Latest Update: 31 March 2013
On 20 January the unilateral two month ceasefire by the FARC expired. On 1 March government negotiators in Havana announced that important progress had been made on the first agenda point. The FARC’s chief negotiator recognised that the process had advanced further than any previous peace process. The latest round of peace talks started on 15 March in Cuba.
Two German nationals who had been held hostage by the ELN (National Liberation Army) in the north-eastern Catatumbo area since November were freed on 8 March.
Colombia will undergo the second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record in Geneva on 23 April. The Colombian government has produced its own report for this, which records that it has implemented 49 of the recommendations it accepted in 2008 and is in the process of implementing the remaining 84. It notes key developments including the establishment of a National Human Rights System, the passing of a Land Restitution and Victims Reparations law, the establishment of a National Protection Unit to provide protection to vulnerable individuals including human rights defenders and the peace process with the FARC.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued their annual report on 22 February. This makes clear that Colombia made important advances in the field of human rights in 2012 and that the majority of human rights violations are perpetrated by guerrilla and right wing illegal armed groups. Positive developments noted include the peace process with the FARC, progress on the land restitution and victims’ compensation process and the establishment of the National Human Rights System. Major concerns remain, however, including the lack of progress on prosecuting those responsible for extra-judicial executions and reform of the constitutional provisions on military jurisdiction. There is also a lack of cohesion in many cases between laws and procedures followed by the different state institutions. Implementation of these laws has also been mixed.
The major Colombian human rights platforms published a joint report on human rights in Colombia between 2008-2012. The report states that major violations of human rights occur in Colombia on a regular basis. It says that paramilitary groups were responsible for the largest number of violations, and criticises the state for denying the continued existence of these groups. It states that 69 human rights defenders were killed in 2012 and some 1.2 million people displaced since 2008.
Following the return of Congress, the government introduced legislation to implement the Military Justice Reform Bill which was passed last year. The law will determine which crimes will fall outside military jurisdiction and the situations in which defendants can plead that they were not criminally responsible for their actions. It will also establish an independent Tribunal of Guarantees and will designate right wing criminal gangs (“BACRIM”) as “illegal armed groups”. The legislation will need to pass through eight readings in Congress and revision in the Constitutional Court before it becomes law. The British Embassy will continue to monitor the passage of the law, and assist where possible, to ensure that it strengthens the military system’s ability to provide justice in cases involving military personnel.
The Embassy’s 2012/13 human rights projects came to a close in March. Two projects on Business and Human Rights provided tools to help the government and companies to implement the UN Framework on this issue, and set out guidelines for the development of a national policy. Guidelines to reduce impunity for sex crimes against women were delivered to the Attorney-General’s office and other relevant authorities, providing practical recommendations for prosecutors and institutions as well as a pathway for victims to access justice. Two projects monitored the Victims’ Law and provided recommendations for its implementation which included guaranteeing accountability of the institutions and a methodology to manage risks on land restitution. This year we also supported a project on freedom of expression, following which the Colombian government and the Inter American System for Human Rights acknowledged civil society support for strengthening the role of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the region.