Human rights are a devastating casualty of Colombia’s ongoing, internal armed conflict. As the U.S. State Department’s Colombia Country Report 2012 makes clear, Colombia is plagued by problems of impunity, extrajudicial killings, military collaboration with paramilitary groups, torture, overcrowded prisons, arbitrary arrest, harassment and intimidation of journalists, internal displacement, corruption, sexual exploitation of women and children, and illegal child labor, among other human rights violations.
Those individuals and organizations daring to speak out against these abuses often suffer from harassment, threats and even death. In 2011, a human rights defender was assassinated once every 8 days, and total attacks and threats against defenders are on the rise, with a 36% increase in 2011 over 2010.
Since 2003, paramilitary groups who are responsible for the majority of human rights violations in Colombia have been involved in a government-sponsored “demobilization” process. Following this, the Colombian state has noted certain improvements in human rights – such as a fall in the nation’s homicide rate and decreased kidnappings. Despite these claims, Colombia continues to face the most dire human rights situation in the Western Hemisphere and it competes with Sudan for the world’s highest number of internally displaced people. Reports of extra-judicial executions continue, and more mass graves are constantly unearthed. Human rights defenders continue to face persecution by the Colombian state and victims of violence still have little access to the country’s justice system.
In order to improve Colombia’s human rights record, it is essential that the international community pressure and assist the Colombian government, in efforts to eliminate impunity, protect victims of violence, ensure the safe return of displaced communities to their land and the continued oversight of actions carried out by Colombia’s armed forces.
Afro-Colombian children in the Urabá region gather around the gravesite of a fellow community member. The violence that forced communities to flee, left many dead. Upon return to their land, communities often clear brush from the cemeteries and build new grave markers to honor the dead.
The U.S. Office on Colombia is an independent non-profit organization, not affiliated with any political party, that seeks to educate U.S. policymakers, the media and the U.S. public about the impact of U.S. policy on Colombia.