Center for the Prevention of Genocide
Crimes Against Humanity and
Possible Ideological Cleansing
July 2001, revised January 2004
Both the left-wing and
right-wing fighters are heavily linked to the drug trade, and both
target civilians thought to be
collaborating with the other side. The
AUC is estimated to be responsible for roughly 75% of the civilian casualties in
recent years. According to the Colombian
Defense Ministry, there were 1,777 deaths in combat during 2000. The Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), a
human rights organization, asserts that 6,067 people were killed as a result of
“socio-political” violence from September 1999 to September 2000. The nature of this violence is often
extremely brutal, frequently involving mutilation and torture. (Economist,
Parties Involved in the Conflict
Unidas de Colombia, or United Self-Defense Forces of
Rural vigilante groups have
In 1993 brothers Fidel and
Carlos Castaño organized the Autodefensas Campesinas de
(Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Uraba), or ACCU, in response to increasing activity by the
FARC and ELN. Since the disappearance of
Fidel in 1994, Carlos has consolidated control of the region surrounding the
Uraba gulf on the Atlantic coast and has made the ACCU the largest and most
powerful paramilitary force in
In 1997, the various paramilitary groups announced the formation of a central paramilitary command structure, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia), or the AUC. Today, the majority of right-wing self-defense paramilitary groups are loosely organized under the AUC, and Carlos Castaño has emerged as the primary paramilitary leader at the national level.
Currently, the right-wing
paramilitaries are the fastest growing military group in
The structure and make-up of the AUC is far from transparent. Some units are nothing more than private armies under the command of drug lords fighting against the FARC and ELN for control of the drug trade. Colombian sources estimate that right-wing drug warlords and their allies in the drug industry control 40% of the country’s total cocaine exports, the remaining 60% falling under the control of leftist forces.
Carlos Castaño recently announced his resignation from the AUC’s military command and is now officially heading only its political wing. A nine-person “central military command” is supposedly taking over military control. There is a great deal of speculation as to why Carlos has taken this step. One theory is that Castaño wishes to bring political legitimacy to the AUC by creating a non-violent political wing that can be distanced from massacres carried out by the individual military fronts. Another theory is that internal division and an increasingly federal AUC have forced Castaño to resign and separate himself from the actions of the individual fronts.
As part of a recent amnesty deal with the government, various fronts of the AUC are to lay down their weapons and return to civilian life. Many international observers doubt their sincerity, as the public displays of weapons surrendered appear to be rusty shotguns and older models of revolvers. There were no new semi-automatic weapons or high-powered rifles, which are standard issue for a group as well-armed and –funded as the AUC.
FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)
The largest and most
powerful of the Colombian guerrilla groups is known as the FARC, or
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
The founder of
the FARC is Manuel “Tirofijo”
(“Sureshot”) Marulanda, who
some argue has become mostly a figurehead.
The man many believe to be the real brain of the organization was Marulanda’s colleague Jácobo
Arenas, a communist theorist who inspired Marulanda and became his
second-in-command. The group formed a
coalition between the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and the
(common liberals) in the 1960s that led to the origin of FARC as it is called
today. The common liberals originally
emerged as a self-defense group in the coffee-growing regions of
In the 1970s, the coca boom led to a mass migration of laborers to FARC-controlled territories in the south and southwest, which came to be known as Farclandia. The FARC was able to profit from “war taxes” imposed on the people, ostensibly in return for social order and social programs in health and education. The FARC also supplemented its income by kidnapping drug lords and their relatives. Since the 1980s, it has continued these activities, gained increasing control of the drug trade, and still seeks power.
ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, or National Liberation Army)
The ELN was formed in the
mid-1960s by students who were inspired by the Cuban Revolution but disenchanted
with the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Colombia. The ELN adhered strictly to Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s principles of rural guerrilla warfare. The
organization was almost destroyed by the Colombian military in 1974. It has since rebuilt and currently exists as
a roughly 5,000-member guerrilla movement, organized with a central political
and military command structure, yet with a great deal of regional autonomy for
commanders. It remains the second most powerful guerrilla group in
The ELN has come under heavy
attack from the AUC in recent years, especially in the areas where the ELN has
traditionally held control, such as the
It is difficult to determine the objectives of the AUC. It claims to be a mass peasant-based movement fighting to protect the country from the FARC and ELN. However, due to its ties to the drug trade, it is unclear as to whether the organization would continue to operate as a private army controlling large parts of the country if the leftist guerrillas were defeated. It is evident that Castaño has political aspirations of legitimacy for the AUC that reach beyond a vigilante struggle against the leftist forces. An additional complicating factor is the federal structure of the AUC. Whether or not the entire organization is operating with the same overall agenda and objectives is unclear.
Since the 1980s, the FARC
and the AUC have been fighting each other for control of coca-growing areas of
According to the ELN, they strive for a democracy based on neighborhood and family assemblies, on union groups, and on the militias. They claim that it will be a ‘participatory and rebellious culture coming from the bottom, rejecting commercialism and breaking up schemes.’ Their notion of socialism implies ‘self-determination of the people, respect for minorities and grassroots democracy.’ They claim not to be a militaristic organization and that they are fighting for a society without violence. The group did participate in peace talks with the government, which ended in 1992.
The conflict continues to be a low-grade war, with
civilians bearing the majority of the casualties. The ability of human rights
and media organizations to report massacres and other human rights abuses has
become increasingly limited due to a recent change in tactics by the AUC,
traditionally responsible for the majority of human rights abuses in
The use of local “informants” by right-wing fighters
opens the door for retribution killings by corrupt informants eager to settle a
private grudge. Locals are often accused of sympathizing with either the FARC
or the ELN. The paramilitaries often undertake tomals, or indiscriminate attacks, frequently including the temporary control of
entire towns, and singling out black-listed individuals for executions or
torture. In addition to killings of civilians in mostly rural areas, urban
bombings have increased, targeting government officials like President
and other figures in retaliation for recent crackdowns by the government.
Kidnappings have reached endemic proportions, giving
Location: Anzá, Antioquia province; 175 miles northwest of Bogotá
Victims: 5 former paramilitary fighters killed; several others wounded
Suspected rebels attacked former members of the BCN (Bloque Cacique Nutibara), a paramilitary group, in a bar Monday evening. The rebels used grenade launchers & guns to assault the victims. (AP, El Colombiano)
Victims: 3 people
Three patrons of a bar in
Location: Puerto Venus, Antioquia; 110 miles northwest of Bogotá
Victims: 8 men
Members of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas) shot eight men, all between the ages of 20 and 25, for refusing to pay a tax on coca leaves. (Reuters)
Location: Pensilvania, Caldas province
Victims: 8 people
FARC rebels shot eight people, including a child, in
January 5 or
Location: El Salado, Norte de Santander province
Victims: 7 people killed; 52 families displaced
Members of the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) shot seven villagers near the Venezuelan border. Family members of the victims have also been harassed by paramilitaries since the killings. The victims were fleeing violence in the area, much of it caused by conflict over the area’s large production of coca. Currently families are evacuating the area and moving to other parts of the Norte de Santander province. (AFP, Colprensa)
Location: Taraza, Antioquia province; 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Bogotá
Victims: 4 people killed; more than 30 others injured
FARC rebels attacked a crowded bus on Tuesday. The rebels detonated an explosive on the bus or as it was traveling by; four were killed, and about 30 others were injured. (BBC)
Date: the week of Thursday, December 4, 2003
Location: Llorente, Nariño province
people from the
Members of the AUC dismembered thirteen people in the
Victims: 8 people
A mother and her seven children were tortured and
Victims: 12 dead; 48 injured
12 people died and 48 were injured when the FARC exploded a bomb on a motorcycle in the downtown area of Florencia.
Date: Early September, 2003
Victims: 8 killed; 15 injured
The FARC are reportedly responsible for the bombing
which killed eight and injured fifteen in
Victims: 7 dead; more than 60 injured
The ELN are reportedly responsible for a bombing of a
shopping center in
Victims: 33 people
Thirty-three people were killed in a Bogotá nightclub.
Victims: 16 people
Sixteen people murdered in Antioquia province. (BBC)
Location: Barragán, Valle del Cauca department
Victims: 8 men
AUC’s Calima Front killed eight men in Valle del Cauca.
Location: San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta department
Victims: several clergymen
FARC guerrillas are presumed to have murdered several evangelical pastors, including Abel Ruiz, in Caqueta province.
Victims: 9 civilians
An explosion shook an apartment building and
mini-mart in northwestern
Victims: 119 civilians
The FARC bombed a church while battling paramilitaries in Bojayá in Choco province, killing 119, almost half of them children. This represents the worst massacre of civilians in the 38-year conflict. A United Nations report on the incident laid most of the blame on the FARC, though the government was criticized for its slowness in deploying troops to the area, even after it received reports of paramilitary activity in the area from the UN and the Colombian People’s Defender’s Office. Paramilitary collaboration with the armed forces was also cited by the report. Evidence was discovered that a 250-strong contingent of paramilitary militia arrived by boat and passed through three army checkpoints unmolested before reaching the town. (BBC May 2002)
Victims: 9 workers
Rebels were accused of raiding a banana plantation in
Victims: 12 civilians
The BBC’s Jeremy McDermott reported from Colombia
that two bombs believed to have been set by the FARC killed at least 12 people
and injured over 70 in
Villavicencio. The AP reported that several
buildings and cars were heavily damaged. Just hours earlier Catholic Priest
and a fellow parishioner were shot and killed as the priest said Mass in the
was assassinated outside the
Maria Catalina Daniels, a prominent senator, was found dead in her car along with two companions near Zipacón, 60 kilometers north of Bogotá. The killings took place a week before legislative elections were slated to take place. Violence has marred the nationwide elections, with one presidential candidate kidnapped and a host of threats being made by guerrillas. Government officials decried the act and blamed the FARC. Daniels was the sixth senator to be assassinated since the beginning of the current terms of the Colombian parliament began in 1998.
Location: El Bohio
Victims: 6 civilians
Six people were killed and a seventh wounded when paramilitary gunmen indiscriminately opened fire at El Bohio beach southeast of Bogotá.
Victims: 6 workers
At least 6 coca harvesters in northeastern
Victims: 12 civilians
Twelve people were killed in northern
Victims: 18 civilians
FARC guerrillas allegedly massacred at least 18
people in northwest
Victims: 10 peasants
Right-wing death squads killed 10 peasants in the
Location: Vereda Choco
Victims: 12 peasants
At least 12 peasants were massacred by paramilitary
fighters in the
Victims: 12 civilians
12 people were killed in two separate attacks by
suspected paramilitaries. Armed men shot and killed five people in
Victims: 36 peasants
At least 36 peasants were massacred in southwestern
and northern areas of
Araujo, wife of
Victims: 11 villagers
At least 11 people were massacred after paramilitary
gunmen raided the town of
Victims: 20 peasants
20 peasants were killed by suspected guerrillas
while nearly 50 others were kidnapped in the northeastern region of
Place: Town of
killed at least 10 people and forced as many as 6,000 to flee their homes
around the town of
Date: May 2001
More recently, 10 villagers were killed in
Tierralta, located in
Place: Alto Naya
Victims: Up to 100
Witnesses state that
paramilitary units came into towns in Alto Naya and dragged those suspected of
being guerrilla sympathizers into the streets and killed them. In the town of
The Spanish based Nizkor
International Human Rights Team believes that up to 170 people had been killed
in this attack. Human rights
investigators say that the bodies of victims were mutilated and spread out in
order to conceal the numbers killed. (Information Network of the
The New York Times reported on the same story, stating that it is believed up to 100 were
killed and up to 3,000 had been displaced. (New York Times,
village in northern
Members of the ACCU northern
block allegedly killed 26 townspeople with rocks and hammers in an effort to
empty the region of guerrilla supporters.
Castaño states that the ACCU did kill villagers in Chengue, but with
gunshots and not with rocks and hammers.
Castaño claims that all those killed were FARC sympathizers, identified
by FARC deserters who worked with the AUC. (
Date: First 5 months of 2001
Victims: 200 plus
The AUC moved into
According to The
Washington Post, the troops
performed what they called a “cleaning” of suspected members of the FARC and
ELN. Directed by guerrilla deserters,
the paramilitaries produced up to 7 bodies a day at the height of the
operation. After 3 months the killings
slowed and gave way to a political strategy and attempt to create legitimacy
for the AUC in the city. The AUC has
taken control of the city and works to run it and maintain order. The AUC has started to spend thousands of
dollars in the poorest neighborhoods for development. (
The Chicago Tribune reports that the AUC claims they are working to improve society in the
An earlier BBC article on
the same incident reported that right-wing paramilitaries arrived in the
The Colombian Ministry of Defense also reported on this incident. According to this source, on November 21 at approximately , a group of fishermen were captured by paramilitaries and locked in the town church. A guide was taken to lead them through the village to the house of a trader. The trader was dragged from his house, and both he and the guide were killed. At around on November 22, some of the fishermen were called out one by one from the church, forced to lie face down on the ground for an hour, and then shot.
39 bodies were found.
It is unclear whether or not
the group responsible was a paramilitary organization under the umbrella of the
AUC. The force behind the massacre may
have been the Magdalena Self-Defense Group, according to ACCU leader Carlos
Castaño. This group is considered to be
an enemy of the AUC. (
Place: El Cedral
and its surroundings, Ituango
Paramilitaries killed 8 and
looted and burned over 25 homes. Over
400 people were displaced. Two days
later paramilitaries murdered 27 more people in three other villages in Antioquia.
(Information Network of the
Place: Ortega Llano, town of
On the night of October 7, 13 peasants were killed
after being beaten and hit with machetes.
In a collaborative effort with the “Jácobo
Arenas” column of the FARC, the ELN attacked the settlement of Ortega Llano in
the town of
Place: La Chorrera, near Medellín
Date: October 2000
Eight men and three women
were found with multiple gunshot wounds to the head, their hands and feet
lashed together. The victims were among
14 people kidnapped from the
Place: River Sinu
Date: September 16 & 17, 2000
The River Sinu and Green River Councils in the Embera Katio Reserve have filed complaints about the AUC attacking them.
On September 16, three canoes containing 20 people were kidnapped by alleged paramilitaries in the area. The same day Jose Miguel Bailarin, the ‘Mayor’ of the River Esmeralda, was kidnapped and murdered.
On Sunday, September 17, another group of armed men kidnapped the native Aquilino Jarupia Bailarin and his young son Antonio Domico. Their bodies were found later that day.
The community stated that approximately 100 natives were forced to leave the area as a result of armed raids.
The Embera Katio community has said that it has no wish to be a part of the conflict. The community has been accused by paramilitaries of collaboration with the guerrillas. Embera Katio has also been attacked by guerrilla groups in Antioquia and Choco.
The Ministry of Defense
States that the native population has been repeatedly victimized in terms of
kidnappings, murders, and forced displacement.
The motive behind the action is to intimidate the community and attempt
to force the native community to take a stance in the conflict. (
Place: Puerto Asis
Victims: Multiple victims over an extended period
A BBC news article from
August of 2000 reports on the town of
Place: La Unión, Town of San José de Apartado
on July 8, an unspecified number of men belonging to a self-defense group entered
the hamlet of La Unión, which comes under the town of
San José de Apartado in Antioquia province. The armed men rounded up the local
population, divided the men, women, children, and elderly into different
groups. Various people were called out
from a list, and six were murdered. (
Date: July 2000
On July 12, the FARC attacked the town of
Place: San José de Apartado, Antioquia
Victims: Approximately 5
On February 19,
approximately 20 members of the ACCU entered the town of San José de Apartado and killed five civilians. Between and ,
the ACCU entered a billiard hall and killed the first of the five. They then entered the
Place: El Salado, Carmen De Bolivar-Ovejas Bolivar and
Date: 16-18 February 2000
On February 18, a group representing
the ACCU set up a court in the
The Colombia Ministry of
Defense reports that on February 16, the AUC set up a roadblock between the
towns of Zambrano and Córdoba,
Later on the 16th and 17th, the AUC raided the hamlets of Flor del Monte, Canutal and Canutalito, and tortured and murdered approximately 9 peasants, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
On February 18, a large paramilitary unit entered the hamlet, took people from their homes, and took them to a basketball court. Those accused of being guerrilla sympathizers were tortured and killed.
On February 19, troops from
the Marine Infantry brigade reportedly recaptured the hamlet of El Salado and
found the bodies of 12 people on the basketball court and seven bodies located
nearby, as well as another 15 in the rural areas around El Salado. (
Place: El Tigre, village in
Date: January 1999
Paramilitaries were blamed for killing at least 36 people and kidnapping 10. (CNN.com, 2000)
Date: July 1997
In July 1997, paramilitaries
belonging to the AUC went on a rampage in Mapiripán,
a small coca-growing town in southeastern
In deciding whether the
The United Nations recognizes genocide as defined in Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (1948), according to which genocide is defined as “actions committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
In order for the violence in
For example, in the city of
According to the second
standard, the violence must be habitual in order for it to constitute
genocide. It is clear that the events in
The third standard is the
intent behind the violence. The center
distinguishes between massive human rights abuses that have an aspect of
manslaughter versus murder. In a case of
murder, the action is considered to be intentional. In the case of
The fourth and final standard looks at the primary characteristic of the abuse, which must be killing. When looking at the AUC, the primary characteristic of the abuse has been killing civilians, despite the fact that they do engage in kidnappings as well. The FARC has been mostly responsible for kidnappings, though they do carry out violent campaigns against suspected anti-leftists. The ELN has not been involved in killings nearly as often as the other two groups. Their focus has been on destroying oil pipelines and targeting domestic infrastructure.
In conclusion, we feel that
the actions perpetrated by the AUC, the FARC, and the ELN would indeed fit
three of the four standards for genocide.
The atrocities in
The case of
To reiterate the definition
of genocide, Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as being acts committed with “intent to
destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.”
The United States signed the Genocide Convention on the condition that it would
interpret this clause to mean to “destroy in whole or in substantial part”. (Heidenrich, 4) The definition of “substantial”
according to the
We have stated that there is no clear intent to destroy a national, ethnic, or religious group. In this instance, Colombians are killing civilians in a struggle for territorial control and dominance. Only if the definition is broadened to include political ideology can a case for genocide possibly be made. Even assuming so raises another problem, in that it is very difficult to determine whether or not political and ideological factors are the motivation behind what is taking place.
It is clear that the first stage of dealing with the question of genocide is to determine whether or not what is taking place is based on ideology. For the sake of analysis, we can assume that this is the case. The next stage is to explore the interpretation of “substantial part.” There is difficulty in determining precisely how many people are killed for their supposed ideological beliefs and how many are killed in unrelated violence. It is also arguable that casualty numbers are not high enough to qualify as a “substantial part”. The definition does include the words “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part.” The word “intent” does make it possible to argue that regardless of how many people are killed, the motivation behind the actions can qualify them as actions of genocide.
Our conclusion is that the
In its 1998 report on
Colombia and International Law, Human Rights Watch states that the laws of war
applicable to Colombia are: Common
Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of 1949 which applies to confrontations
between relatively armed groups within a state; Protocol II Additional to the
Geneva Conventions which is meant to protect civilians in cases of
non-international conflict being conducted by highly organized insurgents; and
Customary International Law which sets out acceptable practices for states.
(Human Rights Watch, War Without Quarter:
The following war crimes are
being committed in
crimes against humanity are being committed in
, John G.
How to Prevent Genocide: A Guide for Policy Makers, Scholars, and the Concerned
Terrible Than Death:
Massacres, Drugs, and America’s War in Colombia.
Human Rights Watch
Rights Watch World Report 2001: “
Human Rights Watch
Report: “War Without
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