Jun 18

Here are excerpts from today’s press statement from Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions. Alston just finished a ten-day visit to Colombia, where he investigated allegations of “false positives” and other killings of civilians by the parties to Colombia’s conflict. The headings are ours, not his.

The “false positives” problem goes beyond Soacha

[T]here are two problems with the narrative focused on falsos positivos and Soacha [the headline-grabbing scandal, which broke in September, surrounding military killings of young men in Soacha, a poor Bogotá suburb]. The first is that the term provides a sort of technical aura to describe a practice which is better characterized as cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit. The second is that the focus on Soacha encourages the perception that the phenomenon was limited both geographically and temporally. But while the Soacha killings were undeniably blatant and obscene, my investigations show that they were but the tip of the iceberg. I interviewed witnesses and survivors who described very similar killings in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Cali, Casanare, Cesar, Cordoba, Huila, Meta, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Sucre, and Vichada. A significant number of military units were thus involved.

Military denials or cover-ups

Some officials continue to assert that many of the cases were in fact legitimate killings of guerrillas or others. But the evidence – including ballistics and forensics reports, eyewitness testimony, and the testimony of soldiers themselves – strongly suggests that this was not the case. The “dangerous guerillas” who were killed include boys of 16 and 17, a young man with a mental age of nine, a devoted family man with two in-laws in active military service, and a young soldier home on leave. I cannot rule out the possibility that some of the falsos positivos were, in fact, guerillas, but apart from sweeping allegations, I have been provided with no sustained evidence to that effect by the Government. Evidence showing victims dressed in camouflage outfits which are neatly pressed, or wearing clean jungle boots which are four sizes too big for them, or lefthanders holding guns in their right hand, or men with a single shot through the back of their necks, further undermines the suggestion that these were guerillas killed in combat.

A further problem concerns the systematic harassment of the survivors by the military. A woman from Soacha described how, in 2008, one of her sons disappeared and was reported killed in combat two days later. When another of her sons became active in pursuing the case, he received a series of threats. He was shot and killed earlier this year. Since then, the mother has also received death threats. This is part of a common pattern.

Not just “a few bad apples”

The key question is who was responsible for these premeditated killings? On the one hand, I have found no evidence to suggest that these killings were carried out as a matter of official Government policy, or that they were directed by, or carried out with the knowledge of, the President or successive Defence Ministers. On the other hand, the explanation favoured by many in Government – that the killings were carried out on a small scale by a few bad apples – is equally unsustainable. The sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military.

The gap between policies and practice

Starting in 2007, the Government has taken important steps to stop and respond to these killings. They include: disciplinary sanctions, increased cooperation with the ICRC and the UN, the installation of Operational Legal Advisors to advise on specific military operations, increased oversight of payments to informers, the appointment of the Suarez Temporary Special Commission, the appointment of Delegated Inspectors to army divisions, requiring deaths in combat to be investigated first by judicial police, modifying award criteria, and creating a specialized unit in the Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalia).

These encouraging steps demonstrate a good faith effort by the Government to address past killings and prevent future ones. But there remains a worrying gap between the policies and the practice. The number of successful prosecutions remains very low, although improved results are hoped for in the coming year. Three problems stand out. The first is that the Fiscalia, and especially its Human Rights Unit, lack the requisite staff, resources and training. A substantial increase in resources is essential. The second is that in some areas military judges ignore the rulings of the Constitutional Court and do all in their power to thwart the transfer of clear human rights cases to the ordinary justice system. The transfer of information is delayed or obstructed, wherever possible jurisdictional clashes are set up, and delaying tactics are standard. Delays, often of months or years, result and the value of testimony and evidence is jeopardized.

The good news is that there has been a significant reduction in recorded allegations of extrajudicial executions by the military over the last 6-9 months. If this trend is confirmed, it will represent a welcome reversal of course, but the problem of impunity for past killings must still be addressed. …

Officials’ unfounded accusations against human rights defenders

[H]uman rights defenders (HRDs) are frequently intimidated and threatened, and sometimes killed, often by private actors. They have been accused by high level officials of being – or being close to – guerrillas or terrorists. Such statements have also been made against prosecutors and judges. These statements stigmatise those working to promote human rights, and encourage an environment in which specific acts of threats and killings by private actors can take place. It is important for senior officials to cease the stigmatization of such groups. …

A clear position on Colombia’s “Victims Law”

It is my understanding that the current draft law on victims’ rights – approved by the commission set up to reconcile the texts approved in the Senate and the House of Representatives – contains a definition of victim that includes victims of state agents and generally puts them on equal standing with victims of paramilitaries. It is imperative that as the draft law moves forward, that victims of both state and non-state actors continue to be treated equally.

Jun 21

Using data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report released this week, as well as earlier reports, here is a look at the ten departments of Colombia in which the UNODC measured the most coca under cultivation in 2007.

UNODC found at least some coca in 23 of Colombia’s 32 departments last year. Nationwide, it found a huge leap in coca cultivation, from 78,000 hectares [193,000 acres] to 99,000 hectares [245,000 acres] – despite fumigation and manual eradication totaling 219,512 hectares [542,426 acres].

1. Nariño
Coca detected in 2007: 20,259 hectares
Increase / decrease over 2006: +30%
Fumigation + manual eradication in 2007: 51,087 hectares
Fumigation + manual eradication as a multiple of coca detected: 2.52 times
Total coca detected 1999-2007: 117,449 hectares
Total fumigation 1999-2007: 254,607 hectares
Total manual eradication 2005-2007: 27,529 hectares

Nariño became a center of Colombian cultivation after Plan Colombia initiated massive fumigation in Putumayo, immediately to the east. Today, Colombia’s Pacific coast region is witnessing rapid expansion of coca-growing, despite some of the country’s most intense eradication efforts. The FARC and new, “emerging” paramilitary groups are very active in Nariño’s coastal zone.

2. Putumayo
Coca detected in 2007: 14,183 hectares
Increase / decrease over 2006: +21%
Fumigation + manual eradication in 2007: 51,228 hectares
Fumigation + manual eradication as a multiple of coca detected: 3.46 times
Total coca detected 1999-2007: 233,139 hectares
Total fumigation 1999-2007: 213,771 hectares
Total manual eradication 2005-2007: 31,123 hectares

Seven years after Plan Colombia brought an intense focus on eradication, Putumayo has returned to the number-two spot among Colombia’s top coca-growing departments. This is despite one of the country’s highest proportions of hectares eradicated to hectares detected.

3. Meta
Coca detected in 2007: 10,386 hectares
Increase / decrease over 2006: -6%
Fumigation + manual eradication in 2007: 19,292 hectares
Fumigation + manual eradication as a multiple of coca detected: 1.86 times
Total coca detected 1999-2007: 113,462 hectares
Total fumigation 1999-2007: 75,144 hectares
Total manual eradication 2005-2007: 9,679 hectares

Meta has remained remarkably constant over the years, in the 10,000-hectare range, despite varying levels of eradication. The Macarena National Park in western Meta has seen a great deal of coca cultivation, encouraged by the FARC. Fumigation and manual eradication efforts in the park have been intense since 2006, but reductions in department-wide cultivation have been modest.

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Jun 15

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2006 Andean coca survey estimates yesterday. Consider these charts, using data from the UNODC report, of the five Colombian departments that the U.S.-supported aerial herbicide fumigation program sprayed most heavily in 2006. They vividly illustrate a phenomenon known as the “balloon effect.”

Nariño became a major coca-growing department after Plan Colombia increased eradication in neighboring Putumayo. While large-scale spraying has since slowed coca-growing’s increase, it has not been able to roll it back.

  1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Spraying 0 6442 8216 17962 36910 31307 57630 59865
Coca 3959 9343 7494 15131 17628 14154 13875 15606

In Putumayo, Plan Colombia reduced coca-growing dramatically. Once the spraying let up a little bit, coca cultivation began to creep up again. Putumayo had the country’s largest increase in coca cultivation last year.

  1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Spraying 4980 13508 32506 71891 8342 17524 11763 26491
Coca 58297 66022 47120 13725 7559 4386 8963 12254

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May 22

The Colombian newsmagazine Semana has published a transcript of a December 2006 telephone conversation, illegally intercepted by Colombian police, between Bogotá’s foreign minister at the time, María Consuelo Araújo, and her brother Sergio. (The minister resigned in February because of allegations that members of her family, including Sergio, worked closely with paramilitary groups.)

After Ms. Araújo asks her brother to come to Bogotá to help her decorate her apartment, the conversation turns to a dispute brewing at the time between Colombia and Ecuador. The Quito government was blasting Colombia publicly for carrying out anti-drug herbicide fumigations along the two countries’ border, despite an early 2006 Colombian promise not to do so.

Sergio Araújo: How have things gone with those Ecuadorians?

María Consuelo Araújo: It’s that the Ecuadorians don’t understand… our territory, our coca, our glyphosate… and they don’t let us spray… the jodetería [f***ing mess] is purely pressure from the FARC… Look, in Ecuador’s banana crop they use 800,000 gallons of glyphosate each year.

Sergio: And why don’t you say that?

María Consuelo: I’ve said that everywhere.

When the Colombia-Ecuador fumigation crisis ended (if it indeed has ended), the two countries agreed to a visit to the border zone by Paul Hunt, a New Zealander who is the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to health. Hunt was in northern Ecuador last week; the Colombians denied him permission to investigate on their side of the border.

Hunt announced his preliminary conclusions at a press conference on Friday afternoon (MS Word .doc format). The UN special rapporteur’s words were strong, unequivocal, and contrast sharply with what Colombia’s foreign minister told her brother back in December.

They also contrast sharply with what the U.S. and Colombian governments have long insisted about glyphosate fumigation. The UN official has dealt a strong blow to the failed fumigation policy.

Here is the relevant excerpt, with emphases added.

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