International Community must support the Colombian National Commission on Security Guarantees if Neo-paramilitary Groups are to be Dismantled

2020 is proving to be one of the worst year’s on record for the killings of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) with the UN reporting that it is following up on 91 reported killings of defenders in the first eight months of 2020 (to date 47 have been verified and 44 are in the process of verification).

Massacres have increased in Colombian territory with according to the UN, in the first eight months of 2020, 33 documented and a further seven in the process of verification this is equivalent to more than one massacre per week in 2020.

In addition, during 2020, according to the UN Security Council’s Mission of Verification to Colombia there has been 41 killings of former FARC combatants bring the total killed to 215 since the signing of the Peace Accord in November 2016. This level of insecurity is posing a threat to the peace process as it could result, if it is not addressed, in increasing numbers of former combatants returning to the conflict.

In relation to recent protests in Bogota and Soacha – where excessive use of force may have killed as many as 13 people, leaving more than 300 injured, including 77 with gunshot wounds – my Office is verifying the cases, and has offered technical assistance on democratic and human rights based policing of protests. The 2016 Peace Agreement opened a new chapter for all Colombians, and should be fully implemented to prevent further violence, and human rights violations and abuses.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

One of the reasons for the increase massacres and targeted violence against social leaders is the expansion of neo-paramilitary groups, which, according to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría), are present in at least 90% of Colombian territory.

There is no political will to dismantle the paramilitary structures …on the contrary, what is evident is that across the country collusion exists between State agents and paramilitaries … [1]

Alerto Yepes, Coordinated Network of Colombian, Europe, United States (CCEEU)

Throughout the country, especially in the rural areas, social organizations and communities are denounce the collusion that exists between state agents and neo-paramilitary groups.

HRDs and other seeking to support the implementation of the Peace Accord and defend human rights have come under attack from sectors of society that have profited from the war, especially in territories affected by poverty, corruption and illicit economies. Geographical areas where there is an institutional vacuum or weak institutional presence are experiencing the highest levels of violence and massacres.

One of the worst affected area is the Pacific Coastal Region of Colombia where several of ABColombia partners are living and experiencing, confinement and illegal armed groups exerting control over their movements. As illegal armed groups both ELN (left wing guerrilla Groups) and neo-paramlitary groups such as the Autodefensa Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) and Rastrojos take advantage of the lock down measures due to COVID19. Confrontation between the ELN and AGC o Clan de Golfo for control of territory have been happening with communities in the middle. This has left communities terrorised and community members dead, as in the case of of Luz Helena Caizamo Rojas, a nine year old Embera child from Alto Baudo, Choco on 17 July 2020.

If the security situation in Colombia is to improve it is crucial to advance and deepen the comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement, especially chapter 3.4 on security guarantees, which offers mechanisms and instruments for prevention, protection and security for former combatants, communities and HRDs.

One of the key instruments in Chapter 3.4 for achieving greater security is the work of the National Commission for Security Guarantees. It is essential that the National Commission advances in the design and implementation of the public policy to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of the intellectual authors and financial backers of paramilitary crimes, which will ultimately lead to the sustainable dismantling of the neo-paramilitary groups and their support networks. Only prosecuting the perpetrators, who are easily replaced will not achieve the dismantling of these groups. Their sources of finance need to be cut and those authorising these crimes prosecuted if there is to be any lasting solution.

The National Commission for Security Guarantees is one of a few inclusive mechanisms, with representatives from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and former combatants, as well as, high-level government decision makers, supervisory bodies (Defensoría) and UN representatives. The inclusive nature of this Commission adds to its legitimacy and offers expertise from a wide range of perspectives which is essential for policy development.

Recommendations to the International Community

  • The international community can help to support the work of this National Commission by providing CSO representatives with access to international experts in the field of organised crime. Workshops with experts of this caliber would be able to provide the CSO representatives with useful insights as to how to create effective policies and avoid the pitfalls.
  • The UN Security Council in addition to the Mission of Verification to Colombia could appoint “a group of experts” to advise on dismantling of paramilitary groups in Colombia. [3]


[1] Cited in Spanish by Contagio Radio, Las razones que explican el regreso de las masacres a Colombia, 22 August 2020: no existe ninguna voluntad de desmontar las estructuras paramilitares por parte del Gobierno; y que, por el contrario lo que se evidencia es que «a lo largo y ancho del país se denuncia por parte de las organizaciones sociales y las comunidades la connivencia que existe entre agentes del Estado y  paramilitares».

[2] Cited in Spanish by Contagio Radio, Las razones que explican el regreso de las masacres a Colombia, 22 August 2020: “a lo largo y ancho del país se denuncia por parte de las organizaciones sociales y las comunidades la connivencia que existe entre agentes del Estado y  paramilitares”.

[3] The Security Council establishes its own groups to support the Secretary-General’s efforts in the maintenance of international peace and security and requested the Secretary-General to appoint groups or panels to assist the Security Council in examining particular situations.” An example of this was to look at Apartheid in South Africa and another was when the Council expressed serious concern at reports of illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and set up a “Group of Experts” via resolution 1291 (2000) of 24 February 2000