Verdict of the International Tribunal of Opinion on the Forced Displacement in Colombia
Elíptico Salon of the Congress of the Republic of Colombia
Bogotá November 21, 22 and 23, 2007
(Translated by Stacey Schlau, a CSN volunteer translator)
The clamor of millions of forcibly displaced persons from Colombia has reached the international community. As an answer in solidarity, this Tribunal of Opinion was held in Bogotá, November 21-23, 2007, to listen to the persecuted and devalued victims of this crime against humanity, with the goal of contributing to the full restoration of Justice and Law.
Composed of 8 members, the International Tribunal gathered the extant facts about the displacement and its causes, at the formal behest of the Colombian government and the United Nations, as well as of non-governmental organizations. Five regional hearings took place in the Cauca Valley, Chocó, the central zone, Arauca and the Atlantic coast, where hundreds of testimonies were recorded. Finally, an international jury met in the Congress of the Republic, in order to gather more than 30 testimonies and analyze three socio-juridical studies that were added to the documentation already gathered. The Colombian authorities whose presence had previously been requested to present their point of view, did not appear. Besides, the leaders of the National Coordinating Committee of Displaced Persons and members of the Tribunal received constant threats from the paramilitary group that calls itself the Black Eagles, for holding this tribunal.
The Displacement of Populations in Colombia
Massive forced displacement in Colombia reveals the structural nature of the humanitarian crisis that as of 2007, has affected more than 4 million people inside the country, a much higher number than the official statistics, because they count only registered displaced persons. There are, besides, thousands of refugees outside of Colombia. The current wave of forced displacements dates from the beginning of the decade of the ‘80s. Nevertheless, it has even older roots. In the middle of the ‘40s, paramilitary repression against the Gaitán movement provoked an internal migration, product of a political violence that Jorge Eliécer Gaitán called a practice of the state against the people. A similar genocide took place in the ‘60s with the United Front, whose leader was Camilo Torres.
From the middle of the ‘80s, Colombian drug traffickers decided to bring their dollars to Colombia and launder them by buying large tracts of the best land, in general, uncultivated, whose improvements or possessions they appropriated illicitly and illegitimately through various forms of divestment, always using intimidation or elimination. The drug cartels and the oligarchy, from the political classes and the military forces, created a new version of paramilitarism, offering support and training, affirming that it was necessary to fight against insurgency.
In this way, an alliance was forged through which para-militarism eliminated members of the leftist parties of opposition (Patriotic Union) and the civic movements that demanded better living conditions, in exchange for the establishment’s allowing them to continue their illicit activities, which were in turn financed by political power. The illegal appropriation of these lands promoted not only a severely inequitable concentration of lands in the country, but also a transformation of its use. Large tracts of land good for agriculture and forests were used for cattle.
This wave of displacement increased again during the first half of the ‘90s, when the neoliberal policies that facilitated transnational investment expanded. Large multinational companies demanded free rein to continue with the appropriation of one of the principal productive sectors of the country, land, on which would be established large investment megaprojects (agriculture, industry, mining, ports, tourism, highways, among others). With the pretext of counterbalancing the insurgency of the guerrillas, but with the goal of controlling military and economic power in certain regions of the country, the Plan Colombia, a military strategy financed by the United States government, was introduced in 1997. With the Plan, there was a new increase in the annual numbers, the highest ever registered, in terms of forced displacement. Indiscriminate bombings, massive captures, criminalization of different social movements, a strong military presence in several regions, among other reasons, explain this increase.
At the beginning of the present decade, the official numbers of forced displacements fall, although they continue to be terrifying. The same reasons explain the displacements, but now there are depopulated zones available and immense tracts of unclaimed land. Inter-urban and intra-urban displacements are also evident, as are new causes (indiscriminate fumigations even in regions where there are no coca plants, massive detentions, extrajudicial executions, criminalization of social organizations and leaders) not recognized by the government, and a new modality of war, such as the confinement of populations, reached its peak. Today, despite what is affirmed in the media, the annual numbers of displacements continue to be very high, affecting different regions according to the mobility of the armed conflict in Colombia.
The Colombian government has proposed legislation that intends to legalize the taking over of the lands of the displaced persons, and leaves with impunity the crimes of Lese Humanity committed during armed conflicts (Statute of Rural Development, Law of Justice and Peace, Law of Lands, Law of Mines, Law of Petroleum, etc.).
The Juridical Bases of the Verdict
The problem of displaced persons has concerned the United Nations for more than a quarter-century. For that reason, programs have been created and juridical instruments developed. International and national legislation consider forced displacement as a crime of Lese Humanity. Colombia has ratified the majority of the conventions on human rights and about International Humanitarian Law, obligating the State and the so-called armed actors to respect these principles.
The Political Constitution of 1991 defined as a vital right the protection of life and mobility, and the express prohibition of forced displacement, rights that the State and its agents precisely violate in the framework of their policies that apply forced displacement. This is a fundamental strategy for the imposition of an economic model. Recently, criminal legislation has defined this conduct as criminal and given them the designation of Lese Humanity. Nevertheless, the structure of impunity that drives Colombian justice makes inapplicable not only internal but also international norms, doubly victimizing those persons of this violation, especially girls, boys, women, and the elderly.
An effort to be highlighted are the decisions of the Constitutional Court that have obligated the State to respect the rights of displaced persons and to apply the political calls about forced displacement, complied with partially and in bad faith. We must highlight that the Colombian government violates the principal provisions of the United Nations about displacement in the interior of the country, especially the principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 6-C. 9, 10-1-2, 11, 13-1-2, 14, 16, 18-1-2, 21-1-2, 23, 25-1-3, 26, 27-1, 28-1 y 29, not only in a direct manner, but also by protecting with impunity the conduct of public functionaries responsible for this crime, as in the case of the extermination of the political movement Patriotic Union, whose survivors were forced to make a claim before the International Human Rights Court.
The Tribunal calls on the Colombian government, multinational companies, and the governments of developed countries and their officials to stop these practices, which severely violate people’s human rights, and to respect the principles and norms of International Humanitarian Law, human rights, and rights of refugees. This Tribunal also asks the Colombian government to set up a Truth Commission or process aimed at revealing the intellectual and actual perpetrators so that they may be legally judged and punished, seeking reparation for the victims.
The Testimony and Its Content
The Tribunal heard direct testimony, which was added to numerous others heard in regional courts and to the ample documentation already gathered, which provides a significant demonstration of what happens throughout Colombia. The testimony comes from northern Santander, Vichada, Casanare, Arauca, Meta, Antioquia, Choco, southern Bolívar, Nariño, Cauca, Sucre, Bogotá, Cartagena, Boyacá, Valle, the coffee growing region, Guaviare, Putumayo. Of the cases, 28 had an economic and 10 a socio-political origin. Those responsible were the army (21), police (3), army and paramilitary groups together (8), and paramilitary groups (6).
It was verified that in the 28 cases in which there was an economic motivation, they took place basically in areas like Choco, where there are mining and energy projects and deposits of petroleum, gas, gold, copper, molybdenum, uranite, coal, and areas of production of electrical energy, forests and water sources. There are also projects related to wood, the African palm and “ecotourism.” Similar motivation exists in Arauca, where Repsol and the Occidental Petroleum Company are accused of severely violating the human rights of workers, of indigenous persons, and of the population in general. In Antioquia and Nariño Canadian and U. S. companies are developing exploration and exploitation of petroleum, gas, and gold, utilizing similar methods. In southern Bolívar, the Anglogold Ashanty Company is trying to expel small miners and appropriate the immense deposits of gold in that region, with the open support of the paramilitary groups by the army and the Colombian government. The latter provided a listing of the protestors from the exodus of 1998 who were arrested, disappeared, or assassinated. The situation of northern Santander was also highlighted where military and paramilitary action that supports companies like Harken Energy, Anglocoal, and investors linked to the Uribe Vélez family exploit the coal, gas, and petroleum in the area.
In the Cauca region, where there are also deposits of minerals, petroleum, and gas, paramilitary and military operations have been directed at expropriating indigenous people and people of African descent from their lands, in order to give them to palm and lumber companies in cooperation with the landowners of the area. It must be noted that the forced displacement has occurred more often in areas populated by people of African descent such as Chocó, Nariño, Cauca, Cauca Valley, northern Bolívar, and Uraba from Antioquia. Other departments like Putumayo, Vichada, Casanare, Sucre, Meta, Cauca Valley, have had forced displacements as a measure that “guarantees” the presence of companies involved in petroleum, gas, mining, lumber, African palm, etc. Finally, we note that where displacements occurred as a form of social control, that occurred in departments where social organizations were very strong, as for example in Arauca. In this Tribunal no cases of displacement forced by guerrillas were presented.
The Actors and Their Reasons
Many witnesses linked the government with forced displacement, by commission and by omission. There are paramilitary groups which, with the complicity of the military and the police, exercised terror against the peasant population in many areas of the country. Paramilitary groups like the Black Eagles, New Generation, Nutibara Chief’s Blockade, and Calima Blockade continue assassinating and displacing. Through its brigades, the national army either acts in a similar way or simply does not intervene although they may know about the presence of these groups in the areas where they operate and displace people.
A part of the political class and of the landowners in many areas of the country, have been named as members or allies of paramilitary groups, which use terror to destroy and appropriate the lands of small farmers and to maintain political control in municipal governments, the Congress, the Senate, and the national government, as a strategy of social control, without tolerating at all any political opposition, nor the democratic exercise of civil rights.
Judicial power in Colombia often works partially and venially regarding the displaced population, not recognizing their right to property and assigning ownership of their land to the members of paramilitary groups, landowners, and politicians who displaced them. Multinational companies like Harken Energy, GreyStar Resources, Cemex, Holcim, BHP Billiton, Angloamerican, Xtrata, Drummond, Chiquita brands, Oxy, Repsol, B.P., Union Fenosa, Codensa, Urapalma, Glencore, Anglogold Ashanty, Petrocanada, Colombian Consortium of the Cerrejón, and Kedada are complicit in the displacement, because they finance and lend their facilities to the paramilitary groups that threatened and massacred thousands of union members, members of communities of African descent, indigenous peoples, and peasants.
The responsibility of the U. S. government in the forced displacement has also been proven, because of its military support through the Plan Colombia and the Patriotic Plan, military aid, sending of mercenaries, and extensive, indiscriminate fumigation.
These actions have included: massacres, selective assassinations, threats, burning of houses, false operatives, massive arrests, violence against women, forced military recruitment, disappearances, state terrorism, and psychological terrorism against victims.
The urban displacements are also the result of the actions of banks that with unreasonable interest rates cause the dissolution of families and make use of the police force to force people from their homes.
Structural Causes of Displacement
The first forced displacements were those imposed by the Spanish conquerors who threw the indigenous peoples off their lands on the plains, where they then put cattle, forcing those people to move to the hillsides where many of them or their descendents still cultivate the land intensively. The new owners then proceeded to force small towns to group together into bigger ones, in order to vacate the land and create large ranches. The result was genocide, with millions of dead indigenous people and slaves imported from Africa on the plantations and in the mines. In this first phase of capitalism, the region was part of the famous triangular commerce (Europe, Africa, America) and contributed to the accumulation of monetary capital in Europe. In the interior, they created the basic wealth that the richer classes sought without any criminal intent, be it religious or civic, but simply with the desire for profit and economic power--a historical constant in Colombia.
Currently, the entrance of external capital and the domination of transnational companies corresponds to the opening of world markets, the outcome of the neoliberal model of development. The super-exploitation of natural resources (petroleum, gold, and other metals), the expansion of mono-agriculture for export of agricultural and cattle/dairy products, and recently for the production of agricultural fuels, are the origin of the expulsions of the peasants, indigenous communities, and communities of African descent from their lands. The expulsions follow the exigencies of the globalization of capital and they emphasize the dependent nature of the dominant Colombian classes to mainly North American and European capital. Ecological disaster can be added to social catastrophe.
The continuity of this economic model causes the current government to implement the latest phase of expropriation of lands and the re-ordering of populations that is the basis of the true anti-agrarian reform that is occurring worldwide today. The returns do not modify the process and they are implemented in those areas in which paramilitary control has already been consolidated, under the model established by the transnational companies and with the help of part of international aid. In the best of cases, the government’s response consisted of (judicial) assistance. Regarding urban displacement, the principal actors are the banks, following the logic of financial capital.
Besides, the geostrategic place of Colombia in a continent in which new alternative economic and political spaces and new projects of integration are being opened explains both the brutal intervention of imperialism, wanting to preserve its hegemony, and how the implementation of the Plan Colombia and the Patriotic Plan emphasizes violence and displacements. It is thereby understood that solutions to the problems demand not only internal changes that challenge death projects, but also a different orientation of the world economy.
To provide a solution to the human drama of displacement, the following are needed: 1) a policy of returning based on principles of justice; that is, the return of lands to peasants and communities, applying the Colombian Constitution; 2) financial compensation for material damages sustained; 3) a recognition of the crimes committed under the eyes of the justice system, truth, integral reparation and the guarantee that the crimes will not recur, putting an end to impunity; and 4) the establishment of a Commission of Reconciliation.
Regarding the forced displacement of almost four million Colombian women and men, after having heard all the testimony, verified the evidence brought by the victims, examined and weighed it with the experts’, we condemn, because of or for the acts of commission and omission in the forced displacement for almost four million Colombian women and men:
- 1. The Colombian state and government and its agents; that is, public administrative officials, members of the armed forces and the police, judges and judicial functionaries, members of the state intelligence services, military and paramilitary personnel, functionaries of the prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices and procurators, for not having acted or for being accomplices in the crime of forced displacement.
- 2. The multinational companies mentioned above that, as operators of the imposition of an economic model that guarantees the sacking of natural resources belonging to the nation, utilize military and paramilitary personnel, mercenaries, members of the police force and of the state intelligence services as agents of forced displacement. They guarantee with this crime of Lese Humanity the appropriation of those areas where mega-projects are developed for the exclusive benefit of these companies. We also denounce as accomplices to the several kinds of displacement members of the Colombian establishment such as cattle ranchers, landowners, owners of industry, drug traffickers, and financial institutions and banks.
- 3. The governments of countries such as the United States, Canada, England, Switzerland, Spain, Israel, South Africa, and the European Union for lending military aid to the Colombian government, for allowing multinational companies of these countries to directly finance the military and paramilitary operations that displace millions of Colombian women and men in order to “guarantee” the operation of these companies in Colombia.
- Finally, the Tribunal holds responsible the Colombian authorities for the security of all those who have participated as organizers or witnesses in this session about displaced persons.
- Bogotá, November 23, 2007
- Francois Houtart (Belgium), President
- Orlando Fals Borda (Colombia), Vice President
- Patricia Dahl (United States)
- Don Tomas Balduino (Brasil)
- Louis Nicodeme (Belgium)
- Joao Lucio Da Costa (Brasil)
- Dieter Misgeld (Canada)
- Francisco Ramírez (Colombia), prosecutor
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