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Title:  Colombia Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996 
 
 
 
 
                                        COLOMBIA 
 
 
Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy in which the Liberal 
and Conservative parties have long dominated the political scene.  
President Ernesto Samper was the Liberal Party's candidate in the 
relatively peaceful presidential and congressional elections held in 
1994.  Throughout 1995 Samper was beset by allegations that he knowingly 
received campaign contributions from drug traffickers. 
 
Responsibility for internal security resides in the Ministry of Defense 
which oversees both the armed forces and the National Police.  The 
Department of Administrative Security, which is responsible for national 
security intelligence, reports directly to the President.  Civil unrest 
and lawlessness continued to dominate society.  The police and the armed 
forces were responsible for widespread human rights abuse. 
 
On August 16, President Samper declared a 90-day state of emergency 
claiming this action was designed to combat the ever-increasing violence 
in the country.  On October 26, the Constitutional Court struck down the 
declaration as unconstitutional for lack of justification that the level 
of violence was extraordinary.  Following the November 2 assassination 
of prominent politician Alvaro Gomez Hurtado, the President again 
declared a state of emergency.  For 35 of the past 44 years, the 
Government has operated under declared states of emergency which enable 
the executive to rule by decree.  These decrees frequently set aside 
temporarily fundamental judicial guarantees of due process, and 
sometimes have been incorporated into permanent law by subsequent 
legislative action.  Several violent guerrilla organizations continued 
to operate, despite regular attempts by the Government to negotiate 
peaceful settlements.  Military cooperation with paramilitary groups in 
remote regions of the country continued. 
 
Colombia has a mixed private and public sector economy.  The Government 
continued an economic liberalization program and the privatization of 
selected public industries.  Crude petroleum rivals coffee as the 
principal export and, as a result of the August 1994 discovery of 
immense natural gas reserves, petroleum and gas exports play an even 
greater role.  Narcotics traffickers controlled vast numbers of 
enterprises. 
 
In an all-out campaign against narcotics traffickers, a special task 
force arrested six top leaders of the Cali cartel.  While violence by 
narcotics traffickers against the population declined from previous 
years, internecine violence among the trafficking organizations still 
accounted for substantial numbers of homicides, kidnapings, cases of 
torture, and attacks against the military and the police.  Guerrillas 
and narcotics traffickers collaborated, especially in rural regions of 
the country.  Their targets included politicians, labor organizers, 
human rights monitors, and--overwhelmingly--peasant farmers. 
 
The Government took steps to reduce human rights violations.  The 
President publicly acknowledged government responsibility for the 1989-
90 massacres in Trujillo.  A special commission submitted a draft penal 
reform proposal, which was designed to end the traditional sense of 
impunity enjoyed by military and police personnel implicated in human 
rights violations.  The Government announced the formation of a special 
task force to combat paramilitary groups, and several paramilitary 
leaders were arrested.  Despite these arrests, however, paramilitary 
activity grew.  In addition, both government and nongovernment sources 
acknowledge that many military and police officers still regard human 
rights with hostility and believe that the Government granted the 
guerrillas excessive concessions during the peace process.  This 
process, which many hoped would bring guerrilla factions to the 
negotiating table, came to a virtual halt in August, largely because of 
guerrilla intransigence. 
 
The number of human rights violations committed by government security 
forces declined, but the overall human rights situation in the country 
remained critical, with a variety of institutions--including the police 
and the military--continuing to commit abuses such as political and 
extrajudicial killings, kidnapings, torture, and other physical 
mistreatment.  The Government allowed the military to exercise 
jurisdiction over military personnel accused of abuses, who in most 
cases were not prosecuted.  Other perpetrators of human rights abuses 
include antigovernment guerrilla groups, narcotics traffickers, and 
paramilitary groups.  Rampant impunity is the core of the country's 
human rights violations:  97 percent of all crimes go unpunished.  In a 
major setback for human rights, Attorney General for Human Rights 
Hernando Valencia Villa resigned in August under pressure from members 
of the military hierarchy.  He subsequently left the country, alleging 
that he had received numerous threats against his life. 
 
The overburdened judiciary has a huge case backlog.  Discrimination 
against women, minorities, and the indigenous continued.  Violence 
against women, children and indigenous people also remained commonplace.  
Vigilante groups, often supported or ignored by the police and the 
military, engaged in "social cleansing"--the killing of street children, 
prostitutes, homosexuals, and others deemed socially undesirable. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
The total number of murders in Colombia appeared to rise slightly during 
the first half of 1995 compared with the  
 
corresponding period in 1994.  According to the National Police, there 
were 83.71 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 1994, considerably 
higher than the 5-year average of approximately 78 per 100,000.  When 
President Samper declared the state of emergency in August, he stated 
that 19,450 Colombians were the victims of homicide during the first 6 
months of 1995 alone.  This figure gave rise to considerable controversy 
because it greatly exceeded National Police statistics.  Many critics 
suggested the administration used the higher figure to strengthen its 
rationale for the state of emergency.  Nevertheless, most observers 
expected the number of homicides to exceed 30,000 by year's end. 
 
The police and the judiciary have insufficient resources to investigate 
most killings properly.  It is also often difficult to identify 
precisely which warring party was responsible for which violent 
incident.  As a result, it is frequently hard to distinguish between 
political and nonpolitical murders.  According to the Bogota-based 
nongovernmental organization (NGO) Justice and Peace, there were 1,288 
known or presumed politically motivated murders between January and 
June.  The Andean Commission of Jurists (CAJSC) estimated that 4 of the 
10 victims murdered each day were targeted for their involvement with 
political, labor, or social causes.  Evidence was sufficient to 
establish a probable perpetrator in only 35 percent of those cases.  Of 
the perpetrators identified, 45 percent were members of paramilitary 
groups, 27.5 percent were guerrillas, and 24 percent belonged to the 
armed forces or state security forces.  CAJSC claimed that whereas 97 
percent of all violent crimes go unpunished, the impunity rate for 
politically motivated crimes is even higher.  Although the number of 
political or presumed political murders committed by the military and 
the police fell by approximately 30 percent during the months of January 
through June compared with the corresponding 1994 figures, security 
forces continued to be implicated in cases of extrajudicial killings. 
 
The independent, state-sponsored Office of the Public Ombudsman for 
Human Rights (Defensoria del Pueblo) reported receiving 268 complaints 
against the army alleging murder, forced disappearances, and threats 
between January and June.  Some of the complaints referred to 1994 
incidents.  There were no reports of mass summary executions by the 
military or police forces. 
 
The Public Ombudsman for Human Rights reported that it received 257 
complaints between January and June implicating the police in arbitrary 
killings.  In August police shot and killed a small-scale coffee farmer 
during a demonstration in Bogota, reflecting the police tendency to 
adopt an adversarial stance toward demonstrations rather than to 
facilitate them while ensuring public safety.  Human rights monitors 
also implicated the police in incidents of social cleansing--including 
attacks and killings--directed against individuals deemed socially 
undesirable such as drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, beggars, 
and street children.  They alleged not only that police failed to pursue 
the social-cleansing death squads and tolerated their presence in high-
crime areas, but that off-duty policemen actually participated in social 
cleansing operations.  The Center for Investigations and Popular 
Research (CINEP) reported 118 victims in 40 incidents of what it 
considered social cleansing between January and June.  In November the 
Supreme Court sentenced two policemen to 20 years' imprisonment for the 
1990 murders of two indigents in Bucaramanga, Santander department.  The 
Court determined that the two officials were part of a social-cleansing 
network active in the area. 
 
While incidents of extrajudicial killings by police and military forces 
decreased, both government and nongovernment sources agree that 
extrajudicial killings by paramilitary groups increased significantly, 
often with the alleged complicity of individual soldiers or of entire 
military units.  The groups targeted teachers, labor leaders, community 
activists, mayors of towns and villages, and, above all, peasants.  Many 
of these victims included members of indigenous communities. 
 
The leftist coalition party known as the Patriotic Union (UP) lost over 
2,000 of its members over the last 10 years in what the UP perceives as 
a campaign of assassination waged against its leadership.  UP leader 
Hernan Motta is the party's member of the Senate, replacing UP leader 
Manuel Vargas Cepeda who was assassinated in 1994.  Initial reports 
indicated that Cepeda's assassins might have been members of a 
paramilitary group, but the investigation of his murder was still 
underway at year's end.  The UP implicated members of the state security 
forces in many of the murders, but no final determination as to the 
perpetrators has been reached.  The UP brought a complaint, still 
pending, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that 
charges the Government with "action or omission" in what the UP terms 
"political genocide" against the UP and the Communist Party. 
 
Although most paramilitary killings remain unsolved, in July members of 
the army's 7th Brigade and the Prosecutor General's Technical 
Investigative Corps arrested Arnulfo Castillo Agudelo, a paramilitary 
leader implicated in the murders of an estimated 100 civilians since 
1993 in Meta department.  He was alleged to be a key figure in the 
extensive paramilitary apparatus reportedly funded by emerald magnate 
Victor Carranza, who has successfully avoided legal scrutiny.  
Authorities continued to search for Fidel Castano, believed to be the 
leader of paramilitary groups operating in Uraba. 
 
Seven massacres in Cesar department from January through September 
claimed the lives of 30 civilians, including farm laborers and 
organizers.  The governor of Cesar attributed the massacres to the 
ongoing conflict between paramilitary and guerrilla forces, whose 
victims were typically innocent civilians.  In January paramilitary 
forces killed seven and apparently forcibly kidnaped two citizens of the 
Aguachica region of Cesar department in a continuation of a series of 
killings and disappearances in that community that began in October 
1994.  An official investigative commission determined that paramilitary 
groups active in Aguachica maintained close relations with commanders in 
the army and other state security organizations.  This investigation 
resulted in the arrest of the army major who commanded the army base. 
 
Meta department is another region that saw an escalation of paramilitary 
activity.  Paramilitary forces carried out at least 7 of the 19 
extrajudicial murders between October 1994 and March 1995.  Their 
victims included three members of the leftist Patriotic Union Party and 
various members of peasant organizations.  The Meta Civic Committee for 
Human Rights reported that known paramilitary leaders freely appeared in 
public meetings.  Having suffered the murders of 4, the forced 
disappearances of 3, and the dislocation of 25 of its members since 
1991, the Meta Civic Committee finally closed down its office in 
Villavicencio because of increasing death threats against its members.  
Instead, it opened a Bogota office with a small staff.  At the same 
time, the Government established a special commission to seek a solution 
to the violence in Meta. 
 
The banana-producing region of Uraba in Antioquia saw major conflicts.  
The convergence of paramilitary groups, guerrilla forces, narcotics 
traffickers, arms traffickers, and common criminals created a climate of 
unrelenting violence from which the population has suffered for the past 
8 years.  However, direct armed engagements among these groups or 
between them and the military, were rare.  The military commander in 
Chigorodo reported that two murders per day were normal for that 
township.  The town of Necocli alone suffered 130 murders, 122 
disappearances, and the dislocation of 1,307 families during the 
February to April period.  In January a paramilitary group identifying 
itself as the Self-Defense Forces of Fidel Castano tortured and murdered 
six alleged guerrillas in Necocli. 
 
According to estimates by Justice and Peace, guerrillas were responsible 
for the extrajudicial killings of at least 64 civilians between January 
and June.  In the Uraba massacres of August and September alone, 
guerrillas were responsible for over 60 of the approximately 90 murders.  
To justify the executions, guerrillas regularly charged that their 
victims were either informants for the army or related in some other way 
to the State, or that they simply refused to support the guerrillas' 
operations. 
 
The National Liberation Army (ELN), too, killed scores of civilians.  In 
May ELN forces killed five peasants in Sucre for allegedly collaborating 
with the army.  Also in May, ELN forces killed five teenage girls and 
one woman in Arauca for fraternizing with soldiers.  In June ELN forces 
bombed a building next to an orphanage, wounding several children.  In 
March the Minister of Defense formally denounced the ELN before the 
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its persistent use of land 
mines.  Killings of noncombatants by guerrilla groups consistently 
outnumbered casualties inflicted upon the military in armed engagements. 
 
The President publicly acknowledged government responsibility for the 
Trujillo massacres of 1989 and 1990, in which over 100 local residents 
were killed.  As a result, some of the victims' surviving family members 
received indemnification from the Government.  Investigation of the 
Trujillo massacres continued.  A special government antidrug cartel task 
force captured a leading drug kingpin implicated in the Trujillo 
massacres, but a central figure in the massacres, an army lieutenant 
colonel, was discharged from the army without criminal sanction. 
 
  b.  Disappearance 
 
Colombia continued to suffer from extremely high overall rates of 
disappearance and kidnaping.  Human rights officials in the President's 
executive offices confirmed approximately 1,200 reported kidnaping 
cases.  The Office of the Defender of the People received 98 reports of 
forced disappearances attributed to organized criminals, police, 
military, paramilitary, and guerrilla forces between January and June.  
Authorities believe that the actual number of kidnaping victims was 
significantly higher because many families choose not to report 
kidnapings in order to protect ransom negotiations.  Due to the complex 
interplay of military, paramilitary, guerrillas, and narcotics-based 
forces involved in the country's internal conflicts, it was often 
difficult to distinguish between disappearances for political motives 
and kidnapings for profit.  It is clear, however, that guerrillas were 
responsible for approximately half of all these crimes.  The guerrillas 
deny that their practice of kidnaping constitutes the taking of 
hostages.  In June FARC agents murdered two American missionaries held 
since 1994.  Arrests or prosecutions in any of these cases were rare.  
In September President Samper appointed an antikidnaping czar to oversee 
increased efforts to investigate and prevent kidnapings. 
 
Colombian law codifies the act of forced disappearance as a crime.  
However, the law relaxes the standard when forced disappearances have 
been committed by military or police personnel, classifying them as acts 
performed in the line of duty.  Moreover, the proposed reform of the 
military penal code submitted in August left unresolved the definition 
of an act of service or act committed in the line of duty. 
 
For the first time in Colombian history, an army officer-- 
Brigade Commander Alvaro Velandia Hurtado--was discharged from active 
duty in August for official misconduct by failing to prevent or 
investigate the forced disappearance, torture, and murder of an M-19 
guerrilla in 1987.  The commander challenged the dismissal ordered by 
the Attorney General for Human Rights after an exhaustive 5-year 
investigation.  Within days of the first ruling reversing the dismissal, 
President Samper personally signed an award which the Ministry of 
Defense presented to the commander.  A higher court supported the 
dismissal, however, and the President was obliged to fire the commander.  
Attorney General for Human Rights Hernando Valencia Villa resigned under 
pressure from the military hierarchy and the Attorney General and left 
Colombia amid reports of threats against his security.  At year's end, 
the Prosecutor General's newly created human rights unit initiated an 
investigation to examine further the forced disappearance and murder of 
this M-19 guerrilla. 
 
  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The law prohibits torture, but reports of incidents of police and 
military beatings and torture of detainees continued throughout the 
year.  These abuses often occurred in connection with illegal detentions 
in the context of counterinsurgency or counternarcotics operations.  
Paramilitary groups operating in rural areas were also responsible for 
instances of torture and sometimes took credit for their macabre work, 
leaving menacing notes on the bodies of their victims.  In many cases, 
however, it was difficult to identify the perpetrators of torture since 
cadavers which bore the traces of physical torture were rarely subject 
to extensive forensic investigations.  In May the Attorney General's 
office brought charges against 7 members of the army, 17 members of the 
National Police, and 3 detectives of the Department of Administrative 
Security for their presumed participation in incidents of torture 
throughout the country. 
 
Prison conditions are harsh, especially for those prisoners with reduced 
means of support.  Overcrowding and dangerous sanitary and health 
conditions remained serious problems.  The International Committee of 
the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to have access to most prisons and police 
and military detention centers.  However, the ICRC noted that local or 
regional commanders did not always prepare mandatory detention registers 
or follow notification procedures.  As a result, accurate detainee 
counts do not exist. 
 
  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution includes several provisions designed to prevent illegal 
detention.  Suspects must be brought before a judge within 36 hours of 
their arrest, and they have a right to petition for habeas corpus from 
any judge.  That petition, too, must be acted upon within 36 hours of 
its application.  Despite these legal protections, instances of 
arbitrary detention continued, and a large percentage of the prison 
population remained in an undetermined pretrial status.  Under the state 
of emergency, preventive detention was legal with or without prior 
judicial authorization, but authorities were required to bring the 
detainees before a judicial officer within 36 hours of their arrest.  
Although authorities were able to increase the number of arrests, they 
were unable to bring the detainees before the judicial authorities 
within the required time, thus holding citizens without any 
justification before eventually releasing them.  The Government not only 
failed in its stated objective to get criminals off the streets but also 
violated the rights of suspects in the process.  The Government ignored 
the impact which its declaration of a state of emergency would have on a 
judicial system that could not even address the needs of citizens under 
normal circumstances. 
 
Exile is not practiced. 
 
  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The judicial system is largely independent of the executive and 
legislative branches, both in theory and practice.  It continued to 
experience growing pains as the various courts, prosecutor's offices, 
and ministries attempted to define their roles and streamline their 
operations following the judicial reorganization provided for in the 
1991 Constitution.  The court system includes the Supreme Court of 
Justice, the Council of State, the Constitutional Court, the Judiciary 
Council, and tribunal courts.  The 1991 Constitution modified the 
structure of the judicial branch by creating the office of the 
Prosecutor General as an independent prosecutorial body.  Prosecutors 
bring criminal cases before the tribunal courts.  A National Tribunal 
serves as the first court of appeal in these cases.  The Supreme Court 
of Justice serves as the appellate court for decisions by the National 
Tribunal; it is also the court in which elected officials are tried.  
The Council of State is the appellate court for civil cases.  The 
Judicial Council is the administrative arm of the judicial system.  The 
Constitutional Court adjudicates cases of constitutionality. 
 
The judiciary has long been subject to threats and intimidation when 
dealing with narcotics and paramilitary cases.  With the decline in 
drug-related terrorism, there was a corresponding decrease in violent 
attacks against members of the judiciary.  Nevertheless, in June, 
unknown assassins tortured and murdered family court judge Luis 
Guillermo Acevedo.  Justice and Peace reported that, of the 10 murders 
which targeted lawyers between January and June, 7 were presumed to be 
politically motivated.  In September armed gunmen attempted to 
assassinate President Samper's legal counsel; the counsel was wounded, 
and two government security escorts were killed in the incident. 
 
The 1991 Constitution formalized the "regional" or "public order" 
jurisdictions, in which anonymous or "faceless" judges and prosecutors 
handle narcotics and terrorism cases.  Human rights groups continued to 
charge that this system violated basic legal norms and procedural 
rights.  Prosecutors, judges, and witnesses agree, however, that the 
protection provided by a faceless system is essential to any progress in 
investigations and prosecution of human rights cases involving 
massacres, forced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and 
other acts of extreme violence.  As in past years, the judiciary 
remained overburdened and often in a state of chaos, staggering under a 
backlog of over 1 million cases. 
 
The Constitution specifically provides for the right to due process.  
The accused has the right to representation by counsel, although 
representation for the indigenous and the indigent historically has been 
inadequate.  The Government continued to labor under staffing and 
funding shortages in an effort to develop a credible public defender 
system. 
 
The Attorney General investigates some allegations of human rights 
abuses by members of the state security apparatus, drawing upon a 
network of government human rights ombudsmen in over 1,000 
municipalities.  However, the Attorney General can only recommend 
administrative sanctions; police and military personnel are rarely 
punished commensurately for human rights abuses.  The Office of the 
Defender of the People has the constitutionally assigned duty to ensure 
the promotion and exercise of human rights but is severely underfunded.  
During the year, it completed expansion of regional offices to serve 
citizens throughout the country.  The number of cases referred to it 
increased by almost 30 percent, largely because of its expanded reach 
and increased public awareness of its function.  The President has a 
special adviser for human rights issues who investigates allegations of 
abuse and disseminates human rights educational information. 
 
In a major effort to end impunity for human rights violations, the 
Prosecutor General's office opened a special human rights unit 
consisting of faceless prosecutors assigned to major cases.  The 
Ministry of Defense also has a Secretariat for Human Rights which has 
instituted human rights advisory offices at brigade level, developed 
human rights training programs, and coordinated the project to reform 
the military Penal Code.  The National Police, which is under the 
direction of the Minister of Defense, instituted a Special Office of 
Oversight to monitor human rights violations by the police and expanded 
human rights training.  The new director of the National Police ordered 
a major purge of corrupt and incompetent police officers.  In general, 
the purge was welcomed by the public and by human rights observers, 
although some feared that the dismissed police officers would turn to 
crime if given no means to find alternative employment. 
 
While a late 1993 reform of the Criminal Procedures Code addressed 
certain procedural shortcomings within the system, problems remained.  
It was still difficult for defense attorneys to impeach or cross-examine 
anonymous witnesses, and often they did not have unimpeded access to the 
State's evidence.  Supporters of the regional jurisdictions argued that 
it was better to address those shortcomings than to abolish the system.  
As a result of such considerations, judges may no longer base a 
conviction solely on the testimony of an anonymous witness.  Human 
rights groups also criticized the Government's policy of allowing major 
narcotics traffickers to surrender voluntarily and negotiate their 
sentences.  These critics charged that "small-time" defendants were at a 
disadvantage under the system while powerful criminals received 
deferential treatment.  They also charged that the system, lacking 
resources, could not effectively prosecute the major guerrilla leaders 
and was left to handle only low-level criminals suspected of subversive 
activity.  Prosecutors reported, moreover, that potential witnesses in 
major cases often doubted the Government's ability to protect their 
anonymity.   
 
Colombia does not imprison citizens for political beliefs or expression 
of political convictions.  However, the ICRC reported that it monitored 
1,800 cases of citizens imprisoned under accusations of rebellion or 
aiding and abetting the insurgency, which are punishable under law.  
Many of these prisoners were noncombatants who in some cases were held 
for months before formal charges were filed. 
 
  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The law generally requires a judicial order for authorities to enter a 
private home, except in cases of hot pursuit.  In remote regions, the 
military forces have civilian prosecutorial units delegated to them.  
Human rights groups charged that these delegated units were 
unconstitutional, and Congress refused to grant them permanent status.  
Nonetheless, there were credible reports that they continued to 
function, often facilitating army searches without bothering to apply 
for search warrants from the courts.  To address this problem, the 
Ministry of Defense increased training in legal search procedures that 
comply with constitutional and human rights. 
 
A prosecutor must authorize telephone monitoring and the interception of 
mail.  This protection extends to prisoners held in jails.  However, 
various state authorities tap phones without obtaining authorization. 
 
  g.  Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in 
Internal Conflicts 
 
The Government devoted much attention to the internal conflict.  The 
military forces, paramilitary groups, and particularly guerrilla 
organizations violated international humanitarian law in Colombia's 
internal conflict.  On May 18, the Constitutional Court formally 
declared Law 171 of 1994 to be constitutional; this law ratified without 
reservation Protocol II of the Geneva Convention.  By declaring the 
Protocol to be equally applicable to both armed insurgents and 
government forces, the Court challenged those guerrilla groups who have 
refused to cease kidnaping, deploying land mines, and recruiting minors. 
 
In February military helicopters and planes attacked the village of 
Puerto Trujillo, Meta.  They shot and killed one 49-year-old woman and 
wounded several townspeople, including a 5-year-old child.  The military 
claimed that they believed guerrillas were in the village.  A commission 
comprised of both government and nongovernmental members determined that 
the military received no return fire and that no guerrillas were present 
in the village at the time. 
 
A persistent, if unofficial, emphasis by the army on body counts as a 
means of assessing field performance is a leading cause of violations of 
international humanitarian law.  Both NGO and military sources reported 
that some units placed weapons in the hands of dead bodies in an effort 
to create the impression that they had engaged in combat as members of 
guerrillas forces.  In April military authorities relieved an army 
lieutenant colonel of his command and placed him under house arrest for 
murdering local indigents and claiming that they were guerrillas killed 
in action.  Authorities also imprisoned seven noncommissioned officers 
on murder charges in the same case.  At year's end, the Prosecutor 
General's Office was still investigating the case. 
 
Paramilitary groups, who often allegedly operated with individual 
soldiers or entire military units, usually carried out their violent 
acts with impunity.  In September the Intercongregational Commission of 
Justice and Peace reported cases of torture, beatings, and death threats 
against residents of several rural communities in Santander at the hands 
of paramilitary forces working for a local landowner.  Local military 
units tolerated these acts and, in some instances, participated in them.  
However, peasants whom paramilitary forces had driven out of the 
community of La Leal were able to return to their homes under the 
protection of a special army unit.  In response, paramilitary members 
threatened they would again drive out the residents of La Leal as soon 
as their military protectors left.  The report faulted civilian 
authorities for refusing to investigate charges brought by the peasants, 
thus allowing the 8-year saga of violence in the region to continue 
unabated. 
 
The violence reached a peak when paramilitary and guerrilla elements 
killed some 90 civilians in a series of massacres between August 12 and 
September 20.  With unusual speed, the authorities arrested 13 
paramilitary soldiers within a week of the first of the massacres.  
Military authorities, regionally elected officials, the Catholic Church, 
and former guerrilla leaders agreed that of the six massacres during 
this period, five were probably part of a campaign by the Revolutionary 
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) against members and sympathizers of the 
Hope, Peace, and Freedom Party.  (These are former members of The 
Popular Liberation Army (EPL) who laid down their arms in the early 
1990's.)  Critics charged that the army had advance knowledge of the 
FARC plan to carry out the August 29 massacre but failed to take proper 
measures to protect the population.  The majority of the FARC's victims 
were banana workers. 
 
There were no reports of armed confrontations between the FARC and 
paramilitary groups, despite the fact that the declared purpose of the 
FARC's so-called dignity plan was to combat paramilitary groups.  The 
FARC massacre of September 20 took the lives of at least 25 banana 
workers, including 5 women and 2 minors.  After summarily executing the 
workers, the FARC mutilated the bodies of five or six of the dead.  In 
response, the Government declared martial law in the Uraba region and 
pledged to deploy large numbers of troops to protect the civilian 
population.  A government proposal to establish civilian security 
cooperatives met with considerable resistance from local community 
leaders and human rights observers who believed that such cooperatives 
would raise the level of violence in the area. 
 
The loosely organized guerrilla groups of the Simon Bolivar Coordinating 
Board, which include the FARC and ELN, committed a host of violations 
against humanitarian law, among them extrajudicial killings and 
kidnapings (see Section 1.b.), as well as bombings and other acts of 
sabotage.  In March various FARC units attacked the headquarters of the 
Agrarian Bank, the Coffee Growers Bank, and the local police in the town 
of Ituango, Antioquia.  They took hostages, wounded several citizens, 
and killed one policeman and three civilians, including the 11-year-old 
daughter of the police commander.  The Jaime Bateman Cayon guerrillas 
(dissident M-19 members who refused their leadership's order to lay down 
their arms in 1990) destroyed installations at the Center for Sugar Cane  
 
Research.  In July the ELN injured seven children at an orphanage for 
girls when it bombed an adjacent police station.  Other acts of sabotage 
and deployment of land mines by the guerrillas showed an equal lack of 
concern for the civilian population.  In September a car bomb wounded 
several citizens and caused extensive damage to the Santander Financial 
Corporation building in Bucaramanga.  The governor of Santander reported 
that guerrilla organizations declared that they would increase terrorist 
acts in Bucaramanga. 
 
Soldiers and police continued to be targeted by drug traffickers, 
guerrillas, and common criminals on a daily basis.  For example, in May 
FARC-placed land mines in Tolima killed six soldiers.  In July FARC 
guerrillas attacked the village of Sueva, Cundinamarca, tortured and 
murdered all five members of its police force, and set fire to the 
bodies.  In another July attack, the ELN dynamited a public road in El 
Playon, Santander, killing seven policemen.  In August in Miraflores 
guerrillas killed 6 and wounded 29 antinarcotics police in a 72-hour 
attack that nearly destroyed the village.  After the attack, two army 
soldiers died while attempting to deactivate landmines.  The guerrillas 
also fired on a Red Cross plane as it evacuated women and children from 
Miraflores.  In December a guerrilla attack on a police unit stationed 
near Bogota resulted in the death of an 18-month-old child.  
Antinarcotics police reported continuing confrontations with 
paramilitary groups in Tolima. 
 
Internecine violence among guerrilla groups has a long history.  In 
August a regional judge sentenced dissident FARC leader Javier Delgado 
to 19 years in prison for the 1985 massacre of 180 rival FARC guerrillas 
in Tacueyo, Cauca. 
 
Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
All citizens have the right to seek a judicial injunction or motion 
(tutela) in cases involving violations of basic constitutional rights.  
This provides all persons and organizations, including the media, with a 
mechanism to denounce both private and government violations of basic 
constitutional rights. 
 
The authorities generally respected these constitutionally protected 
rights but were prone to apply subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) 
pressure on certain media when their core interests were threatened.  
Most media, however, were disinclined to bend.  For example, in April 
journalists at leading news magazine Semana complained publicly that 
agents representing the President's office inquired about the contents 
of an upcoming article which was to criticize President Samper.  The 
President's office immediately denied attempting to intimidate Semana 
staff, but the denial was not considered credible.  Other signs of 
government efforts to influence the media included occasional calls on 
patriotic grounds to limit negative reporting which might hurt 
Colombia's image in the world and implied threats that government 
advertising might be withdrawn.  In spite of these efforts, print and 
broadcast media regularly criticized the Government without 
recrimination.  The privately owned print media published a wide 
spectrum of political viewpoints and often voiced harsh antigovernment 
opinions without administrative reprisals.  The Government imposed some 
restrictions on electronic media coverage of incidents of public 
disorder and of drug terrorist activity and reserved the right to 
prohibit coverage of certain news events that could affect state 
security. 
 
Based on the Government's Decree 221 issued in January, the National 
Penitentiary and Prison Institute issued a resolution in March 
prohibiting journalists from visiting inmates of high security 
facilities. 
 
Some observers charged that anticorruption legislation passed by the 
Congress on May 30 directly violated constitutional guarantees of 
freedom of the press.  They suggested that the restrictions imposed upon 
media reporting of pending anticorruption cases deprived the public of 
its right to know about misconduct by public officials.  Under the state 
of emergency the Government may regulate the media only if the 
information will endanger lives or directly induce public disturbances.  
The Government may use television and radio stations as it deems 
appropriate but may not prohibit reports of human rights violations.  
The Government may not establish an official censorship board, but 
accredited media associations are to act as a self-regulatory tribunal. 
 
In February publisher Juan B. Fernandez escaped assassination when a 
contract killer revealed that two former agents of the National Police 
investigatory apparatus SIJIN (fired in 1992 for alleged involvement in 
the murder of seven citizens of Barranquilla) had hired him to 
assassinate Fernandez.  In April the Bogota circle of journalists 
publicly condemned the threats and intimidation suffered in particular 
by journalists covering narcotics trafficking.  In May Ombudsman for 
Human Rights Jaime Cordoba Trivino reported that 107 journalists had 
been murdered since 1980.  In December hit men in Armenia, capital of 
Quindio department, assassinated Ernesto Acero Cadena, a prominent 
journalist known for his harsh criticism of corrupt officials.  While 
very few of these cases were ever definitively resolved, it was apparent 
that journalists were often victims of guerrilla groups, paramilitary 
organizations, and narcotics traffickers. 
 
The Government generally respected academic freedom, and there exists a 
wide spectrum of political activity throughout the country's 
universities.  Teachers at the elementary and secondary levels in 
guerrilla-controlled territory were often threatened and intimidated by 
local guerrillas and paramilitary groups.  Paramilitary forces killed at 
least 19 teachers in Uraba. 
 
  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and 
association, and the Government respects these rights in practice.  The 
authorities do not normally interfere with public meetings and 
demonstrations and usually grant the required permission except when 
they determine that there is imminent danger to public order.  Any 
organization is free to associate with international groups in its 
field.  NGO's criticized the Government's response to the coffee 
workers' strike in the spring and summer.  Among the incidents cited was 
the August 14 police shooting of a peasant who participated in a 
peaceful march by the small-scale coffee growers in Bogota.  In 
addition, there was police harassment and the arbitrary arrest of some 
peasant protesters in Ibague, and the use of excessive force to 
dismantle the tent city set up by the protesters. 
 
  c.  Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for complete religious freedom, and the 
Government respects this right in practice.  There is little religious 
discrimination.  Roman Catholic religious instruction is no longer 
mandatory in state schools, and a Constitutional Court decision in 1994 
found unconstitutional any official government reference to religious 
characterizations of the country.  The Government permits proselytizing 
among the indigenous population, provided it is welcome and does not 
induce members of indigenous communities to adopt changes that endanger 
their survival on traditional lands.  In May the Samper administration 
issued a regulatory decree implementing the Law on the Freedom of Cults 
which provides a mechanism for religions to obtain the status of 
recognized legal entities. 
 
  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to travel domestically 
and abroad.  Outsiders wishing to enter Indian tribes' reserves must be 
invited.  In areas where military operations against guerrillas are 
underway, police or military officials occasionally required civilians 
to obtain safe-conduct passes; guerrillas reportedly used similar means 
to restrict travel in areas under their control. 
 
Guerrilla incursions, military counterinsurgency operations, guerrilla 
and paramilitary conscription, and land seizures by narcotics 
traffickers often forced peasants to flee their homes and farms.  In its 
1995 Report on Violence and Internal Forced Displacement in Colombia, 
the Colombian Conference of Bishops noted that approximately 600,000 
Colombians, or 2 percent of the population, were displaced persons.  
Displaced persons continued to face a crucial dilemma:  while they could 
not  stay in conflict zones because of legitimate fears for their 
safety, they were rejected and perceived as an economic drain in the 
regions and cities which were their most common destinations. 
 
Colombia has had a tradition of providing political asylum since the 
1920's.  During the 1970's, Colombia granted asylum to Argentine, 
Chilean, Uruguayan, and Paraguayan citizens seeking refuge from 
dictatorial regimes in their own countries.  The Government reserves the 
right to determine eligibility for asylum, based upon its own assessment 
of the political nature of the persecution an applicant may have 
suffered.  In a controversial decision, the Government granted asylum to 
former Haitian dictator Prosper Avril, who remained in the Colombian 
embassy in Port au Prince at year's end. 
 
Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens exercise this right in regular, secret ballot elections that 
have historically been considered fair and open, although critics 
maintain that vote buying is a regular feature of elections in some 
regions.  Presidential elections are held every 4 years.  The Liberal 
and Conservative parties have long dominated the political scene with 
one or the other customarily winning the presidency.  The President 
serves only one term and may not be reelected.  All citizens are 
enfranchised at age 18.  Public employees are not permitted to 
participate in campaigns but, with the exception of the military, may 
vote.  Officially, all political parties operate freely without 
government interference.  Those that fail to garner 50,000 votes in a 
general election may lose the right to present candidates and may not 
receive funds from the Government.  However, they may reincorporate at 
any time by presenting 50,000 signatures to the National Electoral 
Board. 
 
In 1994 the country held a national presidential election as well as 
congressional, gubernatorial, and mayoral elections.  For the first 
time, the country also elected a Vice President, Humberto de la Calle, 
who ran on the Liberal party ticket with presidential candidate Ernesto 
Samper.  The office of Vice President was created by the 1991 
Constitution and replaced a less powerful "presidential designate," 
elected by congress.  Liberal party representatives dominated the 
congressional elections, providing a Liberal majority in both houses.   
 
However, bipartisan coalitions were still often necessary for the 
Liberals to enact legislation.  Throughout 1995 Samper was beset by 
allegations that he knowingly received campaign contributions from drug 
traffickers. 
 
There are no legal restrictions, and few de facto ones, on the 
participation of women or minorities in the political process.  Seven 
female senators and 19 female representatives served in Congress, 
including the First Vice President of the House of Representatives.  The 
Ministers of Labor, Environment, and Education were women, as were the 
President's advisers for social policy, human rights, and Bogota issues. 
 
Two seats in the 102-seat Senate are reserved for representatives of the 
indigenous population, and 2 in the 165-seat House of Representatives 
are reserved for citizens of African heritage.  Both the African-
Colombian and indigenous populations continued to expand their social 
and political agenda, and an indigenous politician, Jesus Pinacue, was a 
vice presidential candidate on the unsuccessful ticket of the AD/M-19 
Party in 1994.  Senator Piedad Cordoba de Castro, an African-Colombian 
woman, is a senior member of the Liberal party. 
 
Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
Human rights groups active in Colombia include the Center for 
Investigations and Popular Research, the Andean Commission of Jurists, 
the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace, the Permanent 
Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, the Episcopal Bishops 
Conference, the Latin American Institute for Alternative Legal Services, 
and Peace Brigades International. 
 
NGO's investigated and reported on a number of human rights abuses, 
including killings by FARC and ELN forces; the paramilitary murders of 
19 teachers in Uraba; the lack of military protection in Uraba; the 
paramilitary persecution of the Meta Civic Committee in Sabana de Torres 
and of the Barrancabermeja Human Rights Committee known as CREDHOS; the 
guerrilla and paramilitary campaigns against Hope, Peace, and Freedom in 
Uraba; and the government response to the coffee growers' strike.  NGO's 
were nearly unanimous in their criticism of the declaration of the state 
of emergency.  In August the NGO members of the Joint Commission on 
Human Rights formed in 1994 withdrew from the Commission as a protest 
against the state of emergency as well as President Samper's approval of 
an award for General Alvaro Velandia (see Section 1.b.). 
 
The Government generally did not interfere with the work of human rights 
NGO's.  These NGO's were often threatened and intimidated by the 
guerrillas, paramilitary groups, or individual members of the police and 
military forces.  Many prominent human rights monitors worked under 
constant fear for their physical safety. 
 
When President Samper took office in August 1994, he publicly admitted 
that the human rights situation reflected a "shameful and troubling 
reality."  He also pledged to work closely with representatives of the 
ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross and declared an "open door" policy with 
respect to international and local human rights NGO's.  In general, the 
Samper administration abided by that pledge.  However, the relationship 
deteriorated over the course of the year for a number of reasons.  Human 
rights observers and many community leaders believed that the Ministry 
of Defense pilot project to institute rural civilian defense 
cooperatives legitimized vigilante justice.  Despite positive steps such 
as the historic acknowledgment of government responsibility in the 
Trujillo massacres, a corps of government human rights monitors and 
advisers was often on the losing side in policy disputes.  The 
resignation of the Attorney General for Human Rights and the decoration 
of the general he had accused of human rights abuses sent a negative 
signal about the administration's support for the government human 
rights apparatus.  President Samper's declaration of the state of 
emergency further strained his administration's relationship with NGO's. 
 
On October 27, the U.N. Committee on Human Rights formally declared the 
Government responsible for the 1987 arrest, disappearance, torture, and 
subsequent murder of Nydia Erika Bautista de Arellana.  In another case, 
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued on December 8 a finding 
of government responsibility in the 1989 disappearances and presumed 
deaths of Isidro Caballero and Maria del Carmen Santana.  At year's end, 
both cases were under criminal investigation by the Prosecutor General's 
office. 
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, 
sex, religion, disability, language, or social status.  In practice, 
however, many of these provisions are not enforced. 
 
The Government does not discriminate against homosexuals, although there 
are relatively few open ones among the political and business elite of 
the country.  Unofficial, societal discrimination undeniably exists.  
Homosexuals are often listed as victims of social cleansing.  Those 
targeted by social- 
cleansing groups are almost exclusively involved in the sex industry. 
 
  Women 
 
Rape and other acts of violence against women are pervasive in society, 
and like other crimes, are seldom prosecuted successfully.  The law 
provides relatively mild sentences, ranging from 6 months to 8 years, 
for crimes of sexual abuse and allows for significant sentence 
reductions based on the conduct of the convicted perpetrator.  In most 
cases, the assailant is released because the law permits the 
probationary release of criminals convicted of crimes carrying minimum 
sentences of less than 2 years.  The law does not penalize marital rape 
or other forms of marital sexual abuse.  Many jurists and women's 
advocates called for a reform of the law.  In May the Supreme Court 
ordered the arrest of a man who had ignored a restraining order and 
continued to sexually assault and beat his wife.  The 15-day sentence 
and fine was the first ever passed by a court for spousal abuse.  The 
Bogota police reported that, of the 170 reports of sexual abuse received 
between January and June, it could legally detain the perpetrators in 
only 36 cases.  In those cases detention was permitted by virtue of the 
fact that the crimes were committed in conjunction with other crimes. 
 
The Constitution prohibits any form of discrimination against women and 
specifically requires the authorities to "guarantee adequate and 
effective participation by women at decisionmaking levels of public 
administration."  Even prior to implementation of the 1991 Constitution, 
the law had provided women with extensive civil rights.  Despite these 
constitutional provisions, however, discrimination against women 
persists. 
 
The quasi-governmental Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) and the 
presidential adviser's Office for Youth, Women, and Family Affairs 
reported high levels of spousal and partner abuse throughout the 
country.  The ICBF conducted programs and provided refuge and counseling 
for victims of spousal abuse, but the level and amount of these services 
were dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem. 
 
According to figures published by the United Nations, women's earnings 
for nonagricultural work correspond to approximately 84.7 percent of 
men's earnings for comparable work.  Women constitute a high percentage 
of the subsistence labor work force, especially in rural areas.  Women's 
groups such as Promujer and the Association of Twenty-first Century 
Women reported that the social and economic problems of single mothers 
remained great throughout the year, despite government efforts to 
provide them with training in parenting skills, reproductive rights, and 
birth control. 
 
  Children 
 
Despite significant constitutional and legislative commitments to the 
protection of the rights of children, these were only minimally 
implemented.  The Constitution imposes the obligation on family, 
society, and the State to assist and protect children, to foster their 
development, and to assure the full exercise of these rights.  A special 
Children's Code sets forth many of these rights and establishes services 
and programs designed to enforce protection of minors. 
 
In June the Government announced a program to improve opportunities for 
youth, including obligatory environmental service, the creation of clubs 
for adolescents, employment for 150,000 teenagers, and subsidies for 
instruction and on the job training.  The Attorney General's office 
recommended better interagency coordination for child protection; better 
control of licensing agencies, schools, daycare centers and other 
organizations offering services to children; more vigilance on the part 
of government agencies to ensure compliance with the Children's Code; 
legislation to increase awareness of children's issues; and 
establishment of a network for abused children. 
 
Child prostitution was commonplace in the five major cities.  In May the 
press gave wide coverage to the discovery of a child pornography ring in 
Bogota.  The public was outraged when the police released the 
perpetrators due to the laxity of the law.  An attorney from the 
Attorney General's office investigating the case was assassinated in 
July. 
 
Children's rights were frequently abused.  Vigilante gangs often linked 
to the police killed street children in several major cities as part of 
social-cleansing killings (see Section 1.a.).  Merchants and citizens' 
groups allegedly hire off-duty police agents and contract killers to rid 
neighborhoods of children suspected to be beggars and thieves; the 
Office of the Defender of the People reported clear complicity by police 
officers in some of these killings.  In conflict zones, children were 
also often caught in crossfire between the security forces, paramilitary 
groups, and guerrilla organizations.  Deadly landmines known as "leg 
breakers" laid by guerrillas killed or mutilated many children in these 
areas.  Despite national and international condemnation, guerrilla 
groups continued to recruit minors.  A survivor of the Uraba massacre of 
September 21 reported that a boy of 10 to 12 years of age was among the 
guerrillas who killed 25 farm laborers.  Children were the most 
vulnerable victims of the mass displacement of rural populations.  In 
May nine children died of starvation in the Valencia region of Cordoba 
as they attempted to escape from paramilitary violence and guerrilla 
engagements with the army. 
 
  People With Disabilities 
 
The Constitution enumerates the fundamental social, economic, and 
cultural rights of the physically disabled, but serious practical 
impediments exist to prevent disabled persons' full participation in 
society.  There is no legislation that specifically mandates access for 
people with disabilities.  The Constitutional Court ruled in September 
that physically disabled individuals must be given access to and 
assistance at the voting stations.  In August the Constitutional Court 
ruled that the social security fund for public employees cannot refuse 
to provide services for the disabled children of its members, regardless 
of the cost involved. 
 
  Indigenous People 
 
There are approximately 82 distinct ethnic groups among the 800,000 
indigenous inhabitants.  The Constitution gives special recognition to 
the fundamental rights of indigenous people.  Under its provisions, two 
senatorial seats are reserved exclusively for indigenous representation 
and a special criminal and civil jurisdiction, based upon traditional 
community laws, functions within Indian territories.  The Ministry of 
Interior, through the Office of Indigenous Affairs, is responsible for 
protecting the territorial, cultural, and self-determination rights of 
Indians.  Ministry representatives are located in all regions of the 
country with indigenous populations and work with other governmental 
human and civil rights organizations to promote Indian interests and 
investigate violations of indigenous rights.  Nonetheless, members of 
indigenous groups suffer discrimination in the sense that they have 
traditionally been relegated to the margins of Colombian society.  Few 
opportunities exist for those who might wish to participate more fully 
in modern life. 
 
There are some 334 designated Indian reserves that are run by 
traditional Indian authority boards which handle national or local funds 
and are subject to fiscal control by the national Comptroller General.  
These boards administer their territories as municipal entities, with 
officials locally chosen or elected according to Indian tradition.  
Indigenous communities are free to educate their children in traditional 
dialects and in the observance of cultural and religious customs.  The 
Constitutional Court reaffirmed in March that indigenous men are not 
subject to the national military draft. 
 
Despite protective efforts by the Government, Indians were frequently 
the victims of violence throughout the year by government security 
forces, paramilitary groups (often sponsored by landowners), narcotics 
traffickers, and guerrillas.  In zones where the guerrillas were active, 
such as the Sierra Nevada and Valle de Cauca, the security forces often 
suspected the indigenous population of complicity with narcotics 
traffickers and guerrillas.  Most of the incidents in which Indians were 
attacked or threatened stemmed from land ownership disputes concerning 
the designated Indian reserves.  The National Land Reform Institute 
estimated that some 40 indigenous communities had lost the legal title 
to land they claimed as their own and that roughly 100 other groups had 
title claims that were not recognized or reconciled. 
 
In April, 500 members of the Zenu tribe began a mass exodus from Uraba 
to return to Sucre, a region they left in the 1980's in search of a 
better standard of living.  Caught in the conflict among guerrilla, 
paramilitary, and military forces, they cited incidents of physical and 
psychological torture, abductions, arson, and other threats.  
Unidentified assassins murdered three Zenu leaders, including 
reservation governor Jose Elias Suarez, in the first 3 months of 1995, 
which led to the Zenus' decision to leave Uraba. 
 
  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Two million Colombian citizens of African heritage live primarily in the 
Pacific departments of Choco, Valle del Cauca, and Narino, and along the 
Caribbean coast.  They represent roughly 4 percent of the general 
population.  Blacks are entitled to all constitutional rights and 
protections but have traditionally suffered from economic 
discrimination.  Despite the passage of the African-Colombian Law in 
1993, little concrete progress was made in expanding public services and 
private investment in the Choco or other predominantly black regions.  
The Navy makes little effort to recruit African-Colombians, despite 
their traditional ties to the sea and maritime commerce. 
 
Section 6  Worker Rights 
 
  a.  The Right of Association 
 
The law recognizes the rights of workers to organize unions and strike.  
The Labor Code provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 
at least 25 signatures from the potential members and comply with a 
simple registration process at the Labor Ministry.  The law penalizes 
interference with freedom of association.  It allows unions to freely 
determine internal rules, elect officials, and manage activities, and 
forbids the dissolution of trade unions by administrative fiat.  
According to Labor Ministry estimates, only about 8 percent of the work 
force is organized.  Unions are free to join international 
confederations without government restrictions. 
 
The 1991 Constitution provides for the right to strike by nonessential 
public employees and authorizes Congress to pass enabling legislation 
that would define "essential."  Since this has not yet been done, 
existing legislation which prohibits public employees from striking is 
still in force.  Before staging a legal strike, unions must negotiate 
directly with management and--if no agreement results--accept mediation.  
By law, public employees must accept binding arbitration if mediation 
fails; in practice, public service unions decide by membership vote 
whether or not to seek arbitration. 
 
In 1993 the International Labor Organization (ILO) criticized 10 
provisions of Colombian law, including:  the supervision of the internal 
management and meetings of unions by government officials; the presence 
of officials at assemblies convened to vote on a strike call; the 
suspension of union officers who dissolve their unions; the requirement 
that contenders for trade union office must belong to the occupation 
their union represents; the prohibition of strikes in a wide range of 
public services which are not necessarily essential; various 
restrictions on the right to strike; the power of the Minister of Labor 
and the President to intervene in disputes through compulsory 
arbitration; and the power to dismiss trade union officers involved in 
an unlawful strike. 
 
Public primary and secondary school teachers went on strike for higher 
wages three times between January and late May.  The Government declared 
the strikes illegal and threatened reprisals against members of the 
Colombian Federation of Educators.  The strike settlement reached on May 
24 allowed for a 26-percent wage increase, falling far short of the 
teachers' demands but exceeding the Government's 18-percent limit set 
for other public workers.  In addition, the Government agreed not to 
take disciplinary action against the striking teachers. 
 
The Government restructured but did not privatize the state petroleum 
company Ecopetrol in a move that allayed workers' fears of massive 
layoffs.  In May Ecopetrol and the Union of Syndicated Labor (USO) 
signed a collective work convention for 1995-96.  The USO leadership, 
however, declared that it remained in open conflict with the Government 
with regard to the cases of union leaders subject to detentions by the 
Prosecutor General's office, outstanding arrest orders, and 
administrative investigations by the Attorney General's office.  The 
leadership reported further that USO participants in the collective 
bargaining with Ecopetrol had received death threats from presumed 
paramilitary groups active in the oil producing region of Magdalena 
Medio. 
 
Labor leaders throughout the country continued to be the target of 
attacks by guerrillas, paramilitary groups, narcotics traffickers, the 
military, police, and their own union rivals.  According to figures 
published by Justice and Peace, during the first 6 months of 1995, 13 
labor activists were murdered in connection with their labor activities.  
Another 2 were murdered presumably because of their labor activities, 
and 16 were kidnaped, detained illegally, and threatened.  In the 
banana-producing region of Uraba, organized workers historically 
belonged to the extreme left wing of the labor movement but refused to 
cooperate with the FARC.  Over a 45-day period in August and September, 
paramilitary and FARC guerrilla forces murdered some 90 civilians in 
Uraba.  Of that number, approximately half may have been targeted for 
their participation in or sympathy with the National Syndicate of Agro-
Industry Workers, a labor union closely associated with the Hope, Peace, 
and Freedom movement of demobilized EPL guerrillas. 
 
The list of killings, intimidations, and arbitrary arrests of labor 
union leaders includes the murders of Association Nacional de Usuarios 
Campesinos (ANUC) president William Gustavo Jaime Torres in August and 
ANUC director for Sucre, Manuel Herrera Sierra, in April; the June 
disappearance, torture, and murder of teachers' union member German 
Rodriguez; the attempted murder of the president of the Syndicate of 
Workers of Yumbo, Fidel Castro Murillo, in July; and the attempted 
murder of Jesus Tovar Durango, president of Sintraigro, the syndicate of 
agricultural workers.  Numerous threats against other labor leaders were 
reported. 
 
  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The Constitution protects the right of workers to organize and engage in 
collective bargaining.  Workers in larger firms and public services have 
been most successful in organizing, but these unionized workers 
represent only a small portion of the economically active population.  
High unemployment, traditional antiunion attitudes, and weak union 
organization and leadership limit workers' bargaining power in the 
private sector and in agriculture. 
 
The law forbids antiunion discrimination and the obstruction of free 
association.  Government labor inspections theoretically enforce these 
provisions but, because of the small number of inspectors and workers' 
fears of losing their jobs, the inspection apparatus is weak.  The new 
Labor Code increases the fines levied for restricting freedom of 
association and prohibits the use of strike breakers. 
 
Collective pacts, agreements between individual workers and their 
employers, are not subject to collective bargaining and are typically 
used by employers to obstruct labor organization.  Although collective 
pacts must be registered formally with the Ministry of Labor, the 
Ministry does not exercise any oversight or control over them. 
 
The Labor Code also eliminates mandatory mediation in private labor-
management disputes and extends the grace period before the Government 
can intervene in a conflict.  Federations and confederations may assist 
affiliate unions in collective bargaining. 
 
Labor law applies to the country's seven free trade zones (FTZ's), but 
its standards are difficult to enforce.  Public employee unions have won 
collective bargaining agreements in the FTZ's of Barranquilla, 
Buenaventura, Cartagena, and Santa Marta, but the garment manufacturing 
enterprises in Medellin and Risaralda, which have the largest number of 
employees, are not organized.  National labor leaders claim that in 
these FTZ's the provisions of the Labor Code dealing with wages, hours, 
health, and safety are not honored. 
 
  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
The Constitution forbids slavery and any form of forced or compulsory 
labor, and this prohibition is respected in practice. 
 
  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The Constitution bans the employment of children under the age of 14 in 
most jobs, and the Labor Code prohibits the granting of work permits to 
youths under the age of 18.  This provision is respected in larger 
enterprises and in major cities.  Nevertheless, Colombia's extensive 
informal economy remains effectively outside government control.  Some 
800,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 work, according to Labor 
Ministry studies.  These children work--often under substandard 
conditions--in agriculture or in the informal sector, as street vendors, 
in leather tanning, and in small family-operated mines.  Working 
children are exposed to the same risks which affect adult workers, 
including exposure to toxic substances and accidental injuries, all of 
which contribute to impaired physical development.  In May the 
Government launched a media outreach campaign to inform child laborers 
of their rights and where to turn for help.  No figures were available 
to measure the impact of this effort. 
 
  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The Government sets a uniform minimum wage for workers every January to 
serve as a benchmark for wage bargaining.  The monthly minimum wage was 
approximately $124 (Col$ 118,000).  Over one-quarter of workers earn the 
minimum wage.  Although consistent with the Government's anti-inflation 
policies, it fails to provide an adequate standard of living for a 
worker and family, which, by government estimates, would require two-
and-one-half times the minimum wage. 
 
The law provides for a standard workday of 8 hours and a 48-hour 
workweek but does not specifically require a weekly rest period of at 
least 24 hours, a failing criticized by the ILO.  Legislation provides 
comprehensive protection for workers' occupational safety and health, 
but these standards are difficult to enforce, in part due to the small 
number of Labor Ministry inspectors.  In addition, unorganized workers 
in the informal sector fear that they will lose their jobs if they 
exercise their right to denounce abuses, particularly in the 
agricultural sector.  According to the Labor Code, workers have the 
right to withdraw from a hazardous work situation without jeopardizing 
continued employment.  In general, a lack of public safety awareness, 
inadequate attention by unions, and lax enforcement by the Labor 
Ministry result in an unacceptable high level of industrial accidents 
and unhealthy working conditions. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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