Population : 44,534,000 (July 2009)
PIB (millions US$)(according to FMI) : 240.654
38th out of 132 countries
Human Development Index HDI (according to UNDP) : 0,787
80th out of 179 countries
Poverty (according to DANE)
46% of the population earns less than 3,30 USD per day
17,8% of the population earns less than 1,80 USD per day
Unemployment (according to DANE) : 10,5%
Ownership of the land (according to IGAC)
0,06% of the population owns 53,5% of land (44 millions hectares)
Form of State : Presidential system
Head of State and Government : Álvaro Uribe Vélez (since august 7, 2002)
Internal armed conflict
In Colombia, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are commonplace. For fifty years, Colombia is livinf through an armed conflict in which Marxist guerrillas (including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC – and the National Liberation Army - ELN) are fighting for power in government. Militia groups, commonly called « paramilitaries », have also been involved in this conflict. These groups correspond to criminal gangs financed by drug trafficking and contractors, trained by the Colombian army and supported by several politicians.
This conflict has led to serious human rights abuses, particularly in rural areas of certain regions. From 1982 to 2007, the country’s civilian population has suffered more than 3500 killings, 15000 forced disappearances and 5000 left-wing political leaders had been assassinated. All sides have violated international humanitarian law and have committed such crimes against humanity. The FARC and ELN have committed human rights abuses and have been responsible for repeated and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including hostage taking and murder of civilians. The paramilitaries are responsible for several killings to terrorize peasants, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and encourage them to abandon their land rich in resources. The paramilitaries also stole millions of acres from their victims, as well as land from the African palm plantations, to prepare the ground for foreign investment in mining and petroleum.
Under the pretext of a counter-insurgency war, series of mechanisms of repression against the civilian population take place, such as selective assassinations, massacres, torture, forced disappearance, forced displacement, media manipulation and criminalization of social movements. In fact, Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders as well as for trade unionists (nearly 50 were killed in 2008), students who demand their rights to accessible education, journalists that critic the government and for peasants who dare to defend their land denouncing the economic interests behind war crimes against humanity that are committed against them.
Colombia currently has one of the largest displaced populations in the world. According to reports of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are between 3 and 4 million internally displaced in Colombia, who have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in the country. The humanitarian tragedy is much more important in quantity than Iraq, Congo and Sudan, which are also victims of high intensity conflicts.
Each year, hundreds of women, men and children join the millions of people already displaced within the country. Only for the year 2007, 305,000 new internal displaced persons were registered. In addition, an estimated o500,000 people took refuge in other countries, including Canada. The magnitude of the tragedy can hide behind the individual suffering of each of these people. Some are displaced for relatively short periods; others have not returned home after years of displacement and fear of never being able to do so. Others are constantly displaced, making them more vulnerable, reinforcing their exclusion and plungeing them into extreme poverty.
In Colombia, forced displacements are often generated by the expulsion of peasants because of internal conflict and confrontation of illegal armed groups. However, displacement is increasingly linked to mega projects and violence by paramilitary groups, who have started a true agrarian conunter-reform characterized by: urbanization in terrible living conditions, an increase of the size of cultivable plots and concentration of their ownership in the hands of a minority.
Social impacts of displacement
- Crumbling of social tissue
- Increase of individual economic insecurity
- Increase of urban poverty
- Identitary loss (for Indigenous / Afro-colombians)
Most cases of forced displacement occurring in the country can be attributed to paramilitary groups. These groups integrate a project of appropriation of fertile lands for the conduct of agro.industrial projects. According to researchers, where people were forced from their homes, the paramilitaries have taken possession of at least 6 million hectares of productive land, representing 10.8% of the country's agricultural land. Thus, forced displacement and land concentration are part of the same neoliberal strategy.
The ability to generate wealth on the part of large landowners is privileged over the restitution of those displaced, even if they are victims of so-called crimes against humanity. Thus, the government's economic policies are serving the interests of large landowners and multinational companies. For example, the government is promoting cultivation projects of palm oil on the lands of displaced, as in the province of Choco, and, to do so, it solicits loans from the IDB (Inter-american Development bank).
Other disturbing cases occur in the territories of indigenous peoples, where the construction of hydroelectric dams and the exploitation of natural resources, such as oil and mining, are being developed. All these projects are threatening the integrity of indigenous cultures and traditions and are encouraged by the government in disregard with the rights of these communities, rights protected by the Colombian constitution and international law. These development models that promote the construction of mega-infrastructure such as dams, highways, canalisation of rivers, constitute a violation of human rights, social rights, economic and cultural rights of peoples.
The government officials allied with crimes against humanity
Approximately 70 members of Congress are subject to judicial investigation because of their alleged links with paramilitary groups. All those from Alvaro Uribe’s coalition government are subject of investigations related to crimes such as collaborating with the paramilitaries in massacres and forced displacement, enrichment related to drug trafficking and collusion in voter fraud. Here is a daunting example: the head of the Colombian secret service was accused of having informed the paramilitary groups of the activities of the army.
According to current investigations, several political leaders and Colombian officials have benefited from alliances with paramilitaries through intimidation and actions of these armed groups against civilians. Following the 2005 amnesty and the demobilization of paramilitaries, some of them have obtained positions in municipal councils, municipal assemblies and Congress and other state bodies. On the other hand, some politicians are accused of misappropriation of funds used to finance illegal armed groups, and have also organized leaks facilitating their operations, including massacres, killings and forced displacement of population to increase their power.
Impunity and International criminal Court
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has made visits with the aim of collecting information on investigations and procedures for military and politicians in Colombia, including members of Congress who have played a role in the crimes against the humanity committed by paramilitary and militias.
Meanwhile, the ICC has shown interest in the fate of the 15 paramilitary leaders extradited by the government to the United States in May 2008. Tried for drug trafficking in the United States, the Uribe government ensures their impunity in Colombia, where they may never be tried for crimes against humanity which they are charged. Human Rights Defenders stressed that these extraditions hinder ongoing investigations against the 70 MPs for their relationship with the paramilitary and military involvement in the massacres.
Different international organizations, including the ICC and Human Rights Watch, have also highlighted the inadequacy of laws that would ensure the trial of the paramilitary leaders, since they ignore Colombia’s international obligations in human rights issues for an effective remedy and justice, and punishment of crimes against humanity. Defenders of rights argue that the Colombian government demonstrates, by not fulfilling its penal responsabilities, its lack of will to prosecute top officials for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Colombia.
Extrajudicial executions committed by security forces
Extrajudicial executions are unlawful and deliberate, whether they are committed by order of a government or with its complicity or consent. They are usually held on the territory of the government concerned and are performed by regular forces or military police, special units created to act without any control or by civil servants working with government forces or with their complicity (source: Amnesty International).
During a visit to the country in November 2008, the High Commissioner for Human Rights UN said: « The numerous and systematic killings of civilians were committed by the Colombian security forces ». Unfortunately, extrajudicial killings are systematic and widespread in Colombia. At least 296 people were executed out of court between June 2007 and June 2008, against 287 between June 2006 and June 2007.
The biggest scandal was triggered after the charge against 27 top military officers of the army, including three generals, for being responsible for killing dozens of young civilians who were presented as guerrillas killed in combat. The victims were reportedly kidnapped and executed by the military in collusion with paramilitary groups. The scandal provoked by this case has forced the government to finally admit that security forces were guilty of extrajudicial executions, and the resignation of army chief, which had been linked to cases of rights violations.
Trade unionists in danger
According to the International Trade Union Confederation, Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. More labor leaders are killed in Colombia each year than in all countries combined. Over the past 25 years, over 2 600 trade unionists have been murdered. Since President Alvaro Uribe came to power, 474 trade unionists were killed. For example, in 2008 alone, the number rises to 49, up 25% over the previous year (39). Because of their demands for better working conditions, victims are often accused of sympathizing with guerrillas, what constitutes a crime in Colombia. Indeed, most murders are committed by paramilitary groups that receive funding and illegal contributions from some companies such as Chiquita Brands International. Very few crimes committed against trade unionists have been investigated and even fewer have resulted in prosecution of perpetrators. In fact, 97% of murders of trade unionists are never resolved.
Labor laws are far from complying with the minimum standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Legal barriers to unionization and collective bargaining are enormous. This situation, coupled with violence, have helped to keep the rate of unionization at less than 5% of the country (for reference, the unionization rate in 2008 was 32% in Canada and 40% in Quebec). In other words, only one worker out of a hundred workers can negotiate a collective agreement. Because of the large self-structured sector and the high rate ofunemployment, Colombia presents the lowest level of unionization of all countries of the Southern Hemisphere.