You are here



POPULATION: 49,587,941

  • Mestizo and white: 84.2%
  • Afro-Colombian (includes multatto, Raizal, and Palenquier) 10.4%, Amerindian 3.4%, Roma <.01, unspecified 2.1%
  • Roman catholic 90%, other 10%


  • Northern South America, bordering the Caribbean Sea between Panama and Venezuela
  • 1,138,910 sq km
  • Slightly less than 2x size of Texas
  • Terrain: flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains
  • Agricultural land 37.5%
  • Forest 54.4%
  • Other 8.1%
  • Tropical climate along coast and eastern plains, cooler in highlands



1525: Spain conquers Colombia

1536-38: Spain establishes Santa Fe de Bogota

1718: Bogota becomes capital of Spanish vice-royalty of Nueva Granada (also part of Ecuador and Venezuela

1810: Independence from Spain (July 20)

1819: Gran Colombia formed with Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela with Simon Bolivar at head

1829-30: Gran Colombia (today’s Colombia and Panama) split from Ecuador and Venezuela

1899-1903: After the “War of the Thousand Days” Panama becomes an independent State


The armed conflict in Colombia is the longest-running in the Western Hemisphere (since 1964). The violence and forced displacment was exacerbated when the US stepped in during the Clinton Administration. Initially guised as a war on drugs, Clinton started sending $1 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia. Support and money for Plan Colombia was continued by Clinton's successors in the White House. 

Human rights groups increased their reporting of human rights abuses by Colombian security forces (police/military). To clean up their image, the Colombian military increased their collaboration with paramilitary forces and had the paramilitaries do more of their dirty work: disappearances, tortures, assassinations. By the mid-2000s paramilitaries were responsible for 70-80% of human rights crimes. Although the paramilitaries were officially “demobilized” through a process started by the Colombian government in 2003, their power structures remained and other paramilitary groups reorganized. Today, of the two or three dozen urgent human rights cases to which IRTF responds each year, the majority continue to be death threats or assassinations by paramilitary groups (e.g., Black Eagles).



Training of soldiers:

  • trained Colombians in counterinsurgency tactics in the 1950s-1960s
  • training of more than 10,000 Colombians during the 1990s

Monetary aid:

  • during civil war in the 1960s and today with Plan Colombia

Plan Colombia:

  • over $9 billion in mostly military assistance from the US since 2000
  • establishment of American military bases in Colombia: Tres Esquinas, Caquetá; Larandia, Caquetá, and Villaviecencia,  Meta



IRTF joins with other human rights groups urging our U.S. policymakers to press the Colombian government for:

  • A bilateral cease fire and a commitment from all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to protect vulnerable populations caught in the crossfire: indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, women and children, and farmers in rural areas.
  • Broad inclusion of the victims of violence and civil society groups in the peace process. Those most affected by the war (not just the government and the main rebel group) need to be at the table. Only broad inclusion of victims’ groups, displaced communities, faith communities and labor leaders can construct a just and sustainable peace.
  • Implementation and verification of peace accord by broad sectors of society
  • Establishment of an independent truth commission to find and reveal the full truth about who implemented, ordered, financed and promoted the human rights violations and violence against the civilian population.
  • Dismantling of successor groups to the paramilitaries (who, by law, have already been “demobilized”) and other illegal armed groups and investigation into the power structures and economic interests of those groups to ensure the protection of rural communities after a peace accord.
  • A commitment to strong measures of justice for those paramilitaries, state security forces and guerrillas who committed atrocities or gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Victims of violence should be at the center of this process.
  • Fair and meaningful reparations to victims and programs to support safe return to their lands
  • expand and protect workers' rights. US  agencies have provided on-going monitoring and assistance toColombia to strengthen institutions and capacity in labor rights, but an emphasis on labor rights has been absent from public communications at the highest levels of the Obama Administration, especially over the past year as conditions on the ground have begun to deteriorate.



Civil law system influenced by Spanish and French civil codes


Executive Branch

chief of state: President Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon (since August 7, 2010); Vice President German VARGAS Lleras (since August 7, 2014); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government

head of government: President Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon (since August 7, 2010); Vice President German VARGAS Lleras (since August 7, 2014)

cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president

elections/appointments: president directly elected by absolute majority vote in two rounds if needed for a 4-year term; election last held on May 25,  2014 with a runoff election on June 15, 2014 (next to be held on May 27, 2018); note - recent political reform eliminated presidential reelection; beginning in 2018, presidents can only serve one four-year term

election results: Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon reelected president in runoff; percent of vote - Juan Manuel SANTOS Calderon (Party of the U) 51.0%, Oscar Ivan ZULUAGA (Democratic Center) 45.0%, other 4.0%

Legislative Branch

bicameral Congress or Congreso consists of the Senate or Senado (102 seats; 100 members elected nationally - not by district or state - and two elected on a special ballot for indigenous communities to serve 4-year terms) and the Chamber of Representatives or Camara de Representantes (166 seats; members elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 4-year terms)

elections: Senate - last held on 9 March 2014 (next to be held in March 2018); Chamber of Representatives - last held on 9 March 2014 (next to be held in March 2018)

election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - U Party 21, CD 20, PC 18, PL 17, CR 9, PDA 5, Green Party 5, other 7; Chamber of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PL 39, U Party 37, PC 27, CD 19, CR 16, Green Party 6, PDA 3, other 19

Judicial Branch

highest court(s): Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justicia (consists of the Civil-Agrarian and Labor Chambers each with 7 judges, and the Penal Chamber with 9 judges); Constitutional Court (consists of 9 magistrates); Council of State (consists of 31 members); Superior Judiciary Council (consists of 13 magistrates)

judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court judges appointed by the Supreme Court members from candidates submitted by the Superior Judiciary Council; judges elected for individual 8-year terms; Constitutional Court magistrates - nominated by the president, by the Supreme Court, and elected by the Senate; judges elected for individual 8-year terms; Council of State members appointed by the State Council plenary from lists nominated by the Superior Judiciary Council

subordinate courts: Superior Tribunals (appellate courts for each of the judicial districts); regional courts; civil municipal courts; Superior Military Tribunal; first instance administrative courts


32 Departments and a Capital District, each department with a Governor, Department Assembly. Departments formed by Municipalities, which are headed by a mayor and a Municipal council.




  • $642.5 billion (2014 est.)

Composition of GDP

  • agriculture: 6.3%
  • industry: 36%
  • services: 57.7% (2014 est.)

Exports: petroleum, coal, emeralds, coffee, nickel, cut flowers, bananas, apparel

            Export Partners: US 26.3%, China 10.5%, Panama 6.6%, Spain 5.8%, India 5.1% (2014)

Imports: industrial equipment, transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, electricity

             Import Partners: US 28.5%, China 18.4%, Mexico 8.2% (2014)



  • Land Rights
  • Free Speech
  • Justice for victims of paramilitary violence 


  • Indigenous Peoples      
  • Human rights defenders
  • Civilians
  • Women and girls
  • Journalists
  • LGBT rights defenders


(by paramilitaries, by Colombia security forces, by rebel groups (FARC)

  • Violence
  • Death threats
  • Disappearances
  • Torture
  • Sexual violence
  • Forced displacement
  • Recruitment of children
  • Extortion
  • Lack of effective investigations