Training, organization and effectiveness of GAULA (Grupos de Accion Unificada por la Libertad Personal), the National Police (both Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS and the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI) and the Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia General de la Nación) in regard to providing protection to the public from, and to people who have been threatened or targeted by, the illegal armed groups operating in Colombia, including protection from kidnapping (2004 - February 2006) [COL100945.E]

Presentation of security structures

The Website of the presidential program against extortion and kidnappings (Programa Presidencial Contra la Extorsión y el Secuestro) identifies the following institutions as part of the national institutional infrastructure against extorsion and kidnapping (Estructura nacional antiextorsión y secuestro): the Ministry of National Defence, the National Fund for the Defence of Individual Freedom (Fondo Nacional para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal, FONDELIBERTAD), the armed forces (Ejército Nacional), the National Police (Policía Nacional), the Administrative Security Department (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS), and the Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación) (Colombia 29 July 2005; see also ibid. 2005).

Country Reports 2004 provides a description of the relationships between some of these security structures and their respective functions:

The civilian-led Ministry of Defense is responsible for internal and external security and oversees both the police and the armed forces, including the army, air force, and navy. The National Police shared law enforcement duties with the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and the Prosecutor General's Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI) (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, intro).

Another section describes the nature of police work in general and duties of DAS and CTI agents in particular:

The 125,000 members of the National Police are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police includes special units that focus on intelligence, narcotics, kidnapping and extortion, and rural policing. On February 12 [2004], the Government completed its reinstallation of police forces in all of the country's 1,098 municipalities. Police are authorized to execute arrest warrants and detain suspects "caught in the act" or fleeing the scene of a crime. DAS agents have broad intelligence gathering, law enforcement, and immigration control function, as do members of the CTI (ibid., Sec. 1d).

The Prosecutor General's Office Corps of Technical Investigators (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación, CTI) act as judicial police in conducting investigations and providing advice to the Prosecutor General's Office, particularly in providing forensic and genetic expertise (Colombia n.d.a).

With its mandate to conduct investigations and collect intelligence, the DAS is compared to the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ( n.d.). For instance, its chief responds directly to the President of Colombia (ibid.). According to, the DAS operates two schools (n.d.), while the Presidency Website mentioned one [translation] "Academy" (Colombia 2003). The Website of the DAS provides numerous press releases on arrests of kidnappers and extortionists by the Presidential office (ibid. 3 Feb. 2006; ibid. 26 Jan. 2006; ibid. 8 Dec. 2005; ibid. 17 Nov. 2005).

FONDELIBERTAD was created through Law No. 282 of 1996 along with the National Council against Kidnappings and other crimes against Individual Freedom (Consejo Nacional de Lucha contra el Secuestro y demás atentados contra la Libertad Personal, CONASE) and the GAULA [Grupos de Accion Unificada por la Libertad Personal] groups (ibid. n.d.b). In 2004, FONDELIBERTAD helped 600 family members or friends of kidnapping victims (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 1b).

The CONASE is the council in which state policies in response to crimes against individual freedom are discussed; administrations involved in anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion work all have a seat in this council (Colombia n.d.c). FONDELIBERTAD acts as a secretariat for the CONASE (ibid.).

The Uribe government efforts against kidnappings are described in the public policy against kidnappings and extortion (Politica Pública contra el Secuestro y la Extorsión) (ibid. 24 Aug. 2005) established in 2003 through the anti-kidnapping program, of which the vice-president's office is in charge (ibid.).

Kidnappings decreasing

Country Reports 2004 reported "improvements in several human rights indicators" for 2004, namely a 50 per cent decrease in "terrorist massacres," 16 per cent decrease in killings and 42 per cent decrease in kidnappings (28 Feb. 2005, Intro).

Sources indicated a reduction in the number of kidnappings for the year 2004 compared to 2003 (Fundación Seguridad y Democracia n.d.; Reforma 8 Aug. 2005). Reforma, a Mexico city-based daily, reported a 17 per cent increase in cases of extortions between 2002 and 2004, while kidnappings diminished by 19 per cent (ibid.).

The Security and Democracy Foundation (Fundación Seguridad y Democracia) collected statistics from various sources and came to the conclusion that kidnappings had decreased by 72 per cent from 2003 to 2005, and 54 per cent from 2004 to 2005 (n.d.).

FONDELIBERTAD indicated that the first half of 2005 saw a 61 per cent decrease in kidnappings compared to the same period for 2004 (Colombia 2005). However, statistics from the Prosecutor General's Office indicated that [translation] "kidnappings for extortion" (secuestro extorsivo) between 2004 and 2005 remained at approximately the same level (approximately 2,000) and that there were fewer cases of extortion in 2005, from 7,191 reported cases in 2004 to 6,490 in 2005 (ibid. Sept. 2005, 44).

According to Reuters, the number of kidnappings was down 47 per cent in 2005 (758 in 2005, versus 1,442 in 2004) (29 Dec. 2005). Reforma reported 350 kidnappings and 746 cases of extortions, of which approximately half were attributed to [translation] "common criminals," - for the first half of 2005 (8 Aug. 2005).

Grupos de Acción Unificada por la Libertad Personal, GAULA

As indicated, the Unified Action Groups for Personal Freedom (Grupos de Acción Unificada por la Libertad Personal, GAULA) were created by Act No. 282 of 1996 (Colombia n.d.d; ibid. n.d.e; Reforma 4 July 2004). They are [translation] "elite groups, composed of personnel from the national police and the armed forces highly trained in rescuing kidnapping victims and dismantling of criminal groups" (Colombia n.d.d). GAULA groups work closely with the Prosecutor General's Office and the DAS (ibid. n.d.e).

In their description of the GAULA groups' mission, the armed forces specify how operations should be performed to neutralize illegal groups, especially those engaging in kidnappings and extortion (ibid. n.d.f).

FONDELIBERTAD indicated that 32 GAULA groups are active: 14 GAULA groups under the command of the national police and 18 under the command of the armed forces (ibid. n.d.d; Reforma 4 July 2004). Other sources mentioned a total of twenty-eight GAULA groups, ten under the national police command (Colombia n.d.f), sixteen with the army (Ejército) and two with the Navy (Armada) (ibid.; Reforma 4 July 2004). Of these 28 GAULA groups, 18 are in rural areas, 10 in urban areas (Orbat 7 Oct. 2001).

The law addresses directly the composition of GAULA groups: they are to be drawn from members of the Prosecutor's Office, the armed forces and the DAS (Colombia n.d.d.).

As well, sources indicated that intelligence work is carried out by National Police officers in the GAULA groups headed by the police, and that CTI and DAS members do the same in groups under military command (ibid.; ibid. n.d.f).

Within the GAULA groups headed by the National Police, intelligence work is conducted by police personnel, while in the military GAULA groups, such work is done by personnel from the DAS and the CTI of the Prosecutor General's Office (ibid.; ibid. n.d.d).

The National Unit Against Kidnapping and Extortion (Unidad Nacional Antiextorsión y Secuestro), a unit from the Prosecutor's Office (ibid. 29 July 2005), is comprised of 15 prosecutors (Reforma 4 July 2004).

According to FONDELIBERTAD, an anti-kidnapping information system (Sistema de Información Antisecuestro, SIIES) ensures communication of information among all administrative entities (operations, prevention, statistics, legal and psychological assistance to victims) involved in anti-kidnapping operations (Colombia 2005; see also ibid. 24 Aug. 2005 and US 10 Mar. 2005). Agence France-Presse (AFP) indicated that the system was in place as of 23 June 2005, from which time [translation] "the GAULA groups ... have [had] all the technological instruments" for this information system to be functional (23 June 2005).

In January 2005, sources reported that the government invested approximately US$ 12 million for the purchase of equipment for the GAULA groups (computers, night-vision goggles, arms and 110 trucks and motorcycles) (Xinhua 13 Jan. 2005; EFE 11 Jan. 2005).

The Centre for Anti-Kidnapping Tactic Training (Centro de Entrenamiento Táctico Antisecuestro) is the third largest facility of its kind in the world and the first one in Latin America (Colombia 2005). By 2005, 150 people had been trained in rescue operations (ibid.).

Reforma indicated that a training centre for GAULA operatives is situated in Cundinamarca, near Bogotá (10 Aug. 2004). Training is provided for [translation] "long and short range shooting, urban and rural combat, orientation, crisis management, raids, detention, human rights and first aid" (ibid.). Instructors from the United States are also present (ibid.).

Further information on training provided to the GAULA groups' members could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

GAULA and anti-kidnapping results

In the first eight months of 2004, the Colombian forces, including GAULA groups, rescued 201 hostages, while, according to the Free Country Foundation (Fundación País Libre), "at least 6 persons died in captivity" in January and February 2004 (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 1b).

GAULA groups were behind 28 of 35 rescue operations conducted at the beginning of 2005 (Colombia 2005). The total number of rescue operations conducted in 2003 was 214 for 1,468 kidnappings; in 2004 it was 173 for 746 kidnappings (ibid.).

Without providing details about the units behind the operations, the Presidential program against extortion and kidnapping indicated that of the 730 victims of kidnappings reported in the first 11 months of 2005, 373 had been liberated by their captors, 147 were still captive, 141 were rescued, 36 were freed following public pressure, 21 died in captivity, 11 escaped (19 Dec. 2005). As well, one was freed through [translation] "humanitarian mediation" (Colombia 19 Dec. 2005). For the first quarter of 2005, Reforma provided a detailed breakdown of all 350 kidnapped victims: one hundred sixty- seven were freed after a ransom was paid, eighty-six remained captive, sixty-seven were rescued, twelve were freed following public pressures, nine died in captivity, and nine escaped (8 Aug. 2005).

The Security and Democracy Foundation compared the July to September period of years 2004 and 2005 and observed a change in resolution of kidnappings (13 Dec. 2005). For instance, the percentage of freed victims went from 50 in 2004 to 25 in 2005 (Fundación Seguridad y Democracía 13 Dec. 2005, 66). Inversely, twenty-nine per cent of victims were rescued in the July-September 2005 period compared to twenty-three per cent for the same period in 2004, and twelve per cent of victims were freed following public pressure in 2005, compared to five per cent for the same in 2004 (ibid.).Overall, these statistics have lead the organization to conclude that [translation] "proportionally more victims remain captive and fewer were freed by their kidnappers" (ibid.).

A 30 March 2005 AFP report indicated that a GAULA unit freed three Colombian tourists four days after they were kidnapped by the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) in southwestern Colombia.

In May 2005, a GAULA colonel announced the arrest of 30 persons involved in extortion ring which operated from various Colombian prisons (AFP 3 May 2005)

On 3 September 2005, five members of the ELN were killed during clashes with a GAULA unit in the southwestern part of Colombia, as they were trying to kidnap a medical doctor (Europa Press 3 Sept. 2005; AFP 3 Sept. 2005).

Additionally, according to GAULA sources, 111 arrests were made for extortion in the department Valle del Cauca in 2005, preventing payments of more than US$ 2 million (AP 17 Nov. 2005). As well, in November 2005, the chief of the departmental GAULA group indicated that a group of extortionists, who threatened their potential victims by sending them animal parts, had been dismantled (ibid.).

The United States (US) provides Colombia with funding through its Antiterrorism Assistance program (ATA) (US 10 Mar. 2005). In 2004, according to the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the US Department Of State, "ATA-trained GAULA anti-kidnapping units have rescued 48 kidnapped hostages, including two American citizens. In conducting these operations, the GAULA units arrested 206 hostage takers, killed four hostage takers, and recovered $7 million in ransom money" (US 10 Mar. 2005, 15).

GAULA Antioquia, a group made up of members of the army, the DAS, the Prosecutor General's Office and CTI, provided results on its Website for the year 2003; the group captured a total of seventy-four criminals, one extortionist, and five kidnappers and rescued two victims (N.d).

GAULA is said to have launched a campaign recommending that cases of extortion be reported and that payments not be made (AP 6 Feb. 2005). Colonel Humberto Guatibonza, GAULA's deputy director, "conceded that GAULA officers lack the funds to handle every case. He said a lack of tough laws against extortion makes prosecution difficult, and that most victims are afraid to entrap the extortionists" (ibid.).

On a different note, at the end of 2004, 10 former GAULA officials were found to have illegally wiretapped phones, using forged warrants, between 1997 and 1999 (US 3 Dec. 2004). Members of the Cali GAULA group were under investigation for past involvement in "abducting and torturing individuals suspected of involvement in kidnappings" (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 1c).

More recently, on 31 August 2004, a GAULA military unit killed two policemen when it attacked them by mistake during an anti-narcotics operation (ibid., Sec. 1a). The incident was still under investigation by the Prosecutor General's Office at the end of 2004 (ibid.). Further information on the investigation could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 3 September 2005. "Cinco guerrilleros del ELN muertos por el ejército en el suroeste colombiano." (Factiva)

_____ . 23 June 2005. "Ponen en marcha un sofisticado sistema para combatir secuestros en Colombia." (Factiva)

_____ . 3 May 2005. "30 capturados por extorsionar a comerciantes desde cárceles colombianas." (Factiva)

_____ . 30 March 2005. "Rescatan en Colombia a tres personas secuestradas por el ELN en Semana Santa." (Factiva)

Associated Press (AP). 17 November 2005. "Cae banda en Colombia tras amenazar con restos de perros." (Factiva)

_____ . 6 February 2005. Kim Housego. "South America: Criminals Turn to Extortion." ( [Accessed 6 Feb. 2006]

Colombia. 3 February 2006. Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS). "DAS captura secuestrador en Bogotá." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2006]

_____ . 26 January 2006. Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS). "DAS captura extorsionistas." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2006]

_____ . 19 December 2005. Programa Presidencial Contra la Extorsión y el Secuestro. "Comunicado de prensa: Una ley de protección a víctimas y asesoría a otros países de la región, algunos de los avances significativos de la política antisecuestro." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2006]

_____ . 8 December 2005. Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS). "DAS captura cabecilla de secuestros." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2006]

_____ . 17 November 2005. Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS). "DAS desmantela banda de extorsionistas." [Accessed 6 Feb. 2006]

_____ . September 2005. Fiscalía General de la Nación. Boletín Estadístico No. 13: Trimestre Julio - Septiembre 2005. [Accessed 6 Feb. 2006]

_____ . 24 August 2005. Vicepresidencia de la República. "Nueva estrategia para prevenir el secuestro y la extorsión." [Accessed 19 Jan. 2006]

_____ . 29 July 2005. Programa Presidencial Contra la Extorsión y el Secuestro. "Comunicado de prensa: Primer diagnóstico oficial de la Extorsión." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2006]

_____ . 2005. Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. Fondo Nacional para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal (FONDELIBERTAD). "Avances contra el secuestro extorsivo." [Accessed 19 Jan. 2006]

_____ . 2003. Presidencia de la República. "Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad." [Accessed 19 Jan. 2006]

_____ . N.d.a. Fiscalía General de la Nación. "Dirección Nacional del Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación." [Accessed 7 Feb. 2006]

_____ . N.d.b. Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. Fondo Nacional para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal (FONDELIBERTAD). "CONASE. Marco Jurídico" [Accessed 24 Jan. 2006]

_____ . N.d.c. Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. Fondo Nacional para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal (FONDELIBERTAD). "CONASE." [Accessed 7 Feb. 2006]

_____ . N.d.d Ministerio de Defensa Nacional. Fondo Nacional para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal (FONDELIBERTAD). "Grupos de Acción Unificada." [Accessed 24 Jan. 2006]

_____ . N.d.e. Ejército Nacional. Quinta Brigada. "GAULA." [Accessed 19 Jan. 2006]

_____ . N.d.f. Fuerzas Militares de Colombia. "Gaulas militares." [Accessed 19 Jan. 2006]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. "Colombia." United States Department of State. [Accessed 18 Jan. 2006]

EFE. 11 January 2005. "Más de 10 millones de dólares para la lucha contra el secuestro." (Factiva)

Europa Press. 3 September 2005. "Colombia: Abatidos cinco presuntos guerrilleros colombianos cuando intentaban raptar a un médico." (Factiva)

Fundación Seguridad y Democracía. 13 December 2005. "Boletin especial de ataques de los grupos irregulares y los narcotraficantes a la fuerza pública." [Accessed 18 Jan. 2006]

_____ . N.d. "Balance de seguridad 2005." [Accessed 18 Jan. 2006]

GAULA Antioquia. N.d. "Resultados operacionales GAULA Antioquia año 2003." [Accessed 16 Jan. 2006] N.d. "Colombia - DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad)." [Accessed 16 Jan. 2006]

Orbat. 7 October 2001. Jesus Antonio Bohorquez Mora. "Colombia Army: Evolution of GAULA Groups." [Accessed 23 Jan. 2006]

Reforma [Mexico City]. 8 August 2005. Octavio Pineda. "Cobran en Colombia por no secuestrar." (Factiva)

_____ . 10 August 2004. Octavio Pineda. "Combaten secuestro desde aula." (Factiva)

_____ . 4 July 2004. Octavio Pineda and Alejandro Pairone. "Refuerzan el combate contra secuestro." (Factiva)

Reuters. 29 December 2005. "Colombia's 2005 Murder Tally Falls 12 percent." [Accessed 18 Jan. 2006]

United States (US). 10 March 2005. "Eliminating Terrorist Sanctuaries: The Role of Security Assistance." Hearing Before the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation of the Committee on International Relations House of Representatives. Serial No. 109-19. ( Website). [Accessed 7 Feb. 2006]

_____ . 3 December 2004. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). "Highlights: Colombia Crime 1-2 Dec. 04." (Factiva)

Xinhua. 13 January 2005. "Colombian Government Reinforces Anti-kidnapping Measures." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The Security and Democracy Foundation (Fundación Seguridad y Democracia), the Free Country Foundation (Fundación País Libre) and the National Police GAULA directorate did not provide information within the time constraints of this Response.

An international non-governmental organization monitoring the conflict in Colombia could not provide information on this topic.

The Research Directorate also contacted the Presidential Program Against Extortion and Kidnappings and FONDELIBERTAD.

Internet sites, including: Comisión Colombiana de Juristas (CCJ), Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia, Departamento Nacional de Planeación de Colombia, Fundación País Libre, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Crisis Group (ICG), Justice Studies Center of the Americas, Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), World Police Encyclopedia.