Palais des Nations, Geneva
The trade unions, social organizations and the human rights organizations belonging to the Coordinación Colombia Europa present for the consideration of the Commission on Human Rights (hereafter the Commission) this declaration to demonstrate that the Colombian State has not implemented the majority of the international recommendations made to it by organs of the United Nations. Therefore, we request that the Commission reiterate its concern for the persistence of the human rights crisis and urge the Colombian government to adopt the measures recommended by the international community.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (hereafter the High Commissioner) stated in her report presented to the Commission in 1998 that violations of human rights and infractions of international humanitarian law in Colombia were "serious, gross and systematic" (E/CN.4/1998/19, para.172). An overview of human rights in 1998 does not show substantial changes in relation to previous years. In fact, paramilitary group activity, the exponential increase of forced displacement, attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders, as well as the persistence of impunity are some characteristics of the situation that demonstrate the worsening human rights crisis. Additional indicators are the existence and expansion of the armed confrontation, which seriously affect the enjoyment and exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Confronted with this serious situation, President Andres Pastrana's government has not presented its policy to deal with the crisis. One of the few known measures has been the naming of the Vice-President as the person responsible for human rights issues, which may signify an attempt to increase the profile of this matter within the government. Nevertheless, to date the official has not fully taken on his functions.
During the term of this administration, paramilitary activity against the civilian population has notably increased. However, neither the armed forces nor the police have responded decisively and effectively in confronting these groups, nor have they taken forceful actions to eliminate existing ties between State agents and paramilitary groups. On the contrary, information has been received indicating that in confrontations between guerrillas and paramilitary groups, the latter have received support from the armed forces and the police.
In addition, the willingness of the government to enter into dialogue with the insurgent groups contrasts with its refusal to discuss the economic adjustment measures which social movements object to.
Our commitment to the search for a negotiated political solution to the internal armed conflict that affects Colombia compels us to clamor for measures against impunity, for the dismantling of the paramilitary groups and for the rupture of the existing ties between the paramilitary groups and States agents. We are convinced that such measures would contribute to the generation of favorable conditions for the development of conversations leading to a political solution of the conflict and to a solid and lasting peace. We strongly suggest that from a human rights perspective the first point of the negotiations must be the adoption of an agreement that obliges the parties to respect the rights of non-combatants. Thus, it must be pointed out that in respect to international human rights law, it is not possible to make commitments to provide, at the end of an eventual peace process, clemency measures that protect the authors of crimes against humanity, including genocide, and war crimes.
Obviously, the conditions which gave origin to the creation of the Office of the High Commission in Colombia persist (hereafter the Office). For this reason we reiterate our support for the Office's mandate, consisting of advising the Colombian authorities and social organizations on the development of policies and programs for the promotion and protection of human rights, of monitoring human rights violations in the country and rendering accounts to the High Commissioner so that she can in turn present an analytical and detailed report to the Commission.
We consider that the full and exact development of this mandate, in addition to the permanent presence of the Office officials in our country, would establish the conditions necessary for the Office to play an important role in overcoming the grave human rights crisis. Nevertheless, the Office's orientation which has predominated until now has been incorrect in presuming that human rights violations are inevitable as long as the internal armed conflict persists. Consequently, the Office has not fulfilled to its full potential, nor with the necessary decisiveness and conviction, the mandate attributed to it, to ensure that Colombian authorities respect and protect the human rights of the populace, even during an armed conflict.
The number of people forced to leave their zones of residence has increased alarmingly, reaching levels that can be described as catastrophic. According to non-governmental sources, from 1985 until September 1998, close to 1,400,000 people were forcibly displaced, about 250,000 of them between January and September of this last year. Given this situation, the State policy has not been effective either in attacking the causes of the displacement, or in addressing the basic needs of the displaced, or in providing compensation and reparation to the victims of this multiple violation of human rights.
During recent years, the purchasing power of Colombian workers' salaries has been dropping. While the subsistence level for a family is equal to approximately 2.5 monthly minimum wages, more than a quarter of the economically active population (EAP) earn only one minimum wage. More than 50% of the EAP are involved in the informal sector, a sector in which a minimum wage is not guaranteed. According to official figures, the economic situation is worsening. In the seven principal cities, the unemployment rate has increased to 15.9 % in 1998.
The perspectives for 1999 are not encouraging. The adjustment policy initiated by the government aims not only to restrict salary increases but also to continue to reduce the purchasing power of workers, through an increase in the taxable base for the Value Added Tax.
As a result of the Office's activity, the High Commissioner presented to the 54th session of the Commission a report (Document E/CN.4/1998/16) on the situation in Colombia. Debate on the report produced a renewal of the Office mandate and the adoption of a declaration proposed by the President of the Commission, in which concern was expressed about the deterioration of the situation. The Colombian government was urged, among other things, to comply with the recommendations of the High Commissioner and the other supervision mechanisms of the Commission.
It is not superfluous to recall that as a consequence of its international obligations, the Colombian government must support the activities of the human rights protection organs as well as heed their recommendations.
The comparative analysis of the High Commissioner's recommendations and their degree of implementation on the part of the Colombian State leads to the conclusion that the government of Colombia does not cooperate adequately with the bodies of the United Nations which oversee the defense and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all countries.
In fact, as the High Commissioner stated in her first report to the Commission (Document E/CN.4/1998/19, para. 207), the Colombian authorities have not taken into account the recommendations formulated either "by the treaty bodies .... nor by the special mechanisms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights". Some of the most important recommendations reiterated by the High Commissioner have not received due attention, much
less been implemented by the Colombian State: respect for international humanitarian law; the confrontation and eradication of paramilitary groups; the elimination of existing ties between some State agents and these groups; and the adoption of measures to overcome impunity and guarantee the full functioning of the justice system. In certain cases, the State's failure to recognize the recommendations has manifested itself in an open defiance of them, through the promotion of military officials under investigation for human rights violations.
What are our expectations of the Commission on Human Rights?
For all of the above reasons we believe that the Office must concentrate its efforts in 1999 on ensuring that Colombian authorities put into practice these recommendations formulated by the High Commissioner. For this purpose, it is necessary that the Office adjust itself strictly to the mandate contained both in the declarations of the President of the Commission and in the Agreement signed between the government of Colombia and the High Commissioner. Thus, it would be appropriate that the Commission, upon examining in the year 2000, during the 56th session, the Third Report of the High Commissioner regarding the human rights situation in Colombia, give special attention to the level of compliance with the recommendations on the part of the Colombian State. If the State persists in its refusal to implement the measures suggested to it. We recommend the Commission examine the need to establish other mechanisms, such as a special rapporteur, which together with the already existing mechanisms, would contribute to ensuring that Colombian authorities fulfill their obligation to cooperate adequately with the United Nations in order to overcome the serious human rights crisis.
At the 55th session of the Commission we request the following:
- That on the basis of the analytical and detailed report that the High Commissioner
has presented, that the Commission make manifest again its profound concern
for the persistent human rights crisis that Colombia is undergoing and for
the repeated non-compliance with the recommendations that have been made to
the Colombian government. As a consequence, the Commission urge the Colombian
government to implement the recommendations of the High Commissioner, in cooperation
with the Office.
- That the mandate of the Office be renewed and that it be asked to concentrate
its efforts on procuring that the Colombian authorities implement the recommendations
made by the different mechanisms of the Commission and the treaty bodies,
in particular, those contained in the report of the High Commissioner to the
- That as a measure to increase the commitment of the international community
to the improvement of the human rights situation in Colombia, the High Commissioner
be encouraged to also present her report on the activities of her Office the
human rights situation in Colombia to the General Assembly.
- That the High Commissioner be encouraged to closely monitor the activities
of her Office and that her report take into account the degree of implementation,
by the Colombian State, of the recommendations which she or other United Nations
organs responsible for the protection of human rights have made to the Colombian
- That with the purpose of guaranteeing an adequate application of the Office's
mandate, the High Commissioner be asked in the selection of new personnel,
including the person who directs it, to take into account their sensitivity,
knowledge and experience in international human rights law and in Latin America,
as well as their training in the areas of forced displacement, the justice
system, conditions of detention and different forms of discrimination.
- That the High Commissioner be urged to make an interpretation of her mandate
through an adequate mechanism, and based on this, formulate a work plan for
the Office that takes into account the priority areas for action.
- That the High Commissioner be asked to coordinate with other thematic mechanisms
of the Commission so that these may continue to lend attention to the human
rights crisis in Colombia, in their respective annual reports and in carrying
out the visits that are deemed appropriate.