Center for the Prevention of Genocide

Colombia Report

Crimes Against Humanity and

Possible Ideological Cleansing

July 2001, revised January 2004



Introduction to the Conflict


Colombia is in the midst of a 40 year-old conflict in which leftist guerrillas are battling both the government and right-wing paramilitaries for control of the country.  The Colombian government is estimated to have firm control over roughly 50% of the country, while the rest is in the hands of either the leftist guerrilla movements or right-wing paramilitary groups.  The two largest left-wing guerrilla organizations are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FuerzasArmadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejércitode Liberación Nacional, or ELN), both of which espouse a Marxist ideology and seek to overthrow the Colombian government.  On the right are numerous bands of paramilitary organizations, most of which are organized under an umbrella organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia ( Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC).  Their mobilization has been attributed to landlords and other upper-income civilians, many of whom regard all trade unionists and peasant leaders as “pro-guerrilla” and consequently target them for elimination.


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, April 21, 2001 )


Parties Involved in the Conflict


AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia )

Rural vigilante groups have existed in Colombia since the 1950s, originally organized and trained in part by government forces to combat the leftist movements.  The modern paramilitary organizations in Colombia can be traced to the 1980s when vigilante groups were formed by the wealthy, including drug cartels, to defend against kidnapping and extortion by the leftist guerrillas.


In 1993 brothers Fidel and Carlos Castaño organized the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Uraba (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 Colombia .


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 Colombia .  They have over 8,000 troops, up from 4,500 in 1998 and 1,200 in 1993.  The AUC has close links to the drug trade and also enjoys the support and financial backing of many cattle farmers, some politicians, and military officers.  The AUC’s presence reaches from Colombia ’s northern coast, which is the ACCU stronghold, to the principle drug-producing region of Putumayo in the south.  The AUC has gained support from peasants who have been targeted by FARC and ELN actions and from portions of Colombia ’s middle classes who have suffered from the economic disruptions caused by the war.  A Gallup poll in 2000 showed that approximately 15% of the population approves of the AUC and its taking control from the FARC and ELN. (Economist, April 21, 2001 )


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 liberales comunes (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 Colombia .  The alliance was strongly supported by Fidel Castro in Cuba as well as the Soviet Union .  Marulanda’s vision for Colombia was a socialist system with small peasant farms and medium-sized industry.  But when the Colombian government established ties with Cuba and the USSR , the FARC’s original raison d’être was lost.


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 Colombia .


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 Magdalena Valley region.  The ELN is more willing than the FARC to negotiate a settlement with the Colombian government, partially due to the threat posed by AUC attacks.  The AUC has been intent on preventing negotiations between the government and the ELN.  The Colombian government promised the ELN a demilitarized zone in Southern Bolivar in which the ELN would have free rein during the peace negotiations.  However, the AUC has worked to drive the ELN out of this region in a successful effort to prevent the realization of the negotiations.


Current Goals of the Parties



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 Colombia , mostly in the south and southeastern parts of the country.  The FARC has infiltrated a vast number of rural communities and currently controls about 40% of the Colombian countryside.  The guerrillas have very effective control of many of these areas and have implemented their own social and economic programs, which the government has failed to provide.  The FARC wants to gain control of all present and possible future coca-growing regions in Colombia .  This goal involves getting rid of the AUC, which poses a serious threat.



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.


Nature of Violence


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 Colombia . Recent killings have been done in single or double homicides to escape the watchful eye of international monitoring groups. Bodies are often dumped in discreet locations, and frightened villagers are hesitant to disclose information for fear of retribution. Therefore, while massacres may be on the decline officially, the overall number of killings may actually be increasing.      


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 Álvaro Uribe and other figures in retaliation for recent crackdowns by the government. Kidnappings have reached endemic proportions, giving Colombia the dubious title of “kidnap capital of the world.” (ABC News Article – Jack Sweeney: 2001)



Date:                  Monday, January 12, 2004

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)

Date:                  Thursday, January 8, 2004

Location:           Sincelejo , Sucre province

Victims:             3 people


Three patrons of a bar in Sincelejo were shot to death Thursday night.  The perpetrators could not be identified.  (AFP)


Date:                  Thursday, January 8, 2004

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)


Date:                  Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Location:           Pensilvania, Caldas province

Victims:             8 people


FARC rebels shot eight people, including a child, in the village of Pensilvania .  The victims reportedly had refused to sell coca leaves to the rebels.  (AFP)


Date:                  Monday, January 5 or Tuesday, January 6, 2004

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)


Date:                  Tuesday, December 23, 2003

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

Victims:             13 people from the village of Santa Helena


Members of the AUC dismembered thirteen people in the town of Llorente in early December, apparently using chainsaws as weapons.  There had been recent conflicts among paramilitary groups in the area. (Weekly News Update)


Date:                  October 20, 2003

Location:           Orito, Putumayo province

Victims:             8 people


A mother and her seven children were tortured and murdered in Putumayo province.  Evidence points to the ELN as perpetrators.  (El Tiempo)


Date:                  September 29, 2003

Location:           Florencia

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

Location:           Chita

Victims:             8 killed; 15 injured


The FARC are reportedly responsible for the bombing which killed eight and injured fifteen in Chita .  (BBC)


Date:                  March 5, 2003

Location:           Cucuta

Victims:             7 dead; more than 60 injured


The ELN are reportedly responsible for a bombing of a shopping center in Cucuta ; seven people were killed and more than sixty were injured.


Date:                  February 7, 2003

Location:           Bogotá

Victims:             33 people


Thirty-three people were killed in a Bogotá nightclub.


Date:                  January 16, 2003

Location:           San Carlos , Antioquia

Victims:             16 people


Sixteen people murdered in Antioquia province.  (BBC)


Date:                  August 22, 2002

Location:           Barragán, Valle del Cauca department

Victims:             8 men


AUC’s Calima Front killed eight men in Valle del Cauca.


Date:                  July 31, 2002

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.


Date:                  June 4, 2002

Location:           Northwestern Colombia

Victims:             9 civilians


An explosion shook an apartment building and mini-mart in northwestern Colombia , killing 9 people. The attack was believed to have been perpetrated by guerrillas in the area.


Date:                  May 2, 2002

Location:           Bojayá

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)


Date:                  April 26, 2002

Location:           Northern Colombia

Victims:             9 workers


Rebels were accused of raiding a banana plantation in Northern Colombia, apparently as a show of force in a region that had been flushed of guerrillas since the paramilitaries drove them out five years ago. The plant was blown up and nine workers were led into a field, where they were executed. (AP April 22, 2002)


Date:                  April 8, 2002

Location:           Villavicencio

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 Juan Ramon Núñez and a fellow parishioner were shot and killed as the priest said Mass in the southern province of Huila .  (BBC April 2002)


Date:                  March 17, 2002

Location:           Cali

Victims:             1


Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino was assassinated outside the Buen Pastor Church in Cali , where he had just finished conducting a wedding ceremony. The archbishop was critical of drug barons and accused several candidates in the March Congressional Elections of being financed by drug money.  (BBC March 2002)


Date:                  March 3, 2002

Location:           Zipacón

Victims:             3


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.


Date:                  January 28, 2002

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.


Date:                  December 3, 2001

Location:           Northeastern Colombia

Victims:             6 workers


At least 6 coca harvesters in northeastern Colombia were killed by FARC guerrillas in an area known for clashes between the United Self-Defense Forces and the FARC.


Date:                  November 29, 2001

Location:           Northern Colombia

Victims:             12 civilians


Twelve people were killed in northern Colombia by suspected right-wing paramilitary gunmen. Eight of the victims were dragged from their homes in the town of Montebello while four more were found outside the town of Tamesis . The area is a stronghold of the smaller ELN guerrilla group. The killings are the mark of the paramilitaries, who often target whom they believe to be guerrilla sympathizers.


Date:                  November 24, 2001

Location:           Northwest Colombia

Victims:             18 civilians


FARC guerrillas allegedly massacred at least 18 people in northwest Colombia near the site of a large paramilitary camp and base of paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño. The victims were peasants whom the FARC accused of being paramilitary collaborators.


Date:                  November 19, 2001

Location:           Corinto                       

Victims:             10 peasants


Right-wing death squads killed 10 peasants in the town of Corinto , 373 miles southwest of the capital Bogotá. The peasants were traveling on a bus and were stopped at a fake checkpoint set up by the paramilitaries. The town of Corinto has been designated a “red zone” due to the presence of both FARC and ELN activity in the area.


Date:                  November 11, 2001

Location:           Vereda Choco

Victims:             12 peasants


At least 12 peasants were massacred by paramilitary fighters in the village of Vereda Choco . The town is located in northwestern Colombia in Antioquia province. A spokesman for the army indicated that the peasants were killed by members of the AUC after being dragged out of their homes. The ELN maintains a considerable presence in the area, and the peasants were purportedly shot after being accused of sympathizing with the guerrillas.


Date:                  October 12, 2001

Location:           Piamonte

Victims:             12 civilians


12 people were killed in two separate attacks by suspected paramilitaries. Armed men shot and killed five people in Piamonte in Cauca state. The gunmen called each victim by name before executing them; paramilitaries have often carried out killings of this nature to rid the area of people it suspects to be sympathizers to the FARC or ELN. In Nariño five men were taken from their homes and killed. Local police sources point to paramilitary involvement in the case since the five men were reported to have ties with the guerrillas.


Date:                  October 11, 2001

Location:           Southwestern and Northern Colombia

Victims:             36 peasants


At least 36 peasants were massacred in southwestern and northern areas of Colombia . 30 of the victims were traveling by bus when they were stopped and killed at a paramilitary roadblock in the town of Buga . The other 6 victims were found after four of them had been abducted the previous night. All six were killed and found in a rural area in Antioquia province.


Date:                  September 30, 2001

Location:           Kidnapped near Valledupar

Victims:             1


C. Araujo, wife of Colombia ’s attorney general and former culture minister, was slain. Araujo, along with 20 other people, were kidnapped a week earlier near Valledupar . Fellow hostages described Araujo being shot twice in the face after she became exhausted from a forced trek after Colombian troops discovered her FARC captors in a nearby Indian village and they were forced to flee into the jungle. (BBC October 2001)


Date:                  September 16, 2001

Location:           Falán

Victims:             11 villagers


At least 11 people were massacred after paramilitary gunmen raided the town of Falán 74 miles west of Bogotá. The villagers were killed after being accused of collaborating with guerrillas in the area.


Date:                  September 8, 2001 

Location:           Northeastern Colombia

Victims:             20 peasants


20 peasants were killed by suspected guerrillas while nearly 50 others were kidnapped in the northeastern region of Colombia . The incident took place in La Gabarra, the scene of a similar incident a few days earlier in which ELN guerrillas killed 10 coca-leaf pickers.


Place:                 Town of Peque , Northwestern Colombia

Date:                  July 4, 2001

Victims:             10


Right-wing paramilitaries killed at least 10 people and forced as many as 6,000 to flee their homes around the town of Peque .  An estimated 300 paramilitaries moved into the area threatening to kill local residents unless they left. (BBC, July 9, 2001 )


Place:                 Tierralta

Date:                  May 2001

Victims:             34


More recently, 10 villagers were killed in Tierralta, located in Córdoba Province , on May 28, 2001.  The FARC was responsible for the killings.  The victims’ bodies, most of them headless, were found in the Sinu River .  Just a few days later on May 31, 24 more farmers were killed by the FARC in the same town.  The farmers were killed after having been kidnapped from their homes the previous weekend.  As in the previous incident, most of the bodies had been decapitated and were found floating in a river, this time in the River Manzo.  (Republic of Colombia, Illegal Self Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000) 


Place:                 Alto Naya

Date:                  April 10-13, 2001

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 Patiobonito , the paramilitaries killed 7, including a shopkeeper accused of selling food and supplies to the guerrillas. On April 12, peasants fleeing the region stated that the paramilitary forces had killed at least 23 people and had given all others 5 hours to leave. 


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 Americas , May 2001)


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, April 20, 2001 )


Place:                 Chengue, village in northern Colombia

Date:                  January 17, 2001

Victims:             26                   


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. (Washington Post, March 12, 2001 )


Place:                 Barrancabermeja

Date:                  First 5 months of 2001

Victims:             200 plus         


The AUC moved into Barrancabermeja and announced they had a hit list of 400 people in the city, including union leaders, leftist guerrillas and suspected sympathizers, and common thugs.  During a 5-month period, the AUC fought the ELN for control over the city and went from house to house searching for intended victims.   More than 200 people from the list were killed.  (Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 2001 )


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. (Washington Post, April 17, 2001 )


The Chicago Tribune reports that the AUC claims they are working to improve society in the Barrancabermeja .  Those who are not found to be in compliance with AUC rule have been killed.  The Tribune reports that in addition to guerrilla sympathizers, the AUC has killed homosexuals, prostitutes, drug users, and the mentally ill.  Local newspapers describe the actions of the AUC as being a “social cleansing campaign.”  Unionists, human rights officials, and journalists have been threatened. (Chicago Tribune, May 26, 2001 )


Place:                 Nueva Venecia-Town of Sitio Nuevo , Magdalena Province

Date:                  November 22, 2000

Victims:             17-39              


On November 21, 2000 , a dozen fishermen were captured by right-wing paramilitaries and placed in a church for holding.  They were taken out one by one and executed by a shot to the back of the head.  The paramilitaries fired on everyone coming into the village while this was taking place, and after the executions were finished they traveled to other villages and opened fire on people.  The BBC reports that a Spanish newspaper stated over 60 people were killed in this manner.  The reason cited for the massacres was suspected collaboration with left-wing guerrillas. (BBC, December 9, 2000 )


An earlier BBC article on the same incident reported that right-wing paramilitaries arrived in the village of Nueva Venecia with a hit list consisting of the names of supposed left-wing collaborators.  17 were killed.  (BBC, November 23, 2000 )


The Colombian Ministry of Defense also reported on this incident.  According to this source, on November 21 at approximately 9:00 PM , 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 4:00 AM 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.  (Republic of Colombia , Illegal Self-Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000)


Place:                 El Cedral and its surroundings, Ituango municipality of Antioquia

Date:                  November 1, 2000

Victims:             35       


  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 Americas , November 13, 2000 )


Place:                 Ortega Llano, town of Cajibio

Date:                  October 7, 2000

Victims:             13


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 Cajibio , located in the province of Cauca .  The groups burned most of the peasants’ houses and several people were seriously injured.  In September of 2000, the guerrilla groups had tried to persuade the peasants from this town to hand their children over to the guerrillas.  Since the townspeople refused to give up their children, the groups returned one month later in an act of retaliation for not collaborating with the guerrillas.


Place:                 La Chorrera, near Medellín

Date:                  October 2000

Victims:             11                   


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 village of La Chorrera by AUC forces.  The villagers were abducted after a villager identified them as collaborators with left-wing groups.  Witnesses stated that the AUC threatened to return and attack anyone found to be helping the guerrillas. (BBC, October 13, 2000 )


Place:                 River Sinu and Green River Councils

Date:                  September 16 & 17, 2000

Victims:             3         


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. (Republic of Colombia , Illegal Self-Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000)


Place:                 Puerto Asis

Date:                  August 26, 2000

Victims:             Multiple victims over an extended period   


A BBC news article from August of 2000 reports on the town of Puerto Asis in the southern jungles of Putumayo .  The paramilitaries managed to defeat the left-wing guerrillas that previously had control over the town.  The reporter writing the story states that when the paramilitaries first arrived in Puerto Asis, up to eight bodies were found each night, shot through the back of the head.  (BBC, August 26, 2000 )


Place:                 La Unión, Town of San José de Apartado

Date:                  July 8, 2000

Victims:             6                     


At about 3:00 PM 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. (Republic of Colombia , Illegal Self Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000)


Place:                 Huila

Date:                  July 2000

Victims:             4


On July 12, the FARC attacked the town of Colombia in the province of Huila , killing a mother and her three children.  (Republic of Colombia , Illegal Self-Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000)


Place:                 San José de Apartado, Antioquia

Date:                  February 19, 2000

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 7:25 and 8:00 PM , the ACCU entered a billiard hall and killed the first of the five.  They then entered the Pentecostal Church , dragged a person out, and killed him.  Two traders were taken from their homes and killed.  Finally a man was killed on the main square. (Republic of Colombia , Illegal Self-Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000) 



Place:                 El Salado, Carmen De Bolivar-Ovejas Bolivar and Sucre Provinces

Date:                  16-18 February 2000

Victims:             36                   


On February 18, a group representing the ACCU set up a court in the village of El Salado and tortured, shot, stabbed, and decapitated civilians.  Witnesses told investigators that they tied a six-year-old girl to a pole and suffocated her with a plastic bag.  A woman was reportedly gang-raped.  Authorities confirmed that 36 were killed. (Human Rights Watch World Report, 2001)


The Colombia Ministry of Defense reports that on February 16, the AUC set up a roadblock between the towns of Zambrano and Córdoba, Bolivar Province , near the River Magdalena.  They stopped a vehicle and killed its two occupants.


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. (Republic of Colombia , Illegal Self-Defense Groups in Colombia , 2000)


Place:                 El Tigre, village in Putumayo

Date:                  January 1999

Victims:             36


Paramilitaries were blamed for killing at least 36 people and kidnapping 10. (, 2000)


Place:                 Mapiripán

Date:                  July 1997

Victims:             30


In July 1997, paramilitaries belonging to the AUC went on a rampage in Mapiripán, a small coca-growing town in southeastern Colombia .  Eyewitnesses said that the attackers used machetes and chainsaws to kill and decapitate their victims.  Bodies of those killed and injured were dumped into a nearby river.  Castaño took credit for the attack.  At least 30 were killed. (Information Network of the Americas , April 2000)



Genocide or “Ideological Cleansing”


In deciding whether the massacres in Colombia constitute genocide, it is necessary to consider the four key standards of genocide used by the Center for the Prevention of Genocide.  The standards are:  the abuses must fit the UN definition of genocide; they must be shown to be habitual in nature; they must be intentional; and finally, killing must be the primary characteristic of the abuse.  In the following we shall analyze the situation in Colombia according to each standard.


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 Colombia , the struggle is over territorial control and dominance.  In the preceding report, we identified that the civilians being targeted and killed are those who reputedly support, collaborate, or are affiliated with the opposing ideological group.  Since these people do not belong to a singular racial, ethnic, national, or religious group, we cannot classify this as ethnic cleansing.  Notably, most of those massacred are of indigenous or Afro-Colombian heritage, but this does not appear to be the reason they are targeted.  Instead, we suggest a new term for these particular circumstances, “ideological cleansing,” defined as the intentional removal of a people not part of a specific national, ethnic, racial or religious group, but who are or thought to be part of a particular ideological group to which the perpetrators are opposed.  Though the killings and violence against civilians, especially by the AUC, appear genocidal in nature, ideological groups are not protected under the Convention Against Genocide.  This means that some genocide scholars would recognize the massacres in Colombia as genocide, while those loyal to the traditional definition would not.  The violence does not fit the UN recognized definition; therefore it technically does not match the first standard.  However, due to the ideological nature of the Cambodian Genocide of 1975-1979 and the subsequent crimes against humanity tribunals, ideological genocide is emerging as an acceptable classification.  The Center for the Prevention of Genocide will weigh ideological genocide as a classification only under dire circumstances.  The violence must satisfy the “significant portion” section of the US 1951 Ratification of the Convention, which is a higher standard than the other UN-accepted groups and must clearly meet all of the other standards.


In order for the violence in Colombia to fit the ideological classification, the intention must be to eliminate a particular group based on their identity or affiliation.  For the violence in Colombia to be classified as genocide, those being killed must be shown to be a part of a specific ideological group.  In the case of Colombia , it appears more likely however that those being killed are simply caught in the middle of a struggle between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas.  Again, looking at the AUC, it often seems that their strategy involves targeting a group of people in a region governed by the FARC or ELN in order to terrorize denizens and thus to establish control over the area.  The massacres may be based on this strategy, and have nothing to do with ideology.  The government is estimated to control only half of the country. (Economist, April 21, 2001 )  Civilians in the half of the country under the control of the illegal armed groups are forced to live according to the decrees of those currently in power in their respective regions.  The power shifts that take place as one armed group displaces another results in violent conflict and the killing of civilians, regardless of their political and ideological beliefs.


For example, in the city of Barrancabermeja , there are areas that rest under complete control of the guerrillas.  Residents attempt to stay away from the militants for fear of being identified with them.  If militias appear on the streets, people lock themselves inside of their houses.  If guerrillas slide pro-leftist pamphlets under their doors, residents burn them for fear of being identified as spies by the paramilitaries and having their names placed on death squad lists.  People in the area also avoid the armed forces, because those who cooperate with the police or army could be taken for a pro-government or paramilitary spy, and assassinated by the guerrillas.  Rev. Ernesto Estrada, a Catholic priest in the guerrilla-controlled Puerto Caicedo states, “They live in fear… Because if you rely on the guerrillas… you become marked by the paramilitaries.  To rely on the army to solve any problem is to be marked by the guerrillas as an assistant to the paramilitaries…  It is the law of the jungle that operates here.”  (, 2000) 


According to the second standard, the violence must be habitual in order for it to constitute genocide.  It is clear that the events in Colombia fit the second standard.  This report cites numerous examples of recurring violence and massacres.  The armed groups, in particular the AUC, repeatedly commit atrocities on a regular basis as indicated by the preceding listing of massacres.


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 Colombia , the massacre listings clearly show that the killings are intentional.   Again looking at several examples of armed violence, it is clear that the murders are intentional and that therefore the case in Colombia matches the third standard.  In the Alto Naya massacre of April 2001, military units deliberately dragged civilians into the streets and shot them.  In the Nueva Venecia massacre of November 22, 2000 , paramilitaries executed fishermen by shooting them in the back of the head.  In the El Salado Hamlet massacre of February 2000, paramilitaries set up a court in the village and tortured, shot, stabbed, and decapitated civilians.  These examples and the others listed earlier in the report show that the killings are clearly intentional and are not cases of manslaughter.


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 Colombia are habitual, intentional, and arguably killing is the primary nature of the abuse.  The standard that Colombia does not meet is the UN definition of the group being victimized.  In order to make a case for “ideological cleansing,” those being killed and the motivation behind their murder must be shown to be consistent with ideological classification.   Without the presence of a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group being targeted with the intent to destroy such group in whole or in part, it would appear there is no genocide.  Broadening the definition to include political and ideological identification may create a case for genocide; however, it is not clear whether or not those being targeted actually belong to a particular classification.  Determining the identification of those being targeted and the motivation behind the attacks is extremely difficult.




The case of Colombia presents a number of challenges in terms of classification.  In asking whether what is taking place is genocide, a number of factors must be analyzed.  We have already examined how well the abuses in Colombia match the standards for genocide.  Of key concern is the definition of genocide and its interpretation by the international community. 


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 United States is “a part of a group of such numerical significance that the destruction of loss of that part would cause the destruction of the group as a viable entity within the nation of which such group is a part.”  (Heidenrich, 4)


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 massacres in Colombia do not constitute genocide.  The abuses clearly do not match the UN Definition according to the Genocide Convention (1948), and there is only a tenuous argument from an ideological angle.  However, the violence in Colombia does constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and a severe humanitarian crisis.


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: Colombia and Human Rights, Section 1).


The following war crimes are being committed in Colombia :  massacres; the killing of civilians and non-combatants outside of combat; torture; mutilation of corpses; death threats; forced displacement; hostage taking; and arbitrary detention. (Human Rights Watch, War Without Quarter: Colombia and Human Rights, Section 1).


The following crimes against humanity are being committed in Colombia :  murder; extermination; deportation and forcible transfer of population; torture; forced disappearance of persons; and other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health (i.e. mutilation of victims, death threats). 








Heidenrich , John G.  How to Prevent Genocide: A Guide for Policy Makers, Scholars, and the Concerned Citizen.  Westport :  Praeger Publishers, 2001.


Kirk, Robin.  More Terrible Than Death:  Massacres, Drugs, and America’s War in Colombia.  New York :  Public Affairs, 2003.


Human Rights Watch


Human Rights Watch World Report 2001:  Colombia :  Human Rights Developments.”  2001.

(June 2001)


Human Rights Watch Report:  “War Without Quarter:  Colombia and International Humanitarian Law.”  October 1998.


            (July 2001)




Colombia : Drugs, War, and Democracy.” The Economist.  21 April 2001 .


“The Curse of the Vigilantes.”   The Economist.   21 April 2001 .


Contreras, Joseph and Isikoff, Michael.   “War Without End.”  Newsweek.  21 May 2001: 38.


Forero, Juan.  “Dozens of Colombians Reported Massacred by Paramilitaries.”  New York Times.  20 April 2001 : A7.


Goering, Laurie.  Colombia Caught in a Struggle for Power.”  Chicago Tribune.   26 May 2001: 1.


LaFranchi , Howard.  “Bogotá’s Threat from the Right.”  The Christian Science Monitor.  5 May 2001.


Wilson, James.  “Colombian Troops Strike Against Paramilitaries.”  Financial Times.  2 May 2001: 5.


Wilson, Scott.  Colombia ‘s Other Army.”  Washington Post.   12 March 2001 : A01.


Wilson, Scott.  “Colombian Right’s ‘Cleaning’ Campaign.”  Washington Post.   17 April 2001 : A01.


Online Journals


Craig-Best, Liam and Rowan Shinglter.   “The Alto Naya Massacre:  Another Paramilitary Outrage.” Colombia Reports:  Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).  21 May 2001.


            (June 2001)


Craig-Best, Liam.  “Paramilitaries Commit Massacres with Army Support.”  Colombia Reports: Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).  13 November 2000 .

            (June 2001)


Burt, Jo-Marie.   “The Massacre at Mapiripan.”   Colombia Report: Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).  3 April 2000 .


            (June 2001)


Online News Sources


Associated Press.   “Eighteen dead in three massacres in Colombia .”   9 January 2004 .

            Stable URL not available.

            (January 2004)


Baena , Javier.  “Suspected Rebels Kill 5 in Colombia Bar.”  Associated Press.  13 January 2004 .

            Stable URL not available.

            (January 2004)


BBC News.  “Abductees Murdered in Colombia .”  13 October 2000 .

            (June 2001)


BBC News.  Colombia attack ‘leaves 13 dead.’”  4 December 2003 .


            (January 2004)


BBC News.  Colombia bus explosion kills four.”  24 December 2003 .


            (January 2004)


BBC News.  Colombia Hostages Released.”  17 May 2001.

            (June 2001)


BBC News.  “Militia Massacre in Colombian Village .”   23 November 2000 .


            (June 2001)


BBC News.  “Ten Killed in Colombia Attack.”  9 July 2001 .

            (July 2001)


Caistor , Nick.  “Despair Over Colombian Tragedy.”  BBC News.  9 December 2000 .


            (June 2001)


El Colombiano.  “Diez muertos y 20 heridos en jornada electoral en Colombia.”  25 October 2003.


            (January 2004)


El Colombiano.  “Diez muertos y 20 heridos en jornada electoral en Colombia.”  2 October 2003.


            (January 2004)


El Colombiano.  “Un ataque en Güíntar, de Anzá, dejó cinco muertos y siete heridos.”  13 January 2004.

Stable URL not available.

(January 2004)


McDermott, Jeremy.  “Glamour in the Jungle.”  BBC News.  26 August 2000 .


            (June 2001)


Nettleton, Steve.  “Between a Machete and a Revolver.” 2000.

            (June 2001)


Nettleton, Steve.  “Trapped in the City.”  2000.


            (June 2001)


Reuters.  “Colombian rebels kill 8 peasants over coca ‘tax.’”  8 January 2004 .


            (January 2004)


El Tiempo.  “Conmoción en Putumayo por masacre de una madre y sus siete hijos, en Orito.”  23 October 2003.

            Stable URL not available.

            (January 2004)


Weekly News Update.  “Death Squads Massacre 13.”  7 December 2003.


            (January 2004)


Republic of Colombia Documents


Republic of Colombia :  Ministry of National Defense.  Annual Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Report 2000.  2000.  Pgs. 104-129.


Republic of Colombia :  Ministry of National Defense.  Illegal Self-Defense Groups in Colombia .   December 2000.  Pgs 5-19.