Rebutting the rebuttals That stubborn “balloon effect”
Jan 072005

It’s undeniable that Colombian military involvement in human rights abuses
remains a problem. The Colombian Commission of Jurists href="" target="_blank">estimates
that of civilians killed by “sociopolitical violence” in 2003, over 7 percent
were killed by members of the security forces, a higher percentage than in
the previous few years. Meanwhile, indirect responsibility for paramilitary
violations continues. Internationally-recognized human rights groups, the
target="_blank">UN, the href="" target="_blank">OAS
and the target="_blank">State Department have all issued reports in the past year
noting that, in the State Department’s words, “some members of the security
forces cooperated with illegal paramilitaries.”

Violations and excesses inevitably happen in conflict situations. The best
way to reduce their frequency is twofold. First, improve training, ensuring
that respect for the laws of war is integrated in all instruction and doctrine.
Second, ensure that all crimes are fully investigated and prosecuted; a credible
likelihood of punishment is a strong disincentive to abuse.

Colombia, in part with U.S. assistance, has made much progress on human-rights
training. But progress on the second measure – ending impunity – has been
almost nonexistent.
Colombian military personnel are very rarely investigated,
tried or punished for violating human rights. And this has not improved.

Though most observers agree that impunity is rampant, it’s difficult to measure.
The best source right now is probably the State Department’s series of regular
human-rights certification reports to Congress. Twice every year, the foreign
aid bill freezes up some military aid until the State Department certifies
that Colombia is meeting several human-rights criteria, including the investigation
and prosecution of military abuses. The certifications come with a memorandum
justifying the decision to give the Colombian military a green light. While
these memoranda are not posted to the State Department’s website, we usually
(but not always) manage to get a copy and post it to href="">our site.

The last three memoranda in our possession are from September 2004, July
2003 and September 2002. In these documents, State Department investigators
try to compile the most comprehensive possible listing of military personnel
under investigation or under indictment for human rights crimes. (They have
a strong incentive to show the largest possible number of personnel under
investigation, which would demonstrate that the Colombian authorities are
making a good-faith effort to end impunity.)

The memoranda show, however, that criminal investigations and prosecutions
for human rights crimes are exceedingly rare
. Despite the documented frequency
of abuses and collusion with paramilitaries, the number of military personnel
under investigation or indictment is remarkably small.

The three reports list a cumulative total of 33 military personnel
under investigation (24 enlisted men and nine officers), of which 17
(14 enlisted men and 3 officers) still had cases active in the September 2004
certification report. Of the officers, only one is above the rank of major,
and his case is no longer active.

The three reports list 36 military personnel under indictment (24
enlisted men and twelve officers), of which 31 (21 enlisted men and
10 officers) still had cases active in the September 2004 certification report.
Of the officers, only two are above the rank of major; one is a retired
general (Humberto Uscátegui, tied to the 1997 Mapiripán massacre), and the
other was a major promoted to lieutenant colonel while in preventive detention.

Most are army personnel; two of the enlisted men under investigation are
marines (a branch of Colombia’s navy) and three of those under indictment
(2 officers, 1 enlisted man) are members of the air force.

The three reports note a cumulative total of 96 military personnel facing
disciplinary investigation or punishment (like being fined, suspended or fired)
for involvement in human-rights abuses. These are not criminal investigations,
they are “internal-affairs” cases investigated by the Colombian government’s
inspector-general (Procuraduría). As the State memoranda do not name names
in this category, this figure probably includes some double and triple-counting.

The unfortunate conclusion we can draw from the low numbers of criminal investigations
and indictments is that Colombian military personnel have little to fear from
their judicial system. For a variety of reasons – judicial inefficiency, intimidation
of judges and witnesses, fear of denouncing crimes – impunity for military
abusers is still virtually assured. The Colombian government can claim
no progress here.


Data from the State Department memoranda follow.

Those in preventive detention pending investigation, not yet formally

(If not listed in the September 2004 report, the date of the last report in
which the name appears is in parentheses.)

Enlisted men:

  1. Army Soldier Marco Tulio Calderon Cegua
  2. Army Soldier Domingo Calderon Adan
  3. Army Soldier Jairo Humberto Gonzalez Cuellar
  4. Army Soldier Oscar Saúl Tuta Hernández Suárez
  5. Army Soldier Jhon Alejandro Hernández Suárez
  6. Army Soldier Uriel Olaya Grajales
  7. Army Soldier Willinton Romana Tello (7/03)
  8. Army Soldier Jose Misael Valero Santana
  9. Army Second Corporal Juan Alberto Diaz Lince (7/03)
  10. Army Second Sergeant Sandro Fernando Barrero (9/02)
  11. Army Second Sergeant Humberto Blandon Vargas (9/02)
  12. Marine Sergeant Euclides Bosa Mendoza (9/02)
  13. Army Sergeant John Fredy Cardenas Trejos Echeverria
  14. Army Sergeant Juan Carlos Castillo Rios
  15. Army Sergeant Wilson Gonzalez Echeverria
  16. Army Second Sergeant Roiber Humberto Gutierrez Montero
  17. Army Sergeant Martin Elias Humanez Silva
  18. Army First Sergeant Marciano Martinez Perdomo (7/03)
  19. Army Sergeant Manuel Antonio Mirando Mejia (7/03)
  20. Army Sergeant Gustavo Moreno Martinez
  21. Army Second Sergeant Waldo Quintero Cuervo (7/03)
  22. Army Sergeant Fredy Baldomero Rodriguez Cardenas
  23. Marine Sergeant Ruben Dario Rojas Bolivar (9/02)
  24. Army Sergeant Luis Reina Sanchez (7/03)


  1. Army Lieutenant Jhon Fredy Cadavid Acevedo
  2. Army Lieutenant Oscar Yesid Cortes Martinez (9/02)
  3. Army Lieutenant Juan Pablo Ordoñez Cañon
  4. Army Captain Yoguin Pavon Martinez (7/03)
  5. Army Major Javier Alberto Carreno Vargas
  6. Army Major Alvaro Cortes Murillo (7/03)
  7. Army Major Jaime Esguerra Santos (9/02)
  8. Army Major Cesar Alonso Maldonado Vidales (7/03) (escaped)
  9. Army Lieutenant Colonel Silvio Augusto Vallego Vargas (7/03)


Those under indictment: 

(If not listed in the September 2004 report, the date of the last report
in which the name appears is in parentheses.)

Enlisted men:

  1. Air Force Technician Mario Hernandez Acosta
  2. Army Soldier Luis Humberto Arteaga Garcia (escaped)
  3. Army Soldier Carlos Alberto Buila Bolaños
  4. Army Soldier Sergio Fernandez Romero
  5. Army Soldier Juan de Jesus Garcia Walteros
  6. Army Soldier Orbien Giraldo Sanabria
  7. Army Soldier Arnoldo Gutierrez Barrios
  8. Army Soldier Raul Emilio Lizcano Ortiz
  9. Army Soldier Carlos Alberto Perez Pallares
  10. Army Soldier Luis Salomon Puerto Acero
  11. Army Soldier Juan Carlos Vasquez
  12. Army Professional Soldier Fary Zuniga Otero
  13. Army First Corporal Floriberto Amado Celis (7/03)
  14. Army Second Corporal Pedro Barrera Cipagauta
  15. Army Second Corporal Jorge Bedoya Ayala
  16. Army Corporal Rodrigo Esteban Benavides Ospina
  17. Army Second Corporal Wilson Caviedes Saenz
  18. Army Corporal Edgar Enrique Marquez Martinez
  19. Army Corporal Arturo Alexander Pinedo Rivadeneira
  20. Army First Corporal Julio Hernando Rios (7/03)
  21. Army Sergeant Edgar Garcia Garzon
  22. Army Sergeant Hugo Moreno Pena
  23. Army Sergeant Juan Bautista Uribe Figueroa (7/03)
  24. Army Second Sergeant Arquimedes Vargas Coca


  1. Army Sub-Lieutenant Nelson Jose Granados Gonzalez (7/03)
  2. Army Lieutenant Gustavo Adolfo Gutierrez Barragan
  3. Air Force Lieutenant Johan Jimenez Valencia
  4. Army Lieutenant Mihaly Istvan Jurko Vasquez
  5. Army Captain Edgar Mauricio Arbelaez Sanchez
  6. Army Captain Jaime Quintero Valencia
  7. Army Captain Gustavo Rengifo Moreno
  8. Air Force Captain Cesar Romero Pradilla
  9. Army Captain Jorge Alexander Sanchez Castro
  10. Army Major Jesus Mahecha Mahecha (7/03)
  11. Army Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Hernando Pulido Rojas (listed as a major
    in 7/03 report)
  12. Army General Jaime Humberto Uscategui (retired)

One Response to “No progress on impunity”

  1. jcg Says:

    You’re right, the numbers show that there’s been practically no progress in adequately charging and prosecuting military personnel accused of violations.Still, the State Deparment seems to accept de facto that this is the way things are going to be for now and is probably hoping that, instead of prosecuting past crimes, future offenses are eventually going to be reduced through the human rights training (it may take a long while to see those programs having any significant effect on the overall situation, since only a small percentage of the personnel seem to be involved at a time).

    That said, it’d be interesting to see if, at the moment, there is any apparent correlation between the members of the Colombian security forces that receive human rights training and those that would be later accused of committing some manner of abuse.

Leave a Reply