Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Latin America and the Caribbean region
QUARTERLY REPORTS OF FIELD OFFICES
22 September 2004
Distribution: PUBLIC Date: 22 September 2004
Original language: English/Spanish/French
Latin America and the Caribbean region
Period covered: May-July 2004
Regional Representative for Latin America and
the Caribbean Region 28
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(Period: May-July 2004)
Observation of the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law
70 field missions were carried out to the following departments: Tolima, Caquetá, Cundinamarca, Sierra Nevada, Sucre, Cesar, Antioquía, Valle, Atlántico, Córdoba, Chocó, Caldas, Risaralda, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Putumayo, Nariño, Huila, Arauca, Santander, Norte de Santander, as well as to area of Magdalena Medio.
Meetings with Government authorities, civil society, the international community and the UN system
The Office organised 28 meetings with central Colombian authorities. In a meeting with the team of the Early Warning System of the Ombudsman’s Office, the Office emphasized the need for good communications with this vital source of information in order to be able to follow up on implementation of the recommendations of the High Commissioner. In addition, more than 175 meetings were held with regional military and civilian authorities in Medellín, Cali and Bucaramanga.
The Office organized approximately 120 meetings with representatives of organizations of civil society at the central and regional level. In this regard, in June a meeting took place between the Coordination Colombia-Europa (a group of Colombian NGOs), the Vice President of Colombia, representatives of the international community and the Director of the Office. The meeting was organized with the aim of developing and institutionalizing consistent stable communication channels between civil society and the Government, as recommended by the High Commissioner in the annual report. In Medellín, the Office facilitated opportunities for dialogue between NGOs and civilian and military authorities, such as, for instance, a series of meetings between the Regional Procuraduría of Antioquía and a group of 5 NGOs that served to open channels of communication regarding as how cases are dealt with by this government institution as well as providing a forum for the NGOs to express concerns regarding particular cases. In addition, the Office facilitated a meeting between mayors, municipal representatives, representatives from the Offices of the Ombudsman, of the Procurator General, the Attorney General and NGOs in order to discuss the alleged abuse of power by the Special Forces of the Police during demonstrations held against imposition of a so-called social toll imposed by the central government on entry/exit from towns.
On approximately 40 occasions, the Office met with members of the UN System and the broader international community centrally and regionally.
Individual complaints of human rights and humanitarian law violations
In total 453 complaints from victims or witnesses of human rights and/or humanitarian law violations and others were received. Of these, 90 cases were classified as relevant for follow up action, and 19 cases were considered particularly important to identifying patterns of serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.
Legal analysis and follow–up of human rights and humanitarian law policies
The Office continued to observe policies related to human rights and to provide advice to the Colombian Government and other State institutions in this matter. Special attention was focused on policies related to the right to justice, truth and reparation, justice reform and the fight against impunity, gender equality, economic, social and cultural rights, the use of anti-personnel mines, and torture.
The Office also focused on the preparation of the annual report of the High Commissioner to the Commission on Human Rights and, inter alia, planned priorities, guidelines, documents and activities related to this process in order to ensure relevant inputs. The Office continued to improve the data base by analyzing representative cases of human right violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. Relevant topics were identified to seek information from national authorities and institutions, in order for this information to be reflected in the High Commissioner’s annual report.
Preparatory work was initiated on the evaluation of the economic, social and cultural rights situation and the follow-up to the High Commissioner’s recommendations on this topic
Priority was given to follow-up on legislative policy. The Office prepared analytical documents and amicus curiae (qualified opinion) regarding the compatibility of several draft laws and constitutional reforms with international law, in particular, the Antiterrorist Statute and the draft law on Alternative Penalties (Ley de Alternatividad Penal), as well as the Criminal Code.
Regarding the so-called Alternative Penalties draft Law, the Office analyzed the latest amendment presented by the Government and prepared an analytical paper, which included the Office’s observations, in order to provide the Government and relevant Senators with advice as per the Office’s mandate. The draft law was subsequently not discussed by Congress, as it did not meet with the formal deadlines required in order to be considered by Congress in its last session in June.
The Office also presented amicus curiae to the Constitutional Court on the Antiterrorist Statute. It is expected that the Constitutional Court will decide on the constitutionality of the Antiterrorist Statute by the end of August – early September.
The Office up-dated the publication “Recommendations of International Human Rights Bodies to the Colombian State” to include those recommendations issued before April 2004. The publication will be available on the Office website and will be published in 2005. Work also commenced on a publication entitled “Freedom of Opinion, Expression and Information”.
The Office met with officials from the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Programme of the Office of the Vice-President in order to follow up on implementation of the recommendations of the High Commissioner.
With reference to the six priority areas of cooperation for Colombia identified by the international community following the meeting in London last year (as contained in the London Declaration from July 2003), the Office has participated in the work of working groups established by the Government on strengthening the rule of law and human rights, together with State institutions, other UN agencies and members of the international Community.
The Office also provided ongoing technical assistance to the development of a national plan on human rights education at the school and university level. Assistance provided to date includes advice on how to implement the recommendations contained in the international guidelines relating to the elaboration of national plans of human rights education, and also the provision of comparative experience from other countries in the field of human rights education at the school and university level. In addition, the Office facilitated the sharing of UNESCO’s experience as it relates to human rights education in school and universities with those entities responsible for elaboration of the national plan.
Implementation of Action 2
A Follow Up Group on the implementation of Action 2 has been established within the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) composed of interested heads of agencies, and chaired by the Office. The Follow Up Group will supervise implementation of the work plan of the Technical Group on implementation of Action 2. The responsibility of the Technical Group will be to advise on the gradual integration of human rights in the policies, programmes, plans and activities of the UNCT during the period 2004-2006, in line with the Secretary-General’s reform programme. The first meeting of the Technical Group, which will also be chaired by the Office, is expected to take place in late August.
On 28 July, the Office co-organized with UNIFEM a workshop on the development of gender indicators for inclusion in UN projects of technical cooperation for members of the UNCT Gender Working Group. Workshop participants were from UNFPA, UNDP, UNHCR, ILO, WHO and IOM. In addition to outlining conceptual issues relating to the development of indicators, the Office shared with the Working Group its experience in integrating gender into projects of technical cooperation. The workshop was appreciated by the participants and a series of follow up activities was agreed by the UNCT Gender Working Group for implementation during 2004 and early 2005.
Within the framework of the preparatory work of the UNCT on the elaboration of the Humanitarian Plan of Action (HAP), the Office has identified and formulated projects for training local governments and representatives of civil society in human rights, international humanitarian law and constitutional mechanisms aimed at the protection of human rights.
Attorney-General's Office (Fiscalía General de la Nación) Project
The project for the strengthening of the Attorney-General’s Office, funded by the Swedish Government, commenced in early July.
The planning process for next year (July 2004- June 2005) was completed. The plan covers all the activities of the Prisons Project. It is a tool for the implementation of activities and also a guide that aims at ensuring the continuity of the programmes when the Procurator General changes in January 2005. In June, the European Union, as main co-sponsor of the project, approved the Annual and Global work plans of the Project.
With reference to the component of the project related to the work of the national penitentiary institution (INPEC):
a) The Office continued to review INPEC internal procedures in order to identify their compatibility with national and international standards.
b) In connection with the seven prisons identified by the Office as pilot projects for the implementation of recommendations by the Office, visits were carried out to the prisons of Barranquilla and the Women’s Prison in Pereira in order to follow up on the status of implementation of the recommendations in these prisons.
c) A proposal was presented designed to integrate human rights into the curricula of the National Penitentiary School and a pedagogic proposal for training on human rights and international humanitarian law. After discussions with the School and INPEC, modalities and timeframe for implementation for this proposal were agreed. Implementation is expected to commence in August.
With reference to the component related to the Office of the Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo):
a) A first workshop was organised in July by the Office to discuss development of public policies and instruments for follow up and evaluation relating to the verification of the situation of human rights in prisons.
b) The collection of information commenced on the status of implementation of the recommendations addressed by the Office to the directors of the prisons of Quibdó, Riohacha, Desquebradas, Girón, Popayán, Cali and Buen Pastor (Bogotá).
c) A workshop for 45 regional members of the Ombudsman’s Office on international human rights law and the international obligations of the State took place in Bogota in July, focusing on the human rights of persons deprived of liberty.
With reference to the component related to the Office of the Procurator General (Procuraduría General de la Nación):