and then approved by the Commission on June 29, 1981 during its 53º session.  The report was eventually published as document OEA/Ser.L/II.53, doc. 22 (June 30, 1981), titled "Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Republic of Colombia." 

6.                 On April 13, 1989, during its 75º session, the Commission received an invitation from the Government of President Virgilio Barco to visit Colombian territory to observe the general human rights situation in that country.  However, the Commission and the Government were not able to agree on the dates for the visit.  

7.                 Finally, the Commission proposed that a special preliminary mission of the Commission travel to Colombia in December of 1990.  The Colombian State accepted this proposal.  A Special Preparatory Commission visited Colombia from December 3 through 7, 1990, carrying out a substantive agenda.  At the end of the visit, the Chairman of the Inter-American Commission and of the Special Preparatory Commission, Dr. Leo Valladares, delivered to Colombia’s Foreign Minister a message for then President César Gaviria Trujillo, thanking the Colombian Government for its cooperation and recommending that domestic legal measures be adopted to bring Colombian law into conformity with the provisions of the American Convention. 

8.                 From the outset, the visit of the IACHR’s Special Preparatory Commission was regarded as an exploratory visit.  Upon its return, the Special Commission recommended to the plenary of the Commission that the latter continue to monitor the human rights situation in Colombia. 

9.                 A full on-site visit of the Commission was then carried out in Colombia from May 4 through 8, 1992.  The Commission carried out numerous interviews and hearings with State authorities, nongovernmental organizations, representatives of victims with cases before the Commission and other members of Colombian civil society.  The Commission then divided into several subgroups and traveled to Medellín and Barrancabermeja to carry out further interviews. 

10.            Subsequently, a report was prepared based on the information gathered during the Commission’s on-site visits in 1990 and 1992.  The Commission decided to publish this report during its 84º session held in October of 1993.  The report was published as the "Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia," as document OEA/Ser.L/V/II.84, Doc. 39 rev., October 14, 1993.



11.            During its 94º special session held in December of 1996, the Commission decided to solicit the Colombian Government’s agreement to allow the Commission to carry out an on-site visit for the purpose of observing the general human rights situation in that country.  A special delegation of the Commission, which traveled to Colombia in February of 1997 to undertake specific tasks relating to several cases in friendly settlement proceedings, presented a note dated February 14, 1997 to the Minister of Foreign Affairs requesting such an agreement from the Government.  The special delegation also discussed the possibility of an on-site visit in an interview with then President Ernesto Samper Pizano. 

12.            President Samper announced to the special delegation of the Commission that the Colombian State would be pleased to agree to receive the on-site visit of the Commission.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs, María Emma Mejía Vélez, reiterated the interest of the State in allowing the on-site visit of the Commission in a note dated February 19, 1997. 

13.            The Commission originally proposed that the visit be carried out between July 7 and 15, 1997.  However, in a note dated May 2, 1997, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated to the Commission that the Government considered it preferable to schedule the visit for a later date.  The Colombian Government and the Commission subsequently agreed that the visit would be carried out during the first week of December of 1997. 

14.            The Commission thus conducted its on-site visit to Colombia from December 1 through 8, 1997.  The IACHR delegation was composed of John Donaldson, President; Carlos Ayala Corao, First Vice-President; Robert K. Goldman, Second Vice-President; and members Claudio Grossman, Oscar L. Fappiano and Jean Joseph Exumé.  Alvaro Tirado Mejía, also a member of the Commission, did not participate in the visit, in accordance with Article 56 of the Commission’s Regulations, since he is of Colombian nationality. Hélio Bicudo, member-elect, accompanied the Commission as a special adviser.  The Commission received technical support from Jorge E. Taiana, Executive Secretary; David Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; staff lawyers Osvaldo Kreimer, Denise Gilman and Mario López.  The Commission received administrative support from Gabriela Hageman, Gloria Hansen and Martha Keller. 

15.            During its visit, the Commission met with the President of Colombia, Dr. Ernesto Samper Pizano, and with other high-level political, administrative, legislative and judicial authorities.  The Commission also met with numerous non-governmental human rights organizations and with church officials, political leaders, businessmen, representatives of the news media, trade unionists and other representatives of civil society.  In addition, the Commission held meetings with representatives of international organizations. 

16.            From December 1-3, the Commission remained in Bogotá to carry out its work agenda.  While in the capital of Colombia, the Commission divided into working groups and carried out interviews with the following authorities: President Ernesto Samper Pizano; Dr. María Emma Mejía Vélez, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Amb. Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Minister of the Interior; Dr. Almabeatriz Rengifo, Minister of Justice; Dr. Alfonso Gómez Méndez, Prosecutor General (Fiscal General); Dr. Jaime Córdoba Treviño, Assistant Prosecutor General; Dr. Jaime Bernal Cuellar, Procurator General (Procurador General); Dr. Sonia Eljach Polo, Presidential Human Rights Adviser; Dr. Gustavo Salazar, Adviser to the Director of the Office of the Presidential High Commissioner for Peace; Dr. José Fernando Castro, Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo).  The Commission also carried out a meeting with the following officials at the Ministry of Defense: Dr. Gilberto Echeverri Mejía, Minister of Defense; General Manuel Bonnett, Commander of the Armed Forces; Major General Rafael Hernández López, Inspector General of the Armed Forces; the Commanders of the three branches of the armed forces and other officials of the armed forces. The Commission also met with General Rosso José Serrano, Director of the National Police and with Dr. Mario Acevedo Trujillo, Deputy Director of the Administrative Department of Security ("DAS" – Departmento Administrativo de Seguridad).  The Commission gathered information about the Colombian judiciary in meetings with magistrates from the Colombian Constitutional Court and the High Council of the Judiciary (Consejo Superior de la Judicatura). 

17.            In Bogotá, the Commission attended a meeting of the 1290 Commission, a governmental commission established to propose means of implementing recommendations made by international human rights bodies, and met with members of the Congress of the Republic of Colombia. 

18.            In addition, the Commission met with numerous nongovernmental organizations in the capital, including: Comisión Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz, Comité Permanente para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, MINGA (Asociación para la Promoción Social Alternativa), Corporación Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo", CSPP (Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos), ILSA (Instituto Latinoamericano de Servicios Legales Alternativos), ASFADDES (Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos), Asociación de Personeros, Humanidad Vigente, Fundación Cepeda, REINICIAR, Unión Patriótica, CINEP (Centro de Investigación y de Educación Popular), GAD (Grupo de Apoyo a Desplazados), CODHES (Consultora para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento), Alianza Social Afrocolombiana, Movimiento Nacional de Comunidades Negras, Movimiento Cimarrón, Proceso Comunidades Negras, ONIC (Organización Nacional de Indígenas de Colombia), CRIC (Concejo Regional Indígena del Cauca), Alianza Indígena, Casa de la Mujer, Red Nacional de Organizaciones de Mujeres, Anmucin, CREDHOS (Comité Regional de Derechos Humanos del Magdalena Medio), Comité Nacional VIDA and Colectivo por la Objección de Conciencia.  The major labor unions as well as representatives of the media in Colombia also made presentations to the Commission. 

19.            The Commission also held meetings with the National Conciliation Commission (Comisión de Conciliación Nacional) and with representatives of international public and private organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

20.            A delegation of the Commission also visited the Bogotá Model Prison (Cárcel Modelo) and carried out interviews there with Dr. Francisco Bernal Castillo, Director of INPEC (National Institute for Prisons and Penitentiaries - Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario), and with the working group formed by the inmates. 

21.            The Commission divided into several groups and traveled from December 4-6 to other areas of Colombia, including to Puerto Asis, Department of Putumayo[1]; to Medellín[2] and Urabá[3], in the Department of Antioquia; to Villavicencio, Department of Meta[4], and; to the territory of the U'wa indigenous community.[5]  At the end of the visit, the team met again in Bogotá to evaluate the information it had gathered. 

22.            The Commission then held a press conference and issued a press release on December 8, 1997 in Bogotá.  (The Commission’s press release is annexed to this Chapter as Annex 1.)  In the press release, the Commission identified the following as some of the most important problems facing Colombia in the area of human rights: 

  • The violence committed by security forces, dissident armed groups, paramilitary organizations, and the so-called "CONVIVIR" (special protection and private security services);

  • Impunity and its serious consequences for the rule of law;

  • The deplorable conditions in prisons;

  • The situation of internally displaced persons;

  • The situation of ethnic minorities, women and children; and  

  • The situation of human rights workers and journalists.

The issues named by the Commission in its press release and listed above are analyzed in the relevant Chapters of this Report. 

23.            The Commission enjoyed complete freedom, during the on-site visit, to meet with persons of its choice and to travel to any place in the territory which it considered useful.  The Government of Colombia provided to the Commission its full assistance and cooperation in all areas, permitting the Commission to fully discharge its mandate for the on-site visit. 


24.            The present report arises largely from the on-site visit conducted by the Commission in December of 1997.  However, the information used by the Commission in preparing the report is not limited to that received during the on-site visit.  Academic, governmental and non-governmental sources both within and outside Colombia provide the Commission with updated information on a continuous basis.  In addition, the Commission has carried out its own consistent and intensive activity in relation to Colombia, particularly in recent years.  This work allows the Commission to remain continually informed regarding human rights developments in Colombia.  In preparing this report, the Commission used information obtained through all sources and all of its different work with Colombia.  It is therefore important to highlight some of the activities that the Commission regularly carries out in relation to Colombia. 

25.            In addition to its previous country reports on Colombia, the Commission has prepared special reports on the human rights situation in Colombia that are included in a chapter of its Annual Report to the General Assembly of the OAS.  Two such reports appeared in the Commission’s 1994 and 1996 Annual Reports.  In these succinct reports, the Commission highlights key developments in the country’s human rights practices; raises its principal concerns in relation thereto; and formulates recommendations to the State.[6] 

26.            During each of its regular sessions, the Commission holds a significant number of hearings on complaints against Colombia being processed by the Commission and on the general human rights situation in Colombia.  Representatives of the State and non-governmental organizations make presentations in both kinds of hearings. 

27.            The Commission also considers the actions to be taken on individual complaints filed against Colombia under the American Convention’s individual petition procedure.  For example, in the 1997 Annual Report, the Commission published one report on admissibility and four decisions on the merits in cases where individuals alleged that the Colombian State is responsible for violations of their human rights.  

28.            Also in the individual petition context, the Commission has assisted in friendly settlement negotiations in a significant number of cases.  For example, the Commission placed itself at the disposition of the petitioners and the State for the purpose of negotiating a friendly settlement in case 11.007, relating to the massacres which took place in Trujillo, Valle del Cauca in 1990.  As a result of this friendly settlement proceeding, a special commission was formed, which included governmental and nongovernmental representatives.  This commission investigated the allegations made by the petitioners in the Trujillo case in great detail and prepared a final report.  The final report concluded that there existed sufficient evidence to conclude that the Colombian State was responsible for the violent events in Trujillo. Then President Ernesto Samper set an important and valuable precedent by publicly acknowledging State responsibility in the case.  The victims named in the final report also received pecuniary compensation.   The friendly settlement proceedings continue in this case on other points, such as the application of criminal justice to the individuals responsible for the crimes committed in Trujillo. 

29.            The parties have also made important advances in other cases by entering into friendly settlement negotiations under the auspices of the Commission.  For example, as a result of ongoing friendly settlement negotiations initiated in September of 1995, the State acknowledged its international responsibility in the Villatina case (11.141).  This case concerns the massacre by the Police of 8 youths and children in a poor neighborhood in Medellín.  The disciplinary and criminal proceedings have also advanced significantly in that case, due in part to the effect of the friendly settlement proceedings.  The Colombian State also recognized its international responsibility for human rights violations in the cases known as Caloto and Los Uvos.  The Commission considers the State's decision to recognize responsibility in these cases to be extremely important. 

30.            The parties to the cases of Roison Mora Rubiano (11.525) and Oscar Iván Andrade Salcedo, Faride Herrera Jaime, et al (11.531) signed an agreement on May 27, 1998 to settle those cases.  The Commission found that the agreement was based on respect for human rights and has prepared the corresponding friendly settlement reports.  The Commission is very pleased with the favorable result of the friendly settlement proceedings initiated in those two cases.  The Commission encourages the State and the petitioners in the different cases before the Commission to consider the possibility of reaching such settlements in other cases.   

31.            As part of the friendly settlement process, special delegations of the Commission have traveled to Colombia on various occasions to speak with representatives of the State and the petitioners in relation with these proceedings.  In addition, the Commission frequently holds meetings during its sessions to allow for discussion of these cases by the parties, with the presence of the Commission.  Thus, for example, the Commission has held several meetings with the petitioners in the case of the Patriotic Union political party (11.227) and the representatives of the State with the objective of discussing a possible friendly settlement negotiation in that case. 

32.            Finally, the Commission remains in constant contact with State representatives, non-governmental organizations and other petitioners through its Secretariat.  These channels of communication, which are extremely open and fluid, allow the Commission to gather information regularly considering the situation in Colombia. 


33.            The present report addresses the human rights situation in Colombia subsequent to the period covered in the Commission’s "Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia."  Nonetheless, the Commission has sometimes found it necessary to refer to historic events and to trends over time in order to analyze fully the current human rights situation in Colombia. The report first provides a context for the analysis of the human rights situation in Colombia, including references to the history of violence in the country and to the diverse factors which contribute to the situation.  The Commission then takes a brief look at the legal mechanisms for guaranteeing human rights and the administration of justice.  The report then proceeds to address the problems which the Commission considers to be most relevant and about which it has obtained the most pertinent and reliable information. 

34.            In keeping with its mandate and practice, the Commission has drawn on a very wide spectrum of sources in drafting this report.  In analyzing the domestic legal system, the Commission has made reference to official legal codes, legal texts published by official entities, jurisprudence of the Colombian tribunals and other law-related publications.  Use was made of reports prepared by State institutions, such as the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Human Rights, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and others.  The Commission also utilized data and information supplied by non-governmental human rights organizations in Colombia, such as: Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, Corporación Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo", CINEP and Justicia y Paz.  The Commission has also taken note of information appearing in the press, along with studies, investigations and reports prepared by international human rights organizations.  The Commission, of course, has paid particular attention to the valuable data gathered during its on-site visit in December of 1997. 

35.            A draft version of the present Report was adopted during the 100º Sessions of the IACHR, held in October of 1998. On November 10, 1998, pursuant to Article 62 of the Commission’s Regulations, the draft version of this Report was sent to the Colombian State to provide it with the opportunity to make any observations it deemed pertinent.  The State sent its observations to the IACHR on January 25, 1999.  After studying the State’s observations and making appropriate modifications to the text, the Commission at its 102° period of sessions approved the final version of the “Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia” on February 26, 1999 and decided to make the Report public on March 12, 1999.

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* Commissioner Álvaro Tirado Mejía, national of Colombia, did not participate in the discussion and approval of this Report pursuant to Article 19(2)(a) of the Regulations of the Commission.

[1] In Puerto Asis, the Commission met with the Committee of Human Rights, which is composed of governmental and nongovernmental entities from the area.

[2] In Medellín, the Commission met with State authorities including:  Alvaro Uribe Vélez, Governor of the Department of Antioquia; Iván Velásquez Gómez, Office of the Regional Prosecutor for Medellín; and María Girlesa Villegas, Office of the Ombudsman for the People.  The Commission also had the opportunity to speak with a group of individuals who participate in the CONVIVIR.  The Commission also met with nongovernmental organizations, including: Permanent Committee for Human Rights "Héctor Abad Gómez"; CODHESEL (Human Rights Collective Seeds of Liberty - Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Semillas de Libertad), Corporación Taliber, Asociación de Trabajadores Sexuales and Ciudad Don Bosco.  These nongovernmental organizations presented information about the human rights situation in Medellín and in other areas of Antioquia, including San Roque y Cristales, La Esperanza, Ituango, Segovia and Remedios.  The Commission also received testimony from individuals who alleged to have been victims of or have witnessed human rights violations in Antioquia.

While in Medellín, the Commission also visited the Itaguí maximum security prison and held an interview with the Secretary of the Interior of Bolívar.

[3] Specifically, the Commission visited Apartadó, San José de Apartadó and Turbo.  The Commission met with the Commander of the XVII Brigade, General Rito Alejo del Río; with the mayor of Apartadó, Gloria Cuartas Montoya; and with the Bishop of Apartadó, Tulio Duque.  In San José de Apartadó, the Commission was able to observe the situation of the self-named Community of Peace and spoke with the Internal Council for the community.  In Turbo, the Commission visited several shelters for displaced persons.

[4] In Villavicencio, the Commission met with the following authorities: Alfonso Ortiz Bautista, Governor of the Department of Meta; Rocío López, Office of the Ombudsman of the People; Colonel Fredy Padilla de León, Seventh Army Brigade; and the local government liaisons ("personeros") for the municipalities of Lejanías and El Castillo.  The Commission also had the opportunity to meet with members of the local CONVIVIR associations.  The Commission carried out additional interviews with nongovernmental organizations working in the area, including ASCODAS and the Civic Committee for Human Rights.  Several individuals who had been forcibly displaced from their homes also provided testimony to the Commission.

[5] Specifically, the Commission met with members of the U'wa community in Cubará, Department of Boyacá.

[6] The Commission does not, in principle, prepare a special report for publication in the annual reports for those year(s) when it is preparing a country report based on an on-site visit.