Press Release

IACHR Concludes Its Onsite Visit to Colombia

Go to the Annex with Preliminary Observations

December 7, 2012

Bogotá, Colombia - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) carried out an onsite visit to Colombia December 3 -7, 2012, in response to an invitation from the State, in order to observe the human rights situation in the country. The delegation was composed of the Chair, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez; the First Vice-Chair, Tracy Robinson; the Second Vice-Chair, Felipe González; and Commissioners Rosa María Ortiz and Rose-Marie Antoine, as well as Executive Secretary Emilio Álvarez Icaza L., Assistant Executive Secretary Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, and staff of the Executive Secretariat. During the visit, various IAHCR delegations visited Bogotá (D.C.), Quibdó (Chocó), Medellín (Antioquia), and Popayán (Cauca), where they met with authorities of the State, civil society organizations, victims of human rights violations, and representatives of international agencies.

Through this visit, the IACHR has been able to appreciate significant progress in the development of the State's institutional structure for the protection of human rights. The Commission values and welcomes the major impetus the government of Colombia has given to public policies on human rights and to the strengthening of assistance for victims of human rights violations and the protection of people at risk, as well as the significant investment in both human and financial resources that the State is making in these areas.

The State of Colombia has launched important public policies to address the complex situation resulting from the internal armed conflict the country has suffered over the course of more than five decades of violence. During the visit, the IACHR verified a series of legislative, administrative and judicial measures that seek to overcome the situations that constitute violations of human rights and to walk toward peace for Colombian society. Among those efforts, the Commission especially notes the progress made with the rendering of "voluntary statement" proceedings (versiones libres) in the Justice and Peace processes, with the goal of uncovering the truth; the progress directed to grant reparation to the victims of the conflict through the “Law of Victims and Restitution of Lands,” and the work of the National Protection Unit to protect persons at risk. The Commission also recognizes the work of the Constitutional Court in guaranteeing the rights of Colombians.

A large part of the human rights violations in Colombia are related to the historical impact of the armed conflict in the country. In addition, as a consequence of the failure to effectively and completely dismantle the armed structures of paramilitary groups and illegal armed groups such as the FARC and the ELN, violence continues to severely impact the rights of Colombia’s inhabitants, especially those of displaced persons, women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, social leaders, human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, children and adolescents, and persons living in extreme poverty.

These groups are in a special situation of vulnerability and require a differentiated approach, due to the multiplicity of causes that affect their rights. This situation is especially aggravated in contexts of discrimination and historical social exclusion to which they have been subjected in some regions of the country. In particular, the Commission expresses its concern over the serious humanitarian crisis that affects some of these groups that have been victims of forced displacement, a situation that was verified throughout the visit and that requires a more effective response on the part of the State to address their grave circumstances and the concrete damage they have suffered.

An important part of the challenges Colombia faces has to do with ensuring justice, truth, and adequate reparation to the victims of the conflict. Along these lines, the IACHR considers that the State must strengthen the work of the institutions that have a role in the functions of investigation and administration of justice, especially in the implementation of the Justice and Peace Law. The IACHR recognizes that the State is at a historic moment for the construction of peace in the country and has observed that the State is developing legislation towards that goal. The Commission believes that the construction of peace is inextricably linked to the investigation, prosecution, and reparation of human rights violations, in particular those perpetrated by agents of the State or with their support or acquiescence. In this regard, the Commission considers it imperative that the State adopt a human rights perspective when making decisions that correspond to the framework of transitional justice in such way as to guarantee Colombians access to justice in accordance with the international obligations the State has assumed. In this sense, if the draft constitutional reform on military justice is approved as it is currently worded, the Commission considers that several provisions would be incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.

The Commission thanks the government of Colombia for the invitation to conduct this visit, and it especially thanks the authorities and the Colombian people for the hospitality they showed the delegation and for the assistance they provided during the visit. Likewise, the Commission appreciates and values the information provided by the government, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders.

The IACHR's preliminary observations regarding the human rights situation in Colombia are being published today as an Annex to this press release. Additionally, based on the information it received during the visit and on other input, in the next few months the IACHR will prepare a country report on the human rights situation in Colombia in the context of the conflict and transitional justice. In that report, the IACHR will offer recommendations designed to support the State in its efforts to fulfill its obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 144/12