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On march 12,1999, THE ÍNTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS of the Organization of the American States published its Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia. In the fifth chapter, it states:


  • “Impunity and denial of justice continue to be prominent in Colombia. Impunity in relation to all types of crimes is widespread. In June of 1996, the Superior Council of the Judiciary reported that between 97 and 98% of all crimes go unpunished, and that 74% of crimes go unreported. Other state authorities provide similar statistics. According  o information issued by the National Police, 90% of all crimes go unpunished. According to the 1996 report of the Commission for the Rationalization of Public Spending and  Finances, the level of impunity in all cases has reached 99.5%. That organization asserts that only one of every 100 crimes reached the trial stage of criminal proceedings....


  • It appears that the rate of impunity is even greater in relation to crimes involving human rights violations, resulting in a failure by the state to comply with its responsibilities and a denial of justice to the victims of violations and/or their family members. Human Rights monitors assert that virtually 100% of all crimes involving  human rights violations go unpunished. The experience of the Commission in the cases that are brought before it substantially supports this assertion....


  • Impunity in Colombia is structural and systemic. It is not simply a question of leaving numerous individual crimes unpunished. Rather, the issue is one of the creation of an entire system of impunity which affects the culture and life of the nation even for those individuals who are not directly affected by human rights violations or other crimes. Most international observers agree that this high level of impunity is itself one of the most serious human rights violations occurring in Colombia”


(Inter-American Commission, 1999: Chapter V, Nos. 12, 14,and 16).


Nevertheless, successive Colombian governments have boasted of "improve­ments" in the performance of justice. In reality, constitutional, legal, and admin­istrative  changes have taken place in the last decade without improving either human rights standards or the application of justice.


Following the normal procedure, human rights violations are denounced before the judiciary and/or before the disciplinary authorities. It is useful to recall, however, that  since the 1991 Constitution, there is a new criminal procedure. Under the previous system the investigatory stage was performed by an examining judge and the trial stage  by a trial judge, but no one single authority took responsibility for the criminal investigation as a whole. Under the new procedure it is not the judge, but rather the  prosecutor who must investigate and indict suspected criminals, after which judges will determine whether they are guilty. The Prosecutor General of the Nation is elected by the Supreme Court of Justice from a list of candidates submitted by the president. He or she and his/her delegates have competence throughout the national territory. To carry out its functions as an investigative and prosecutorial body, the Office of the Procurator General may adopt measures to ensure that criminal suspects will appear  before the courts, including the issuance of preventive detention orders. The Office of the Prosecutor General also directs and coordinates the work of investigative entities that depend upon the national police and other similar agencies.


From the 1980s onward, a parallel system of justice has been developed, which was first called Public Order Jurisdiction and later Regional Justice. This jurisdiction includes  drug-related crimes, crimes against the state and constitutional order, arms manufacturing and trafficking, terrorism, and membership in illegal armed groups. In these  processes, those involved in the proceedings such as judges, prosecutors, and witnesses are allowed to keep their identities secret. The National Tribunal acts as its appeal  court. Many international organizations have rejected this jurisdiction because of its structural violation of due process.


The Military Criminal Justice system is applied to members of the military forces and national police in active service and "in connection with that service." This latter  principle has been extended, in fact, to all their crimes, encompassing criminal and civil crimes as well as disciplinary violations. The commander of the respective division,  brigade, battalion, or other entity initiates the proceedings and serves as the court of first instance in conjunction with the martial courts that he names. The Superior Military Tribunal, whose president is the Commander of the Military Forces, acts as the appeals tribunal.

Since the early 1980s, the army has developed, with the explicit or implicit consent of the other powers of the state, a strong and widespread illegal paramilitary structure. This structure is composed of armed civilians acting under hidden direction from military officials to carry out the' 'dirty" operations that could affect the state's legitimacy. Paramilitary agents enjoy the utmost impunity, as this article demonstrates.

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Javier Giraldo