The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), was founded in April 1997 as a coalition of already established paramilitary groups in Colombia. The AUC’s stated mission was to protect the civilian population against guerilla organizations in Colombia. Studies show, however, that paramilitaries are responsible for killing the majority of the 2000 civilians that fall victim to Colombia’s conflict every year.
The AUC entered into negotiations with the Uribe government in December 2002 and agreed to begin demobilizing in July of 2003. When the process ended in August 2006, approximately 32,000 paramilitaries had handed over their weapons.
Despite the apparent ease and success of the process, the demobilization has been criticized for many reasons. First, the Justice and Peace Law under which ex-combatants are processed is deemed to be too lenient, providing the Colombian government with few tools to dismantle the paramilitaries effectively. Secondly, not all paramilitary blocks submitted to the demobilization process. Moreover, through dozens of wiretaps, it has become clear that some demobilized combatants continue conducting illicit activities from their jail cells. Also, there is growing concern that ex-combatants are recruiting new members and are forming a new wave of paramilitary groups, known as the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) or Nueva Generación (New Generation). A 2006 report by the Colombian NGO INDEPAZ shows that there is evidence of at least 43 re-armed groups of ex-paramilitary combatants in 22 departments. They estimate that these groups have 3,838 armed combatants and at least 7,676 unarmed support staff. In addition, the reintegration process and monitoring of ex-combatants is weak. Finally, the state has not been able to guarantee the safety of victims of paramilitary violence who wish to testify during hearings, making it clear that although the paramilitaries have gone through an official demobilization process, this process is far from complete and far from ensuring justice for victims in Colombia.
The U.S. Congress approved funding for the Colombian paramilitary demobilization process for up to $20 million in the Appropriations Act for FY 2006. The largest component of this funding is earmarked for reintegration of ex-combatants. The current productive programs for reinserted paramilitaries proposed by the Colombian government have been widely criticized by victims’ organizations. There is concern that some of these productive projects will be implemented on land appropriated by paramilitary groups. It is important that the effectiveness and impact of this funding is carefully monitored by Members of the U.S. Congress to ensure that U.S. funding does not contribute to the strengthening of criminal networks in Colombia.
USOC is committed to providing thorough information to U.S. policy makers regarding the paramilitary demobilization, and the best ways for U.S. policy to support justice, reparation and integral peace in Colombia.