Impunity for human rights violators and corruption continue to be major concerns for American officials, according to a U.S. government report released Thursday.
The U.S. State Department’s 2011 Country Report on Human Rights Practices contained a long list of Colombian human rights violations that included violence against women, child labor, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.
“Corruption often was exacerbated by drug-trafficking revenue. Societal discrimination against indigenous persons and Afro-Colombians negatively affected the ability of these groups to exercise their rights,” the report read.
The report, the second in a day to raise concerns over the country’s human rights situation, cited an inefficient judiciary and societal discrimination as the other “most serious human rights problems.”
“Impunity and an inefficient justice system subject to intimidation limited the state’s ability to prosecute effectively those accused of human rights abuses and to process former paramilitaries,” it continued.
The State Department also recognized that the Colombian government has worked to “improve respect for human rights and prosecute and punish officials, including members of the security services, who committed abuses,” and commended an increase in funding for the Prosecutor General’s Office to pursue justice in those cases.
The international human rights report, published annually by the U.S. government, “make clear to governments around the world: We are watching and we are holding you accountable,” U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a statement.
“They make clear to citizens and activists everywhere: You are not alone. We are standing with you,” she said.
The report’s release comes after months of criticism from human rights groups that the U.S. government moved too quickly in enacting a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia, given the Andean nation’s appalling labor rights record.
The FTA, which came into effect May 15, required U.S. President Barack Obama to rule that sufficient progress had been made toward improving Colombia’s human rights record.
The most lengthy sections of the report focused on union and workers’ rights and on forced disappearances, which is when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by the state or another political organization.
“Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association,” the report stated.
It noted government efforts to improve the protection of unionists, including a Labor Action Plan signed in April “to protect internationally recognized labor rights, prevent violence against labor leaders, and prosecute the perpetrators of such violence.”
Despite those efforts, the National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 480 acts of violence or intimidation against workers and unionists in 2011, including 29 homicides, and instances of torture, kidnapping, dissapearances and forced displacement.
Since 1997, the government estimated 3.9 million people have been displaced in the country. Colombia has one of the highest rates of internal displacement in the world. A $20 billion Land and Victims’ Law is attempting to return land and homes to Colombians that was stolen by illegal armed groups. The report said the plan’s success is hampered by lack of access to government resources and ongoing armed conflict that has affected the country for decades.
The report attributed this to the fact that indigenous Colombians, who are disproportionately affected by forced displacement, “live on the margins of society.”
“The indigenous people were the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates,” it stated. “Indigenous women tended to face triple discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and reduced economic status.”
Government efforts to improve this situation and recognize the rights of indigenous groups were also noted in the report, but it quoted the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ judgement that the situation remains “extremely serious, critical, and profoundly worrisome.”