Petitioner:  Grupo Interdisciplinario por los Derechos Humanos (GIDH)

Respondent: State of Colombia

Commissioners: José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Felipe González, Rosa María Ortíz

Topic: Thematic Hearing–General Human Right Situation in Antioquia, Colombia

Paramilitary groups in the department of Antiquia, Colombia are still a threat, alleged the Grupo Interdisciplinario por los Derechos Humans (GIDH)—a human rights organization based out of Medellin, Colombia— at an Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing on March 26, 2012. GIDH filed a petition with IACHR accusing the state of Colombia of failing to take effective measures to demobilize former paramilitary groups that have transformed into narco-pararmilitary groups involved in narcotics trafficking, leading to an increase in violence throughout the department of Antioquia. Petitioner explained that although narco-paramilitary groups have features of ordinary organized criminal enterprises, the group retains special characteristics such as controlling territory, maintaining political power, and benefiting from the tolerance of authority and participation in social movements. As such, the Petitioner requested that the state of Colombia adopt specific measures aimed at continuing the demobilization process.

According to Petitioner, Colombia has adopted disarmament and reinsertion programs that incorporate efforts to disarticulate, dismount, deny, defund, and dismantle the group, and additionally has adopted law 975, which limits the maximum sentence of paramilitary groups to eight years in prison. Colombia’s efforts, however, have been ineffective in decreasing the number of paramilitary groups. In fact, the number of paramilitary groups is on the rise despite these measures, which suggests impunity. Petitioner pointed to the increase in the number of homicides, forced disappearances, and forced displacement facilitated by the paramilitary groups as an indicator of the failure of the measures adopted. In addition to the failure to take effective measures, Petitioner argued that the groups continue to flourish because the state is not simply complacent to their activities, but sometimes actively collaborative. In support of such allegations, Petitioner pointed to a raid of a paramilitary group on August 4 of last year that led to the capture of twenty individuals, seven of whom were police officers and two of whom were military personnel.

Petitioner also addressed the violence against human rights defenders in Antioquia. Accordingly, Petitioner highlighted that human rights defenders—especially community and youth leaders— within the department of Antioquia face grave danger. To that end, Petitioner informed the Commission that within the last year, 22 human rights defenders have been killed within the city of Medellín alone. The attacks on human rights defenders, especially those working for land restitution, is led by paramilitary groups seeking to debilitate efforts to promote respect for human rights. Finally, Petitioner also addressed the failure of the state of Colombia in implementing effective measures for the restitution of land.

Petitioner requested that the Commission criticize the state of Colombia for ineffective measures to combat paramilitary groups, and furthermore call on the state to abandon the law of impunity for the group and instead prosecute them through fair and impartial judicial means. Petitioner also requested that the Commission demand that the state of Colombia adopt effective measures for the protection of human rights defenders. Finally, Petitioner requested that the Commission conduct a site visit.

In response, the state of Colombia conceded most of the facts presented by Petitioner, but resisted the allegation that authorities cooperate with narco-paramilitary groups operating in Antiquia. The Respondent did not acknowledge the existence of paramilitary groups, but attributed the issues Petitioner alleged to organized criminal gangs, who are prosecuted within the laws of Colombia without favoritism. Respondent further argued that the problems outlined by Petitioner are complex and are deeply rooted in other issues such as corruption, violence, and lack of access to justice, all of which the state is addressing. They pointed to specific measures, such as restructuring the prosecution office to increase effectiveness and preventative measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders and displaced persons. Respondent invited petitioner to cooperate with the state’s efforts to advance human rights.

At the conclusion of Respondent’s case, Commissioner José de Jesus Orozco Henriquez asked Petitioner for specific information regarding the situation of human rights defenders and asked the Respondent to provide specific strategies that the state of Colombia has implemented to combat the violence. Commissioner Felipe Gonzalez was also concerned about the tolerance of authorities that Petitioner alleged and asked for concrete examples.

In response, Petitioner provided specific examples and promised to provide additional information through writing. Respondents continued to insist that the state of Colombia is doing everything it can to address the problems in this case, and that it is making significant progress.