to the Conflict
Colombia is in the middle of a 40 year old conflict in which leftist guerrillas
are battling both the government and right wing paramilitaries for control
over the country. It is estimated that the Colombian government currently
has 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 and most prominent left wing organizations are the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation
Army (ELN), both of which claim to promote Marxist ideology and are working
to overthrow the current Colombian government. On the right, there are numerous
bands of paramilitary organizations, most of which are organized under the
umbrella organization the United-Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
The mobilization of these self-defense groups has been attributed to a reaction
to the abuses of the guerrilla groups by landlords and other upper-income
civilians, who took the initiative to form the self-defense forces. This
explains the right-wing outlook of the self-defense groups, which often
regard all trade unionists and peasant leaders as "pro-guerrilla",
and consequently target them for elimination.
Both sides are heavily linked to the drug trade within the country and
both target civilians thought to be collaborating with the other side.
The AUC is considered to be responsible for roughly 75% of the civilian
casualties currently taking place in Colombia. 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, states that
6,067 were killed as a result of "socio-political" violence
from September 1999 to September 2000. The nature of the massacres committed
in the country is often extremely brutal and involves mutilation and torture.
(Economist, April 21, 2001)
Parties Involved in the Conflict
AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia or United Self Defense Forces of
and originally were partially organized and trained by government forces
in order to combat the leftist revolutionary movements throughout the
country. The modern paramilitary organizations currently operating in
Colombia can be traced to the 1980’s when vigilante groups were formed
by both civilians and drug cartels to defend against kidnapping and extortion
by the leftist guerrillas.
In 1993 brothers Fidel and Carlos Castaño organized the Autodefensas
Campesinas de Cordoba y Uraba (Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba
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 1997 the various paramilitary groups announced the formation of a central
paramilitary command structure, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United
Self Defense Forces of Columbia), 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 on
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 support and financial backing from cattle farmers, some politicians,
and military officers. The AUC army 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 been suffering as a result of the economic disruptions
caused by the activities of leftist guerrillas. A Gallop 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 of
the units are nothing more than private armies under the command of drug
lords fighting against the FARC and ELN for control over the drug trade.
An example is Hernan Giraldo Serna, head of a 400 man private army known
as the Los Chamizos (Charred Tree) militia. Colombian sources estimate
that the right wing drug warlords and their allies in the drug industry
control 40% of the total cocaine exports with the remaining 60% falling
under the control of leftist forces. It is also believed that Serna is
the leader of a drug syndicate accounting for $1.2 billion in annual shipments
to the US and Europe. (Newsweek, May 21, 2001)
The AUC is currently going through major changes. Carlos Castaño
has recently announced his resignation from military command of the AUC
and is now officially heading only the political wing of the movement.
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 organization by creating a non-violent political wing
that can be distanced from massacres carried out by the individual military
fronts. Another is that internal division and an increasingly federal
AUC have forced Castaño to resign and separate himself from the
actions of the individual fronts.
FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia or Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia)
The largest and most powerful of the guerrilla groups in Colombia is known
as FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The founder of the
FARC is Manuel Marulanda who some argue has become mostly a symbol of
the guerrilla group. The one who many believe to be the real brain of
the organization is Marulanda’s colleague Jacobo Arenas. Arenas was 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 comnunes" (or 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 Castro in Cuba as
well as the Soviet Union as part of the plan for a worldwide socialist
regime. Marulanda’s vision for Colombia was a socialist system with small
peasant farms and medium-sized industry. But when Colombia began to have
ties with Cuba and the USSR, the FARC’s original raison d’etre was lost.
In the 1970s, the coca boom led to a mass migration of laborers to FARC-controlled
territories in the south and southwestern parts of Colombia, which came
to be known as Farclandia. FARC was able to profit from war taxes imposed
on the people in return for social order and social programs in health
and education. FARC also supplemented their income by kidnapping drug-lords
and their relatives. Since the 1980s, their objective has been to continue
these activities, including controlling the drug trade, and gain power.
In the mid-1980s, several people who owned the land for coca production
formed paramilitary groups to fight against the guerrillas. In 1997 the
paramilitaries grouped together under the leadership of Carlos Castaño
whose efforts were also funded by drug-trafficking activities.
ELN (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional or National Liberation Army)
The ELN or National Liberation Army was also formed in the mid-1960s by
students who were disenchanted with the pro-Soviet Communist Party of
Colombia and inspired by the Cuban Revolution. The ELN adhered strictly
to Che’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 guerilla 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 next to the FARC.
The ELN has come under heavy attack from the AUC in recent years, especially
in the areas that the ELN has traditionally held control over, 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 organization. It is not possible to determine whether the entire
organization is operating with the same overall agenda and objectives.
Paramilitary leaders state their objectives as being an end to the conflict
in the country, however the Chicago Tribune reports that as they take
territory from the left, the right wing paramilitaries have become a part
of the same activities the guerillas engage in, namely smuggling, trafficking,
and kidnapping. The Tribune reports that Castaño admits that 70%
of the organizations finances come directly or indirectly from drug trafficking.
(Chicago Tribune, May 26, 2001)
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 Colombia’s countryside.
The guerrillas have very effective control of many of these areas and
have actually implemented 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 the assemblies
in the neighborhoods and factories, on union groups, and on the militias
that protect the new forms of power. 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 and Group Strategies
Right wing paramilitary organizations are held to be responsible for approximately
75% of the civilian deaths taking place in Colombia. They routinely commit
atrocities against civilians in guerilla held territories in an apparent
attempt to weaken the civilian support base for the FARC and ELN. The
AUC claims that all victims are collaborators with the left wing guerrilla
groups. According to the Washington Post, the AUC has used chainsaws,
stones, and machetes in recent massacres to drive people out of FARC held
areas. (Washington Post, March 12, 2001)
The Financial Times reports that the AUC has carried out 804 assassinations,
203 kidnappings, and 75 massacres with 507 victims in the first ten months
of 2001. (Financial Times, May 2001)
The Colombian army states that 873 civilians were killed in the first
four months of 2001, the majority by paramilitary forces. More than 40
Union Leaders have been assassinated during the same period. (Christian
Science Monitor, May 2001) The BBC reports that from January to May 2001
the paramilitaries were responsible for killing around 500 civilians in
assassinations and massacres. (BBC, May 17, 2001)
The Ministry of Defense in Colombia reported in January 2001 that the
tactic commonly used by the self-defense forces is to use former guerilla
soldiers to identify collaborators and sympathizers. These people are
then murdered or forced out of their territory so that the self-defense
forces can assert their presence and authority. The self-defense forces
use lists of people they state are guerilla collaborators or sympathizers.
(Republic of Colombia, Annual Human Rights and International Humanitarian
Law Report 2000)
Place: Town of Peque, Northwestern Colombia
Date: July 4, 2001
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: 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 guerilla 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
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
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
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, an industrial city in northern Colombia
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 turncoats, 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
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
guerilla 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
Nueva Venecia is in the heart of the banana-producing region where the
FARC and the AUC have been fighting for control. 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 all 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 guerillas. (BBC, December 9, 2000)
An earlier BBC article reported on the same incident and stated 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 9PM, a group of fisherman
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 4AM November 22 ,some of the fisherman 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.
When the paramilitaries arrived in the town they stated that victims of
a large scale ELN kidnapping had spent several days in the town and that
as a result of the local population concealing the actions of the ELN
on that occasion, the paramilitaries were going to commit a massacre as
a means of retaliation.
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 in Ituango municipality of Antioquia
Date: November 1, 2000
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: La Chorrera near Medellin
Date: October 2000
Eight men and three women with hands and feet lashed together were found
with multiple gunshot wounds to the head. 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, 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, the ‘Mayor" of the River
Esmeralda, Jose Miguel Bailarin 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 guerillas. Embera Katio has also been attacked by guerilla 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, shot through the back of the head,
were found each night.
(BBC, August 26, 2000)
Place: La Union Hamlet, Town of San Jose de Apartado
Date: July 8, 2000
At about 3:00 PM on July 8, 2000 an unspecified number of men belonging
to a self-defense group entered the hamlet of La Union, which comes under
the town of San Jose de Apartado in Antioquia province. The armed men
rounded up the local population, divided the men, women, children, and
elderly into different groups. Different people were called out from a
list and six were murdered. (Republic of Colombia, Illegal Self Defense
Groups in Colombia, 2000)
Place: Town of San Jose de Apartado-Antioquia
Date: February 19, 2000
Victims: Approximately 5
On February 19, 2000 approximately 20 members of the ACCU entered the
town of San Jose 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 Hamlet, Carmen De Bolivar-Ovejas Bolivar and Sucre Provinces
Date: 16-18 February 2000
On February 18 a group form 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 there were 36 killed. (Human Rights Watch World Report,
The Colombia Ministry of Defense reports that on February 16, 2000, the
AUC set up a roadblock between the towns of Zambrano and Cordoba, Bolivar
Province, near the River Magdalena. They stopped a vehicle and killed
its two occupants.
The same day and the day after the AUC raided the hamlets of Flor del
Monte, Canutal and Canutalito, which come under the town of Ovejas (Sucre),
and there they tortured and murdered approximately 9 peasants, according
to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
On February 18 a large paramilitary unit entered the hamlet and took people
form their homes and put them on the basketball court. Those accused of
being guerilla 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 15 in the rural areas
around El Salado. (Republic of Colombia, Illegal Self Defense Groups in
Place: El Tigre, village in Putumayo
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
Mapiripan, 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)
The FARC’s main attacks have been on Colombian political and military
targets. They have kidnapped thousands of civilians, including narco-landowners,
as a source of revenue. Some of the kidnapped were later killed. The group
continues its typical use of gas containers as mortars to destroy towns.
Other abuses include murder, rape, robbery, and threats. The following
are examples of specific incidents of violence against the civilian population.
(Republic of Colombia, Illegal Self Defense Groups in Colombia, 2000)
Date: July 2000
On July 12 2000 the FARC attacked the town of Colombia in the province
of Huila, which resulted in the deaths of a mother and her three children.
(Republic of Colombia, Illegal Self Defense Groups in Colombia, 2000)
Date: May 2001
More recently, 10 villagers were killed in Tierralta, located in Cordoba
Province, on May 28, 2001. The FARC were 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)
Since 1986, the ELN has continuously attacked oil pipelines in an attempt
to destroy the Colombian infrastructure. Extortion and bombings of foreign
businesses, especially in the petrol industry, are common practice for
this group. The ELN has also participated in killing civilians. These
incidents are usually a collaborative effort with FARC forces. The extent
to which the ELN works with the FARC is unclear but it appears that collaboration
Place: Ortega Llano, town of Cajibio
Date: October 7, 2000
On the night of October 7, 2000 13 peasants were killed after being beaten
and hit with machetes. In a collaborative effort with the "Jacobo
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
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
Genocide Prevention Center. 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 of genocide.
The first question is whether the violence in Colombia fits the UN definition
of genocide. 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 have identified that the civilians being targeted
and killed are those who reputedly support, collaborate or are affiliated
with the opposing ideological group. Since the people do not belong to
a racial, ethnic, national, or religious group, we cannot classify this
as ethnic cleansing. Instead, we are suggesting a new term to be used
in these particular circumstances, assuming that people are actually being
massacred for their political ideology. This new term is "ideological
cleansing" and would be defined as the intentional removal of a people
who are 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 purists 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 Genocide Prevention
Center 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 and through this terror
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 the murdering of civilians caught in
the middle, 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 guerillas 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." (CNN.COM, 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 AUC repeatedly commits atrocities on a regular
and ongoing basis as indicated by the preceding listing of massacres.
Examples include: 10 killed in Peque on July 4, 2001; up to 100 killed
in Alto Naya during April 10-13, 2001; 26 killed in Chengue on January
17, 2001; 17-39 killed in Nueva Venecia on November 22, 2000; 35 killed
in El Cedral and its surroundings on November 1, 2000; and 36 killed in
El Salado and its surroundings during February 16-18, 2000.
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. Civilians are deliberately targeted and murdered. Again
looking at several examples of paramilitary 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 10-13, 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 16-18, 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. Only recently have they turned to killing people, usually
those who have been held captive for some time. 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 the oil industry.
In conclusion we feel that the actions perpetrated by the AUC would definitely
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
classification, 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 for the conclusion of
this report is the definition of genocide and its interpretation by the
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 it is clear there is no intent to destroy a national,
ethnic, or religious group. In this instance, Colombians are killing Colombians
in a struggle over 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 "intent" 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 for the 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
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; enforced 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,
Heidenrich, John G. How to Prevent Genocide: A Guide for Policy Makers,
Scholars, and the Concerned Citizen. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2001
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http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/americas/colombia.html (June 2001)
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Online News Sources
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