Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).
There was a reduction in violence due to progress in the peace process between the government and the FARC, including the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire August 29. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2015 annual report stated the peace negotiations “prevented many human rights violations.” During the year the Conflict Analysis Research Center (CERAC) reported levels of violence in the country fell to their lowest in 52 years in terms of the number of victims, combatants killed and injured, and the number of violent acts. According to CERAC, offensive actions against the FARC fell 98 percent, combat between the armed forces and the FARC dropped by 91 percent, overall civilian casualties fell by 98 percent, and overall combatant deaths dropped by 94 percent. The OHCHR and CERAC attributed these trends to confidence-building measures, such as the unilateral ceasefire by the FARC, and the high level of compliance with the bilateral ceasefire.
In February members of the army allegedly killed Gilberto de Jesus Quintero in the department of Antioquia. Security forces claimed that Quintero was a suspected member of the ELN, according to media. As of October 20, the government had failed to investigate the case.
From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered 291 new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 393 members of the security forces and arrested 445 for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 45 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2015.
There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive cases, in which thousands of civilians were allegedly killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. In February Colonel Robinson Gonzalez del Rio, convicted and sentenced in 2015 to a total of 67 years in prison and a fine of more than 1.8 billion Colombian Pesos (COP) ($6 million) for the unlawful killing of 34 civilians presented as “false positives,” was sentenced to an additional 37 years and six months in prison for the deaths of Javier Moreno and Janio Sepulveda in 2007 in Caldas Department.
Investigations of generals allegedly implicated in false positive cases continued. In April 2015 the former attorney general stated publicly that his office was investigating 22 generals for alleged involvement in false positives cases. In August the Attorney General’s Office subsequently clarified that the number of investigations against generals (including retired generals) involving homicides was actually 15, rather than 22. As of August the Attorney General’s Office stated 12 cases involving generals were in the preliminary investigation phase, and investigations against three generals had been closed.
On March 28, the Attorney General’s Office announced General Henry William Torres Escalante and former army commander general Mario Montoya Uribe would be formally charged for their alleged connections to false positive cases. The attorney general found that General Torres Escalante was pivotal in the homicide of Daniel Torres Arciniegas and his son Roque Julio Torres, who were falsely presented as FARC members killed in combat in 2007. On March 28, authorities arrested Torres Escalante, which marked the first instance an active-duty general faced criminal charges related to the false positives scandal. He was called to trial in August.
General Montoya faced charges in connection with his alleged involvement in seven false positive cases and awaited arraignment as of mid-October. He was accused of supporting paramilitary groups and actions in operations such as Operation Orion, a 2002 military offensive against guerrillas in Medellin.
On June 1, Commander of the Armed Forces General Mejia and Minister of Defense Villegas publicly honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leadership to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.
The OHCHR reported it registered seven possible cases of “illegal deprivation of the right to life” alleged to have been committed by security force members from January 1 through July 31. In several cases military officials stated they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of the FARC, while community members claimed the victim was not a combatant. In other cases military officials stated the killings were military mistakes.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces, including enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and officers, of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, during the year through September 30, authorities arrested and charged 24 government employees, including 23 members of the National Police, with having links to illegal armed groups, mainly the group known as Gulf Clan, previously known as Clan Usuga or the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
On January 17, in Caceres, Antioquia Department, Melisa Espitia Mazo, a pregnant 14-year-old, was killed during a military operation against criminal groups. The army recognized its responsibility in Espitia’s death and apologized for what it stated was a military error. The Antioquia branch of the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation to clarify the circumstances of the death; as of October, there were no arrests or charges related to the case.
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that during the year through July, it obtained 117 new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), 161 new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 191 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members.
On March 16, two former paramilitary members, Dalson Lopez Simanca and Jose Luis Conrado Perez, were sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment for their involvement in the 1995 El Aracatazzo massacre, in the municipality of Chigorodo, in which members of the military, along with members of paramilitary groups, allegedly tortured and killed 18 civilians.
On March 1, the Justice and Peace Tribunal, following an investigation begun in 2014, forwarded evidence to the Attorney General’s Office to initiate investigations against retired generals Oscar Botero Cardona and German Morantes Hernandez for human rights violations.
The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) considered organized criminal bands to be a continuation of former paramilitary groups and in some cases accused elements of the government of collaborating with those groups to commit human rights violations. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in organized criminal gangs but noted the gangs lacked the national, unified command structure and explicit ideological agenda that defined past paramilitary groups, including the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The NGOs also included killings by these groups in their definition of “unlawful killings” (see section 1.g.).
According to the NGO Landmine Monitor, nonstate actors, particularly the ELN, planted IEDs and land mines (see section 1.g.).
Guerrillas, notably the ELN, committed unlawful killings. Organized criminal groups (some of which included former members of paramilitary groups) committed numerous political and unlawful killings, primarily in areas under dispute with guerrillas or without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).
The investigation into the killing in 2012 of land restitution leader Manuel Ruiz and his son, Samir, continued under the direction of the Office of the Attorney General’s National Directorate for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. On May 4, Manuel’s and Samir’s bodies were exhumed in coordination with the Justice and Peace Commission, international observers, and local leaders.
Forced disappearances, many of them politically motivated, continued to occur. Although the exact number of people disappeared remained unknown, there were at least 100,000 cases of disappearances during the half-century of conflict, according to the National Search Commission. From January 1 through the end of July, 48 victims of forced disappearances were found alive and 20 were found dead. The government did not provide information on the number of disappearances and forced disappearances registered.
The Attorney General’s Office did not provide information on the number of new convictions in forced disappearance cases involving members of the security forces.
There were developments in efforts to provide reparations to families of disappeared victims of the 1985 military occupation of the Justice Palace in Bogota. In October the Attorney General’s Office returned the remains of William Arturo Almonacid and Cristina del Pilar Guarin, two of the disappeared victims, to their families. The State Council ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay compensation to the family of disappeared victim Gloria Anzola de Lanao, in the amount of nearly COP 1.6 billion ($5,500,000). Lanao’s body remained missing.
As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in October 2015 to search for those missing in the conflict. The government agreed to accelerate the identification of anonymous victims killed in security operations and extrajudicial killings, and to turn over their remains to family members. The parties also agreed to create a new search unit for the missing, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The ELN, organized criminal gangs, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons, both for ransom and for political reasons (see section 1.g.). On February 4, the ELN kidnapped Jair de Jesus Villar, a military official, at a power plant in Antioquia Department. Villar was released in March, along with civilian Ramon Jose Cabrales, who was kidnapped in September 2015. In April former representative Odin Sanchez offered himself as a hostage to the ELN in exchange for the release of his brother, former Choco governor Patrocino Sanchez, who had been in ELN custody since 2014; however, as of November 7, Sanchez remained in custody. Between May 21 and May 24, the ELN abducted three journalists in Catatumbo. They were released May 27.
The Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty–military and police entities formed to combat kidnapping and extortion–and other security force elements freed 33 hostages in the first seven months of the year. The government reported that two kidnapping victims died in captivity during the year through July. During that period nine kidnapping victims escaped from their captors, and 70 were released by their captors.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police, military personnel, and prison guards sometimes committed abuses. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that during the year through September 9, security forces were allegedly involved in 13 cases of torture.
From January through July, the Attorney General’s Office charged 25 members of the security forces (23 police and two military members) with torture; 14 of the cases occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office reported 12 convictions of members of the armed forces and no convictions of members of illegal armed groups in cases of torture during the year through June.
CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for eight documented cases of torture through September 9. In nine other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.
According to NGOs working with the prison community, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation, and provided poor health care and other basic facilities. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Physical Conditions: The national prisons had a design capacity of 78,055 prisoners but held 121,157 inmates (112,927 men and 8,230 women). Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as women’s prisons. The National Prison Institute (INPEC) operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails.
On August 23, the Constitutional Court ordered the Bogota Metropolitan Police to cease using buses, parks, and other public spaces as temporary detention centers. The court also ordered INPEC to treat inmates and detainees in a dignified manner.
The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred.
The Superior Judiciary Council stated that the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often not carried out.
The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In April the Constitutional Court ruled all suspects jailed longer than the legally allowed period without being tried should be released on July 7. In June Congress approved a provisional bill extending the legal time a crime suspect could be held in jail, preventing the release from prison of approximately 20,000 crime suspects.
The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. Through September it conducted 125 investigations, 71 of which concluded and 54 of which remained in the investigation phase.
Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates claimed authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities. In May, INPEC and Justice Minister Jorge Londono declared an emergency in the country’s prisons due to the deterioration of health-care conditions. The ministry explained that the state of emergency would enable the implementation of an action plan to address deficiencies in health care for prisoners, to include the creation of health brigades and the prompt execution of maintenance projects related to health-care provision.
INPEC’s physical structures were in generally poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.
Administration: INPEC used a centrally managed electronic database with regular updates, and each prison also had its own local database. Foreign diplomatic observers, however, found that the information in both systems often was not well coordinated, resulting in delays in locating foreign detainees, especially dual nationals who had both Colombian and foreign citizenships.
Prisoners generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities, request investigations of inhuman conditions, and request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Authorities investigated prisoner complaints of inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results were not accessible to the public.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups that exercised a high degree of independence. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.
Improvements: INPEC launched a new 2016 Anticorruption and Citizen Services Plan with the goal of creating a culture of legality and transparency and promoting new institutional practices, such as the concept of shared responsibility and self-regulation among public servants, citizens, and prison stakeholder groups. INPEC continued a campaign to raise awareness and strengthen a culture of human rights within the institution. Through August 12, a total of 221 prison officials received human rights training. The government also continued a pilot program with local universities and other organizations to provide distance learning for inmates. More than 1,000 inmates participated in the program through July.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 176 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces during the year through September 9 (six committed by the attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI), 22 by the armed forces, and 148 by police).
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the CTI. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.
By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses by security forces. Of these alleged abuses, extrajudicial killings were the highest profile and most controversial. The CTI, which consists of civilian authorities under the Attorney General’s Office, typically investigated deaths resulting from action by security forces when there were allegations of foul play. In some cases the first responders were CNP members, who then investigated the death. Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play.
The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but NGO claims continued of impunity for security force members. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice, opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system, and a lack of resources for investigations. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial were also significant obstacles.
The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement during the year. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for the recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties are conducted by CNP judicial police investigators.
The Attorney General’s Office continued investigations into numerous generals and field-grade officers for involvement in alleged false positive cases and other abuses (see section 1.a.).
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Bail is generally available except for serious accusations, such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”
Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. No information was available on the percent of detainees in pretrial detention or the average length of time detainees spent in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence that corresponded to their charges.
Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Article 30 of the constitution guarantees habeas corpus review for all detainees. Such reviews must be completed within 36 hours. In the case of an illegal deprivation of freedom or illegal detention, Article 90 of the constitution provides for the government to compensate the victim.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning. The Attorney General’s Office had a witness protection program for criminal cases, but some of those who did not enter the program allegedly remained vulnerable to intimidation, and many refused to testify.
The military justice system may investigate and prosecute active-duty military and police personnel for crimes “related to acts of military service.” According to the Ministry of Defense, human rights abuses are not considered acts related to military service. The military penal code specifically excludes civilians from military jurisdiction, and civilian courts must try retired military and police personnel, but military courts are responsible for service-related acts committed prior to retirement.
According to domestic NGOs, more than 10 initiatives for military justice reform were presented in the previous five years, but few were enacted, due to removal from the legislative process because of procedural problems or rejection by the Constitutional Court. In 2015 the government dropped proposed jurisdictional adjustments from its proposed military justice reform legislation to address concerns that the legislation could lead to some human rights cases being heard by military courts. Despite explicit declarations from officials to the contrary, some NGOs remained concerned that military justice reform efforts may allow certain human rights cases to fall within the military justice system’s jurisdiction.
According to the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that settles jurisdictional questions between the military and civilian justice systems, from January 1 to July, authorities assigned to the civilian justice system 61 of 74 homicide cases reviewed for jurisdiction. During the same period, they assigned four cases to the military justice system. The magistrates abstained from ruling on the proper jurisdiction in the remaining nine cases, in which they determined that they either did not have enough information to rule or that a conflict of interest with the case prevented them from ruling.
The military penal code denies commanders the power to impose military justice discipline on, and extends legal protection to, service members who refuse to obey orders to commit human rights abuses. The army also has discretionary authority to dismiss personnel implicated in human rights abuses.
The Inspector General’s Office investigates allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of government security forces. In addition to conducting its own investigations, the Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the attorney general’s Human Rights Unit for separate criminal proceedings. As of July 31, the Inspector General’s Office opened 21 disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for human rights offenses, resulting in 12 preliminary investigations and nine disciplinary investigations, to which 59 members of the army and one member of the National Police were linked. Additionally, the Office of Delegated Disciplinary Inspector General for the Armed Forces reported that through August, it initiated 13 disciplinary investigations for alleged offenses. Thirty-four individuals were linked to these cases.
While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the existing criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and has the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against him, present his own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and may access government-held evidence during the trial stage. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less-commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is an investigating magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.
In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact-finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.
Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners. Authorities did hold some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment tactics against human rights advocates. The government did not provide information on the number of detainees in prisons, jails, or under house arrest who were accused or convicted of rebellion or aiding and abetting the insurgency. The government provided the ICRC regular access to these prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.
The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continues to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of the government, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handles problems related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. The Victims’ Unit of the DPS has the governmental lead on attention to victims. From 2011 through August 1, 2016, a total of 7,844,527 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit. Of these, 6,883,513 were victims of forced displacement, with 17,976 registered during the year through August 1. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. There were 340 registered cases of collective reparations. Both individual and collective reparations are mandated by the Victims’ Law, however, the original budget for implementation of the law contemplated only 4.5 million victims. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict. As of August 19, the government received 93,686 land restitution claims, of which more than 50,903 claims fell within the government’s target areas for restitution and went into active review. The government reported as of the same date, courts handed down 1,948 decisions on land restitution, corresponding to affirmative decisions in 3,980 cases with 23,085 beneficiaries. The Inspector General’s Office intervened to support land claimants in 679 cases through July, providing support in the administrative, judicial, and post-ruling phases in order to ensure the effective implementation of victims’ right to integral reparation.
Through July the Land Restitution Unit approved three requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories or individual restitution claims, corresponding to 130,972 acres benefitting 2,473 families and 12,365 persons. Of the 93,686 individual cases received through July, 2,888 belonged to individuals self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,624 to individuals self-identified as indigenous, and 638 to individuals self-identified as pertaining to other ethnic groups.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years and denies probation or bail to offenders who disobey restraining orders. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, without the possibility of suspensions or reductions, and longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide. Femicide is defined as the killing of a woman either for being a woman, because of her gender identity, or as a part of a cycle of sexual, physical, or psychological violence.
There was no comprehensive or consolidated database on the incidence of sexual violence, but NGO groups claimed that rape continued to be underreported. The Attorney General’s Office indicated that many cases went unreported. Members of illegal groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually.
Prosecution rates for rape continued to be low. Women’s groups, such as Sisma Mujer, assessed the extent of rape and domestic violence to be widespread and the law enforcement response to be generally ineffective. The Attorney General’s Office had teams in each of its 35 regional directorates that specialize in providing technical assistance and other support in cases of sexual violence, including sexual violence within the context of the internal armed conflict. The government continued to employ the GEDES interagency unit in Bogota, which is dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. The unit uses a multidisciplinary task force approach that includes prosecutors, investigators, and forensic specialists from the CNP and the Attorney General’s Office, working together under a common investigative and prosecutorial model. Through the end of August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 21,848 investigations for sexual abuses. The Attorney General’s Office reported that between January and the end of July, there were 56 new convictions obtained for sexual abuse, including sexual assault, with 12,841 more cases in the trial stage. In addition, during the year through July, the Inspector General’s Office reported no open disciplinary investigations into members of the security forces for sex crimes.
Through July the Attorney General’s Office reported 62,186 new investigations had been opened for cases of domestic violence. Of the victims, 53,596 of the victims were women, and 2,607 of the cases involved minors.
The law allows authorities to prosecute domestic violence offenders when the victim does not testify, if there is another witness. Judicial authorities may remove an abuser from a household and require the abuser to undergo therapy. The law provides for both fines and prison time if an abuser causes grave harm or the abuse is recurrent, but authorities reportedly did not impose fines.
The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. The ICBF provided safe houses and counseling for some women and children who were victims of domestic violence, but its services could not meet total demand. In addition to fulfilling traditional family counseling functions, the ICBF family ombudsmen handled domestic violence cases.
The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military.
The law augments both jail time and fines if the crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, in which an attacker throws acid onto the victim’s face. A law passed on January 6 defines acid attacks as a specific crime, punishing the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of dangerous substances with prison sentences of 12.5 to 40 years and a wage-based fine. The law also stipulates that the National Institute of Legal Medicine must provide hospitals with training on care for acid-attack victims. In Bogota on August 9, Maria Helena Pena, a 50-year-old female acid-attack victim, had only 5 percent of her face damaged because of the quick action of informed neighbors and hospital workers. In 2014, also in Bogota, Natalia Ponce de Leon was the victim of an acid attack that caused serious burns to her face and body. In August the courts upheld her attacker’s conviction and sentence of 20-25 years in prison and rejected the attacker’s insanity defense.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities. No accurate statistics existed regarding the practice, which generally includes types I and IV, according to the World Health Organization’s classification system.
Government efforts to prevent FGM/C included achieving in 2011 a continuing commitment from the sizable Embera-Chami indigenous group to renounce the practice. The tribe’s commitment continued, but on March 3, according to media reports, two indigenous children, each under one month old, of the Embera-Chami community of Antioquia died after an ablation surgery.
The UN Population Fund continued to support a consulting project on FGM/C with indigenous peoples. The project’s goal is to eradicate practices harmful to the life and health of indigenous girls and women nationwide, with an emphasis on the departments of Risaralda and Choco.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination. Nonetheless, NGOs reported that sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem. No information was available as to whether the government implemented the law effectively.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
During the year there were reports of forced abortions. Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 20 investigations related to cases of forced abortion, 18 of which had occurred during the year.
Discrimination: Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted (see section 7.d.).
The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity. The policy includes directives for affording women access to economic autonomy, decision-making positions, health and reproductive rights, and a life free of violence, as well as incorporating a gender focus into education.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported 6,024 cases of child abuse and 5,643 cases of sexual abuse against children during the year through July 31. Through July 30, ICBF reported it provided assistance, including legal and psychological support, to 5,885 minors who were victims of sexual violence, including cases of sexual exploitation. The Attorney General’s Office reported that 91 percent of the investigations it opened during the year involving sexual abuse of minors involved children under age 14 (the minimum age of consent).
A two-year investigation carried out by the Attorney General’s Office and concluded during the year documented 214 cases of girls who were subjected to rape, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and other forms of sexual violence by the FARC. According to then acting attorney general Perdomo, the results revealed the FARC instituted a policy of sexual violence against women at least since 1997.
Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than 14 and girls more than 12 may marry with the consent of their parents.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law defines demand for the sexual exploitation of a minor as “directly or through a third party requesting or demanding performance of carnal or sexual acts with a person under 18 years of age, through payment or promise of payment in cash, kind, or compensation of any nature.” Sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor carries a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children under age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child under 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. According to the ICBF, during the year through July 31, there were 206 reported cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Since 2009 the NGO Renacer Foundation certified 278 tourism-related businesses as committed to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. In cooperation with the government, Renacer trained 18,426 employees of these businesses in how to identify and fight sexual exploitation.
Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d., IDPs).
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community, which had an estimated 4,200 members, reported instances of anti-Israel rhetoric that emerged around events in the Middle East and were accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues and demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but not sensory or intellectual disabilities in employment, education, access to public buildings, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services. There is no law mandating access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities. A 2015 law strengthened penalties for discrimination against persons with disabilities, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, political or philosophical ideology, sex or sexual orientation, and other grounds. It punishes those who arbitrarily prevent, obstruct, or restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities.
The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Somos Defensores and other NGOs claimed these laws were seldom enforced.
Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Advocates also noted that children with disabilities were more vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse and that citizens with disabilities were hampered in their ability to vote and participate in civic affairs due to lack of adequate transportation or adequate access to voting facilities in numerous locations throughout the country. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population (see section 7.d.).
Forced surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases is legal.
In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” No information was available on how many public offices and facilities complied with the order and undertook accessibility reconstruction projects during the year.
According to the most recent (2005) national census, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.
Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line. NGO Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network reported 32 percent of Choco’s residents lived in extreme poverty. Choco continued to experience the lowest per capita level of social investment; ranked last among departments in terms of infrastructure, education, and health; and experienced the highest rate of income inequality in the country.
In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The government’s National Development Plan 2014-18 stipulates that the budgetary resources allocated to Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations be no less than what was assigned in the 2010-14 period. The government’s Observatory against Racism and Discrimination continued to monitor the use of specialized approaches in public policies for ethnic minorities, to conduct studies on racism and discrimination, and to make recommendations to other public entities regarding the promotion of equal opportunities. The Ministry of Interior continued to provide technical advice and funding for productive and self-sustaining projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities. The government also continued a working committee on problems of Afro-descendants with other members of the Andean Community of Nations and maintained a binational ethnic affairs committee with Ecuador.
The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, continued to meet with government representatives on problems that affected their communities. Some Afro-Colombian communities, however, complained that those elected to the National Autonomous Congress did not represent their interests.
The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.
The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 722 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory, with officials selected according to indigenous traditions. Many indigenous communities, however, had no legal title to the lands they claimed, and illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.
The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.
Some indigenous groups continued to assert that they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. Indigenous leaders complained of the occasional presence of government security forces on indigenous reservations and asked that the government consult with indigenous authorities prior to taking military action against illegal armed groups operating in or around such areas and before building roads or other public works on or near their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.
The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities. The law permits the presence of government security forces on indigenous lands, but defense ministry directives instruct security forces to respect the integrity of indigenous communities, particularly during military and police operations.
Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates. Indigenous women faced triple discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and lower economic status. As of the end of July, the Attorney General’s Office reported there were 75 active investigations of 232 military members and 26 members of the CNP accused of violating the rights, culture, or customs of indigenous groups.
Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. Four indigenous persons were killed in Narino and Cauca Departments during the weekend of August 26-29. During the year through September 1, the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia reported that 11 indigenous persons were killed.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There was no official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. An August 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. In 2015 the Constitutional Court granted gay couples the right to adopt children and in April 2016 the court granted gay couples the legal right to marry. But in September 2016, the First Committee of the Senate, which hears matters related to constitutional reform, statutory laws, and other topics, approved on first reading a bill proposed by Senator Vivian Morales that seeks to clarify who may and may not adopt children. Senator Morales’s proposal would convoke a national referendum on amending Article 44 of the Constitution to specify that only heterosexual couples who are married or have a civil union may adopt a child.
Members of the transgender community cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept government-issued identification with transgender individuals’ names and photographs. Some transgender individuals complained that it was difficult for them to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof that they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed that discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity remained a problem. In addition there were instances where authorities denied medical services to transgender individuals.
Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of LGBTI persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed that transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in August that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms. Specifically, the court recommended prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in educational environments and increasing training on these issues for the educational community. The court also decreed that the autonomy of schools has constitutional limitations and the National Service of Learning (SENA) must adapt its activities to respect and promote gender identity and sexual orientation.
As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least 346 alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals that occurred since January 1. Colombia Diversa, an NGO focused on addressing violence and discrimination due to sexual orientation, claimed at least 21 killings during the year through September 2 due to prejudice regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Police arrested two individuals in connection with the killings.
Colombia Diversa also reported 10 cases, involving 15 victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals. According to NGOs working on LGBTI problems, these attacks occurred frequently, but victims did not pursue cases due to fear of retaliation. NGOs also reported several cases of threats against human rights defenders working on LGBTI issues, including the killing of a transgender activist in June in Riohacha, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against the LGBTI community.
The manual of administrative procedures for blood banks issued by the Ministry of Health states that, to protect the recipient of a transfusion from HIV/AIDS, it excludes those donors who had “male homosexual relations in the past 15 years.” In 2012 the Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Health to remove selection criteria based on the sexual orientation of donors, but the regulation reportedly was not changed as of September.
The Center for Historical Memory released and disseminated a first-of-its-kind report, Annihilate Differences: LGBTI Populations in the Colombian Armed Conflict, detailing the effects of the country’s internal armed conflict on the LGBTI community.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In the most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.