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Country Reports: Colombia

Genocide Prevention Center
Colombia Report
Crimes Against Humanity and Possible Ideological Cleansing
July 2001
Table of Contents

Introduction – General information on the history and background of the conflict in Colombia
II. Information on the Illegal Armed Groups
     A. Parties Involved in the Conflict
        i. AUC
        ii. FARC-EP
        iii. ELN
     B. Current Goals of the Groups
        i. AUC
        ii. FARC-EP
        iii. ELN
III. Nature of the Violence and Strategies
     A. AUC – description of the violence and strategy
        i. Description of Violent Acts
        ii. List of violent acts
     B. FARC – description of the violence and strategy
        i. Description of Violent Acts
        ii. List of violent acts
     C. ELN – description of the violence and strategy
        i. Description of Violent Acts
        ii. List of violent acts
IV. Genocide or Ideological Cleansing – analysis of situation in Colombia with respect to standards for genocide
VI. Conclusions
V. Work Cited

Introduction 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 Colombia)
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 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 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

AUC Atrocities
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
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: 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 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, 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 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 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
Victims: 17-39

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 Department
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: La Chorrera near Medellin
Date: October 2000
Victims: 11

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
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, 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
Victims: 6

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
Victims: 36

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, 2001)

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 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. (CNN.COM, 2000)

Place: Mapiripan
Date: July 1997
Victims: 30

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)

Place: Huila
Date: July 2000
Victims: 4

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)

Place: Tierralta
Date: May 2001
Victims: 34

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 is limited.

Place: Ortega Llano, town of Cajibio
Date: October 7, 2000
Victims: 13

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 guerrillas.

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 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 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 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; 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, death threats).



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

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001: Colombia: Human Rights Developments. 2001.
http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/americas/colombia.html (June 2001)

Human Rights Watch Report: War Without Quarter: Colombia and International Humanitarian Law. October 1998. http://www.hrw.org/reports98/colombia/ (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. "Bogota’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 Shinglter, Rowan. "The Alto Naya Massacre: Another Paramilitary Outrage."

Colombia Reports: Information Network of the Americas (INOTA). May 21, 2001.
http://www.colombiareport.org/colombia64.htm (June 2001)

Craig-Best, Liam. "Paramilitaries Commit Massacres with Army Support." Colombia Reports: Information Network of the Americas (INOTA). November 13, 2000.
http://www.colombiareport.org/colombia39.htm (June 2001)

Burt, Jo–Marie. "The Massacre at Mapiripan." Colombia Report: Information Network of the Americas (INOTA). April 3, 2000. http://www.colombiareport.org/colombia6.htm (June 2001)

Online News Sources

Caistor, Nick. "Despair Over Colombian Tragedy." BBC News. December 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/from_our_own_correspondent/newsid_1059000/1059457.stm (June 2001)

BBC News. "Abductees Murdered in Colombia." October 13, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_971000/971374.stm (June 2001)

BBC News. "Colombia Hostages Released." May 17, 2001.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/ameri cas/newsid_1335000/1335069.stm (June 2001)

BBC News. "Militia Massacre in Colombian Village." November 23, 2000.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1036000/1 036637.stm (June 2001)

BBC News. "Ten Killed in Colombia Attack." July 9, 2001.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1424000/1424121.stm (July 2001)

McDermott, Jeremy. "Glamour in the Jungle." BBC News. August 26, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/from_our_own_correspondent/newsid_895000/895950.stm (June 2001)

Nettleton, Steve. "Between a Machete and a Revolver." CNN.COM. 2000. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2000/colombia.noframes/story/reports/campesinos/index.html (June 2001)

Nettleton, Steve. "Trapped in the City." CNN.COM. 2000. http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2000/colombia.noframes/story/reports/barrancabermeja/index.html (June 2001)

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.


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