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Human Rights Committee considers report of Colombia

Human Rights Committee CT/10/6
16 July 2010

The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Colombia on the measures undertaken by that country to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Presenting the report, Alicia Arango Olmos, Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations at Geneva, said that since 2002 the efforts of the State to overcome violence had been a priority in all areas of Government. Each year 460,000 persons were displaced, 40 municipalities were attacked, 200 trade unionists were murdered and almost 3,000 people were kidnapped per year. In addition, attacks on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities were constant, while in 2009 there were 677 victims of anti-personnel mines. No State in the western hemisphere had had to deal with such a challenge. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had pointed out, illegal armed groups acting in the Colombian territory simply rode roughshod over human rights.

The Colombian state had made progress however. In 2002 there were 28,837 homicides while in 2009 the number of cases was reduced to 15,817; the lowest homicide rate in 23 years. The homicide rate per 100,000 people had dropped from 69.8 in 2002 to 35.2 in 2009. At the same time, between 2002 and 2009 the murders of teachers and trade unionists were reduced by 85.7 per cent. In terms of kidnappings, in 2002 there were 2,882 reported cases of kidnappings and in 2009 there were 213 cases, a reduction of 93 per cent and the lowest level in 23 years. The phenomenon of displacement had also been reduced from 446,444 persons displaced in 2002 to 146,681 persons in 2009.

Over the course of three meetings, the Colombian delegation answered questions by the Committee members relating to a number of issues, including the problem of sexual violence against women, discrimination against minorities and the rights of indigenous groups and Afro-Colombians, the problem of displacement in the country and what was being done to address the needs of internally displaced persons and the issue of prison conditions.

The Committee voiced a number of concerns about violence in the country stemming from the actions of illegal armed groups in the country and the many obstacles this violence created to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights. The Committee questioned the delegation about the process of demobilizing members of paramilitary and illegal armed groups and asked whether they were brought to justice once they laid down their arms or whether they enjoyed immunity when they returned to lawfulness. In terms of reparations for victims of these groups, the delegation was asked whether only monetary reparations were available or if victims had access to other forms of redress. The Committee expressed serious concerns about the forced recruitment of children into armed groups, possible violations by military forces and the national police during their attempts to combat the violence of illegal armed groups, and threats, kidnapping, and murder of human rights defenders and trade unionists by illegal armed groups. It was noted that oftentimes members of paramilitary groups were tried for drug trafficking, but they were not charged for human rights violations.

The Colombian delegation included members from numerous governmental departments and ministries including the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations at Geneva.

The Committee will hold its next public session at 10 a.m. Monday, 19 July 2010, when it will continue its discussion on a draft general comment pertaining to Article 19 of the Covenant concerning freedom of expression, and in the afternoon it will begin consideration of the fourth periodic report of Cameroon (CCPR/C/CMR/4).

Report of Colombia

The sixth periodic report of Colombia (CCPR/C/COL/6) states that in 2002 the country faced a threat to democratic institutions. In several regions of the country organized armed groups outside the law - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia - actively made their presence felt through terror, drawing strength from the drug trade. Abduction, terrorism, extortion, murder of civilians, attacks on the population, mass killings, child conscription and forced displacement were common activities of these groups against the civilian population. The civilian population, particularly ethnic groups, has been affected by displacement, constraints on the transport of food, medicines and people, sexual violence against women and girls and conscription of boys and girls. Failure to respect the medical mission has become a recurring practice to secure territorial control of strategic corridors and zones of influence. Local Government leaders faced great difficulties due to threats and pressures from organized armed groups outside the law. Constant attacks on the country's economic infrastructure not only generated huge economic losses but also hindered the development of the country. This context was not conducive to domestic and foreign investment, which brought about negative consequences for the country's growth and its position in international markets.

Colombia is considered by the United Nations as having the third-highest number of victims of human trafficking in the world. It is estimated that there are between 45,000 and 50,000 Colombian women abroad who are practicing prostitution under duress, according to Interpol. Unfortunately there are no exact statistics on the magnitude of the problem, due to under-reporting by victims, since the modus operandi of criminal networks has been upgraded, transit routes have changed, involving a larger number of countries, and recruitment techniques have been refined. It should be noted that these criminals have a high capacity of intimidation, using violence and violating the rights of victims and their families. The Colombian State is aware of the seriousness of the crime of human trafficking, has made significant progress in addressing the issue, and has received international recognition for its progress in this area, according to the United States State Department Report of 2001.

In Colombia 3.28 per cent of the population is recognized as indigenous and 10.3 per cent as Afro-Colombian. They live in 710 indigenous reservations and 159 Afro-Colombian collective territories. Since the 1991 Constitution a process has been under way to recognize, promote and enhance the visibility of their rights and culture. To that end, a rich and distinct body of statutory and case law and State policies have developed. However, these groups face threats to their personal and territorial integrity by organized illegal armed groups and their living conditions are in some cases below the national average.

Despite the great difficulties engendered by violence and terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, coupled with total disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law by all organized armed groups outside the law, in the last five years the country has significantly reduced levels of violence by strengthening institutions and the presence of the State throughout the country. Today citizens feel safer and can exercise their rights more effectively. In particular, the national Government reiterates its resolve to press ahead with efforts to extend all necessary safeguards for the pursuit of the activities of civil society organizations and to continue democratic debate and dialogue. In the coming years the State as a whole must face enormous challenges to consolidate achievements and to solve the complex problems facing the country in various domains.

In the framework of peace and justice the State must continue working on the issue of reintegration of the demobilized; on effectively achieving the goals of truth and justice, on care for victims of violence, on striving for complete redress both individual and collective, and ensuring non-recurrence. Faced with the scourge of abductions, which for years has affected the country and has claimed thousands of victims, the State must continue to make every effort within its power to secure the release of all abductees. Another important challenge is the care of forcibly displaced persons, a matter on which work must continue in order to provide solutions with a gender perspective to safeguard rights that have been violated.

Presentation of the Report

ALICIA ARANGO OLMOS, Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations at Geneva, presenting the report of Colombia, said that Colombia was an open country which recognized the problems that existed, but it was also important to acknowledge the progress that had been made. Colombia was a country open to international scrutiny of the United Nations and its organs. Colombia enjoyed the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia since 1997 and presently there were 23 offices of United Nations agencies, funds and programs in the country, as well as a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and an office of the International Labour Organization with whom the State had developed a constant dialogue.

Since 2002, there had been an open invitation to the human rights treaty bodies and the Special Procedures. Over the last eight years Colombia had had 42 visits from international bodies and it had submitted to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review on a voluntary basis, said Ms. Arango Olmos.

In terms of the institutionalization of human rights in Colombia, Ms. Arango Olmos said that it was important to reiterate that in Colombia all of the articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were part of the norms of the country.

In the executive realm, Ms. Arango Olmos said the Vice President of the republic coordinated the Presidential Program on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights. The Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, the Interior, Justice and Social Protection had all established units of human rights execution and implementation. Independently, the public prosecutor’s office was also responsible for the preservation and promotion of human rights. The Attorney General’s Office was responsible for the investigation and bringing to justice those who violated human rights law.

According to Ms. Arango Olmos, civil society organizations and human rights defenders helped strengthen public policy and placed crucial issues on the agenda. The Government rejected any threat against human rights defenders and social and community leaders and these threats were dealt with quickly when brought to its attention. Four human rights defenders had been kidnapped in Colombia by armed groups and the international community was asked to help return these workers over to their families.

Since 2002 the efforts of the State to overcome violence had been a priority. Each year 460,000 persons were displaced, 40 municipalities were attacked, 200 trade unionists were murdered and attacks on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities were constant. In 2009 there were 677 victims of anti-personnel mines and almost 3,000 people were kidnapped per year. No State in the western hemisphere had had to deal with such a challenge, said Ms. Arango Olmos. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out, illegal armed groups acting in the Colombian territory simply rode roughshod over human rights.

The Colombian State had made progress however, said Ms. Arango Olmos. In 2002 there had been 28,837 homicides while in 2009 the number of cases was reduced to 15,817, the lowest homicide rate in 23 years. The homicide rate per 100,000 people had dropped from 69.8 in 2002 to 35.2 in 2009. At the same time, between 2002 and 2009 the murders of teachers and trade unionists were reduced by 85.7 per cent. In terms of kidnappings, in 2002 there had been 2,882 reported cases of kidnappings and in 2009 there were 213 cases; a reduction of 93 per cent and the lowest level in 23 years. The phenomenon of displacement had also been reduced from 446,444 displaced persons in 2002 to 146,681 persons in 2009.

Ms. Arango Olmos was happy to note that the outgoing government had also carried out eight electoral processes and that these had been the most peaceful in four decades. Access to voting was available throughout the country including in rural areas despite the geographical difficulty in reaching those areas.

According to Ms. Arango Olmos, the Colombian society has offered armed groups the opportunity to move back into lawfulness, under a provision of the Law of Justice and Peace. A unique process in the world, the negotiations with illegal armed groups had allowed the demobilization of the majority of their 37 fronts, while trying to guarantee the rights of victims and promote demobilization in a unique initiative. The leaders of many of these groups had been detained. Between 2002 and 2009 nearly 53,000 individuals had laid down their arms, 3,000 of which were minors. This process had allowed the State to begin moving towards reconciliation and in trying to find the bodies of disappeared to exhume them and return them to their families. Thus far 2,719 mass graves had been exhumed and 3,299 bodies had been found. Victims now had a higher profile and had participated in the process of justice and peace and the recognition of their rights. The rights of victims were a priority for the first time for Colombian society.

Ms. Arango Olmos also addressed the rights of ethnic minorities. Indigenous communities and Afro-descendents had special counsels of political representation. Indigenous people comprised four per cent of the population and had a collective ownership title to land that represented 35 per cent of the Colombian territory. Prior consultation mechanisms were also in place to ensure the participation of these groups in decisions that would affect them directly. In 2009 more than 110 such prior consultations had taken place. Women were involved in community building as well.

The experience of the last few years had shown that security was a prerequisite to securing civil and political rights, said Ms. Arango Olmos. In the last few years the country had reduced the impact of criminal actions throughout the territory, including the work of illegal armed groups, drug traffickers and kidnappers. As a result of these efforts to strengthen rule of law and rights throughout the country, people felt safer and were able to exercise their rights more effectively.

Ms. Arango Olmos noted that there was a need to strengthen respect for human rights. After five years of violence, the view on human rights in the country was distorted and there needed to be proper educational and cultural policies regarding human rights in Colombia. Her delegation was also aware of the challenges Colombia faced and she expressed her delegation’s full commitment to the strengthening of human rights in the country.

Oral Answers to Written Questions Submitted in Advance by Experts

Answering the first 18 issues on the list of issues, the delegation said that, with regard to the Law of Justice and Peace, 299,552 victims had registered under it. During 2009 the State made reparations payments totalling US$ 100 million for 11,000 cases. In 2010 this number was expected to rise to US$ 150 million. The victims also had a possibility to put questions to the Justice and Peace prosecutors. It was important to note that there were 6,834 investigations currently ongoing under the Justice and Peace Law. This included 404 investigations of politicians including mayors, governors, senators, city counsellors, and members of the armed forces and parliament. Members of the Colombian Congress had also been tried and convicted for links to paramilitaries.

Pertaining to mass graves, the delegation said 2,719 common graves had been exhumed and 3,299 bodies had been found. DNA samples had been taken from 584 bodies and the State and families were awaiting the outcome of these analyses. More than 1,100 bodies had been identified using dental records and DNA and 973 of those bodies had been returned to their families and closed the circle of pain these families had encountered as they sought to find their loved ones.

Turning to the National Action Plan, the delegation said that in 2004 the construction of the National Action Plan began in consultation with non-governmental organizations. After lengthy joint work with non-governmental organizations they established a National Coordination Bureau in 2008, but in that year the non-governmental organizations withdrew from the process saying there was a lack of guarantees.

The delegation said it was working on several fronts to ensure equality between men and women including the prevention of violence against women, increasing literacy rates, training of women, the prevention of human trafficking, access to justice and strengthening the incorporation of gender perspectives in policy. These initiatives represented the foundation of a construction of public policy in this field which was being coordinated with other policies to make sure they had the maximum impact and effect. There was also a draft law to increas the protection of women in terms of violence, health, labour and education and it was hoped that the bill would be ratified in the next six months by the President.

Turning to protection of minorities, the delegation noted that the law against racial discrimination had made progress with an inclusive approach with the Afro-Colombian community and a public policy that was holistic in nature for the indigenous communities. A number of laws that would punish discrimination had been put forward in the Congress, but these initiatives had not met with much success in the legislature.

With regards to the right to life and prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the delegation said that there was a policy against extrajudicial killings and the armed forces had a policy in place for the protection of human rights. There was zero tolerance for any lack of respect for human rights. There were also accountability programmes headed-up by the President to ensure that members of the armed forces who violated human rights were brought to justice. These measures had led to a sharp decrease in the number of human rights violation complaints filed against the armed forces.

In terms of the strategy to combat enforced disappearances, the delegation noted there was a policy to increase effectiveness of search mechanisms, identifying disappeared persons and handing over bodies to families and US$ 63 million had been budgeted to promote this policy.

In terms of the rights of victims, the delegation informed the Committee that 9,253 people were in the witness protection program in 2010 and no one under protection had been killed in 2010. The programme also had a US$ 60 million budget to ensure its operations. The program had a two pronged strategy. Individual measures taken were those geared through the witness protection programme run by the Ministry of the Interior. Collective measures included those carried out in communities on the local and regional levels with civil, military, and police officials who were under the coordination of the Ministry of the Interior to give protection to people.

Turning to the plight of internally displaced persons, the delegation said the country had seen a significant reduction in large scale displacement, meaning displacement of 10 or more families or 50 or more people. There had also been a reduction in complaints of displacements as well. In 2010, 1.5 billion pesos were set aside for dealing with issues of displacement. The State had also increased its consultations with vulnerable groups including women, Afro-Colombians, persons with disabilities and children. The State used the information gleaned from these prior consultations to adjust its policies. The differential gender approach to displacement that had been undertaken included raising the awareness of civil servants about the gender issues that were involved in displacement.

Despite budgetary restrictions, Colombia had strengthened the offices of both the public prosecutor’s office and the office of the Ombudsman by providing them with more financial resources, said the delegation.

Turning to the Early Warning System, the delegation said that 209 early warning alerts as well as reports, follow-up notes and risk reports had been issued. These alerts helped the State address displacement,by spotting the warning signs early and helping local and regional governments act before displacements took place.

The delegation then turned to the issue of the prevention of torture. It noted that Colombia recently submitted its fourth periodic report to the Committee against Torture and said the Human Rights Committee could refer to that document for more information on their policies. In the last sixth months three initiatives had been taken up in this area, including the appointment of a national torture prevention mechanism to investigate allegations of torture against state officials; the creation of a centralized registry of torture cases; increased training for civil servants; and a more broadly consciousness raising related to this issue. Torture in Colombia had been raised to a constitutional level as there was now a clear prohibition against it in the Constitution.

The delegation then informed the Committee that there has been a major change in the laws governing abortion in the last few years. The country had moved from a total prohibition on abortion to a law that decriminalized abortion; it was now legal in certain cases, for example when the life of the mother was in danger, in the case of serious genetic malformation of the foetus, which meant the child could not live, and in cases of rape, incest or other coercion. Under those cases, abortion was permitted. Many doctors had asked for the protection of their freedom of conscience and they did not want to be compelled to practice abortion. The court ruled that if there were other doctors in the area who could perform the abortion then a doctor should not be compelled to perform the abortion.

Questions by Committee Members

A Committee Member had follow-up questions about what happened with paramilitary members once they laid down their weapons. Were they put on trial and what kind of sentences were they given? Did they enjoy impunity? Also, could the delegation provide details on whether they had other forms of reparations for victims other than economic reparations and were reparations available for people who had been victims as a direct result of actions by the State?

An Expert noted that it was an open secret that many paramilitaries were extradited to the United States to be tried for narco-trafficking, but would it not be better to try them in Colombia where they could also be tried for their violations against human rights?

With regards to torture, the Committee said an important detail was missing from the report, namely the number of convictions on torture indictments.

A Committee Member wondered what steps would the State take to ensure a women’s right to access to an abortion in cases in which it was permitted.

On the question of reparations, the programmes in place did not seem to address the issue of truth and reconciliation or the issue of impunity. Also, there seemed to be no reparation fund and there was no evidence that any victims had been paid reparations until this point, said an Expert.

In terms of the National Human Rights Action plan, an Expert said there were allegations that violence had been perpetrated against leaders of non-governmental organizations which was why they withdrew from the consultation process on the National Human Rights Action Plan.

An Expert believed that Colombia needed a set of laws that ruled as unlawful acts of discrimination. Several laws had been presented to the Congress, but they had gone nowhere. The Colombian Constitution was a good one and it established the right to equality, but laws against discrimination had never been really enshrined and this was a particular problem for Afro-Colombians. The State also lacked a coordinated plan against racial discrimination.

Turning to the rights of internally displaced persons, an Expert said the registry seemed to run counter to the rights of internally displaced persons. It appeared there was a trend to underestimate the number of internally displaced persons because not all of them registered and thus they were undercounted and there was a lack of reliable census numbers. Thus, policies based on this registry had become more of an obstacle to people enjoying their rights. What was the Government going to do to protect the rights of internally displaced persons?

On the issue of protecting civilian populations in a situation of armed conflict, an Expert did not see concrete and tangible outcomes from laws on the books to protect these people. Could the delegation explain what additional measures would be taken beyond the law of Justice and Peace to protect people caught in the crossfire of illegal armed groups and government forces?

Experts then turned to the issue of sexual violence and asked what protections were in place for victims of sexual violence as it was alleged that there was widespread impunity for sexual violence. What was being done to implement programmes for sexual violence and to move them beyond the planning stages? What was being done to address the intersection of internal displacement and sexual violence? What amendments to the Criminal Code were being contemplated to address sexual violence?

The delegation was asked how many disputes had been settled through the National Reconciliation Programme, a programme that allowed the settlement of disputes without going to court. Regarding the office of the Ombudsman, what were the qualifications required to be appointed as an Ombudsman, who appointed this person and what procedure was followed to make a complaint through the Ombudsman’s office? Were the decisions of the Ombudsman enforceable and if so how? How were people punished for forcible abductions?

Experts further asked to clarify the difference between community reparations and individual reparations. What measures were taken to make sure they did not turn into a humanitarian assistance program?

Response by Delegation

The delegation said in terms of other forms of reparations, victims could be civil parties to lawsuits and sue for reparations but they could also have access to an adversarial case and the reparations would be ruled on and handed down that way.

With regards to members of paramilitary groups who demobilized and whether they enjoyed impunity, the delegation said that the demobilization allowed the State to know the scale of the guerrilla forces in the country via statements given from these demobilized members. In those cases where paramilitaries were linked to war crimes or crimes against humanity they would be prosecuted for these crimes and these cases were handled through the Office of Reintegration. With regards to the Principle of Opportunity there were two requirements one of which was that it could not be applied to minors and the second that it could not be applied to people being tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity. Colombia was working to strengthen the initiatives of the Justice and Peace law to allow it to bring charges against paramilitaries.

The delegation asked the Committee note that the Law for Justice and Peace had only been in force for five years, but it began to be applied four years ago. This delay was due to the fact that the State had taken time to train all the institutions responsible for implementing the law. Offices had had to be created such as the Office of the Ombudsman. In the beginning the Government had also made mistakes; for example it had thought it could prosecute paramilitaries with only 20 prosecutors and it then had had to increase this number to 184. They also had to study the criminal dynamic of these groups. The delegation would have loved to talk about a greater number of convictions, but this was the reality. The Supreme Court had handed down 17 convictions so there was justice, it was maybe not always the way one would like to see it done but it was justice. Many politicians who had not been convicted had been detained. The results were small but significant and they had made an honest and full hearted effort.

The delegation went on to say that the reparations programme was not an existentialist one. To date the State had handed over compensations totalling US$ 10 million for 11,000 cases of compensation and they had set aside US$ 150 million to double the compensation figures of last year.

In terms of the training of the police force, the delegation told the Committee that Guideline No. 10 had been set up to look into allegations of military misconduct. Also, demobilization efforts had strengthened the relationship with non-governmental organizations and the Defence Minister agreed that there needed to be more transparency in the workings of the armed forces. For all military operations in which there could be a loss of life, there were bodies with the power to investigate allegations and to conduct investigations in the field to ascertain the facts. There was also a plan to strengthen the legal training of public prosecutors and 110 million pesos had been set aside for the programme to fight immunity to support these efforts.

Turning to questions regarding extrajudicial killings, the delegation said that Colombia had a broader definition of extrajudicial killings than that prescribed by international law and following from this it was important to note that there were 1,216 active cases that were under investigation looking into allegations of extrajudicial killings by Government authorities. In terms of why the penal versus disciplinary investigations numbers did not match, the delegation said that this was because the sanctions were different and the scope and coverage of these were cases that were different in nature. Also, many of these cases didn’t just involve state actors, but they also involved civilians who might have been involved in the alleged acts.

With regards to what had been done to develop a holistic human rights policy, the delegation said the way the State taught human rights had been reviewed and an overhaul had been implemented for how they taught these policies to State authorities. They had increased the number of human rights courses to 32 throughout the State and there was significant achievement in the broadening and strengthening of the military training centres which had been given a battalion status and were now under the command of a colonel. Before military members were being redeployed to the field they were also re-trained so the information was fresh in their minds.

In terms of the 170,000 officers in the national police force, from the day they entered the academy officers were trained in human rights. The delegation indicated that there was horizontal and vertical training in human rights which meant that it covered a broad range of topics over the course of a police officer’s career. There were specialized teams of human rights trainers that were deployed to rural areas to train police officers there as well, so there was no break in training once they left the academy. There was virtual training and virtual exams given once a year as well in human rights. They hoped to implement a project this year that was a virtual game that looked at the rules of engagement in light of human rights. Throughout their career, police officers also had the opportunity to go to other countries to get additional training and observe best practices in other States.

Turning to the Committee’s concerns on displacement and its prevention, the delegation addressed the issue of the registration of the displaced population. This registry was not an obstacle to guaranteeing the rights of the displaced population, but was a fulfilment of Law 387, which guaranteed respect of the right to due process and the right to adversarial proceedings. It was understood that internally displaced persons were often afraid to submit complaints and the State had sought to address this issue through the registration process with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and civil society organizations. They were trying to reduce the underreporting of internally displaced persons by doing an awareness raising campaign to let internally displaced persons know their rights. The State was also trying to balance the rights of internally displaced persons with the need to identify who they were so they could address their needs. For example, it was important not to provide state assistance to people who were not in fact internally displaced persons, but this need could not undermine the rights of legitimate internally displaced persons.

With regards to the allegation that responsibility for humanitarian aid had been turned over to the military, the delegation said that Colombia was one of the few countries in the world where there was an agreement between the government and the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons; this would be unlikely if the job of providing humanitarian aid was handled solely by the military.

The delegation continued by saying that the early warning system for internal displacement had also been strengthened by a new political body tasked with defining prevention and protection measures. Furthermore, the budget of the early warning system had been increased from 900 million pesos in 2009 to over 2.3 billion pesos for 2010. This new unit had also gained in operational effectiveness by increasing coordination between bodies.

According to the delegation, progress had been made in fighting sexual violence. Currently the office of forensic medicine was making a compilation of information related to sexual violence under the aegis of the Attorney General’s Office. The State was trying to gather this information on a systematic basis so there could be constant follow-up on this offence. From a law enforcement perspective, Colombia was also making sure that authorities could gather proof and evidence of sexual violence in relation to the investigation of homicides, as female homicide victims could also be victims of sexual violence and they wanted to raise the profile of these victims. They were also working to implement measures so that women weren’t frightened to make complaints and there was a gender based programme to raise awareness and train people working in the legal area on these issues. This included establishing how victims were cared for and on the basis of that diagnosis they were trained on how to address their problems and concerns of victims to avoid re-victimization. It was hoped that these changes would cut down on fear for women coming forward to file complaints. This training process took two years.

In terms of regional coordination, the delegation said dissemination of policies was crucial and it was being done at the departmental level. The issue also needed to be mainstreamed into the public agenda at the regional, departmental and municipal levels. There was also a follow-up bureau that worked at the regional level and with the private sector and civic associations. A draft decree was also being developed with competent bodies and a technical working group had been convened with all the bodies that had competencies in this area to formulate this decree.

Answering the Committee’s questions about the Office of the Ombudsman and how this body worked, the delegation said the Ombudsman was elected by the Chamber of Representatives, one of the Houses of Congress. After the election was held the nomination was then sent to the President. The Office was an independent and autonomous body and carried out key actions such as the protection of human rights and encouraged respect for human rights. It could make recommendations to authorities as well as individuals. The Office could also make its recommendations public and report to Congress on these reports and any responses they might have received from authorities.

The delegation said that with regard to the coordination of actions carried out in the Afro-Colombian communities, a lot of isolated efforts had been made by different institutions, but an evaluation had been carried out by a high level committee to look at how they could streamline efforts and come up with an integrated policy. Thus, this issue of lack of articulation had been addressed.

Looking at convictions on torture charges, the delegation said that 38 cases had been referred to courts, 19 cases were formally investigated and of these cases had led to charges being filed. There were 14 convictions of 43 individuals. This information was current as of January 2010. Sometimes torture charges were subsumed into other charges such as grievous bodily harm and homicide so it was difficult to have articulated numbers for torture, but the forensic medicine office was working on disaggregating this data. The delegation said that under the Justice and Peace Law torture was emerging as a separate crime. On the issue of the torture prevention mechanism, the aim of this mechanism would be to develop coordination between bodies to guarantee the promotion and respect for the rights of people deprived of their liberty.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Members

A Committee Member pointed to the statistic that 85 per cent of all cases of sexual violence were against women who were minors. In light of this, the delegation was asked whether there were plans to adjust the State’s policies to meet the special needs of young girls who were victims of sexual violence.

The delegation was asked by an Expert if there were statistics on the conviction rate for extrajudicial killings and how long these cases did take.

The Committee Experts then turned to the establishment of the national protection mechanism against torture. Since there were no plans by the State to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture, what guidelines would it use to establish such a mechanism? Also, there had been allegations that military personnel impeded investigations into human rights violations by not turning over evidence or otherwise cooperating with investigators, as well as allegations of torture. What was being done about this?

A Committee Expert said that regarding reparations, these administrative proceedings could take up to seven years and the compensation was purely monetary. Were there other forms of integrative reparations provided by the State?

There had been disturbing proclamations made by the Vice President regarding abortion, who had called for the removal of access to emergency contraception as well as the nullification of the law legalizing abortion, noted one Expert. What was being done to uphold the Constitutional Court’s ruling on this issue?

The delegation was also asked by one Expert about “false positives”, cases in which soldiers killed innocent people and then dressed them to look like guerrilla fighters to cover up the murders to obtain a reward. What was being done to stop this phenomenon?

Response by Delegation

The delegation began by addressing the issue of sexual violence. The delegation didn’t believe that young girls represented 85 per cent of the victims of sexual violence, but the number was probably not far off and there was no doubt that children made up a large number of the abused. This violence against women and girls had to come to an end. A bill had been proposed to expose the alleged rapists by publishing their names in newspapers and putting their pictures on billboards, but this was deemed to violate the rights of the accused. There was also a referendum that proposed that child rapists be given life sentences, but due to procedural irregularities the Constitutional Court ruled that the results of the referendum were null. But these measures just went to show how interested society was in dealing with this scourge. The delegation said that in 90 per cent of rape cases, the rapists were close relatives of the victims so it was a very difficult problem to deal with because very often cases were never even reported. It was unacceptable that children were raped and these children could grow up to become adult rapists.

The delegation said it was difficult to give exact numbers on the conviction rate for extrajudicial killings because many of the investigations were ongoing and it was also difficult to say how long the investigations lasted because it depended on the specific aspects of each case. In terms of the military penal justice system and military personnel impeding investigations, the Constitutional Court had decreed through case law where the limits of military courts were. The military forces did not have the same prerogatives as police forces in these cases. It was true the military were often first on the scene of an alleged extrajudicial killing, but they did not have control of these investigations as the national police force was in charge.

Regarding the question of economic incentives giving rise to extrajudicial killings, particularly the phenomenon of “false positives”, the delegation stressed that the public police had never received money due to operational results or for a drop in operational casualties. Public officials could not be given financial rewards. A reward was only paid for the provision of information that gave rise to operational success but this was not paid to a public official. Also, there were two committees that determined whether someone was eligible for the reward, so the military and police were not in charge of determining who got the reward. Also, an independent commission had determined that there was no link between rewards and these killings by military forces. There was also a member of the military who gave testimony that the killings were not linked to rewards, but because of the roots narco-traffickers had taken in the ranks of the military. There were high-ranking military officials involved in drug trafficking and these extrajudicial killings were used to cover up this crime.

Regarding the Optional Protocol, the delegation gave arguments for why Colombia would not ratify it. Right now Colombia was focused on strengthening its State institutions and the Government wanted to ensure there were no contradictions within their systems. They were party to the inter-American system so there was already an oversight body that oversaw human rights violations either committed by the Government or those that the Government failed to investigate. The Committee against Torture had recognized that the State party was active in working against torture, but said that it was not as successful as it could have been due to a lack of coordination. They were working on this problem, including systematically collecting disaggregated data on torture cases. They also had a mechanism that was already doing the work that this optional protocol would do.

With regard to the statements made by the Vice President regarding abortion, the delegation said the comments had been taken out of context.

Oral Answers to Written Questions Submitted in Advance by Experts

In answering questions on issues nineteen though thirty of the list of issues, the delegation, turning to the question of arbitrary detention said there was zero tolerance for the illegal deprivation of liberty. When there were breaches of this by the police, the command structure had to speed up investigations to find out who was responsible. This was also under civilian oversight. On the issue of preventive administrative detention, this was prevention rather than suppression and this legal deprivation of liberty could be done if an order was handed down by a judge or in light of a flagrant crime. Currently there were 100,000 processes going on around the country and police were informed of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on administrative detention. Administrative detention had to be done objectively and with the aim of protecting rights of civilians from arbitrary police actions. This detention was only used in clear cut cases to protect public order and safety. Also, detailed records were being kept so investigators could identify the police officers who put people in detention. Colombia had also opened the country to visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Regarding prison overcrowding, the delegation said it was important to note that this was a historic problem in their prison system but it was also important to recognize measures taken by the State to improve prison conditions. These measures included building new prisons to increase the number of spaces by 22,000 to reduce overcrowding. Three of these prisons had already been built and it was hoped that all the new ones would be up and running by August, and authorities were looking to improve conditions in already existing establishments as well. Authorities were also employing other mechanisms that were alternatives to prison such as electronic monitoring and house arrest to reduce prison overcrowding. Currently, there were 4,193 offenders on house arrest and monitored through electronic bracelets. They were also modernizing institutions by increasing staff and separation of the accused from convicted offenders was applied and it was enshrined in the penal code. The prison population included 25,793 inmates awaiting trial, 58,000 convicted inmates and 20,000 offenders on electronic monitoring. The Government was gathering disaggregated data on inmates and the prison population for information on Afro-Colombian and indigenous inmates, pregnant women, etc. Cases of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure were studied by control bodies to make sure there was due process. Also, internal documents had been drawn up using recommendations from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other bodies outlining the use of solitary confinement and the criteria that had to be respected, including respect for the health of inmates, their contact with outside work and their psycho-social health.

With regard to investigations into the Colombian intelligence service, the Administrative Department of Security, and allegations that it had followed journalists and human rights defenders as well as wiretapped the phones of public officials and others, the delegation said there was not a security service in the world investigated as much as Colombia’s. Investigators were working on reaching conclusions clearly and transparently and the Administrative Department of Security cooperated fully with the investigations and turned over 20 years of files which was a huge deal for a security agency, but they did this because they wanted to have the allegations aired fully and transparently. Initiatives that had been undertaken to avoid abuses of intelligence gathering included Law 1298, passed in 2009, which was designed in conjunction with all parties in Congress as well as civil society groups. The law mandated new oversight mechanisms as well as a national plan for intelligence gathering which laid out guidelines for the agency to define its functions and areas of responsibility; actions taken outside these areas would be considered irregular. The law also required the creation of a national intelligence centre with files on facts, not files on people. The security agency also developed a human rights division to protect human rights. The purpose of intelligence gathering was to protect the human rights of citizens and other nationals living in their territory.

With regard to fair trial and judicial guarantees, the Constitutional Court had defined the restrictive nature of military courts. These courts were independent and training had been carried out to inform them of human rights criteria. The delegation said that reform and modernization of the military penal system in Colombia was underway and the bill regarding this was going to be ratified by the president soon. When there were a number of jurisdictions involved and there was a conflict of competence between the adversarial, administrative or criminal jurisdictions it was the job of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary to rule on jurisdictional competence. The Military Code of Justice could be applied to civilians, but questions arose of when the civilian code could be applied to active duty military personnel, for example for crimes against humanity. Thus far, the Supreme Council of the judiciary had ruled that when there was a question of jurisdictional competence the case had to be decided in favour of ordinary courts: the council had adjudicated 261 cases and 183 of these had been referred to ordinary courts.

The delegation then turned to the question of forms of reparations for victims of paramilitary groups or illegal armed groups. Any person whose rights had been violated by demobilized illegal armed groups could make a statement and be involved in the proceedings from the beginning and have access to legal representation. Currently there were 66,726 victims with unofficial legal representation and 38,600 had received psycho-social care.

Turning to freedom of conscience, the delegation said that the Constitutional Court, in a ruling dated 2009, ruled on the law that regulated compulsory military service. The Court reviewed the article and deemed that while the law was in-line with the Constitution, Congress should be able to regulate conscientious objection so there was a law pending on that matter.

According to the delegation, the State recognized the enormous importance of human rights defenders in the country in strengthening the standing of victims of human rights violations. There was a need to provide for their defence as well and this was recognized on a regional and local level. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced a bill to change the criminal code that would increase the sentences for the abduction, threat, kidnapping or killing of human rights defenders. There were 34 cases regarding human rights defenders under investigation, nine cases where charges had been handed down, and three convictions affecting 27 individuals. More than 3,000 human rights defenders benefitted from State protection.

The delegation said that concerns surrounding the rights of children included the forced recruitment of minors; many cases of which were under investigation.

With regards to the rights of minorities, there had been rights protection measures taken for the Afro-Colombian community and there was a law that recognized and protected collective lands. Thus far, 160 collective titles had been given that amounted to 5,264,000 hectares benefitting 3,244 families. Indigenous families accounted for four per cent of the population, but held title to 34 per cent of the land. In terms of prior consultation, Colombia had ratified Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and saw it as a tool to safeguard the rights of indigenous people and it enjoyed constitutional standing in the country. Prior consultation was required for anything that would have an impact on these communities.

The delegation said information on the Covenant was disseminated via the web and through printed materials as well.

Questions by Committee Members

The Committee Experts began their follow-up questions with a question on the restitution of land and collective ownership of property. The Special Rapporteur for displaced persons had determined that one of the underlying causes of this displacement had to deal with land grabbing and this issue had not been fully addressed. What did the State party intend to do to fully deal with this?

On the issue of conscientious objectors, there was a ruling from the Constitutional Court on this matter, but it hadn’t been implemented, said one Expert. Could the delegation comment on this?

Prison overcrowding was a serious problem and even with new facilities, there would still be overcrowding, said an Expert. There seemed to be an excess of pre-trial detainees and a problem of sanitary conditions. Could more details be given on how these issues would be addressed?

With regards to the possible mishandling of evidence by military personnel in certain investigations of wrong doing, there was draft legislation on a new military code that would establish a new investigative team under the military prosecutor, noted an Expert. This law had to be signed by the President in June 2010, had it been signed into law yet?

Committee Experts then raised numerous questions about the functioning of the justice system. What measures were taken by the Attorney General to protect the rights of individuals in the conduct of criminal proceedings? Was legal aid available to poor litigants? If legal aid was available, was any record maintained on these cases? Turning to criminal responsibility for adolescents, were there specialized bodies for the investigation and prosecution for crimes committed by people aged 14 to 18 years old? Had any steps been taken to train judges and prosecutors on the adversarial system? If such measures had been taken, could the delegation please elaborate on that training?

Experts asked the delegation in terms of the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, what actions had been taken to bring domestic laws into compliance with this protocol in terms of steps to combat the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution? Following that, what had been the results of these measures?

The delegation was requested to provide more particulars on conscientious objectors and what protections were in place for them until the law concerning this matter was adopted. The Court had handed down a ruling on this matter nine months ago, but there was still no written ruling. Did this delay pose problems for lower courts who were expected to implement the ruling and litigants who had filed cases under the law? Rulings could not be implemented on the basis of press releases alone.

What laws were in place to protect and preserve the cultures of indigenous peoples? How were female inmates protected against violence in prisons and what was done to address their special vulnerability behind bars, wondered Experts.

Experts were interested to know how the right of religious freedom interacted with laws guaranteed under the Convention. For example, could people have more than one spouse if their religion said it was permissible? Also, who set the curriculum at religious schools, the State or the religious organizations and who taught the course, religious figures or lay people? Were there religious groups that weren’t recognized by the State and if so, could these groups freely practice their belief?

In terms of prison overcrowding, what were the legislative and administrative measures in place to allow for access to information on conditions in the prisons, prisoner access to healthcare and the separation of pre-trial detainees from convicted criminals, wondered an Expert.

Response by Delegation

In terms of protection of land, the delegation said that Colombia was the only country in the world that had protection of assets and heritage of people after they had been expelled from their lands. Today in Colombia there were 78,800 parcels of land that had been protected which represented 1.7 million hectares of collective lands and 2.3 million hectares on an individual basis. The magnitude of the problem of people being stripped of their land and displaced people was significant somewhere in the neighbourhood of 6 million hectares and that’s why there was a new policy of land management based on restitution and reparations, keeping in mind that the ultimate responsibility for making restitution rested with the people who had wronged them. The ten year action plan to deal with this had a budget of 20 billion pesos, and the total price tag over ten years was pegged to 44 trillion pesos or US$ 20 billion. The Government would continue their attempts to protect populations, but the State would also develop new policy instruments for restitution and reparations.

Answering questions regarding the penitentiary system, the delegation said the issue of overcrowding continued to exist and the State understood building new prisons would not be enough, but they were working with a view to continue with alternative means of imprisonment such as electronic monitoring. The State also needed to do work in the area of prevention as well, as it was not enough to build new prisons just to fill them up. There was also a pilot program whereby children in secondary school would be able to visit prisons and have the chance to meet directly with inmates who wronged society and were now deprived of their liberty. With regards to women behind bars, the State and civil society groups were working on measures to address some of these issues. In terms of separating convicts from pre-trial detainees, there were separate places in prisons for each and civil society groups were free to visit the prisons so there was access to information on the workings of the penitentiary system. Healthcare was also provided in prison, even for inmates with pre-existing conditions. This service was contracted out to a specialized agency.

Colombia had ratified the Optional Protocol under the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children and child pornography and there was a strategic plan in place that covered 2006 to 2011 against the commercial exploitation of girls and boys. The plan included provisions for prevention, investigation, care of victims and restoration of rights and contained a regional element as well. The State had also sought to strengthen the criminal provisions as well. For any person that photographed or recorded child pornography via any means the sentence was of 10 to 20 years in prison and this increased by a third when the perpetrator was a family member. Anyone promoting sexual tourism would be convicted to four to eight years in prison. The law protected children under age of 18 even if they consented. Foreigners who came to the country seeking sex tourism would be immediately expelled and all travel agencies and hotel must ensure that those visitors were aware of these laws regarding child prostitution and pornography. It also covered internet cafes to ensure they had filters so people couldn’t use these public places to download these images.

Turning to the issue of juvenile justice, the criminal code covered children ages 14 to 18 years old; children under 14 years old were excluded from criminal responsibility and they were not prosecuted, declared criminally responsible or deprived of liberty. There were also special provisions that applied if the child was deemed to have a psychological or mental disability. This juvenile justice system included the children’s prosecutor, criminal judges for adolescents, and the children and adolescent police force, whose main role was to ensure compliance with the standards and principals mandated by the law.

On the issue of conscientious objectors, the delegation said that although they did not have the full text from the Constitutional Court, they were familiar with part of the law through the press release. This did not stop people from filing cases based on the tutela law. In terms of military recruitment and compulsive military service, there were no regulations or clear procedures to respect the rights of persons who should be serving their military service. There was a law governing how people were recruited and how they were to report for service. When a man turned 18 he had to present himself to the military authorities to see if he would be recruited. If people were stopped and had an unclear military status they were not disappeared or deprived of liberty or not allowed to talk to their families. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been following this closely and there was a good relationship between the Office and the Department of Defence, so if there were any cases that were questionable or people filed complaints they would look into to determine the merits of the claim. Young men who could prove there were in school could postpone their military service.

With regard to the military justice system and investigations of the military, there was a council of state decision that suspended the support document, a document which said that there should always be a judicial police presence at the scene of a crime to gather evidence and to ensure that the functions of the judiciary police were respected. An appeal had been submitted regarding this suspension, said the delegation. The act was still in force while the appeal went forward so nothing had changed in Colombia and they continued forward knowing these crimes would always be investigated by judicial police.

On the issue of religion, there was a separation between the church and the State and there were religious schools, but parents decided if their children would attend them. Marriages were performed by churches, civil divorces existed and parental authority was divided between fathers and mothers. Churches registered with the Government, but this was to ensure that the people who ran them met the proper requirements.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Members

A Committee Expert clarified its question on the Constitutional Court and asked if it was normal for the Court to withhold its reasoning on court decisions for nine months.

Also, were there concrete guarantees to allow human rights defenders to work and how were these measures enforced? Had anyone been tried and convicted for the recruitment of minors for armed conflict? How did the Attorney General monitor the right to freedom of religion and worship, wondered an Expert.

Response by Delegation

The delegation clarified that Colombia had not really suffered from religious strife or violence as it was a majority Catholic country, although the State respected the rights of other religions.

On the issue of case law handed down by the Constitutional Court, the delegation said it was a much respected court and had made many innovative strides in human rights and it was respected throughout Latin America. But when a legal problem of such magnitude occurred it was important to make the decision available to everyone and then there was a lapse of time and this was because the decision wasn’t always unanimous so then some justices asked for a vote and there was a period of time between the signed ruling being handed down and the annexes.

Concluding Remarks

In concluding remarks, ALICIA ARANGO OLMOS, Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations at Geneva, said this has been a very important exercise for Colombia and thanked the Committee for the dialogue. The delegation came before the Committee, not to just out of obligation, but from the desire to ratify Colombia’s commitment to promote and protect civil and political rights. The delegation was aware that there were huge challenges, but Ms. Arango Olmos stressed the determination of the Government in its commitment to working with the civil society and the international community. At the same time, there needed to be recognition of the enormous efforts Colombia had undertaken to consolidate peace and human rights for all Colombians. She could assure the Committee that they would continue to work tirelessly for the promotion of human rights and the next time they came before the Committee they would show even better results than they had this time.

YUJI IWASAWA, Committee Chairperson, said it had been a good constructive dialogue with a capable delegation that had responded to many of the issues. If the delegation had additional replies they could submit them in writing to the Committee.


For use of the information media; not an official record