WARNING Regarding Government Human Rights Statistics Print
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Bulletin archive - Issue11 - October ? December 2003
Wednesday, 01 October 2003 01:00

Report of the Colombian Commission of Jurists that was presented to the London Meeting on 10 July (abridged).


The Colombian government has attempted to have both the national and the international community come to the conclusion that its “democratic security” policy is having positive results and has contributed to improving the human rights situation. The purpose of this document is to show that such affirmations are unfounded and are based on a misrepresentation of reality.

The first section shows that statistics from June 2002 to June 2003, regarding violations to the right to life due to socio-political violence are just as serious as in the two previous years, and twice as serious as five years ago. In the second section, the manner in which the government manipulates information contained in its own reports in order to dress up an inconcealable reality is exposed.

1. Seven thousand political homicides and disappearances during the first year of the Uribe government: worse than Pastrana.

The national government has stated that a significant reduction in human rights violations in the country has been registered during the last six months and that “during the last semester a downward tendency in the number of homicides, massacres, assassinations of trade unionists, kidnappings, forced disappearances, and attacks against human settlements, among other crimes had begun”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Homicides and disappearances for socio-political reasons have been maintained at the same blood curdling levels for the last three years. From a daily average of more than 11 persons killed or disappeared for reasons of socio-political violence between July 1998 and June 1999, this average has climbed to nearly 15 between July 1999 and June 2000. During the period July 2000 to June 2001, more than 18 victims were registered daily; and between July 2001 and June 2002 more than 20 people died on a daily basis due to socio-political violence. During the last period (July 2002 to June 2003), more than 19 people on a daily average were assassinated, disappeared, or killed in combat for reasons of the socio-political violence.

This means that during the period 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2003 the same number of people died or disappeared due to socio-political violence as in former years: 6,978 vis-à-vis 7,426 last year and 6,621the year before that. The difference between the last and second last year (448 fewer victims) is not statistically significant. Besides being a slight reduction, it contrasts with the increase in the number of victims from two years ago (367 more this year).

Regarding the immediately preceding period, these statistics reveal a decrease in the number of acts directly attributable to paramilitary groups, who allegedly had been the authors of 1,882 violations recorded the previous year, vis-à-vis 1,200 during this past year. In contrast to this reduction, there is an increase in violations perpetrated against leaders, social activists, trade unionists and human rights defenders- people traditionally persecuted by the paramilitary- in which alleged authorship of the act is unknown. Taking into account that the government is holding peace talks with paramilitary groups, it is worthwhile asking if this increase in the number of cases attributed to unidentified armed groups is related to actions realized by them without their claiming authorship, the goal being to give the appearance that their crimes have diminished. One of the commitments acquired by these groups with the government is to abstain from assassinating civilians.

The unusual increase in the number of cases of deaths occurring in combat and crossfire is extremely worrying. From 1,691 victims between July 2000 and June 2001, the number jumped to 3,000 from July 2001 to July 2002. A similar figure is reported for the last year in which 3,022 deaths occurring in combat and crossfire were reported. Some Army reports concerning deaths during combat tend to be inconsistent and lacking in clarity, even putting into question whether there really was combat. In other cases, the Armed Forces have reported combatants killed in circumstances in which it has been subsequently established that it was a question of civilians executed extra judicially or with the pretence of covering up the execution of civilians.

2. Official propaganda and distortion of the human rights situation.

In March 2003, the Vice Presidency presented its report “Indicators of the human rights situation with an emphasis on the last six months.” Based on this report, the National State Information Centre of the Presidency of the Republic issued a press release entitled “Significant reduction in human rights violations in Colombia.” A rapid analysis of the document reveals a significant contrast with the message transmitted in the press release. However, this message is the one that was broadcast by the mass media. The incident is indicative of one of the ways in which the reality of the human rights situation in Colombia is currently being distorted.

The document from the Office of the Vice Presidency has many inconsistencies. In addition the report describes a worsening in the human rights situation not mentioned in the accompanying press release, the later centred on promoting the idea there is a tendency towards an improvement in the situation.

The press release points out, for example that during the year 2002, recorded homicide statistics were lower than during the last five years. What the Vice Presidency said in reality is that the homicide rate decreased during the last few months of 2002, but that during 2002, the homicide rate was the highest since 1997. While the press release points out that selective assassinations presented a “declining tendency”, the report from the Vice Presidency indicates “it is very probable” that these have increased.

Those aspects, for which the document of the Vice Presidency indicates a significant deterioration in the situation, are not mentioned in the press release, among them the following:

The document of the Vice Presidency indicates that in the year 2002, “269,693 people were displaced, signifying approximately 61,406 homes; 31.8% more than in 2001 (183,748) and 53.7% higher than 2000 (124,695)”.

It is clear that in the press release the government only revealed what it was interested in revealing. The result is that the information on the issue released by the national mass media reproduced the press release almost verbatim and excluded mention of those aspects that were inconvenient for the government’s purpose.

Information presented by the government also conflicts with the multiple concerns expressed by the Ombudsman’s Office regarding the human rights situation in the country. For example, during the month of May 2003, the Ombudsman presented a report on the situation in the department of Arauca. This report evaluates the effects of the declaration designating several municipalities in the department as areas of rehabilitation and consolidation, and concludes that “the government’s security strategy is not showing promising results, especially in Arauca; the escalation in violence continues, and selective deaths and other acts infringing on human rights and humanitarian law show a sustained increase. As a consequence, the situation has produced considerable anxiety among the civilian population”.

It would be very important for the government to recognize and reveal the real human rights situation. For such an endeavour, it could refer to the information provided by the Ombudsman’s office, given that this is the State entity charged by the Constitution for keeping a vigil on the exercise of human rights. Compliance with its recommendations and with those of international human rights protection bodies would contribute to the “significant reduction in human rights violations” some day becoming the truth.

Colombian Commission Of Jurists