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Committee against Torture considers the report of Colombia

1st May 2015

The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Colombia on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Marcela Abadia Cubillos, Director of Criminal and Penitentiary Policy, Ministry of Justice, said that Colombia had undergone a positive transformation over the last four years in all areas, including human rights, and today was a different country. Colombia hoped to overcome the internal armed conflict which had lasted for more than five decades, and through the ongoing peace process it had managed to consolidate its democracy by institutionalizing human rights and guaranteeing fundamental freedoms for all Colombians. Colombia rejected the practice of torture and it was not State policy. Torture was punishable by law and carried a sanction of up to 30 years imprisonment. A new law on victims and land restitution, which included torture, provided reparations and support for victims in the context of armed conflict. So far close to half a million victims of crimes from the armed conflict had been compensated. Reform of the penal and penitentiary policies was highlighted and measures to tackle overcrowding in prisons.

During the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts said that the general impression was that both torture and ill-treatment in various forms were being practiced abundantly in Colombia, and that measures for protection and compensation were either very limited or ineffective, resulting in impunity for those crimes. Issues of abuses by paramilitary and criminal gangs were raised, as well as extrajudicial killings, sexual abuse in conflict and the detention of women in male detention facilities. Overcrowding in prisons had reached dire levels, where detainees on average had sleeping areas of 50 to 60 square centimetres. The Committee was very concerned that the Constitutional Court of Colombia described the prison situation as alarming and a humanitarian crisis and given the Government three years to solve the problem. The use of child soldiers, mass arrests and mass detentions by law enforcement officers, enforced disappearances, extradition and diplomatic assurances, trafficking in persons and reprisals against human rights defenders were also discussed.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Cubillos thanked the Committee for their questions, and said Colombia was well aware of its flaws and that the dialogue with the Committee, and its recommendations would help it work more effectively to solve all the problems indicated today.

Claudio Grossman, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for their answers and comments which would be important in allowing the Committee to perform its function.

The delegation of Colombia included representatives of the Directorate of Criminal and Penitentiary Policy, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Relations, National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, Office of the Attorney General, Ministry of the Interior, Unit for Attention and Reparation of Victims of Colombia, Directorate of Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Monday, 4 May to consider the third periodic report of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (CAT/C/MKD/3).

Report

The fifth periodic report of Colombia can be read here: (CAT/C/COL/5).

Presentation of the Report

MARCELA ABADIA CUBILLOS, Director of Criminal and Penitentiary Policy, Ministry of Justice of Colombia, said Colombia had undergone a positive transformation over the previous four years in all areas, including human rights, and today it was a different country. Colombia hoped to overcome the internal armed conflict which had lasted for more than five decades, and through the ongoing peace process it had managed to consolidate its democracy through the institutionalization of human rights and guaranteed fundamental freedoms for all Colombians.

Colombia rejected the practice of torture and it was not State policy, stressed Ms. Abadia Cubillos, as evidenced by the important normative and institutional framework that existed in Colombian legislation to prevent and punish the practice. The crime of torture was set out in the Colombian Penal Code in the context of offences against individual liberties and other guarantees. The offence of torture was also considered in the context of crimes against persons and property protected by international humanitarian law, she added. The offence of torture carried a sanction of 10 to 30 years imprisonment, and could also be cited as an aggravating circumstance when committed by a public official or by a private individual exercising a public function. Colombia had extensive case law protecting the right to life and physical integrity of citizens throughout the country. A new law on victims and land restitution, which included torture, provided reparations and support for victims in the context of armed conflict. During the first four years of the implementation of that law some seven million victims had been awarded reparations which, by 2021, would be worth $ 1.2 billion. So far close to half a million victims of crimes from the armed conflict had been compensated.

Ms. Abadia Cubillos highlighted reforms in the penal and penitentiary policies which were aimed at strengthening crime prevention, avoiding disproportionate and unjustified sanctions, and ensuring adequate access to justice services. The Government was committed to improving conditions in places of detention, and in that context, on 20 January 2014 an Act was adopted which amended the Prison Service Code to create a National Health Fund for all detainees which would be responsible for delivering health services to all places of detention. In 2014, some $ 3.5 million was invested in the upgrading, maintenance and renovation of the physical infrastructure of the detention centres of Colombia. The Monitoring Committee of the Penitentiary and Prison System was established the same year, and in October 2014 a bill was introduced by the Ministry of Justice to rationalize and limit the use of preventative detention.

Other notable reforms highlighted in the presentation included the restructuring of the Office of the Prosecutor General to strengthen its capacity and allow the Attorney General to effectively and efficiently fulfil the constitutional and legal functions assigned to him. The scientific work of the National Forensic Medicine Institute had been strengthened. Ms. Abadia Cubillos spoke about the National Development Plan which was being promoted by President Juan Manuel Santos and emphasized that it was based on three pillars: peace, equity and education. This was a historic moment for Colombia, she concluded, because for the first time peace could become a reality.

Questions by the Experts

Welcoming the large and well-represented delegation, an Expert said the general impression was that both torture and ill-treatment in various forms were being practiced abundantly in Colombia, and that measures for protection and compensation were either very limited or ineffective, resulting in impunity for those crimes. Furthermore, little had changed with regard to conditions in places of detention and there continued to be major problems with custodial facilities. How many crimes of torture had been registered with the Office of the Ombudsperson, how many were examined, including of the person by a forensic doctor, and how many gave rise to prosecutions.

The report informed that paramilitary forces had been completely demobilized and the emerging problem today was criminal gangs, noted the Expert. He highlighted the unresolved issue of the 30,000 demobilized paramilitaries where investigations and prosecutions were very few – less than a handful of convictions. That equalled de facto impunity and may be interpreted as an encouragement for the successors of the paramilitary groups, by whatever name they were called, to continue the atrocities. How did the Government plan to end impunity for the illegally armed groups in Colombia, he asked.

There were two definitions of torture in the Criminal Code of Colombia and the crime of torture was punishable by a minimum eight years of imprisonment, fine or disqualification from the exercise of public rights. How many convictions for torture and how many convictions for ill-treatment by public officials had taken place during the reporting period, asked the Expert. Did the statute of limitations apply to crimes of torture and enforced disappearance? To what degree was cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment defined as a crime in the Criminal Code?

The Committee was very concerned that the Constitutional Court of Colombia had described the situation in prisons as alarming, demanded an end to the unjust prison conditions in certain prisons, and given the Government three years – with a deadline of October 2015 to solve the humanitarian crisis in the worst of Colombia’s prisons or face the closure of the prisons. The Ombudsperson’s report described prison conditions that were completely at odds with the requirements of the Convention in terms that could only be described as ‘appalling’, commented an Expert.

Overcrowding in prisons had reached dire levels, where detainees on average had sleeping areas of 50 to 60 square centimetres which corresponded to the area of a newspaper. Serious health and violence problems emerged as a consequence of such conditions.

Data from a leading university in Colombia showed that the prison population of Colombia was 53 per cent above the capacity in January 2015. Four of the largest prisons said they would not take any more inmates. The Expert named several prisons as examples, one of which had a capacity of 252 but housed 954 inmates, representing 273 per cent of overcrowding. All of that information showed that the measures taken so far by the State party to reduce overcrowding were not working. The problem of overcrowding could be resolved by increasing prison capacity, said an Expert, but surely a better alternative would be to reduce the number of prisoners by decreasing the number of preventative arrests and promoting release on bail and alternatives to imprisonment, as suggested by the Constitutional Court.

Access to health services in prison was severely impeded upon, and in some areas only one third of prisons had access to a medical doctor. When a State deprived a person of his or her liberty the State implicitly assumed the responsibility of the person’s health, which obviously entailed an obligation to ensure that health was not deteriorated but rather improved during custody. How many prisoners died in custody and what procedures were in place to independently investigate deaths in custody?

The detention of women in male detention facilities remained a problem; in some areas there were no facilities for women detainees and prisoners, meaning that they were held in male facilities. It did not take much imagination to consider the consequences of such an arrangement, said the Expert. Issues included the lack of access to female guards undertaking searches, lack of access to hygiene and health care facilities for women, including gynaecological and obstetrical services, as well as the risk of harassment, discrimination and abuse by male prisoners and guards.

The State party was commended for the establishment of an early warning system, and for funding it in a sustainable way. He asked why the number of people in need of ‘extraordinary protection’ had doubled between 2012 and 2013. The Expert asked how the Government ensured that the voice of prisoners imprisoned in such dire conditions could be heard. How could detainees lodge complaints about their treatment? The Committee had received reports that detainees were discouraged from complaining by threats or beatings by prison guards.

There was a draft bill to remove the use of solitary confinement as a punishment, said an Expert, asking for its current status. He also asked the delegation if Colombia had considered ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Many years of armed conflict had resulted in a State that had substantial difficulties in providing protection against human rights violations to its citizens, in particular the most vulnerable. Armed conflict and internal displacement were conducive to sexual violence with women and girls as the biggest victims, with perpetrators often enjoying impunity.

Sexual violence against women and children seemed to be an endemic problem in Colombian society in general as well as in connection with the armed conflict. Human Rights Watch estimated that over two million women and children were affected. Another comprehensive report estimated that more than 48,000 cases of sexual violence against children and adolescents took place between 2008 and 2012, around 10,000 cases per year. Although the problem may be diminishing it was still serious and called for urgent measures to be taken for prevention as well as redress to the victims, said the Expert. He also asked about efforts to change victim-blaming attitudes in society.

An Expert highlighted a report received by the Committee from a coalition of five non-governmental organizations alleging abuse of former girl soldiers who were traveling with armed groups, alleging that they endured forced abortions and other horrible abuse.

The Committee had been informed that, although the number of child soldiers may have decreased, minors were still serving informal functions for the armed groups and therefore continued to be subject to abuse. The Committee had received information from schools in Colombia that teachers found those children tortured, battered and abused. What measures was the Government taking to end that abusive practice?

Although efforts to implement the Istanbul Protocol were recognized, a lot could be done to improve the situation, said an Expert. She was aware that in previous years the Istanbul Protocol had not been properly implemented by investigators who only described the most obvious wounds they observed, and did not carry out a second investigation. She also asked about the training of judges on the Convention, and methods to evaluate the effectiveness of training for law enforcement officials in general.

The State party had not admitted to it, but many sources pointed at trends of widespread mass arrests and mass detentions by military personnel, purportedly designed to forcibly enrol young people into the army. The Committee had received information about several cases of persons who were subjected to arbitrary detention by the military and some of them were tortured. The Government had to take up those allegations and put an end to the practice.
An Expert asked about reform of the military courts and what was being done to limit their power. She said Colombia had to establish an equilibrium between military and civilian justice. There was widespread consensus across the world that military courts should focus on only military matters and the ordinary justice system should have jurisdiction over other matters. Basic safeguards for detainees, such as the right to communicate with relatives of their choice and with a lawyer, and to be examined by an independent doctor, were enquired about.
Extrajudicial killings by demobilized paramilitary groups were a serious issue; corpses with severed heads, and bodies with severed members had been found in locations across the country. There were rumours that those killings had happened during the conflict but this was not necessarily true. Were impartial investigations into these serious acts taken?
The Committee appreciated action taken by the State party to tackle the crime of enforced disappearance but it remained a problem in Colombia, with impunity for perpetrators prevailing. There were believed to be 3,000 outstanding cases in Colombia. How many cases of disappeared persons had been identified and how many perpetrators had been prosecuted and convicted? The Expert also asked whether ‘Falsos positivos’ – the widespread pattern of extrajudicial executions, and beheadings, of civilians described by the security forces as ‘combat casualties’ was considered to be a form of enforced disappearance.

An Expert asked about 18 Colombian paramilitaries sent to the United States to be tried for alleged crimes. She said that prompted questions about the sovereignty of the State; was the situation so bad in Colombia that it was forced to ask another State to try its own nationals? Would it send alleged offenders to the United States or any other country in the future to be tried? Regardless of what they had done those people were entitled to a fair trial and to be tried in the country where the crime was committed.

The Committee was concerned that the Government had criminalized demonstrations, said an Expert, asking how many arrests had been made in connection with demonstrations during the reporting period, and what level of force the police were permitted to use against demonstrators. He asked about the rules for retencion por proteccion which allowed for a number of means of force with so-called ‘reduced lethality’. There were reports of extreme violence perpetrated by the police against demonstrators resulting in deaths which were not investigated. An Expert asked how many investigations had been carried out, officers prosecuted and convictions handed down?

The Committee commended the Government of Colombia for having incorporated an extended definition of ‘refugee’ in its Refugee Decree of 2013. At the same time the Committee wished to recommend that Colombia modified the decree to ensure that all border authorities ensured the unimpeded access of asylum seekers to asylum procedures, including the systematic recording and transmission of asylum applications to competent central authorities. In connection with the expulsion of two young Venezuelans in September 2014, the Committee would like to know how the Government respected the due process of law, including the obligation of non-refoulement. The Convention forbid the refoulement or extradition of a person to a country where he or she risked being a victim of torture, noted the Expert. She also raised the number of cases of expulsion of foreign nationals from Colombia on the provision of diplomatic assurances.

An Expert said he was glad to see that peace and normality were returning to Colombia and said the Committee’s objective was to assist the State party in that endeavour. He said that the high number of persons in pre-trial detention, 3,767, was alarming and asked who decided whether a person should be kept in pre-trial custody and on what grounds. The Committee was aware that Colombia aimed to dismantle criminal gangs and thwart criminal activities, he said, but asked how it ensured that the pre-trial detention system was not abused by officials and its use was not counter-productive.

Concerning reprisals against human rights defenders an Expert noted that the State party had provided interesting information on the work of the national preventative mechanism, particularly the gender perspective and support for non-governmental organizations focusing on women’s rights. However, she said, the problem of reprisals against human rights defenders was far wider and very serious. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, who had visited Colombia, had spoken out about reprisals there. Reprisals consisted of attacks, threats, assassinations, sexual violence, arbitrary use of the criminal justice system and harassment. It was reported that 1,762 human rights defenders had been victims of individual attacks in Colombia. The attacks were mainly carried out by post-demobilization paramilitary groups and disseminated through leaflets which accused human rights defenders of being enemies and denigrated their work. What was the Government doing about this?

Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem in Colombia which was a source country for men, women and children for sex trafficking and a source and destination country for forced labour. High-risk groups included internally displaced persons who were sometimes subjected to forced labour. The Committee noted steps taken by the Government, such as the National Action Plan to Prevent Trafficking. It also noted that the report informed of 147 complaints of trafficking lodged with local directorates of the Office of the Attorney General, said an Expert, asking whether the Government believed that figure represented the actual magnitude of the problem. He also asked about funding for services to help and identify victims.

In general, the many years of armed conflict had resulted in a war-torn country with a State which had substantial difficulties in providing protection against human rights violations to its citizens. That applied to internally displaced persons, particularly women and children, as well as the Afro-Colombian communities, who had been victimized. The Expert spoke about attacks against representatives of displaced persons and victims of paramilitary violence who sought justice or the restitution of their lands.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community seemed to have been particularly targeted in terms of torture, ill-treatment and killings. An estimated 730 killings of members of that community had taken place over the last 10 years. How was the Government extending protection to that vulnerable group?

Experts also asked about the protection of victims and witnesses and about threats against judges. Did the Government keep a record of the threats that judges were subjected to, for example by phone, in person, by mail or email?

The sterilization of persons with disabilities did not require their consent, the Committee had been informed. Could the delegation comment on that allegation?

Conflict and resolution were a challenge but they also presented an opportunity to change for the better, said an Expert. The need to free people from fear was critical and transitional justice in the peace agreement played an important part in that. The Expert appreciated the very large and well-represented delegation.

Response by the Delegation

The Criminal Code contained two references to torture, one regarding torture in armed conflict and the other in non-conflict situations, and the definitions were broader than that established by the Convention, said a delegate. The Criminal Code also included an offence of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, or biological experiments on protected persons within the context of the armed conflict. The sanctions for torture included removal from office and prohibition from acting as a civil servant or having any dealings with the State for many years. Although there was no crime of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment outside the context of the armed conflict, such acts would fall under other criminal acts.

The statute of limitations for torture or enforced disappearance was 30 years. As enforced disappearance was a limitless crime, the statute of limitations began at the time at which the missing person, or their remains, was found. In cases of evidence obtained under torture, the Convention could be directly applied, as international human rights treaties ratified by the State had prevalence over ordinary law, and were on the same level as the Constitution.

Obviously the solution to prison overcrowding was not just a matter of building more prisons, said a delegate, but also applying proportionate sentencing. The Government sought to ensure that prison sentences were proportional in length, preventative in effect and not just symbolic. Today 70 per cent of the prison population was on remand (pre-trial detention) and 30 per cent of the population had been convicted. Regarding pre-trial detention, a delegate stated that no person could be held for more than 36 hours without a request from a judge for guarantees for their accusation and a preventive measure. Both the Ombudsperson and the Office of the Public Prosecutor guaranteed those rights. There was a problem with judges being too quick to resort to putting an accused person in pre-trial detention and not look at alternatives, such as bail, and the Government was working to tackle that.

Responding to questions about women detainees, a delegate said that the high number of women who had been convicted and given a prison sentence was a phenomenon due, above all, to the fight against drugs and stronger penalties for drug-related crimes. There was not currently enough prison capacity to keep all women detainees in female-only prisons. However, women in male prisons were isolated from male prisoners and cared for by female prison officers, said a delegate, noting that Colombia had 1,671 female prison officers. Nevertheless the Government was incorporating a gender focus in all its penal reform measures to ensure that the specific needs of women were taken into consideration. The State had implementing the United Nations guidelines for women offenders. New guidelines had been issued on the sentencing of women who had children under three years of age, or who were pregnant or breastfeeding, and those sentenced to prison would receive special care.

The Government was improving prison conditions in a number of prisons; it was building two new prisons, and a new prison wing; altogether, it would increase capacity by 12,000 by 2018. Colombia had implemented the Istanbul Protocol in terms of medical examinations of detainees, and in 2014, 2,605 medical examinations which implemented the Istanbul Protocol were carried out.

Regarding investigations into deaths in which torture was suspected, a delegate said that in 2014, 3,824 autopsies had been carried out, in which the Minnesota Protocol was implemented.

Solitary confinement was used as a disciplinary measure up until 2014, but from 2015 onwards legal and constitutional rules did not allow the practice as a form of punishment.

The Government respected all social protests and had never attempted to criminalize them, affirmed a delegate. The rights to assembly and to demonstrate publicly and peacefully were enshrined in the constitution. The use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials was strictly regulated. The legitimate use of physical force or firearms by the State was permitted for the sole purpose of safeguarding public order, protecting legal goods belonging to the community and in no case could it violate human rights.

The use of force by law enforcement officials was undertaken on the basis of necessity and had to be proportionate. Rational force was used in accordance with the legal good and it was never legitimate to use force when an arrested person had already been brought under control. However, protesters had to respect the rights of other members of the public and State agents, said the delegate, noting that in 2014, 93 members of the police force had been seriously injured in protests. Investigations and arrests in the context of the 2014 protests would be undertaken by independent prosecutors and included the following offences: blocking the public highway, attacks and aggression on members of the State apparatus, the use of weapons which were not linked to peaceful demonstration.

A delegate spoke about the regulation of the conduct of law enforcement personnel in the armed conflict and a draft bill which would harmonize the rules of international humanitarian law with the rules that governed the use of force within the internal armed conflict. Colombia was also seeking to harmonize its domestic law with international humanitarian law. A draft bill would separate the jurisdiction of regular and military courts and ensure that the most serious crimes, such as acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearance, enforced displacement, would be prosecuted in the ordinary courts.

Members of the armed forces received 76 hours of human rights and international humanitarian law training every year. Training modules included sensitive and vital subjects such as gender-based violence in the armed conflict. The training was intended to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical competence and there were 635 specialized instructors who had been certified by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Additionally, the Army had 27 instruction and training battalions who were specialized in training and re-training soldiers in human rights.

The Constitution decreed that military service was applicable from the age of 18 and any young person who did not register for their military status could be detained temporarily while their situation was clarified. It did not require any paperwork and could not lead to the citizen’s retention in military barracks for long periods of time.

On forced conscription of children and young people by military groups, a delegate said that scourge had had a huge impact on many different communities, particularly on the relationship between the young persons, teenagers and youth who had been conscripted and their own families and communities. Forced, illegal conscription was an offence in the Criminal Code while the CONPES policy drawn up in 2010, as well as the 2006 Children and Teenagers Code provided for further legislative measures.

Extrajudicial killings were unacceptable, stressed a delegate. Any person found guilty of that crime would be prosecuted, and there were more than 2,513 active cases being investigated today. More than1,140 agents had been prosecuted for carrying out extrajudicial killings and many of them were part of the army. To prevent homicide or aggravated homicide of protected persons, a 2008 law provided 15 measures such as disciplinary control and coordination with the judicial authorities. In December 2014 800 members of the armed forces had been convicted for the murder of protected persons and aggravated murder, and more than 3,700 were currently under investigation for the same.

A delegate spoke about the Transitional Justice Process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army (FARC), which was regulated by law and the Act on Victims and Land Restitution. To date, 2,841 bodies had been found and returned to their families. Colombia’s efforts to provide redress to victims of the armed conflict was unique in the world, and its remarkable policies had even been recognized by Harvard University. In order to achieve peace, full reparations for victims had to be provided. The 2011 Law on Victims and Land Restitution led to over 5,000 victims receiving individual compensation and the identification of many communities for communal compensation. Psychosocial tools for compensation were also available as well as strategies for emotional recovery and rebuilding the ‘social fabric’. Another redress measure for victims of forced displacement was return to their place of origin and the return of their land. A new law on victims and land restitution provided reparations and support for victims in the context of armed conflict. So far, close to half a million victims of crimes from the armed conflict had been compensated.

Following the visit to Colombia by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict, a protocol to prevent the act had been adopted by the military. The Government had established a plan to ensure women could live a life free from violence. Psychosocial care mechanisms were in place with the support of various women’s non-governmental organisations. ‘Weaving People Together’ was the name of the national strategy to encourage women victims of sexual violence to report the cases.

Trafficking in persons was a crime in Colombia, and any person who sheltered or moved someone across a border with a view to exploiting them could be liable to prosecution and a prison sentence of up to 20 years. In 2012, a regulatory body to guarantee the rights of children and adolescents who might be victims of trafficking in persons provided various protection tools as well as preventative measures. It helped victims gain access to the relevant local authorities. There were shelters for victims where care for all their needs was provided. The Government had formal relationships with a number of non-governmental organisations who were active in that field, said a delegate, naming a few of them.

Follow-Up Questions

An Expert asked about land reparations for both indigenous communities and Afro-American communities, and in particular about attacks on women who attempted to claim their lands. Colombia’s extradition policy and use of diplomatic assurances were enquired about by an Expert who also raised the matter of universal jurisdiction. The extradition of two Venezuelans for their political activities were also raised. The Expert raised concern about a prison nicknamed “The Tomb”.

Concerning child soldiers, an Expert said that to ask a vulnerable child to make up his mind as to his own recruitment by unlawful military groups was unacceptable. How come children were asked to make such a decision? The armed groups appeared to be occupying schools; children were being forced to be involved in military activities and girls victims of sexual violence perpetrated by unlawful armed groups and military personnel. That was a serious war crime.

Colombia’s poor prison conditions and overcrowding had to be addressed as a matter of urgently, and that increasing capacity alone was not the answer. The Government had to consider non-custodial sentences for non-serious crimes such as release on parole with strict conditions, the use of electronic tags to monitor movement and community service.

The former head of the Intelligence Service had been convicted and jailed for 14 years for persecuting human rights defenders, among other charges. That was a good step against impunity and in the right direction, commented an Expert. Concerning public protests, an Expert said it was still unclear when the military were permitted to assist the police in upholding national order; did the military have the authority to make arrests or only the police, he asked.

Response by the Delegation

Concerning penal reform, a delegate said from 2012 the management of prisons and the budget for infrastructure had been handed over to a new body, the Prison Services Directorate. The Directorate knew what resources were available and decided how best to spend the money in the various 138 penitentiary establishments in Colombia.

Returning to the matter of separating women and male prisoners, a delegate said that they could not hide the situation, but new rules would achieve truly separate infrastructures, separate wings in mixed prisons if not entirely separate prisons, so not only women with children were separated from men, but all women.

A delegate spoke about the joint strategies being undertaken to respond to the criminal underworld in detention centres. A major problem was extortion, not only between prisoners but also committed by prison officers. For example the authorities were seeking to block the use of cell phones in detention facilities. The delegate added that the Committee would be sent the number of complaints made by prisoners about their living conditions at a later stage.

Concluding Remarks

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their answers and comments which would be important in allowing the Committee to perform its function, and noted that the Committee’s concluding recommendations would be issued at the end of the session.

MARCELA ABADIA CUBILLOS, Director of Criminal and Penitentiary Policy, Ministry of Justice, thanked the Committee for their questions, and said Colombia was well aware of its flaws and that the dialogue with the Committee, and its recommendations, would help it to work more effectively solve all the problems indicated today.
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