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Colombia: News & Updates

Colombia has the world's second largest population of internally displaced persons (five million) due to the half-century internal armed conflict—the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere (since 1964). Control for territory and popular support among the three main groups (left-wing rebel forces FARC & ELN, right-wing paramilitaries, Colombian police/military) has left 220,000 killed, 75% of them non-combatants. Since 2000, the US has exacerbated the violence by sending more than $9 billion in mostly military assistance. Colombia, which has both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, holds strategic interest for the US for global trade and military posturing.


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Colombia is in an age of upheaval. After decades of practical impunity for war criminals in the country, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) war tribunal was established in an effort to work up the past, bring those involved to justice, and provide reparations for the victims of the atrocities comitted by paramilitaries and the Colombian state. 

One case investigated by the JEP is the assassination of two union leaders at the US mining company Drummond. In this case the Colombian executive of Drummond, Jose Miguel Linares as well as his predecessor Augusto Jimenez, are on trial for the funding of an illegal terrorist group and the killing of the two union leaders. So far the charges against the two executives are conspiracy. In the tribunal Miguel Linares and Jimenez are accused of have hired the the Northern Bloc of the right wing United Self-Defense Forcesmj of Colombia (AUC) to provide "security" for a Drummond mining operation in Cesar Department. 

The  Colombian state's key witness in the case is the former food provider Jaime Blanco. Blanco, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison in 2013 for his involvement in the killing of the two union leaders, has been cooperating with the JEP war crime tribunal since 2019. In his testimony, Blanco accuses Drummond of the artificial inflation of food contracts between 1996 and 2001 as a means to pay the AUC, and clarified further financial, and cooperative relations between Drummond and AUC. Drummond has denied all alligation. 

While preparing the trieal, the JEP received a number of confidential testimonies. The two defendants' attorneys have requested to see the testimonies; that was rejected by the court. In a press release, the defense claimed that the trial is built on false testimonies "of convicted criminals who received payments for their testimony."

We at IRTF strongly support the JEP tribunal as an effort to bring  forward the truth and those guilty to justice. It is important, and long overdue, that the history of impunity in the country comes to an end and those who financed paramilitaries are held accountable for their complicity. We hope that Linares and Jimenez will be sentenced according to their crimes and reparations will be served for the bereaved of the victims. We also hope that the tribunal will fully resolve the case by bringing possible accomplices to justice. Crimes like these assassinations have to be investigated and solved if Colombia ever wants to find peace.      

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to IRTF’s May 2023 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border! After you’ve looked through the articles, we hope you can take a couple of minutes to see the TAKE ACTION items at the bottom. The articles in this email version are abbreviated.

In this newsletter, please read about 1. Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH; 2. ICE Air Flights: Update on Removal Flight Trends; 3 .Labor Exploitation of Unaccompanied Minors: Congress is slow to act ; 4. New Protections for Immigrant Workers; 5. At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border; 6. Effects of the end of T42 and DHS new plans for processing migrants. To read the full newsletter, see .


Here is what you can do to take action this week and act in solidarity with migrants and their families.

Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!

Bring Home Immigrants who’ve been deported from Ohio. 

Tell Congress to Protect Dreamers

News Article

Right-wing death squads worked side by side with the country’s business, military and political elite to sow terror in the countryside and wipe out left-wing insurgencies.  Now on trial, a formed high-ranking paramilitary commander testifies that paramilitaries regularly took orders from state institutions as it became the state military's unofficial arm to fight the left-wing revolutionary forces. 

The armed conflict has been waged in Colombia for the past six decades.   The main actors in the armed struggle that has cost the lives of at least 450,000 people and displaced millions are: 1) left wing revolutionary forces (FARC, ELN), 2) Colombia's official military, and 3) paramilitaries (such as United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia , or AUC). Originally the AUC was founded as an effort to protect land owners  but turned into one of Colombia's most powerful drug cartels with a military force of 20,000 combatants in its height. In 2004 a controversial deal between the AUC and the Colombian government led to a large majority of fighters laying down their weapons and later the beginning of a process of prosecution of military leaders.

One of these high ranking AUC leaders now facing legal prosecution is Salvatore Mancuso, drug offender and former second in command of the AUC. In 2008 Mancuso was first arrested on drugs charges in the USA in 2008 and released in 2020. Today Mancuso is charged again by a Colombian court for his role in the Colombian civil war. Mancuso, in an effort to reduce his sentence, has agreed to give a testimony in the ongoing peace tribunal for the crimes committed by AUC forces during the their time of terror.

In his testimony Mancuso has revealed information on many of the crimes committed, as well as government and the AUC cooperation during the civil war. According to Mancuso's testimony, the AUC worked hand in hand with the Colombian business, political and military elite for years in an effort to wipe out leftist groups no matter if civilian or militant. Mancuso stated that over the years, the AUC regularly took orders from state institutions as it became the state military's unofficial arm to fight the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). During its most active years, the AUC committed hundreds of atrocities, including a number of massacres of civilians, torture, rape and kidnapping by order of the state. In the hearing, Mancuso admitted organizing thousands of crimes, including the killing of TV-comedian and activist Jaime Garzon in 1998, attacks on civilian communities, and an assassination attempt on Gustavo Petro, who was then a left-wing congressman and now the country’s president. During his time as second in command, Mancuso was deeply involved with corporate enterprises and Colombian politics.  At his height in 2004, Mancuso even gave a speech in the Colombian parliament which was applauded with standing ovations. But this high regard  didn't come out of nowhere. One year earlier in 2003, AUC forces killed Eudaldo Díaz, the mayor of El Roble; according to Mancuso, the assassination was ordered by the government. Shortly prior to this, Álvaro Uribe (then president of Colombia) removed security detail from the mayor, a move that allowed AUC mercenaries to attack, torture and eventually kill him.

Mancuso additionally stated in his testimony that former vice-president Francisco Santos requested the formation of a new AUC unit around the city of Bogotá to stop left-wing rebels from reaching the capital. Both Uribe and Santos deny the accusations made by Mancuso.

In his testimony Mancuso also talked about the financing, training and equipping of the AUC paramilitaries and the strategic cooperation with the Colombian military.  According to this, AUC forces were financed by international corporations like Coke and Drummond during the 1990s. Like Uribe and Santos, all companies deny these alligations. Mancuso avowed that AUC fighters were trained and equipped by the state military, as well as admitting the planning of two-front-offensives together.  Many of these offensives and attacks by AUC ended in massacres, which were regularly wiped under the carpet thanks to state attorneys warning the AUC about upcoming investigations, so bodies could be burned.

Mancuso has 30 days to present evidence for his accusations, which could lead to investigations into some of Colombia's most important political figures. Additionally these investigations could advance the search for truth and the goal of providing reparations for the victims. 

Today AUC lives on in a number of splinter groups and drug cartels and still bring terror over the country. The largest still active splinter group is the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), Colombia's largest drug cartel.

In our eyes this struggle for justice is far from resolved but as unsettling as these allegations are, it does not come unexpected. We hope that this testimony will shed some light onto the dark web of war and violence. It is also important that Mancuso's testimony does not put him into a state of impunity. He should be duly punished for his human rights crimes.      


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On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.