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Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance

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In the early years of the 21st Century, 2000 to 2025                                


The systematic killing of civilians to fraudulently inflate guerrilla death tolls resulted in as many as 3,000 murders by the military between 2002 and 2008. Such killings plummeted after the scandal was exposed, but in May 2019 the New York Times reported that the military was again emphasizing body counts, with a corresponding rise in extrajudicial executions.

[Freedom House Country Report, 2020]

Description: Description: Description: Colombia

CAUTION:  The following links have been culled from the web to illuminate the situation in Colombia.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to validate their authenticity or to verify their content.



If you are looking for material to use in a term-paper, you are advised to scan the postings on this page and others to see which aspects of Torture by Authorities are of particular interest to you.  You might be interested in exploring the moral justification for inflicting pain or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment in order to obtain critical information that may save countless lives, or to elicit a confession for a criminal act, or to punish someone to teach him a lesson outside of the courtroom.  Perhaps your paper might focus on some of the methods of torture, like fear, extreme temperatures, starvation, thirst, sleep deprivation, suffocation, or immersion in freezing water.  On the other hand, you might choose to write about the people acting in an official capacity who perpetrate such cruelty.  There is a lot to the subject of Torture by Authorities.  Scan other countries as well as this one.  Draw comparisons between activity in adjacent countries and/or regions.  Meanwhile, check out some of the Term-Paper resources that are available on-line.

*** FEATURED ***

Torture goes on for families of Colombia’s disappeared

Agence France-Presse AFP, Bogota, Gulf News, 16 June 2018

[accessed 17 June 2018]

Colombia’s decades of conflict have caused more “disappeared” than South America’s military dictatorships put together, and the anguish still goes on, as the “living dead” leave hundreds of thousands of survivors in the grip of mental anguish, psychologists say.

Almost 11 years ago, her daughter — three months pregnant — and her husband went to spend a weekend in a tourist village near Cali. They never came back.   All trace of Mary Johana Cassallas, 21, and Jose Duque, 25, were lost in the violence of a more than five-decade war. They have become another statistic among 83,000 Colombians, according to the Latin American country’s National Center for Historical Memory.


*** ARCHIVES ***

2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Colombia

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 30 March 2021

[accessed 7 July 2021]


Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. CINEP reported that through August, security forces were allegedly involved in six cases of torture, including nine victims. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.


With the exception of some new facilities, prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, poor health care, and lack of other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Freedom House Country Report

2020 Edition

[accessed 14 May 2020]


The systematic killing of civilians to fraudulently inflate guerrilla death tolls resulted in as many as 3,000 murders by the military between 2002 and 2008. Such killings plummeted after the scandal was exposed, but in May 2019 the New York Times reported that the military was again emphasizing body counts, with a corresponding rise in extrajudicial executions. The military was buffeted by several additional scandals, including corruption allegations that led to the firings of five high-ranking generals and the revelation that an August bombing of a FARC encampment had killed eight minors. The accumulated controversies resulted in the forced resignation of defense minister Guillermo Botero in November and army chief Nicacio Martínez in December.

Attackers torture Colombian activist, 2 sons to death

Middle East North Africa Financial Network MENAFN, 8 October 2018

[accessed 9 October 2018]

The deaths have been discovered after a group of unidentified attackers accessed their house in the town of Bolivar, tortured and murdered Jaime Rivera, aged 52, before slaying his two sons, Jaime Reinel, aged 20, and Jeison Mauricio Rivera, aged 23 at about 5 am that morning.

Both Rivera and his son Jaime were identified as key figures in their community who, on many events, headed demonstrations rejecting state-executed eradication missions aiming at coca crops.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 - Events of 2014

Human Rights Watch, 29 January 2015 or

[accessed 18 March 2015]


ABUSES BY PUBLIC SECURITY FORCES - During the Uribe administration, Colombian military personnel executed large numbers of civilians, particularly between 2002 and 2008. In many cases—commonly referred to as “false positives”—soldiers and officers under pressure from superiors to boost body counts killed civilians and reported them as enemy combat casualites. There has been a dramatic reduction in cases of alleged unlawful killings attributed to security forces since 2009; nevertheless, there were credible reports of some new cases in 2013 and 2014.

The government does not keep statistics for “false positives” as a category of crime distinct from other types of unlawful killings. However, as of July 2014, the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating more than 3,500 unlawful killings allegedly committed by state agents between 2002 and 2008, and had obtained convictions for 402 of them. The vast majority of the 785 army members convicted are low-ranking soldiers and non-commissioned officers.   Some military personnel convicted of the crimes have enjoyed extravagant privileges in military detention centers.

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture

U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment  -- Doc. CAT/C/CR/31/1 (2004)

[accessed 25 February 2013]

D. Subjects of concern

7. The Committee reiterates its concern at the numerous acts of torture and ill-treatment reported widely and systematically committed by the State security forces and organs in the State party both during and outside armed operations. It also expresses its concern at the high number of forced disappearances and arbitrary executions.

8. The Committee expresses its concern that measures adopted or being adopted by the State party against terrorism and illegal armed groups could encourage the practice of torture. In this regard the Committee expresses its concern, in particular, at:

(a) The recruitment of part-time "peasant soldiers", who continue to live in their communities but participate in armed action against guerrillas, so that they and their communities may be the target of action by the illegal armed groups, including acts of torture and ill-treatment;

(b) Constitutional reform bill No. 223/2003, which, if adopted, would seem to confer judicial powers on the armed forces and enable persons to be detained and questioned for up to 36 hours without being brought before a judge.

9. The Committee also expresses its concern at:

(a) The climate of impunity that surrounds human rights violations by State security forces and organs and, in particular, the absence of prompt, impartial and thorough investigation of the numerous acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the absence of redress and adequate compensation for the victims;

(b) The allegations of tolerance, support or acquiescence by the State party's agents concerning the activities of the paramilitary groups known as "self-defence groups", which are responsible for a great deal of torture or ill-treatment;

(c) The judicial reform bill, should it be approved, would reportedly provide for constitutional limitation of amparo proceedings and reduce the powers of the Constitutional Court, particularly with respect to the review of declarations of states of emergency. Similarly, the Committee expresses its concern at the "alternative penalties" bill, which, if approved, would, even if they had committed torture or other serious breaches of international humanitarian law, grant conditional suspension of their sentences to members of armed groups who voluntarily laid down their arms;

(d) The allegations and information indicating:

(i) That some prosecutors in the Human Rights Unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office have been forced to resign and that members of the Unit have been threatened in connection with their investigation of cases of human rights violations;

(ii) Inadequate protection against rape and other forms of sexual violence, which are allegedly frequently used as forms of torture or ill-treatment. The Committee further expresses its concern at the fact that the new Military Penal Code does not expressly exclude sexual offences from the jurisdiction of the military courts;

(iii) The fact that the military courts are allegedly still, despite the promulgation of the new Military Penal Code and the Constitutional Court's decision of 1997 that crimes against humanity did not fall within the jurisdiction of the military courts, investigating offences that are totally excluded from their competence, such as torture, genocide and forced disappearance in which members of the police or armed forces are suspected of having been involved;

(iv) The widespread, serious attacks on human rights defenders, who are playing an essential role in reporting torture and ill-treatment; in addition, the repeated attacks on members of the judiciary, threatening their independence and physical integrity;

(e) The numerous forced internal displacements of population groups as a result of the armed conflict and insecurity in the areas in which they live, taking into account the continuing absence in those areas of State structures that observe and ensure compliance with the law;

(f) The overcrowding and poor conditions in penal establishments, which could be considered inhuman or degrading treatment;

(g) The absence of information on the application of article 11 of the Convention as regards the State party's arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to arrest, detention or imprisonment, and the reports received by the Committee to the effect that the State party is failing to discharge its obligations in this respect;

(h) The lack of satisfactory information concerning the rules in the State party's law for ensuring the application of article 3 of the Convention to cases of refoulement or expulsion of aliens in danger of being tortured in the country of destination.

Deadly Aid

Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno and Naomi Roht-Arriaza, Foreign Policy, 6 August 2012,0

[accessed 22 January 2013]

[accessed 21 July 2017]

How U.S. foreign assistance is helping human rights violators -- and how to stop it.

When Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jimenez, known as "Macaco," tried to reduce his expected prison time in 2008 by turning over his ill-gotten gains to prosecutors, he included on his property list the assets of a major palm oil cooperative. The revelation came as little surprise: The drug-running militias had famously displaced thousands of small farmers across the country through years of massacres, killings, torture and threats, and there had long been rumors that their proxies were developing palm oil projects on the stolen land. Now it was clear that the suspicions were correct.


From an old article -- URL not available

Article was published sometime prior to 2015

PARAMILITARIES - Despite their supposed demobilization, paramilitary groups, labelled “criminal gangs” (Bacrim) by the government, continued to expand their territorial presence and influence. In February, the then Minister of the Interior and Justice, Germán Vargas Lleras, acknowledged that Bacrim had territorial control in many parts of the country, both in urban and rural areas. Reports were received that increasing numbers of paramilitaries were operating in areas with a significant security force presence.

Paramilitaries, sometimes with the collusion or acquiescence of the security forces, continued to commit serious human rights violations, including killings and enforced disappearances, as well as social cleansing operations in poor urban neighbourhoods. Their victims were mainly trade unionists, human rights defenders and community leaders, as well as members or representatives of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities.

On 12 September, at least 30 armed and uniformed members of the paramilitary group Los Rastrojos arrived at the hamlet of Pesquería, Cumbitara Municipality, Nariño Department. They threatened and ransacked the community and accused them of collaborating with the guerrilla. The paramilitaries reportedly dismembered two civilians while they were still alive in front of the whole community. They also kidnapped 13 people, at least two of whom were killed.


For current articles:: Search Amnesty International Website

[accessed 25 December 2018]

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Human Rights Reports » 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006

[accessed 22 January 2013]

[accessed 3 July 2019]

TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT – Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that the police, military, and prison guards sometimes mistreated and tortured detainees. Members of the military and police accused of torture are tried in civilian, rather than military, courts (see section 1.e.). CINEP asserted that, as of June, security forces were involved in 25 incidents of torture, a 67 percent decrease compared with the first 6 months of 2004. CINEP also reported that during the first 6 months of the year there were 97 victims of torture: 5 victims resulting from abuse of authority and social intolerance by "direct and indirect" state agents; 75 victims resulting from political persecution by direct and indirect state agents; and 17 victims resulting from political persecution or social intolerance where the perpetrator was unknown. Of these cases, 66 victims implicated the armed forces.

For example CINEP reported that in January troops accredited to the army's Mobile Brigade arbitrarily detained and tortured Ferney Vargas Hernandez in Cartagena de Chaira, Caqueta Department. The troops accused Vargas of being a guerrilla sympathizer.

In February authorities indicted three police officers for torturing and killing Edison Watsein in Medellin, Antioquia Department in 2002.

In October the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found a police officer and former soldier guilty of torturing Wilson Gutierrez Soler in 1994. The court ruled that the government pay approximately $400 thousand (900 million pesos) to Gutierrez and his family, as well as find the perpetrators of the crime, reform the country's detention centers, and set up training programs on the investigation and documentation of torture.

CINEP reported that paramilitaries were responsible for at least 25 cases of torture as of September. For example, on January 16, members of a paramilitary group in the municipality of Gigante, Huila Department tortured community leader Israel Guzman.

Also in January paramilitaries of the AUC under control of an individual with the alias "Giovanny" detained, tortured, and sexually abused Yeni Zurley Toro Bonilla, the local coordinator for the NGO Fundepaz in Charco, Narino Department.

In April AUC paramilitaries, apparently with the knowledge and acquiescence of the national police, arbitrarily detained, tortured, and executed 12 minors in Buenaventura, Valle de Cauca Department. The mutilated bodies of the victims were found floating in the ocean in an area known to be used by the AUC for torture and execution. The victims were all relatives of leaders of the Yurumangui community which was displaced by AUC paramilitaries.

Freedom House Country Report - Political Rights: 3   Civil Liberties: 4   Status: Partly Free

2009 Edition

[accessed 22 January 2013]

LONG URL   ç 2009 Country Reports begin on Page 21

[accessed 11 May 2020]

The civilian-led Ministry of Defense oversees both the military and the national police. However, many soldiers operating in Colombia’s complex security environment work under limited civilian oversight. The government has in recent years convicted an increased number of military personnel for grave human rights abuses.

Human rights groups in 2007 reported a marked rise in extrajudicial killings by state agents over the past several years. In many cases, soldiers killed civilians, dressed them as guerrillas, and tampered with crime scenes to inflate battle statistics and cover up their actions. In 2008, the problem was shown to be more extensive and systematic than previously understood, with impoverished urban youths in some cases being lured by offers of work, only to show up as dead “guerrillas” within days or weeks. Army chief Mario Montoya and several dozen other officers were fired over the scandal, and hundreds of soldiers remained under investigation at year’s end. The Uribe government was blamed in part for pressuring the military to show results based on body counts.

Right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas, some of whom are involved in drug trafficking, systematically abuse human rights. FARC guerrillas regularly extort payments from businesspeople, use hostages as human shields, and lay landmines that maim and kill civilians. Impunity is rampant, and victims often express frustration with the government’s level of commitment to obtaining economic reparations and prosecuting perpetrators.

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Cite this webpage as: Patt, Prof. Martin, " Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance & Other Ill Treatment in the early years of the 21st Century- Colombia",, [accessed <date>]