Colombia’s Vice President-elect Angelino Garzon will sit down with a representative of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Christian Salazar, to speak about the challenges awaiting Garzon in his work to improve the country’s human rights conditions, reports Semana.
While the UN has recognized improvements in the Andean nation’s human rights record, the international body is still highly concerned about several key areas, and will reportedly pressure Garzon to work hard during his time in power to improve conditions for millions of Colombians.
In regards to the scandal known as “false positives,” in which Colombian soldiers would murder innocent civilians and dress them up as guerrillas to inflate their kill statistics, the U.N. noted a decrease in the number of cases between 2008 and 2009.
According to their reports, in 2009 there were seven cases of extrajudicial killings by the country’s armed forces, a drastic decrease compared to the 144 cases reported in 2008, and the 464 in 2007.
While the U.N. considers that the policies enacted by the government to put an end to these killings have been sufficient, it nonetheless denounced the fact that those responsible for potentially thousands of cold-blooded murders have gone unpunished, enjoying “near-total impunity.”
In the latest human rights report on Colombia, the UN said that by December 2009, there were 37,300 cases of disappearances, “of which almost 10,000 corresponded to cases of forced disappearances.”
The U.N. noted that, like the issue of “false positives,” the majority of these crimes have gone unpunished, with police failing to identify either the perpetrators or the motives.
The U.N. also said that “there have been reported some cases of forced disappearances that were attributed to the country’s National Police force.”
The victims of the forced disappearances, the report continued, “are still mainly young men with little resources who are unemployed and come from marginalized urban areas or isolated rural areas.”
International human rights
The U.N. noted an increase in 2009 of civilian murders committed by leftist guerrilla groups the FARC and ELN. Of particular alarm, the U.N. also recorded an increase in violent deaths of indigenous peoples, which rose 63% in 2009 compared to 2008.
“In addition, their leaders and representatives were the victims of frequent threats,” the U.N. report stated.
It was not only the country’s guerrilla groups who were charged with human rights violations; the U.N. also blames the Colombian armed forces for numerous violations. “There were homicides; indiscriminate attacks; forced displacements; acts of pillaging; torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment; threats and arbitrary impediments to the free transit of people. On occasions, the restrictions on the movements of food products caused unhealthy nutritional levels for some populations, particularly amongst their children.”
The U.N. also denounced the armed forces for “continuing to occupy, on occasions, schools, homes, and other civilian properties, placing military outposts in [civilians’] presence,” and for using children as tools for gathering intelligence on militants.
“There were forced displacements recorded in almost every part of the country, occurring more frequently in the areas that saw armed conflict. In 2009, the impact of forced displacements caused by the paramilitary groups who emerged after the demobilization process … was particularly alarming,” a U.N. report cautioned.
Also alarming was the issuance of threats and assassinations “against those leading and participating in the movement to reclaim stolen lands.”
Other areas of concern
Upon becoming the nation’s vice president on August 7, Garzon will also have to deal with Colombia’s alarming problem of sexual violence. According official Colombian government statistics, which the U.N. called “incomplete and fragmented,” cases of sexual violence committed by armed actors have risen from 12,732 in 2000 to 21,202 in 2008, with “86% of these victims being girls aged between 10 and 14.”
Torture is another area that Garzon will have to address, with the UN reporting 10,545 cases of torture being investigated in 2009 alone, a figure that includes both physical and mental torture, and often overlaps with other crimes such as kidnapping and sexual assaults.