Unknown numbers, but thousands of dead

(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)
Monday, February 2, 2009

Polo Democratico web page

While the scandal of the so-called “false positives” of the Colombian army continues, the Polo newspaper reveals how, in declassified documents of the CIA and the State Department, there is evidence of the increase in the practice of extrajudicial executions in Colombia for more than twenty-five years.
The country is not confronting a new phenomenon, but rather a policy of the State that ended up by becoming a military “sub-culture” and an illegal tactic upon which numerous army officers relied in order to demonstrate results.
Gloria Helena Rey
During the XX Century, mankind obtained all its rights, but also invented all the ways of violating the laws that consecrated them. More than 60 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed, and since then hundreds pf treaties agreements and protocols have been developed and signed that prohibited torture and maltreatment, but many of those good intentions remained on paper.
Torture, one of the oldest scourges and one of the most pestilent cancers in the history of humanity, survived all the “chemotherapies” imposed by the speed of progress and the social, scientific and technological advances accomplished by man in the century of stress, vertigo and long-distance communication that ended in 2000.
In the so-called First and Third Worlds, torture and maltreatment continue being employed in the middle of the XXI Century, despite being considered crimes against humanity.
Colombian Sophistication

In Colombia torture has become sophisticated and now is camouflaged in threats and intimidations, which produce fear, in forced disappearances, in massacres, in punishments meant to be examples, which sow terror in the communities, and in kidnappings, which martyr the lives of hundred of families.
What they are trying to do here I to make “torture happen without being noticed and that it be assimilated as part of the everyday reality of the war, and it is precisely this that we must avid at all costs,” affirms Gloria Amparo Camilo, Director of the Avre Corporation, an NGO that, together with the Vinculos Corporation and with the support of the European Commission, prepared a study about the new forms of torture that are being practiced in our country. The important thing about the study is to make torture visible, to demonstrate that it exists and that it’s alive in the XXI Century, to make our society sensitive to it so they will denounce it and fight against it in every form in which is it found and oblige the Colombian State to assume its responsibilities in this respect. The existence of torture in whatever country “is a dangerous sign of the loss of the sense of humanity,” said Camilo.
To accept torture as a part of war “would be t help nourish a climate adverse to the defense of life, of human rights and in so doing, to legalize all violations in this respect” she warned.
Torture as a Mechanism of Social Repression

In Colombia, torture is one of the few things that has evolved in all these years of conflict. It went from being a method to gain information to being a mechanism of social repression that destroys the social fabric, generates distrust, isolates leaders, and attempts to put the brakes on the actions of human rights defense groups. Today, for example, a unionist is not murdered, but is constantly threatened. This creates a growing pressure in their family and in the social environment in which they develop which, in the end, immobilizes them and prevents them from developing their work as defenders of labor rights. Like that one, there are an infinite number of subtle forms of torture but the problem is that these practices are not considered torture by the Colombian State or by civil society in general.
Almost always, they are justified as actions related to the armed conflict, and when they are carried out security is placed before respect for life and rights. This is very serious because torture is being legalized in a soup of growing impunity and corruption” says Camilo. In Colombia, impunity is social, political and judicial, and translates into “making torture invisible, in the silence of the state authorities, in the absence of guarantees that was has happened will not be repeated, in the lack of implementation of judicial and social strategies to prevent this, in the absence of sanctions against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments,” according to the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners Foundation FCSPP, a human rights NGO legally recognized in Colombia 36 years ago.
Impunity and rewards increase torture

In many cases, after an investigation is initiated and despite the existence of elements that merit the application of the legal process of provisional suspension of those who have practiced torture, “this is not done and the victims are left in a situation of greater vulnerability and defenselessness in the face of the aggressor, who on occasions has the power and can count of the conditions to continue torturing and/or intimidating them,” they add.
“The procedures used by the judicial authorities in and for the Department of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science in Colombia tend to treat these cases as personal crimes, in this way hiding the practice of this crime against humanity,” the complain. The policy of “democratic security” of Alvaro Uribe has further complicated te situation, according to FCSPP.
“The demands on the public security forces for results, added to the policy of rewards for information, captures or killings, the institutional will to visit punishment, pain or vengeance on those they consider or accuse of being members of the insurgency and the necessity that the current government has to demonstrate results to public opinion, since it has based its popularity on a policy of war, help to increase it,” they maintain.
Further, stigmatizing the victims of torture, isolating them from the rest of society, considering them obstacles to achieving peace, accusing them of being part of the guerrilla forces, complicates even more any real and effective combat against torture, according to Camilo.
Returning to the past

In Latin America the military regimes no longer exist that with such shameless cruelty carried out torture, forcible disappearance and extrajudicial executions, and that systematically violated all rights in the decades of the 60s and 70s, but unfortunately, their ominous inheritance of abuses remains intact and torture continues being practiced with total impunity. Because of all this we have entered into a dangerous historic retreat. It’s as if we were living what Umberto Eco defined as “the crab’s passage,” as if we had learned nothing from the horror of so many years of violence and ignominy that characterized them. Israel and the United States are the only countries in the world that made torture an official policy, but Colombia is practically legalizing it under the shelter of the armed conflict. It’s employed, in all its forms, by all the actors in the conflict.
The illegal groups, of both the left and the right, use it, and the State security agents. That reinforced the chilling and permissive vicious circle of “I torture, you torture, and we all remain silent,” and legalizes a permissive impunity, sponsored by the vengeful law of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Torture is also used in Colombia as a method of political persecution: under the form of sexual violence, against the prisoners in the jails, and against the persons who are victims of kidnapping, according to a recent report presented to the Human Rights Committee of the United nations by several NGOs, defenders of human rights who are active in our country.
There is torture in Colombia was also the denunciation of Amnesty International in their 2008 report, and its practice and the obstacles that are put in the way of defending human rights continue being very worrisome, Kerrie Howard, adjunct director of Amnesty International for the Americas, with headquarters in London, admitted to POLO during a telephone interview. “Torture exists in Colomia, it is become sophisticated, and frequently treaties, agreements and protocols to fight it are not respected,” said Howard, who recognized that things would be much worse if none of those existed. “At least there are rules that we can use to pressure the State for respect of fundamental rights,” she said. “We can’t stand y with our arms crossed as if nothing were happening. We must denounce, train the communities to recognize and fight against the new forms of torture.”
Physical torture as usual

Torture is a war crime, according to International Humanitarian Law but it is practiced in Colombia, especially against campesinos, children, prisoners in jails and against the homosexual population. In 2007 93 cases of torture were proven, in which 66 persons lost their lives, according to a recent report of the Colombian Commission Against Torture, a non-governmental organization made up of a number of NGOs, both domestic and international. The Commission revealed that nearly 400 Colombians were victims of torture between 2004 and 2007 and that only 92 of them survived.
They pointed to the Colombian State as one of the most responsible for the practice of torture, although other investigations make the same accusation against the illegal armed groups, or they even attribute it to domestic violence. The diverse actors in the conflict deny that they practice torture but the stories of the formerly kidnapped about the tortures they received at the hands of the armed illegal groups and the testimonies collected by the Coalition against torture continue to be chilling.
Colombia has not signed the protocol against torture

One of the ways of approaching the combat against torture revolved around “all the work that can be done with the sectors involved: the health and social sectors, so that they have the needed alertness and willingness to identify the different modalities of torture and to orient them about the best way to fight it,” said Camilo.
Torture produces very serious harm not only at the physical level but also at the psychic level. Even more, among the human rights violations, torture is one of the practices that generate insuperable traumas. Treatment of the victims is not easy, and the goal is that they not be paralyzed so they can survive. It is a responsibility of the Colombian State to recognize that torture exists, but the government of Alvaro Uribe has refused to sign the international protocol against torture, maltreatment, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, which came into effect in June of 2006. “Perhaps because it represents a commitment, a great responsibility, which makes the country subject to0 the judgment and evaluation of the international community,” says Howard, the head of the Office for the Americas of Amnesty International.
The government of Uribe does not want to sign the protocol “because is they do it, that would be a recognition that there is torture, that there are violations of human rights, and that agents of the State commit those violations, which makes evident that the policy of Democratic Security has been involved in violations of human rights,” affirmed Camilo. Also, because it is a government that has been questioned constantly. In the “efficacy” of the policy of Democratic Security violations of human rights and infractions of international humanitarian law enjoy high levels of impunity, she added. She warned that “not signing the protocol is very serious because what it allows is, again, to make torture invisible and guarantee impunity, which at the same time generates more injuries.” The FCSPP believes that “the Colombian government lacks a public policy of prevention and sanction of torture and even seems to be more on the side of not recognizing that it occurs or of continuing to implement mechanisms that hide it, make it invisible, and even get in the way of judging it.”
Bodies of men, women and children, many of them disappeared, continue appearing disfigured, tortured or mutilated in places distant from our great cities…
Some terrible examples of torture:
1. Last January 4th, five political prisoners kept in a high and medium security jail en Valledupar where taken from their buildings and savagely beaten by guards, according to the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners Foundation.
José Adelmo Esquerra Lozano, one of the mistreated prisoners, was not able even to open his mouth to ask for water,” after the beating, claimed the organization, which assured us that this was not the first time that this had happened and accused the government, the Attorney General and the Inspector General of ignoring all the denunciations that have been presented with respect to this case.
2. On march 26, 2007, the self-proclaimed “Black eagles” paramilitaries arrived. The criminals wounded two ten-year-old girls and sexually violated one of them, named Gabriela Alzate Perea. When the girls asked for help, José Mendieta immediately ran up and was murdered by the “paras.” Mendieta and the two girls lived in the settlement of displaced persons called Altos de Oriente, located in the rural community of Granizal, in the municipality of Bello.
3.On June 25, 2007, in the municipality of Tuluá (Valle) Vilma Helena Márquez and Martha Eulalia Márquez were tortured and violated sexually by members of the Third brigade of the National Army. The soldiers entered the house where they were, together with the campesinos Alcides Granada Durango and Gerson Ladino Suárez. A Lieutenant Manatoas attacked and accused Vilma Helena of being a Guerrilla and forced her to be interrogated alone with him, pointing a weapon at her. When she complained of an acute stomach pain, the lieutenant asked if she was pregnant and hit her brutally in the belly, causing her to faint and to bleed vaginally.
Later another soldier from the same operation with the alias “Bombs” interrogated Martha Eulalia aggressively and threatened her with a knife. He demanded of her that she turn over some weapons that did not exist, and forced her to take off her bra in order later to grab her and press her breasts and buttocks, without any respect for her dignity as a person. The campesinos who were with the women were brutally beaten by the soldiers whi, before releasing them, took their pictures and opened cases against them for narcotics trafficking.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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