Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


10 December 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Colombia this afternoon, during which 43 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Serbia following the review of the country on Friday, 5 December.

· Presenting the national report of Colombia was FRANCISCO SANTOS CALDERÓN, Vice President of Colombia, who noted that Colombia’s firm support to the Universal Periodic Review was evidenced by the fact that it had volunteered to be among the first States to be reviewed by this new mechanism. Since 2002, Colombia had received 15 visits of human rights mechanisms. There were 24 offices of the UN and the ICRC present in Colombia. The media and human rights defenders were free to conduct their work in Colombia free from any restrictions. It was noted that all leaders of paramilitary groups had been imprisoned and their asset had be frozen. Between 2002 and 2007, cases of homicides had decreased by 45%, acts of terrorism by 76% and extrajudicial killings by 87%. The FARC had been repudiated in Colombia. It was recalled that two days ago the FARC executed two members of a medical mission, which added to the series of violent events carried out by the group. Several teachers had been murdered, people had been maimed by landmines, and countless others kidnapped. Attacks had also been perpetrated against indigenous peoples. All citizens were entitled to legal redress and mechanisms were in place to protect their rights.

The Constitutional Court of Colombia was one of the most active courts in the world, he affirmed, and had broadened the concept of fundamental rights. Among other things, the Court put in place effective measures to prevent arbitrary arrests. Other significant steps taken was the enactment of a law in 2005 to combat human trafficking and other laws in 2008 seeking to prevent all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence. The budget for the judiciary system had also been increased to allow for its more effective functioning. Consequently, there were over 700 investigations under way against members of the armed forces and well over 200 had been indicted. Colombia had witnessed half a century of violence, the Vice President asserted. A number of peace processes had been initiated over the years; this culminated in the Justice and Peace Act which was enacted in recognition of the rights of victims. Almost 18,000 crimes were in the process of being clarified. Additionally, the Government issued a decree creating a reparation programme for the benefit of victims.

The drafting of the Colombia Development Plan took on a rights-based approach and was set to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said. As a result of these plans poverty had been reduced from 55% to 45% and extreme poverty from 21% to 12%, between 2002 and 2006. As regards children rights, the Code of Childhood and Adolescence was enacted in order to enhance the State’s efforts to guarantee the rights of minors in Colombia. It was noted that women accounted for some 30% of high-level posts in government positions. As regards displaced persons, UNHCR acknowledged that Colombia had been making great efforts to tend to the needs of this population. As to ethnic groups, efforts were being taken to preserve their cultures and guarantee them the right to their land. A number of affirmative action plans, including the National Development Plan, endeavoured to uphold their rights as well. The State’s democratic security policy ensured that all actions of the government would be carried out in full respect of human rights. Human rights training of security and law enforcement personnel was also being conducted. The Government was taking several measures to protect human rights defenders in the country and had publicly condemned any attacks on human rights defenders.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the various efforts of the State to curb violence in the country; policies and programmes to demobilize armed groups; efforts to combat impunity; that Colombia volunteered to be among the first reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review; the active engagement of civil society in preparing for the Universal Periodic Review; the open invitation extended to Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; the adoption of the Law on Justice and Peace; the close cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; steps taken to guarantee the independence of the judiciary; efforts to combat poverty; the initiation of the National Plan for Education; and efforts to address the human rights situation of women, children and indigenous groups.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the policy of the Government to curb the influence of illegal armed groups on the civilian population; complaints of forced recruiting and steps to stop this practice; plans to rehabilitate and reintegrate child soldiers; and to what extent legislation had been preventing the sexual exploitation of children and child labour.

Other questions pertained to the programmes to address the needs of those whose lands were repossessed; plans to ensure that the consultation of indigenous people was held in light of their security situation and cases of land repossession; the directive issued by the Ministry of Defence for the protection of indigenous peoples and afro-Colombians; measures to reduce the vulnerability of women of indigenous and afro-Colombian communities; efforts to address the disparities between indigenous and mainstream society; and the conclusion drawn from the results of the policies addressing the needs of internally displaced persons and shortcomings in that regard.

Additionally, States asked questions on the specific measures in order to increase the efficiency of the investigations of extrajudicial killings; further measures to ensure the respect of human rights by security forces; the functioning and results of “adversary criminal system”; the status of the law of victims; recent efforts undertaken to implement a system of compensation and reparation for victims of violence; the transitional measures made in 2005 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; main obstacles in combating poverty; and the specific areas where technical assistance was required.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To better protect human rights defenders, in particular in rural areas, in accordance with international human rights standards; to foster dialogue between Government and human rights organizations using, if necessary, the mediation of the local office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; to forcefully denounce attacks against human rights defenders and that the State authorities give human rights defenders legitimacy and recognition through supportive statements; to effectively investigate and prosecute crimes against human rights defenders, and punish those responsible; to step up efforts to protect trade unionists; and to allow the visit of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders requested in 2006.

Other recommendations included: To address the issue of unaccounted for children in light of recruitment by armed forces; to take all necessary steps to ensure the recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child soldiers and to address the underlying exclusion and marginality which made rural children particularly vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups; to take increased efforts to address the question of sexual violence of children, in particularly in rural areas, and to establish an effective data collection to ensure that proper policing and judicial measures were in place; to increase measures to prevent sexual violence; to ensure access to universal primary education; and to ensure registration at birth, especially for children in rural areas.

Another set of recommendations included: To take effective measures to reduce the number of extra-judicial killings and to bring those responsible to justice; to take all necessary measures in order to increase its efficiency to investigate and prevent these killings; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to strengthen the national plan on searching for disappeared persons; to intensify efforts to bring down the high number of enforced disappearances and kidnapping in the country; to ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to prosecute the perpetrators of forced displacement; to provide human rights protection for women victims of forced displacement; take measures as regards the displacement of civilians and ensure the return of their land once peace is established; and to continue to strengthen the Victims and Witness Protection Programme.

Additionally, States encouraged Colombia: To continue efforts in seeking to break the linkages between elements of the armed forces and State security forces; to ensure an effective implementation for the human rights institutions addressing crimes committed by military forces; to ensure that all legislation and programmes in support of the Justice and Peace process complied with international standards; to intensify efforts to combat all forms of impunity; to strengthen the judiciary and guarantee its independence; to guarantee access to justice and the right to reparation to victims in a non-discriminatory manner and in compliance with international human rights standards; and to recognize the rights of conscientious objection law and practice.

Other recommendations included: To step up efforts to protect indigenous peoples; to establish an effective means of consultation with indigenous people; to increase economic and social initiatives to increase the respect of human rights for indigenous groups; to raise awareness to the special human rights needs of indigenous peoples; to increase efforts to tackle poverty and give attention to most vulnerable groups in society, including indigenous groups; to take into account the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when implementing its policies; to consider the possibility of implementing free basic education; and to continue its close cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Moreover, States recommended that Colombia immediately disband and disarm all paramilitary groups; to continue to do all that was possible, with the help of the international community, to protect the civilian population from crimes committed against armed groups; for the Commission on Historical Memory to step up its work; to enhance human rights education programmes for citizens and the armed forces to promote a culture of peace and respect for human rights; and to undertake stronger measures to address the problem of organized crimes and drug trafficking.

· Working Group Members taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Chile, Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, France, Cuba, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Peru, Slovenia, Germany, Pakistan, Japan, Brazil, India, Canada, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, China, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, Bolivia, Uruguay and the Russian Federation.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Spain, Norway, Turkey, Sweden, Guatemala, Algeria, Austria, Albania, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Belgium, Jamaica, Ireland, Australia, Romania, Hungary and Panama.

· The 12-person delegation of Colombia consisted of representatives of the Office of the Vice President, the Presidential Programme on Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the UN Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Colombia are Burkina Faso, Bahrain and Italy.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Colombia can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Serbia: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Serbia are Ukraine, Pakistan and Ghana. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika ZAMIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said recalled that 43 countries took part in the discussion on the review of Serbia who expressed their views on the human rights situation in that country. The positive and constructive role of the State under review was also noted. The Ambassador made some oral amendments. Representing the State under review, SLOBODAN VUKĈEVIĆ, Permanent Representative of Serbia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said his country was of the view that the Universal Periodic Review will further continue to advance human rights at the national and international level. The dialogue of Friday on Serbia was a further step forward to the advancement of the high standards in the field of human rights. Serbia would pay due attention to all recommendations made during the discussion.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Colombia on Monday, 15 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Uzbekistan after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Turkmenistan.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit