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1999 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (22 March - 30 April 1999)

Paramilitarism and human rights in Colombia

March 22 – April 28, 1999
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Franciscans International and the Dominicans consider that in 1998 the human rights situation in Colombia continued to be one of the gravest in the world and deplore that, despite the numerous recommendations made by different UN mechanisms, the Colombian government has not, until now, accomplished almost anyone of them. We are also alarmed by the fact that if, from one side, there are indicators of a very high level of systematic and massive human rights violations, on the other side, there is an almost absolute level of impunity. They are practically two faces of the same coin, two ways of implementing the same strategy.

We believe that the United Nations cannot, every year, continue to adopt new recommendations without making a real balance of the Government willingness to accomplish them. If this was the case, the human rights situation would have of course improved and the level of impunity of the crimes against humanity would have decreased. We urge the Permanent Office of the High Commissioner to mainly focus its attention on these two fields: the accomplishment of the recommendations and the overcoming of impunity.

All the different studies made on the grave human rights situation in Colombia coincide in affirming that paramilitarism is the main factor of human rights and international humanitarian law violations. In her report, the High Commissioner states that paramilitarism is responsible of the two thirds of the total amount of executions, of the majority of enforced disappearances, acts of torture and massacres occurred last year. The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial and Summary Executions agrees with this observation and in the past Chairman’s statement on Colombia, paramilitarism appeared to be one of the most important causes of human rights violations. Colombian NGOs believe that 78.69% of human rights violations are originated by paramilitarism. But what is paramilitarism? Which interests does it serve? Who finances it ? Where are paramilitaries trained? Where are the plans to expel the civilian populations designed? Where do the arms come from? Who are paramilitaries discharging with their actions? Where do the doctrines that originated paramilitarism come from?

The phenomenon of paramilitartism is complex but not confused and to understand it we have to pay attention to what happens after that one of the various massacres against civilians take place. Who are the new owners of the land? Which kind of economic projects are pushed forward? Which national or foreign companies are present in the region? Which resources exist in the abandoned land? These are only some of the questions that the Office of the High Commissioner, this Commission as well as the different UN mechanisms must deal with in order to provide the Colombian government and the international community with a realistic view of what is happening in Colombia as well as with a set of recommendations aiming at neutralizing paramilitarism which is, in fact, the main agent committing human rights violations.

We will be wrong if we were just thinking that paramilitarism is only a confederation of mercenaries commanded by only one man and that paramilitaries can do whatever they want in a country. If this was the case, it would be easily solved by each country. We are, instead, keen to believe that paramilitarism is a project where armed men are only a component of this chain and that private national and foreign companies, important sectors of the armed forces, members of the national political life, international training centers, economic networks linked to narco traffic are among the other actors.

Franciscans International and the Dominicans urge that the different UN mechanisms operating in Colombia make a deeper effort to understand and explain the paramilitary project in Colombia. We request the Office of the High Commissioner, the thematic Rapporteurs, the Working Groups, the UNHCR to present in their reports recommendations able to implement effective policies in view of putting an end to this scourge.

We also ask the Commission that if, during this year, the Colombian government does not define and apply a clear policy to combat paramilitarism, if the indicators of human rights violations remain so high or worsen and if there is no clear evidence of implementing the recommendations made by the United Nations to consider, at its next session, to appoint a Special Rapporteur as an additional mechanism to help to overcome the grave human rights crisis in Colombia.

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