Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy. Two
parties, the Liberals and the Social Conservatives, have
dominated national politics since the mid-19th century, but
smaller parties are usually represented in Congress, state
assemblies, and among popularly elected mayors. The
Constitution provides for independent legislative and judicial
branches of government. In practice, the Congress and the
courts provide significant checks on the President's ability
to act unilaterally.
Internal defense is the responsibility of the Ministry of
Defense, which includes the police. The Ministry of Defense
is responsible directly to the President of the Republic and
operates under full civilian control.
Colombia has a mixed economy in which private enterprise plays
the dominant role. The coffee industry, which accounts for
one-third of the country's legal export earnings, is in
private hands, as are most entities engaged in manufacturing,
agriculture, and provision of services. There is a relatively
large informal economy. State enterprises control domestic
participation in the oil and coal industries and play a
deciding role in the electrical and communication utilities.
Despite Colombia's tradition of democracy, the country has
suffered from social unrest and violence during most of the
past 40 years, and it has recently been fighting threats from
both political extremes as well as from enormously wealthy
narcotics traffickers. Colom.bia's human rights problems
originate in the violence from these three sources. The
extreme left includes several well-financed Marxist-Leninist
guerrilla armies which use guerrilla warfare, terrorism,
political assassination, kidnaping, extortion and robbery to
achieve their goal of overthrowing Colombia's democratic
Government. They also frequently work with the narcotics
traffickers and deal in drugs to finance arms and operations.
The extreme right is made up of disparate groups, mostly
civilian, but at times including members of the security
forces. Less well organized and coordinated than the left,
these groups also practice assassination, kidnaping, vigilante
justice, extortion, and robbery, and have also engaged in
narcotics trafficking. They defend their actions as an anticommunist
crusade in the face of what they see as a Government
incapable of recognizing and dealing with a serious subversive
threat. The traffickers kidnap, threaten, and murder officials
and judges to intimidate the Government into giving the major
narcotics dealers de facto immunity from prosecution, leading
to a public perception of an impotent judiciary. The
traffickers cooperate with the guerrillas in areas where the
narcotics are grown and processed but come into violent
conflict with them in regions where guerrillas try to extort
money from land-owning traffickers.
In this environment the Government has resorted to
extraordinary measures to cope with the problems, including
state of siege decrees, a presidential peace plan, and
military and police actions aimed at reasserting government
control. The constitutionally authorized state of siege
allows the President to legislate by decree, although the
decrees are subject to automatic constitutional review by the
Supreme Court. Constitutionally provided civil liberties
cannot, therefore, simply be set aside. President Barco used
his state of siege power in 1988 chiefly to combat terrorism
and violence by guerrillas and narcotics traffickers. The
Supreme Court struck down those parts of the 1988 decrees
which gave the police and army enhanced search and arrest
powers but left in place some restrictions on press reporting
of terrorist acts.
Over 16,000 victims of homicide were recorded in 1988, one of
the highest rates in the world. Some 10 percent of these are
thought to be politically related, and Colombia's elected
officials acknowledge the seriousness of human rights
problems. The President has expressed his commitment to
ending the impunity with which many violators of the law
currently act. In that regard, the security forces have been
brought under greater civilian judicial control and are now
subjected to scrutiny by official human rights monitors and
prosecutors with a high degree of independence. Colombian
military officials claim that the military judicial system is
currently investigating, prosecuting, and incarcerating over
500 military personnel for human rights abuses. By the end of
1988, it was not yet possible to determine how effective these
steps were likely to be in ameliorating the problems.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
Growing numbers of unsolved killings continued to plague
Colombia in 1988. Determining motivations for individual
murders is difficult, due in part to a judicial system which
lacks the resources to investigate and prosecute most of these
crimes. However, informed observers believe that
approximately 1,500 of the more than 16,000 murders committed
in Colombia in 1988 were politically motivated. This number
does not include the approximately 450 police and military who
were murdered, most in leftwing terrorist assassinations.
These killings result in part from the activities of
well-financed guerrilla groups conducting campaigns of
intimidation, extortion, and infiltration of many of the
country's most productive areas and industries, and in part
from rightwing activists who have resorted to intimidation and
assassination of leftwing politicians (some of whom are
aligned in various degrees with the insurgents) and the
civilian support networks of the guerrillas. The situation is
made more volatile by the presence of some of the world's
wealthiest and most ruthless criminal organizations, the
cocaine cartels, which intimidate the judicial system, fight
each other for control of major markets, and conduct their own
vigilante campaigns against the guerrillas. But despite this
competition, there is some evidence that common criminals and
guerrillas collaborate on kidnapings for ransom and share the
proceeds. The resulting atmosphere of lawlessness has led to
an increase in violent common crime. While the Government has
had successes in controlling violence in some areas, there is
a general perception that impunity reigns; many people simply
assume the Government is unable to punish wrongdoers in
serious criminal cases. A major 1987 study found that the
largest increases in violence have occurred in cities such as
Medellin and Cali, where the narcotics traffickers are
strongest, and in rural areas where guerrilla activity is
significant. One small city in the eastern plains, San Jose
de Guaviare, where both the guerrillas and narcotics
traffickers had strong presences, ranked with the major urban
ranked with the major urban centers in absolute numbers of
murders. When the army and police moved into the city in
force and remained there in early 1988, driving out both the
traffickers and the guerrillas, the murder rate dropped off
Two nongovernmental organizations in Colombia compile
information about killings which have possible political
motives: the Executive Staff of the Permanent Committee for
the Defense of Human Rights, and a Jesuit social research
organization, CINEP. The Permanent Committee staff compiles
information from newspaper sources and denunciations and
publishes a bimonthly bulletin of cases. CINEP compiles its
information from the 10 leading newspapers in Colombia,
cross-checks the reports with parish priests and local human
rights observers, and publishes the results in a quarterly
bulletin. Both bulletins support an approximate tally of
1,500 political killings in 1988. However, the facts
presented are frequently sketchy, often making it difficult to
determine why a particular killing is labeled political.
In 1987 the Government published a list of 140 organizations
thought to be involved in extrajudicial killings and covering
the entire political and criminal spectrum. A study published
in the magazine Futuro in September 1988 supported the
contention that violence touches all the political parties,
although disproportionately. The study counted the number of
public and party officeholders who had been killed from the
time President Barco took office until September 1988, a
period of 23 months. It found that during that time 235
members of the Conservative party, 258 members of the Liberal
party, and 339 members of the much smaller leftist Patriotic
Union (UP) were murdered.
Interparty violence is not new to Colombia. However, the
introduction of the Patriotic Union party into the political
scene in 1984 changed the focus from conservative vs. liberal
violence (the more traditional battle which had been largely
brought under control) to that between extreme rightwing and
leftwing groups. The UP was formed by the largest guerrilla
group in Colombia as one result of President Betancur's peace
initiatives, and some in its leadership retain active ties
with the guerrillas. Since its inception, the UP has suffered
from a very high level of assassinations and intimidation.
There is little doubt that narcotics traffickers and
individual members of the military and police have been
Labor also suffers a disproportionately higher rate of
violence. The largest workers' confederation, the Unitary
Workers Central (CUT), listed 143 of its members as being
killed in the first 7 months of 1988. Many of the affiliates
of CUT are Communist controlled, and some, like the banana
workers unions in Uraba, are controlled by guerrilla groups.
Many union members have therefore been drawn into events
surrounding guerrilla activity and the violence associated
with it. Democratic trade union leaders have been threatened
and assassinated by guerrillas trying to weaken and intimidate
moderate unions. As the year was coming to a close four
workers at a cement plant in Puerto Nare were killed by
members of the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC); two other workers were tortured but
survived. Peasants have also been frequent targets.
Statistics compiled by security forces and released to the
press in November show that over 450 campesinos were killed by
guerrilla groups as of November 19, and 1,647 were killed by
"other groups."
There was a dramatic increase in the incidence of massacres in
1988. In the first 6 months of the year, official sources
noted 22 massacres (defined as five or m.ore people murdered in
one incident) leaving 231 victims. According to police
statistics, over 70 percent of this violence has occurred in
the Uraba region of Antioquia and nearby Cordoba and has
stemmed from labor friction, increased guerrilla activity, and
the recent purchase by narcotics traffickers of large tracts
of productive land in areas where guerrilla and common
criminal extortion and kidnaping schemes have forced out
traditional landowners.
Amnesty International (AI) declared a "human rights emergency"
in Colombia and released a special report on the situation in
April. AI focused almost exclusively on violence caused by
what it describes as a government campaign, run by the
military high command, designed to wipe out political
opposition. This attribution of nearly all political violence
to the Government was immediately rejected as inaccurate and
misleading by Colombians with a wide variety of political
views. The difference between AI ' s report and the more
complicated picture visible to other observers of human rights
in Colombia caused many to question AI ' s methodology and
conclusions. AI appears to have relied heavily on the reports
and conclusions of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of
Human Rights and on members of the guerrilla-affiliated
Patriotic Union. The presidential Counselor for Human Rights
denied Government complicity in political killings and
complained that AI did not give proper weight to violence
committed by all nongovernmental elements.
Information contained in the CINE? bulletin points to only a
few unsolved cases which may have been perpetrated directly by
the security forces. However, great uncertainty exists about
the extent to which the security forces are involved in aiding
and abetting political killings by private vigilante groups.
In some instances, local military units have supported the
establishment of village self-defense groups, which in most
cases consist of persons with only rudimentary training and
arms. A Department of Administrative Security (DAS--roughly
equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the
United States) investigation into the Uraba massacres of March
and April disclosed that the farms where the massacres
occurred, and many of the victims, had been subjects of
military intelligence surveillance. DAS did not accuse the
military of committing the killings, but a criminal indictment
was handed down against an intelligence officer and two police
officials for being involved in planning the crimes.
In the case of a November 11 nighttime massacre in Segovia,
Antioquia, which left 42 people dead and over 30 wounded, the
local army and police commanders were charged x-jith negligence
for not protecting the town. The random killings in this
incident did not follow the pattern of previous massacres, and
the perpetrators are still unknown. The Government
established a high-level commission to investigate the
incident, and the new Defense Minister, Manuel Jaime Guerrero
Paz, promised to work to eliminate all illegal armed groups of
both the right and the left. Following the Segovia massacre,
the President issued new decrees designed to attack terrorism
from rightwing groups.
Until recently the military had jurisdiction over all active
military members. There is little evidence, however, that it
has vigorously sought to purge its ranks of those who commit
human rights abuses. In many cases, abuses have been dealt
with in a "court of honor," which often led to the discharge
of officers and men from military service, but not to criminal
prosecution. The Attorney General and the presidential
Counselor for Human Rights conducted a campaign in 1988 to
have active military members, including the police, tried in
the civilian court system for acts committed outside the scope
of their duties. In August civilian investigations led to
indictments against two policemen in the execution murder of
two UP members, two army officers for planning and financing
the assassination of a UP mayor, and an officer and policemen,
along with Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellin Cartel,
for planning the March massacre of active supporters of the
People's Liberation Army (EPL) guerrilla group in Uraba. A
decision is still pending as to whether the cases will be
tried in civilian courts. In a conference on "impunity" on
September 19, President Barco said, "the military must accept
that excesses, violations of orders and laws, or crim.inal acts
committed outside of service by members of the military, will
be quickly and exemplarily punished."
      b. Disappearance
Most disappearances take place in areas of active guerrilla
insurgency as a result of voluntary or forced recruitment by
the guerrillas, flight from such recruitment, executions by
either the guerrillas or vigilante groups, or common
kidnaping. The army has been accused of abducting local
residents to act as guides, but the one case which aroused
international interest ended when the "disappeared" person
appeared before a local judge to say he v.'as working for the
army voluntarily.
Most international concern centers on apparent arrests and
disappearances attributed to security forces. Stories abound
of people in rural areas being led off into the night by
uniformed men. However, uniforms of security forces and
guerrillas are often identical, as are the weapons. Narcotics
trafficker assassination squads also use the same fatigue-type
uniforms and employ anyone willing and able to carry out their
illegal activities, regardless of political orientation.
Ex-soldiers and policemen have been implicated in some
Kidnapings increased in 1988. A leading newspaper noted 616
kidnapings as of December 17. As of the end of the year, over
500 victims remained in the hands of their captors. Three
U.S. citizens were kidnaped by guerrillas in the last year.
Two were released by the FARC after 8 months of captivity and
one is still being held, presumably by the National Liberation
Army (ELN)
Guerrilla kidnapings of landowners garner vast sums and often
force families off the land. According to media accounts,
this tactic has motivated some landowners to form vigilante
groups. Narcotics traffickers often purchase land from
distressed owners and hire their own assassins (one such group
is known as Death to Kidnapers (MAS)) to go after guerrillas
or their perceived supporters. The guerrilla group M-19
kidnaping of conservative leader Alvaro Gomez on May 22
created a political crisis. Gomez was held for 2 months and
finally released after the M-19 received promises from
nongovernmental groups for national conciliation talks.
Narcotics traffickers also use kidnapings to intimidate and
weaken the Government. In January, in order to pressure the
Government into ending extradition, a group known as the
extraditables kidnaped both the conservative candidate for the
mayor of Bogota and the Attorney General. The mayoral
candidate was rescued on January 25, the same day that the
Attorney General was killed.
The Attorney General's human rights office was created by
President Barco in 1986 specifically to investigate
allegations of official disappearances. The office has
received over 400 complaints, of which 70 are still under
investigation. In most of the other cases, legal time limits
for the conduct of investigations had expired before any
suspects had been identified. The director of the office is
obligated to ensure that commanders of accused police and
military units carry out investigations; the office can also
call on DAS for a more thorough investigation. In one case, a
sergeant was convicted of kidnaping even though the victim was
never seen again. In most cases, however, no information is
developed. Under current legal rules, virtually the only
useful evidence is eyewitness testimony, and knowledgeable
officials say that most people are afraid to cooperate for
fear of retribution.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture is prohibited by law and is generally not practiced.
In December the Council of State (an independent court of last
appeal for administrative affairs, equal in rank to the
Supreme Court), found the Government culpable in the torture
and death of a guerrilla in 1986. It ordered the Government
to pay an indemnity to the family of the victim. Most
reported incidents of official torture result from initial
interrogation by the police, even though victims are usually
released shortly after being arrested because of strict rules
of habeas corpus. In an effort to resolve such problems, the
presidential Counselor for Human Rights, Alvaro Tirade, has
begun a program to establish an official human rights office
in each municipality. Such offices were established in Bogota
and Cali in 1988. They are empowered to investigate
allegations of abuse, order medical exams, and follow cases
through the disciplinary and criminal systems. If the
security forces are reluctant to cooperate, the municipal
office has legal options and may turn to the presidential
Counselor for help. The President has given his full support
to this program. The Bogota office, which began operation in
May, employs 5 lawyers. As of September it was receiving
about 12 complaints a week.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
There have been no allegations that the police or armed forces
use arbitrary arrest or detention as a coercive measure. The
constitutional right to a judicial determination of the
legality of detention is respected. A person may be arrested
if apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if an
appropriate order of capture has been issued by the police or
a judge. The police must place a detainee at the disposition
of a judge within 24 hours, except when a statement is given
by the suspect, in which case the judge must hold a
preliminary hearing within 48 hours. If the judge finds that
there is enough evidence to pursue the case, he issues an
order of detention under which bail is possible, or an order
of preventive detention, under which the person is
incarcerated until trial. The law stipulates a specific time
within which a trial must be held or the person released and
also provides for the granting of parole and probation after
There are no legal provisions for exile. Many people who have
fled the country on their own after receiving death threats
claim to be in exile.
with regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative
branches of government. The rights of public trial and due
process are provided for in the Constitution. Accused persons
have the right to representation by counsel; if they do not
have an attorney, the court will appoint one. However, due to
an overburdened judicial system, and a traditional reluctance
to grant bail, most prisoners incarcerated for common crimes
never come to trial but are simply released after serving the
minimum sentence applicable to the crimes alleged. Only 25
percent of prison inmates have been convicted of crimes. When
a case does come to trial, the judicial system is sometimes
unable to conduct it impartially. Magistrates, judges,
jurors, and attorneys have been threatened or killed because
they were investigating or prosecuting narcotics traffickers
or their associates. In September the Attorney General
suspended the proceedings against the accused assassins of
former Justice Minister Lara Bonilla just before the jury was
to announce its verdict. He had information that the lives of
the jurors had been threatened and stated that a fair verdict
could not be guaranteed. The accused assassins have been
linked to the Medellin cocaine cartel. In November the
Government issued decrees to allow the Justice Minister to
change the venue for dangerous cases and to eliminate jurors
in terrorism cases. These modifications are awaiting review
by the Supreme Court.
A special Tribunal of Public Order was created in January to
try crimes involving noncombat violence by the guerrillas and
the intimidating tactics of the narcotics traffickers. By the
third quarter of 1988, the Tribunal had been organized and was
hearing its first cases. Specialized narcotics judges
established in 1987 were overwhelmed as a result of having to
hear every case involving more than a gram of any drug. In
August the new Justice Minister decreed that the narcotics
judges would only hear those cases involving more than 2
kilograms of narcotics.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution requires a court order for authorities to
enter a private home, except in the case of hot pursuit.
While Colombian human rights organizations report widespread
violations in the more remote areas, government forces
generally respect the sanctity of the home and privacy in most
parts of the country. Persons from rural areas frequently
claim that they have been forced to leave their farms by
military counterinsurgency operations, guerrilla conscriptionand
confiscation, and by armed thugs hired by local landowners.
Telephone taps and mail intercepts are allowed under Colombian
law, but only under close judicial supervision. An agency
wishing to employ such measures must apply in writing to the
Attorney General and provide legal justification for the
action. There have been no known abuses of this system in the
past year.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
These constitutionally assured rights are respected, and the
press often vigorously criticizes the Government and its
leaders. The privately owned print media are under no
governmental restraints and publish a wide variety of
political views, including public calls for the President's
resignation. Television channel frequencies are regulated by
the State, which leases time to private companies and imposes
some guidelines to ensure equal time for political
candidates. Since 1987 all legally registered political
parties have had access by law to national television.
Leaders of various political groups are commonly interviewed
on television.
The Government has attempted to impose some controls over
media coverage of terrorist events, on the grounds that many
of these are designed solely for publicity purposes.
Journalists successfully fought a proposed law in Congress at
the end of 1987 which would have required them to reveal their
sources for stories on terrorism. In January President Barco
decreed that, since the State owns the airwaves, it could
regain control of those frequencies assigned to private users
in times of war or national emergency. These provisions were
put into effect during a nationwide general strike on October
27, when radio and television stations were prohibited" from,
releasing any information about the strike which did not come
from official sources. Severe penalties were promised for
violators. The decree was canceled on October 28. No
prosecutions were undertaken as a result of the one day the"
decree was in effect. The Supreme Court in December upheld
the constitutionality of the law permitting the decree.
Following the May kidnaping of Conservative party leader
Alvaro Gomez by the M-19 guerrillas and the public scandal
caused by a subsequent television interview with one of the
guerrilla leaders, all the major broadcast and print media
signed a voluntary declaration promising not to publicize
those terrorist actions designed primarily to gain publicity.
As of the end of the year, however, many broadcasting
companies were again airing interviews with guerrilla leaders.
The most serious threat to freedom of expression comes from
the narcotics traffickers, who both threaten and kill
politicians, journalists, and others who publicly support
extradition or strong antinarcotics measures. Following the
release of major trafficker Jorge Luis Ochoa on December 30,
1987, Attorney General Carlos Mauro Hoyos made a series of
public statements criticizing the Government for not
extraditing the trafficker; he suggested ways to make
extradition feasible. On January 25, Hoyos was kidnaped and
murdered by a trafficker organization.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of peaceful assembly is respected. Public meetings
and demonstrations are normally held without interference.
Under the state of siege, prior permission is required for
demonstrations and is usually granted, except when the
Government believes there is a clear and imminent danger to
public order. During 1988 no marches or demonstrations by
major groups or parties were banned in the capital, Bogota,
although some demonstrations were restricted in outlying towns
and regions afflicted with guerrilla violence. A series of
major marches organized by guerrilla groups in May were
prevented from reaching departmental capitals by security
forces because of a fear of violence. In one case, an army
colonel was attempting to persuade marchers to turn back when
he was killed by armed guerrillas in their midst. In the
resulting firefight, 9 civilian marchers were killed.
Colombians have the constitutional right to form political
parties, trade associations, unions, clubs, or groups of any
type which do not advocate violence. Any organization is free
to associate with international bodies in its field. This
right is respected in practice.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. According
to official statistics, 217 different religious sects are
registered in Colombia. Although the predominant position of
the Catholic Church is established by a treaty between the
Government and the Vatican, and the overwhelming majority of
Colombians are Catholic, no legal discrimination exists
against any religious group.
The Government permits evangelism among Indians as long as the
Indians welcome the missionaries and are not induced to adapt
changes that inhibit their survival on traditional lands. The
Government requires all missionary groups (Catholic and
non-Catholic) to keep it informed of their activities and
expects them to respond to guidance. Most of the large number
of missionaries in Colombia indicate that they have
encountered no obstacles.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens are free to travel domestically and to leave and
return to Colombia. In traveling through areas where
operations against rural guerrillas are under way, civilians
require "safe conduct" passes from the military; guerrillas
reportedly use a similar means to restrict travel in areas
under their control. There are no restrictions on
emigration. Colombians who have sought and been granted
diplomatic asylum in foreign embassies have always been
allowed to depart the country. Expatriates can, by law,
repatriate. Colombia uses accepted United Nations standards
to determine the status of refugee and asylum seekers and does
not turn away those who qualify.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Colombia has a democratic system of government, and elections
are conducted fairly and openly. Persons are enfranchised by
the Constitution at age 18. Those convicted of certain crimes
may be disenfranchised. Public employees are forbidden by law
to participate in political campaigns but, with the exception
of military personnel, may vote.
Colombian politics are dominated by two major parties, the
Liberal and the Social Conservative, and each includes
elements with widely divergent political views. All parties
are free to raise funds, to field candidates, to hold public
meetings, to have access to the media, and to publish their
own newspapers. The UP, participating for the first time in
national elections in 1986, and in local elections in 1988,
had the best showing by a third party in recent history,
gaining 3.1 percent of the total vote cast in city council
elections in 1986, and less than 1 percent of the vote in the
1988 mayorial elections. Legislation which for the first time
provided for the direct election of mayors beginning in March
1988 was signed into law by President Betancur on January 1,
1986. On March 13, Colombia held elections widely accepted as
fair; 17 different parties fielded candidates in Bogota.
The law provides women equal political rights, and women
currently serve as legislators, judges, governors of
departments (states), political party leaders, government
officials, and diplomats. Nevertheless, as in most of Latin
America, Colombian women have a much harder time gaining
positions of authority than do men. Social attitudes are
changing slowly, however, and more women are now seen in
executive and leadership positions.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Partly to counter the special AI report on Colombia in April,
the Government actively sought out international human rights
organizations in 1988, inviting them to Colombia to
investigate conditions. Alvaro Tirado traveled to New York
specifically to request that the U.N. Committee on
Disappearances visit Colombia. The delegation visited in
October. The Government cooperated with AI during its
investigations earlier in the year. The Organization of
American States (OAS) , the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the
European Parliament have expressed support for the
Government's efforts to improve the human rights situation.
The Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights is the
most active nongovernmental Colombian human rights
organization. The Committee's statistics have been used
extensively by international organizations such as AI
Americas Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America.
The Committee, universities, and other groups regularly
sponsor conferences to analyze the violence in Colom.bia.
Colombia is an active participant in internatioiial and^
regional human rights bodies, and was chosen as a member of
the U.N. Human Rights Commission team which investigated human
rights in Cuba in 1988. The office of the presidential
Counselor for Human Rights sponsored a Human Rights Awareness
Week in schools throughout the country in May. Students were
encouraged to report any suspected abuses to either
governmental or nongovernmental bodies, international as well
as national.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The law provides women equal civil and property rights. Women
comprise just over 25 percent of the country's economically
active population but are concentrated in low-income sectors.
Their inferior economic situation is especially pronounced in
rural areas. However, the historically higher unemployment
rate for women has decreased in recent years. Women are
legally entitled to remuneration equal to that of their male
counterparts, a law generally respected more by the Government
than private industry. As more women graduate from
universities and participate in the work force, they are
increasingly active at all levels of society. Women currently
comprise 40 percent of the university population.
Colombian Indians legally enjoy all rights and privileges of
full citizenship. However, Indian rights groups protest that
they suffer a variety of abuses, and they are seeking to
promote local improvements through community action, public
education, and legal aid. The most common complaint is that
Indians are forced off contested land by armed thugs hired by
landowners. When the Indians retaliate, the landowners call
on local police and military forces for protection. The
presidential Counselor for Human Rights was active in 1988 to
find ways to improve the protection of Indian rights. He has
recently been successful in having legislation passed calling
on the Government to designate or purchase additional land for
collective Indian use.
Section 6 Workers Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The right of workers to organize labor unions and strike is
recognized specifically in the Constitution, although public
service unions may not strike. Law 26 of 1976 affirms the
autonomy of labor organizations to produce their own statutes
and rules, to elect trade union officials, and to administer
their own activities. Law 26 also prohibits the dissolution
or suppression of trade unions by administrative fiat and
allows the almost automatic granting of official status to
labor organizations with the requisite number of members.
While the right to strike is guaranteed, the steps required
before a legal strike may be called include direct
negotiations, followed by conciliation, and only then may the
problem advance to the stage of either a strike or arbitration
by the Labor Ministry. Arbitration is compulsory in the
public service sector and for official employees who legally
do not have the right to strike. In the private sector the
Minister of Labor may intervene in a dispute at the stage of
conciliation and when it affects the national economy.
Almost half of the country's 1.2 million unionized workers
belong to the Unitary Workers Central (CUT), formed in 1986.
Although the CUT is not officially a member of the
Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) , it
is heavily influenced by its pro-Moscow Communist component
and has retained strong links to the international Communist
labor movement. The remaining union members belong to three
long-established confederations, two of which are affiliated
with the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the third with
the Christian Democratic World Confederation of Labor (WCL)
The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on
Freedom of Association in its meeting in November extensively
reviewed a number of previous cases and reached interim
conclusions on five current complaints against Colombia
relating to allegations concerning murder, disappearances,
arrests and assaults, anti-union discrimination, and the
Government's processing of requests for legal recognition of
trade unions. The Committee took note of the ILO's August 31
to September 7, 1988, mission to Colombia, thanked the
Government for its full cooperation, and expressed its deep
concern at the dramatic situation of violence which impedes
the full exercise of trade union activities. In addition, the
Committee expressed shock at the very high number of murders
and disappearances, noting its serious concern that over 200
trade union leaders and members, mostly linked to the CUT,
were among the victims. It urged the Government to adopt
vigorous measures to dismantle paramilitary groups which the
report identified as the authors, along with hired assassins,
of a majority of the murders of trade unionists; and requested
the Government to strengthen the human and financial resources
of the judiciary. The representative of the Government of
Colombia termed the situation in his country as urgent, stated
that the Government was doing everything possible to counter
the violence, and expressed appreciation to the Committee for
its recommendations. (See Section l.a for a discussion of
violence directed against unions.)
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right of workers to organize labor unions and to engage in
collective bargaining enjoys constitutional protection. At
the present time, unions have been successful in organizing
only the largest firms and the public services, which include
about 12 percent of Colombia's economically active population.
In the private sector, workers have the right to bargain
collectively; however, because of high unemployment, they have
limited bargaining power. Use of strikebreakers is prohibited
by law, and generous severance benefits tend to discourage
management from firing union militants. However, this
provision, like other provisions of labor law, are effectively
ignored by small and medium-size enterprises.
Colombian labor law is applied uniformly throughout the
country, including in its small export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is legally prohibited, and the
prohibition is respected in practice.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The law prohibits the employment of children in most jobs
before the age of 14, particularly where such employment might
interfere with schooling. This provision is respected in
larger enterprises and major cities. However, the extensive
informal economy is effectively outside government control.
Approximately 2.5 million children under 15 work in the
informal sector for low pay under poor conditions with little
protection from the labor code.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government annually sets a national minimum wage which
serves as an important benchmark for wage bargaining. The
minimum wage (about $100.00 per month as of December 1988) is
barely sufficient to maintain an acceptable standard of
living. However, despite an inflation rate running close to
24 percent, purchasing power only grew 2.3 percent in 1988.
One report noted that 60 percent of the work force is paid the
minimum wage or less.
The labor code regulates the hours of labor and other work
conditions. While the 8-hour day is standard in larger
companies, the workweek for most Colombians generally exceeds
40 hours. A standard week of five 8-hour days remains an
important long-term goal of Colombian trade unions.
Workers' occupational safety and health are extensively
regulated, including use of protective clothing and
ventilation, first aid and fire fighting equipment at the job
site, sanitary facilities and potable water, and compensation
for injuries. These regulations apply to the larger
agricultural enterprises as well as industry and mining.
However, exemptions for small companies, the frequent use of
workers as subcontractors rather than employees, and general
enforcement difficulties leave large numbers of workers
outside the protection of the law. The Government is
endeavoring to improve regulatory enforcement and improved
work conditions are a priority goal of trade unions.
Violations appear to be more frequent among the newer, smaller
industries. Between 1982 and 1985, Labor Ministry inspection
visits to 12,452 companies established that only 8.4 percent
of them observed all the labor-related legal regulations,
while 91.2 percent of the companies violated an average of
four labor regulations each. More than half of all the
violators were concentrated in the commerce, restaurant, and
hotel industries, while almost one fourth were in the
manufacturing sector. Labor regulations most frequently
violated by management were mandatory affiliation of workers
to the Social Security Institute, observance of minimum salary
levels, timely payment of salaries, and maintenance of
hygienic and occupational safety conditions