Colombia - Antiterrorism and human rights: 10 years of non-compatibility?

After 11 September 2001, U.S. financial assistance to Colombia that previously had been funnelled through the Plan Colombia to fight “narcotics trafficking, was also used to combat terrorism. In October 2001, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the paramilitary groups were added to the list of terrorist organisations. The ex-President Alvaro Uribe adopted a “democratic security policy”, aimed to recover territorial authority and strengthen the state by growing the defence budget from 5.2% of the GDP in 2004 to 14.2% in 2010 (11.057 billion dollars), thus, for the first time, exceeding the education budget (13.9% of the GDP)

Characteristics of the so-called “democratic security policy” became clear through the adoption of the “Justice and Peace” law in 2005. This law provides for the demobilisation of paramilitary soldiers and favours impunity. Only 2% of the demobilised paramilitary soldiers were put on trial for the crimes they committed. This demobilisation process did not neutralise the paramilitary groups. Quite the contrary since their influence within the government grew stronger, culminating in the “para-political” scandal.

By establishing a “network of informers”, the government involved the civilian population in the armed conflict, thus seriously violating international humanitarian law.

Furthermore, 23 paramilitary leaders have been extradited to the United States where they were charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism, thus saving them from being condemned for crimes perpetrated in Colombia, (mass murder, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, forced displacements, etc.) and hampering the victims’ right to truth, justice and reparation.

Furthermore, during ex-President Uribe’s two terms of office (2002-2010), there were over 2,500 extrajudicial executions, called the “false-positives”, i.e. killings committed in application of government policies that encouraged members of the Colombian army to “neutralise” irregular armed groups and, in return, receive financial compensation. The armed forces presented the dead civilians as “guerrillas killed in combat” in order to receive for the government bonuses.

The argument that authorised the state to act lawlessly in order to fight terrorism gained ground under the pretext of just that, the fight against terrorism. The Administrative Department of Security (DAS), an intelligence agency directly connected to the President’s Office via the special intelligence unit called the “G3” carried out illegal activities ranging from wiretapping to threats and assaults against some 600 people, mainly human rights defenders, journalists, political and union leaders, members of the opposition and even judges.

Ex-President Alvaro Uribe Vélez and certain high-level DAS leaders are now under investigation. The Commission for Parliamentary Investigations is making a preliminary investigation of Uribe to establish his responsibility for the illegal wiretapping carried out by the DAS during his two terms of office. Bernardo Moreno Villegas, who was the Secretary General at the Presidency for six years under Uribe is being accused of associating with criminals. Jorge Nogouera Cotes, former director of the DAS, is currently on trial for his connections with the paramilitary groups and the assassination of three people. As well, the Colombian government requested the extradition of Maria del Pilar Hurtado, also former director of the DAS charged with conspiracy, who took refuge in Panama since November 2010.

For more information:

Colombia : The intelligence activities of the State -DAS- serving criminal interests and political persecution (2010) (in English)

Colombia - Las actividades de inteligencia del Estado –DAS- al servicio de intereses criminales y de persecución política (2010) (in Spanish)

Read more