Colombia: What it means to be a "military objective" (objetivo militar), including who executes these threats and methods of issuing them; whether there is an internal flight alternative for someone who has been issued a threat; state response [COL105118.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an assistant professor of sociology at Winthrop University in South Carolina who has conducted research on Latino populations, including internally displaced populations in Colombia, indicated that when a person is declared a "military objective," it means that their "life, physical integrity, and freedom are endangered" and that this threat also extends to their family (Assistant Professor 16 Mar. 2015). Moreover, the Assistant Professor noted that the "most common" reason why a person is declared a "military objective" is to "eliminate the presence of a leader or prominent person in the community" (ibid. 20 Mar. 2015). Similarly, in a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, an associate professor of political science at the University of Los Andes in Bogota who has done research on armed conflict, peacebuilding and global security studies said that when a person is declared a "military objective," it means that they have been "issued a threat to be killed" (Associate Professor 10 Mar. 2015).

Sources indicated that most of the armed groups in Colombia have issued threats declaring a person a "military objective" (Assistant Professor 16 Mar. 2015; Associate Professor 10 Mar. 2015), including paramilitary and guerrilla groups (ibid.). Sources report that some of the armed groups issuing this type of threat include the following:

  • Los Rastrojos (Agencia EFE 23 Sept. 2014; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014; WOLA 9 Oct. 2014);
  • the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) (UnoAmérica 16 Jan. 2015; El Espectador 16 Jan. 2015); and
  • the Black Eagles' Atlantic-Coast Northern Bloc (Bloque Norte Costa-Atlántica de las Águilas Negras) (OAS 30 Jan. 2015; El Universal 13 Jan. 2015).

According to sources, some methods of declaring a person a "military objective" include the following:

  • phone calls, messengers (Assistant Professor 16 Mar. 2015; Associate Professor 10 Mar. 2015);
  • "pamphlets" (Agencia EFE 23 Sept. 2014; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014; WOLA 9 Oct. 2014); and
  • written messages (Assistant Professor 16 Mar. 2015; Associate Professor 10 Mar. 2015; OAS 30 Jan. 2015) left at people's homes and places of work (ibid.).

2. People Targeted as "Military Objectives"

Sources indicate that people targeted as "military objectives" include human rights defenders (WOLA 9 Oct. 2014; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014; OAS 30 Jan. 2015). Sources report that a letter signed by Los Rastrajos that was sent to the National Network of Peace Initiatives (Red Nacional de Iniciativas Ciudadanas por la Paz y contra la Guerra, REDEPAZ) declared nine human rights defenders as "military objectives" (WOLA 9 Oct. 2014; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014). According to two Colombian NGOs, the pamphlet was delivered to REDEPAZ on 22 September 2014 (Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris 23 Sept. 2014; Fundación Paz y Reconciliación 23 Sept. 2014). Colombia Reports, a news website on Colombian issues, provides a translation of an excerpt of the letter: "'[i]n any place in Colombia, our fight will be from the beginning to the end against our enemies: human rights defenders, FARC, ELN [National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional)], EPL [Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación)], and other similar organizations'" (24 Sept. 2014). The nine individuals named in the letter are the following:

  • León Valencia and Ariel Ávila (WOLA 9 Oct. 2014; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014), respectively Director and Coordinator of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación) (ibid.);
  • Fernando Hernández, Director of the New Rainbow Corporation (Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris) (ibid.; WOLA 9 Oct. 2014);
  • Julio Roberto Gómez, President of the General Confederation of Labour (Confederación General del Trabajo, CGT) (ibid.; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014; Agencia EFE 23 Sept. 2014);
  • Luis Emil Sanabria, Director of REDEPAZ (ibid.; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014; WOLA 9 Oct. 2014);
  • Jesús Mario Corrales, President of the New Dawn Foundation (fundación Nuevo Amanecer) (ibid.; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014);
  • Leonel Narváez Gómez, President of the Foundation for Reconciliation (Fundación para la Reconciliación) (ibid.; WOLA 9 Oct. 2014);
  • Antonio Madariaga, Director of Corporation Long Live the Citizenship (Corporación Viva La Ciudadanía) (ibid.; El Espectador 24 Sept. 2014); and
  • Marco Romero, Director of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Forced Displacement (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento Forzado, CODHES) (ibid.; WOLA 9 Oct. 2014; Agencia EFE 23 Sept. 2014).

In January 2015, human rights defenders in the Atlántico, Sucre, Magdalena and Bolívar departments were declared "military objectives" in a pamphlet signed by the Black Eagles' Atlantic-Coast Northern Bloc (OAS 30 Jan. 2015; El Universal 13 Jan. 2015). According to the Cartagena-based newspaper El Universal, 37 people were listed in the pamphlet (ibid.), including

  • José Humberto Torres, Vice-president of the Foundation Committee of Solidarity with Prisoners (Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con Presos, FCSPP); and
  • Ingrid Vergara, Secretary in Sucre of the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado, MOVICE). (ibid.; OAS 30 Jan. 2015)

Sources also report that in January 2015, three Colombian leaders and their families were declared "military objectives" by the FARC:

  • María Fernanda Cabal, a member of congress;
  • Fernando Vargas Quemba [a lawyer and spokesman for guerrilla warfare victims (El Espectador 16 Jan. 2015)]; and
  • Jaime Arturo Restrepo [a lawyer and President of the Guerrilla Victims Association (Asociación de Víctimas de la Guerrilla Terrorista) (El Espectador 16 Jan. 2015)]. (UnoAmérica 16 Jan. 2015; El Espectador 16 Jan. 2015)

Sources report that a pamphlet that was allegedly signed by the Gaitanist Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) threatened 38 journalists, human rights defenders and public servants of the departments of Atlántico and Magdalena (Colombia 22 Jan. 2015; OAS 30 Jan. 2015). The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reports that the threat was made on 21 January 2015 (ibid.).

3. State Response

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Associate Professor at the University of Los Andes indicated that in instances when people are issued death threats, the Colombian government offers services through protection agencies that include "providing body guards to protect people and their homes and assistance in changing personal phone numbers to help conceal their identity" (10 Mar. 2015). The Assistant Professor at Winthrop University noted that if a person receiving a threat "currently holds a position of leadership or power or is a public servant in the judicial system, [they] might receive protection from the authorities, but not otherwise," adding that a citizen (or their family) who has been "victimized (displaced/killed)" may obtain resources from the state but might not receive protection from the police or other forces once the individual has received a threat (16 Mar. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) website, the UNP is in charge of [translation] "executing protection methods and prevention support, and promoting the right to life [...] and security of people, groups and communities whose positions or duties put them at risk" (Colombia n.d.a).

In a press release dated 22 December 2014, the Comptroller General of the Republic of Colombia (Contraloría General de la República, CGR) assessed the UNP's administration of its services as follows:

[translation]

[t]he Comptroller showed that there are weaknesses of control, classification, consistency, reliability and timeliness of information on issues related to applications for protection, risk assessment, actions taken and served beneficiaries, among others. (Colombia 22 Dec. 2014)

The CGR reported having received 11 complaints against the UNP in 2014 regarding "resource management, inventory, protection measures, payroll, hiring and supervision, and payment of traveling expenses, among others" (ibid.).

Sources indicate that Luis Carlos Cervantes, a journalist who reported on alleged connections between local governments in the department of Antioquia and criminal groups, including the Urabeños, had been receiving death threats since 2010 (CPJ 12 Aug. 2014; El Tiempo 13 Aug. 2014). In June 2014, the UNP decided to remove his police protection (ibid.; CPJ 12 Aug. 2014), a decision that took effect on 24 July 2014 (ibid.). Cervantes was killed in August 2014, and Andrés Villamizar, the Director of the UNP, explained that the decision to remove the protection detail was made because Cervantes no longer seemed to practice journalism (ibid.; El Tiempo 13 Aug. 2014). According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Attorney General's office created a special unit to investigate his murder and the reasons why his protection detail was withdrawn (CPJ 12 Aug. 2014). Further information on this special unit could not be found within the time constraints of this Response.

On 6 September 2014, media sources reported that Municipal Penal Judge 23 had issued an arrest warrant to extradite the Secretary General of the UNP, Julián Marulanda, who had allegedly fled the country, and was accused of crimes of extortion, bribery, malfeasance, and conspiracy (El Tiempo 6 Sept. 2014; El Espectador 6 Sept. 2014; Caracol Radio 6 Sept. 2014). Further information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In regards to the 21 January 2015 pamphlet allegedly signed by the Gaitanist Self-defense Forces of Colombia, the Office of the Ombudsperson of Colombia (Defensoría del Pueblo), the government institution that advocates for the protection of human rights in the country (Colombia n.d.b), noted on 22 January 2015 that 12 of the people threatened [translation] "benefitted from protective measures by the UNP," 2 others were undergoing a risk assessment and the situation of the remaining people was unknown (Colombia 22 Jan. 2015). As of 30 January 2015, the IACHR indicated that "several" of the people targeted in the January 2015 pamphlet were "beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR" (OAS 30 Jan. 2015). In "serious and urgent situations," the IACHR may, according to its own Rules of Procedure, "request that a State adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to persons" (ibid. n.d.). The Office of the Ombudsperson also asked the UNP to review its security measures to protect the lives of those threatened (Colombia 22 Jan. 2015). Information about the UNP's response to the recommendations of the Office of the Ombudsperson could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The Assistant Professor stated that "relocation within Colombia is not an option" for those who have been declared a "military objective" because "[p]aramilitary and guerrilla structures have extended vertical organizations and large networks" (16 Mar. 2015). The Associate Professor indicated that "[i]f a person has a public profile [...], then they are likely to be in danger" (10 Mar. 2015).

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 sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agencia EFE. 23 September 2014. "Banda criminal colombiana declara 'objetivo militar' a 9 defensores de DD.HH.; Colombia d. humanos." (Factiva)

Assistant Professor of sociology, Winthrop University. 20 March 2015. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

_____. 16 March 2015. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Associate Professor of political science, Universidad de Los Andes. 10 March 2015. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.

Caracol Radio. 6 September 2014. "Se fugó a Miami Julian Marulanda investigado por corrupción en la UNP." [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015]

Colombia. 22 January 2015. Defensoría del Pueblo. "Defensoría rechaza amenazas contra periodistas, defensores de derechos humanos y funcionarios de la Costa Caribe." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2015]

_____. 22 December 2014. Contraloría General de la República. "Contraloría cuestiona controles del parque automotor de la Unidad Nacional de Protección." [Accessed 20 Mar. 2015]

_____. N.d.a. Unidad Nacional de Protección (UNP). "¿Quiénes somos?" [Accessed 14 Apr. 2015]

_____. N.d.b. Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE). "Acerca del DANE Generalidades." [Accessed 15 Apr. 2015]

Colombia Reports. 24 September 2014. Joel Gillin. "Colombia's Paramilitary Successors Continue to Threaten Human Rights Defenders." [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015]

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 12 August 2014. "Luis Carlos Cervantes Solano." [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015]

Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris. 23 September 2014. "Declarados objetivo militar defensores de Derechos Humanos." [Accessed 13 Apr. 2015]

El Espectador. 16 January 2015. "Aparece presunto panfleto de las Farc con amenazas para María Fernanda Cabal." [Accessed 31 Mar. 2015]

_____. 24 September 2014. Javier González Penagos. "Piden investigar amenazas contra defensores de derechos humanos." [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015]

_____. 6 September 2014. "Fiscalía solicitó orden de captura con fines de extradición contra Julián Marulanda." [Accessed 1 Apr. 2015]

El Tiempo. 6 September 2014. "Julián Marulanda, investigado por corrupción en la UNP, salió del país." [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015]

_____. 13 August 2014. "¿Quién asesinó al periodista antioqueño Luis Carlos Cervantes?" [Accessed 23 Mar. 2015]

El Universal. 13 January 2015. "Circula en Barranquilla panfleto intimidatorio contra defensores de DD.HH." [Accessed 14 Apr. 2015]

Fundación Paz y Reconciliación. 23 September 2014. "Nuevas amenazas contra líderes de ONG." [Accessed 13 Apr. 2015]

Organization of American States (OAS). 30 January 2015. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). "IACHR Condemns Killing and Threats Against Defenders and Journalists in Colombia." [Accessed 13 Apr. 2015]

_____. N.d. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). "Precautionary Measures." [Accessed 15 Apr. 2015]

Unión de Organizaciones Democráticas de América (UnoAmérica). 16 January 2015. "Las FARC declaran 'objetivo militar' a tres líderes colombianos." [Accessed 5 Mar. 2015]

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). 9 October 2014. "Wave of Threats Hit Colombian Human Rights Defenders." [Accessed 5 Mar. 2015]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: The following individual was unable to provide information for this Response: research fellow specializing in Latin America, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

Attempts to contact the following were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: assistant professor of political science, Universidad de los Andes; associate professor of comparative politics in Latin America, George Mason University; Bogotá – Policía Metropolitana; Co-Director, US Program, Human Rights Watch; Colombia – Fiscalía General, Oficina de Protección y Asistencia, Policía Nacional; Fundación Seguridad y Democracia; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Medellín – Personería; Programa Somos Defensores.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; BBC; Cable Noticias; Colombia – Ministerio del Interior, Procuraduría General de la Nación; ecoi.net; El Universal; Europa Press; Freedom House; Fundación Ideas Para la Paz; InSight Crime; Instituto Popular de Capacitación; International Crisis Group; IRIN; Jane's Intelligence Review; Movimiento de Víctimas; Reporters Without Borders; UN – High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld, ReliefWeb; US – Department of State, Overseas Security Advisory Council.