Off the Blacklist Doesn’t Imply Improvement in Human Rights in Colombia

Report
from Inter Press Service
Published on 10 Dec 2012 View Original

By Constanza Vieira

BOGOTA, Dec 10 2012 (IPS) - Colombia will be removed from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “blacklist” next year. In exchange, the government of Juan Manuel Santos facilitated a visit to the country by a delegation from the Commission.

For 12 years in a row, war-torn Colombia has been included in Chapter IV of the IACHR’s Annual Report, which singles out those countries with the most worrisome human rights situations. In 2012 the so-called blacklist included Colombia, Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela.

Colombia will now be the focus of a lengthier report, containing recommendations. In 2014, the IACHR will verify compliance with the recommendations. If Colombia has failed to comply, it could once again be included in Chapter IV in 2015.

But “the fact that a country report is being drawn up, rather than a country being included or not in Chapter IV, does not imply an improvement in human rights,” IACHR commissioner Felipe González said Friday Dec. 7 in Bogotá.

In fact the five IACHR commissioners who visited Colombia Dec. 3-7 observed “a serious humanitarian crisis” among those displaced from their homes by the civil war, who are “disproportionately” indigenous and black. It also documented threats faced by activists and homosexuals.

According to the IACHR’s preliminary observations from its in situ visit, between 8.6 and 11.2 percent of Colombia’s 47 million people have been forced to flee their homes by the internal armed conflict.

The rate at which people were displaced increased 63 percent in 2012, especially in the western and southern parts of the country, the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a prominent local human rights group, reported.

Colombians are fleeing fighting and death threats. But lately, the number of families leaving their homes to prevent the two main guerrilla groups – the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) – from recruiting their children has risen.

In addition, displaced persons in the southwestern department or province of Cauca told the IACHR that the authorities do not recognise them as victims because they were displaced by far-right groups that continued to be active after the demobilisation of the paramilitaries.

The commissioners visited Bogotá and the cities of Quibdó, Medellín and Popayán – the capitals, respectively, of the departments of the Chocó and Antioquia, in the northwest, and of Cauca.

González said they found “two different realities” in Colombia: while there are “sound institutions” in Bogotá, in the interior of the country “the state faces major obstacles to enforce the law and implement existing programmes,” due to “corruption at a local level, and a low level of political and social development.”

This is “especially seen in rural areas and with respect to certain population groups,” including blacks, who according to the IACHR, suffer “direct and indirect discrimination.”

González visited Popayán, the city that receives the largest number of displaced persons, in proportion to its population.

“We met with internally displaced persons, indigenous communities, women’s organisations, senior military officers, the governor, the ombudsman and the office of the public prosecutor. We observed a very complex situation. From the women, we received some specific complaints. But in general, they provided us with information that gave us an overview of the situation there,” the Chilean commissioner added.

The IACHR referred to “alarming information” on sexual violence against women by armed groups. Although according to the authorities, only one legal complaint has been filed, the regional ombudsman’s office found that cases were severely under-reported, especially when the perpetrators were members of the military.

“We told the military commanders about all of these reports we have been receiving,” González said. “We are going to remain in contact with them, while drafting our report.”

Many communities in Cauca are caught in the crossfire between government troops and the FARC, although the situation is changing now that peace talks have begun in Havana and the rebel group has declared a unilateral ceasefire.

Indigenous people in Colombia “are very worried about not being taken into account, or only in a marginal manner, and without meaningful participation in the negotiations,” said González, referring to the peace talks between the FARC and the Santos administration.

They believe that “eventually, part of the agreement could be that the FARC could maintain some reserves that are situated in indigenous territories.

“Of course, the IACHR encourages peace processes. But they have to be participative in nature, and they cannot be carried out at the cost of basic human rights standards,” he added.

”That puts the state in sort of a dilemma, but it would be regrettable if setbacks occurred after the important advances made by transitional justice in Colombia,” González said.

“History has shown that justice and reconciliation can be ‘married’,” he stated.

The IACHR, like the International Criminal Court, warned that an imminent constitutional reform that will expand the jurisdiction of military justice tribunals in Colombia would be “a serious setback, and would endanger the right of victims to justice.”

The Organisation of American States human rights body also said the reform contains “several provisions that would be incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.”

The IACHR pointed out, moreover, that judicial protection of fundamental rights “cannot be suspended, even in times of war.”