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  HOME | Colombia (Click here for more)

Torture Widespread in Colombia, Rights Groups Say

GENEVA – The use of torture is generalized and systematic in Colombia, human rights activists from the Andean nation said here Wednesday.

Representatives of the Colombian Coalition Against Torture held a a press conference in Geneva to discuss the report the group is presenting this week before a U.N. rights panel here.

“Torture continues to be generalized and systematic in Colombia. It is perpetrated by the Public Force, by the paramilitaries and by the guerrillas, but the party principally responsible for these acts is the state,” said Isabelle Heyer, a member of the Colombian Jurists Commission.

In its Alternative Report, the coalition cites 337 instances of torture in Colombia between July 2003 and June 2008, up from 187 during the previous five-year period.

Half of the 2003-2008 cases can be blamed on security forces, while another 42 percent are attributable to the right-wing militias, Heyer said.

She said sexual violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive modes of torture, calling it “an habitual, systematic and invisible practice, which enjoys impunity in the majority of cases and whose principal perpetrators are soldiers and police.”

Another member of the anti-torture coalition, Jahel Quiroga, said that in more than 40 years of internal conflict, “there has never been a period as traumatic as the one we’re living now, with the demobilization of the paramilitaries, responsible for thousands of murders that are remaining unpunished.”

He was referring to Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law, under which most of the right-wing gunmen who took part in a peace process with the government have escaped any legal accountability for the atrocities carried out by the militias.

The militias, organized in the AUC federation, arose in the mid-1980s to protect landowners and businesses from Marxist rebels, but degenerated into a fractious coalition of death squads whose chiefs grew rich from drug trafficking, land grabs and extortion.

Paramilitaries were responsible for at least three-quarters of the more than 27,000 forced disappearances in Colombia over the past two decades, a government prosecutor said last month, while a preliminary report compiled last summer blamed the AUC for 21,000 deaths since 1987.

“According to the government, 31,000 paramilitaries demobilized, but only those who had open court cases had to give statements. But 19,000 of them didn’t have open cases, so they have had total impunity,” Quiroga said Wednesday in Geneva.

Of the remainder, he noted, only 600 have testified, and those men “have confessed to the worst crimes one could imagine.”

“And to finish off, 18 of the biggest criminals were extradited to the United States on charges for drug trafficking, not for crimes against humanity,” Quiroga said.

His colleague, Agustin Jimenez, complained that Colombia’s judges, particularly the members of the Supreme Court, face harassment from President Alvaro Uribe’s government, recipient of roughly $500 million a year in mainly military aid from the United States.

“We have waited three years for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to respond to our demands and decide to open an investigation process on Colombia, after confirming that the judiciary is threatened and cannot act with freedom and independence,” Jimenez said. EFE

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