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COLOMBIA COUNTRY REPORT
SOURCE AND OWNERSHIP: THE U.S DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Colombia is a constitutional, multi-party republic. In 2010 voters elected Juan Manuel Santos president in elections that observers considered free and fair. Authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.
The most serious human rights problems were impunity, an inefficient judiciary, forced displacement, corruption, and societal discrimination. Impunity and an inefficient justice system subject to intimidation limited the state’s ability to prosecute effectively individuals accused of human rights abuses and to bring to trial former members of paramilitary groups. The availability of drug-trafficking revenue often exacerbated corruption. Societal discrimination against indigenous persons and Afro-Colombians at times restricted the ability of these groups to exercise their rights. Other problems included extrajudicial and unlawful killings; slow prosecution of extrajudicial killings; insubordinate military collaboration with members of illegal armed groups; forced disappearances; overcrowded and insecure prisons; harassment of human rights groups and activists, including death threats; violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; and illegal child labor.
The government continued efforts to prosecute and punish perpetrators, including members of the security services, who committed abuses: It increased resources for the Prosecutor General’s Office, prioritized human rights cases, and employed a new contextual analysis strategy. Nonetheless, a high rate of impunity persisted.
Illegal armed groups--including the terrorist organizations Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as organized crime groups that contained some former paramilitary members--committed numerous abuses, including the following: political killings; killings of members of the public security forces and local officials; widespread use of land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs); kidnappings and forced disappearances; subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers; attacks against human rights activists; violence against women, including rape and forced abortions; and killings, harassment, and intimidation of teachers and trade unionists. Illegal armed groups continued to be responsible for most instances of forced displacement in the country.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:Share
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Political and unlawful killings remained a very serious problem, and there were several reports that members of the security forces committed extrajudicial killings in connection with the internal armed conflict during the year (see section 1.g.). There continued to be fewer reports of military officials presenting civilians as killed in combat than in 2007 and 2008, when several hundred such fatalities occurred. The Prosecutor General’s Office is principally responsible for investigating human rights abuses committed by security forces.
Through September the Prosecutor General’s Office registered three new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by agents of the state. Through October authorities accused 216 members of the security forces and arrested 72 of them for the crimes of aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, all but three of which occurred prior to 2013.
Coordination Colombia, Europe, United States (CCEEU), a local human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported at least seven incidents of extrajudicial executions by state security forces and 25 additional deaths due to use of force or illegal use of force through September. Most victims were caught in the cross fire during confrontations between the army or police and illegal armed groups. In several cases military officials stated that they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of the FARC, while community members claimed the victim had not been a combatant. The CCEEU and other NGOs considered organized criminal gangs to be a continuation of paramilitary groups and in some cases accused the government of collaborating with those groups to commit human rights violations. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in organized criminal gangs but noted that the gangs lacked the unified command structure and ideological agenda that defined the former United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The NGOs also included killings by these groups in their definition of “unlawful killings” (see section 1.g.).
According to a CCEEU report, on February 6 army officers killed a civilian, Jon Favver Diaz, and falsely presented him as a FARC guerrilla killed in combat. The report alleged that army troops manipulated the crime scene and forced witnesses to delete photographs and videos that could have served as evidence of the extrajudicial execution.
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces, including enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and senior officials, of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. Such collaboration, in violation of orders from the president and military high command, may have facilitated unlawful killings or other crimes.
On September 9, the Sixth Specialized Court sentenced Colonel Publio Hernan Mejia, former commander of the La Popa Battalion based in Valledupar; Colonel Pastor Ruiz Mahecha; and sergeants Aureliano Quejada and Efrain Andrade to 19 years in prison for having collaborated in 2002 with paramilitary commanders “Jorge 40” and Hernan Giraldo Serna.
The Corps of Technical Investigators, which are civilian authorities under the Prosecutor General’s Office, typically investigated deaths committed by security forces when there were allegations of foul play. In some cases the first responders were members of the national police, who then investigated the death. Through September authorities arrested 146 members of the military in connection with cases of “questionable conduct,” all of which occurred prior to 2013.
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported that through September, it obtained 42 new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilian), 17 new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and one new conviction in cases involving “simple homicide.” The convictions corresponded to cases opened prior to 2013.
Some high-profile cases against military personnel resulted in convictions or were reopened in large part due to testimony obtained through the Justice and Peace process. On September 6, based on information provided by several demobilized paramilitary leaders, including alias “Don Berna,” the Superior Tribunal of Justice and Peace of Medellin ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate army general Mario Montoya Uribe and police general Leonardo Gallego Castrillon for their past alleged support to paramilitary groups and their joint actions in operations, such as “Orion” carried out in slum areas around Medellin. The tribunal also ordered an investigation into generals Oscar Botero Restrepo, Carlos Alberto Ospina, and Ivan Ramirez, as well as colonels John Jairo Cardona Chaparro and German Morantes Hernandez, for their alleged support of paramilitary groups.
The penal investigation of army captain Mauricio Zambrano Castro, retired army general Francisco Rene Pedraza, and retired colonel Tony Alberto Vargas Petecua, for the 2001 killings of 24 persons, forced disappearance of 10 others, and forced displacement of almost 1,900 persons in an incident known as the El Naya massacre, continued at year’s end. The Inspector General’s Office declined to open a disciplinary investigation in this case.
According to the NGO Landmine Monitor, nongovernmental actors, particularly the FARC and ELN, planted IEDs and land mines (see section 1.g.).
Guerrillas, notably the FARC and ELN, committed unlawful killings. Organized criminal groups that included some former members of paramilitary groups committed numerous political and unlawful killings, primarily in areas under dispute with guerrillas or without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).
At year’s end the investigation into the March 2012 killing of land restitution leader Manuel Ruiz and his son Samir continued under the direction of the prosecutor general’s national unit for displacement and forced disappearance.
Forced disappearances, many of them politically motivated, continued to occur. Through September the National Search Commission had documented more than 85,000 disappearances since the decades-long internal conflict began, including 21,098 that were registered as forced disappearances, with 17,631 found alive and 3,467 found dead. According to the commission, between January 1 and September 12, 8,347 individuals were registered as disappeared, including 1,213 registered as alleged forced disappearances. Not all disappearances registered during the year occurred in 2013, since some were registered years after the actual disappearance.
From January 1 through September, the Prosecutor General’s Office obtained 22 convictions of members of the military for the crime of forced disappearance. Through September the Displaced and Disappeared Persons Unit in the office recovered 110 missing persons – 97 were recovered alive and 13 were found dead. The unit continued to charge individuals engaged in forced disappearances.
The FARC, ELN, organized criminal gangs, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons, both for ransom and for political reasons (see section 1.g.).
The Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty – military and police entities formed to combat kidnapping and extortion – and other security force elements freed more than 79 hostages during the year. The government reported that at least two kidnapping victims died in captivity in the first nine months of the year, compared with nine between January and October 2012. During that period 12 kidnapping victims escaped from their captors, eight were released due to pressure from the military, and 86 were released by their captors.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police, military personnel, and prison guards sometimes mistreated and tortured detainees. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. The NGO Center for Popular Research and Education (CINEP) asserted that through June government security forces were involved in six incidents of torture (one by the national police and five by the army), compared with eight in the first 10 months of 2012. According to CINEP, on January 28, in El Tarra, Norte de Santander, troops of the army’s 33rd brigade tortured Yovany Perez Bautista, Carmen Eli Perez Bautista, and Yurgen Antonio Ascanio Ascanio, farm workers at the Las Brisas ranch. CINEP reported the troops accused the farm workers of being guerrillas and tortured them as part of interviews to gather information related to “Megateo,” a leader of the Popular Liberation Army.
Through October the Prosecutor General’s Office charged 130 members of the security forces (72 police and 58 military members) with torture; most of the cases occurred prior to 2013. The Prosecutor General’s Office reported one conviction of a member of the armed forces and no convictions of members of illegal armed groups in cases of torture through October.
CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for at least eight cases of torture through June. In six other cases, CINEP was not able to identify the responsible party.
The Prosecutor General’s Office in Villavicencio continued its investigation into the January 2012 torture and killing allegedly committed by army soldiers of Victor Manuel Hilarion Palacios, a well-known peasant leader. As of October the investigation remained in the preliminary stage. The Inspector General’s Office also continued a disciplinary investigation into the matter.
On April 19, the 33rd Circuit criminal judge sentenced police officers Carlos Augusto Diaz and Carlos Danilo Posada, both of the Metropolitan Police of Bogota, to four years and three months of prison and a fine of approximately 20 million pesos (COP) ($10,300) for having set fire to a 15-year-old boy who was sleeping under a bridge in 2012, causing him injuries that ultimately resulted in his death.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked reasonable sanitation, and provided poor health care and nutrition to detainees. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Physical Conditions: The municipal jails and 138 national prisons had a designed capacity of 75,726 individuals but were 56 percent over capacity. As of August 31, there were 118,478 prisoners and detainees – 109,392 men and 9,086 women. Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as women’s prisons. The government recognized that women’s prisons lacked gynecologists and that prisons where children stayed with their parents did not have pediatricians on staff. The National Prison Institute (INPEC) operates the national prisons and oversees the jails.
The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. Authorities did not hold juvenile detainees and prisoners with adults but permitted children younger than three years of age to stay in prisons with their mothers. As of September 17, INPEC registered 87 children living with their incarcerated mothers.
The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. It reported that through October it registered 89 investigations (both active and inactive) implicating 159 guards. It reached one disciplinary verdict during the year. In addition INPEC’s Internal Affairs Office investigated 47 reports of physical abuse and one case of sexual abuse. Between January and October, there were 88 prison deaths: 67 attributed to natural causes, 11 attributed to suicide, seven to fighting among inmates, two to accidents, and one to intoxication. INPEC registered 997 violent prison disturbances through August.
Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. On May 31, in accordance with the Ministry of Justice, INPEC declared a state of emergency in the country’s prisons due to overcrowding, problems with infrastructure, and poor sanitary conditions that threatened the health of the inmate population.
INPEC’s physical plant was in poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted that some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation caused high temperatures in prison cells. Many prisoners slept without mattresses on floors, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.
Administration: INPEC used a centrally managed electronic database with regular updates, and each prison also had its own local database. Foreign diplomatic observers, however, often found that the information in both systems was not well coordinated, resulting in delays in locating foreign detainees. Authorities regularly used alternative sentencing such as house arrest for nonviolent offenders to alleviate overcrowding.
Authorities permitted prisoners religious observance. Some vegetarian and Muslim inmates reported difficulty receiving meals according to their needs. Prisoners had reasonable access to visitors and generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities and request investigations of inhumane conditions. Prisoners also were able to request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Although authorities investigated complaints, some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results not accessible to the public.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities without adequate explanation denied them access to visit prisoners.
Improvements: In January INPEC funded programs to fumigate prisons (to control the insect and rodent populations) and improve water quality in all of its centers. In May it implemented new sanitary protocols to identify and correct sanitary deficiencies and increased the amount of resources for solid waste removal.
During the year the government implemented an “emergency process” to address what it called the “prison crisis.” Included in this process was the development of 24 specialized action plans, such as activities oriented towards attacking corruption, promoting respect for human rights among inmates and guards, reducing overcrowding, ensuring the fiscal health of the institution, improving security, and improving access to basic health services. INPEC worked with private health provider CAPRECOM to set up immediate action teams to provide general medical, dental, optometric, and pharmaceutical services and improve the quality and coverage of health-care services provided to inmates. In August INPEC made a formal request to the National Civil Service Commission to increase the number of in-house employees assigned to provide health services to inmates. Although a 2012 decree allowed health-care providers other than CAPRECOM to provide health services to the incarcerated population, the Ministry of Health did not establish formal mechanisms for other health-care providers to do so by year’s end.
The government continued a pilot program with local universities and other organizations to provide distance-learning programs with major universities in the country. A total of 877 legal students and interns provided legal advice to prisoners through August. INPEC dedicated COP 500 million ($258,000) to its educational plan for the year and offered human rights training to its employees as well as specialized training for prison guards. Through October, 3,873 INPEC employees participated in the specialized training.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. According to CINEP there were 39 cases of such arbitrary detentions in the first half of the year.
On August 29, according to Corporacion Sembrar, a human rights NGO based in Bogota, antiriot police in Soacha, Cundinamarca, arbitrarily detained 10 men after what the men described as their participation in a “peaceful protest.” Corporacion Sembrar further alleged that during the detention police subjected the men to different forms of torture, including electric shock. According to press reports, a judge ordered their release September 25, citing the lack of evidence against them.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The CNP shares law enforcement duties with the Prosecutor General’s Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI). In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.
The Prosecutor General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating human rights abuses that security forces committed during the year and in previous years. Of these abuses, extrajudicial killings were the highest profile and most controversial. From January 1 through October, the 30 sectional offices of the Prosecutor General’s Office accused 211 members of the security forces of aggravated homicide or homicide of a protected person. Of these, 195 were members of the armed forces and 16 were members of the national police. In addition the Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor General’s office accused 171 members of the military of these crimes during the year, all for acts committed before 2013. Through October the regional offices of the Prosecutor General’s Office reported obtaining convictions against three members of the armed forces.
The government made considerable improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued to be widespread. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice, a lack of resources for investigations and adequate protection for witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed periods of incarceration to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial.
Although many human rights groups continued to criticize the Prosecutor General’s Office for indicting low-ranking military personnel while avoiding investigations of higher-ranking commanders, the office opened a judicial investigation of army generals Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe and Hector Jaime Fandino Rincon for their alleged complicity in the 2005 massacre in San Jose de Apartado, based on testimony provided by an army captain and at least 10 former members of paramilitary groups.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police apprehended suspects with warrants issued by prosecutors based on probable cause, but a warrant is not required to arrest criminals caught in the act or fleeing the scene of a crime. Members of the armed forces detained members of illegal armed groups captured in combat but were not authorized to execute arrest warrants. CTI members who accompanied military units could issue such warrants. Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Bail is available for all except serious crimes such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Authorities granted detainees prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. In general authorities respected these rights.
Arbitrary Arrest: While the government characterized detentions as based on compliance with legal requirements, NGOs characterized as “arbitrary detention” arrests based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.” Prominent human rights NGOs complained that the government arbitrarily detained dozens of persons, particularly community leaders, labor activists, and human rights defenders. CINEP reported security forces arbitrarily detained 39 persons through September.
Pretrial Detention: The Superior Judicial Council reported that the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. Implementation of the oral accusatory system, enacted throughout the criminal justice system in 2008, significantly lessened the delays and eliminated the lack of transparency that encumbered the previous system. Nevertheless, a large backlog of cases from the previous system remained. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. No information was available on the percentage of detainees in pretrial detention or average length of time detainees spent in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence that corresponded to their charges.
Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial independence. Although the Prosecutor General’s Office had a witness protection program for criminal cases, those who did not enter the program remained vulnerable to intimidation, and many refused to testify.
The military justice system may investigate and prosecute active-duty military and police personnel for crimes “related to acts of military service.” The military penal code specifically excludes civilians from military jurisdiction, and civilian courts must try retired military and police personnel, although military courts are responsible for service-related acts committed prior to their retirement.
In October the Constitutional Court overturned a constitutional reform enacted in late 2012 and implementing legislation passed in June, citing the violation of a procedural rule as the cause for disapproving the legislation. The new laws would have further defined the jurisdiction of military and civilian courts for crimes allegedly committed by military and police personnel by listing seven human rights violations that must be tried exclusively in civilian courts: torture, extrajudicial killings, forced displacement, sexual violence, crimes against humanity, genocide, and forced disappearance. The legislation stipulated that all other violations of international humanitarian law (war crimes) were to be tried in military courts and required the military and civilian justice systems to decide on the proper jurisdiction of pending cases within one year of the amendment’s enactment.
Through July authorities transferred 76 homicide cases from the military to the civilian justice system. During the same period they transferred 33 cases from the civilian justice system to the military justice system. Many cases were transferred as part of a plan in which officials from the military justice system and the Prosecutor General’s Office met regularly to analyze cases to agree on those to be transferred without being referred to a lengthy, higher-level review by the Superior Judicial Council.
The military penal code denies commanders the power to impose military justice discipline on, and extends legal protection to, service members who refuse to obey orders to commit human rights abuses. The army has discretionary authority to dismiss personnel implicated in human rights abuses.
The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for investigations and prosecutions of criminal offenses. Its Human Rights Unit, which includes 12 satellite offices, specializes in investigating human rights crimes, and its 114 specialized prosecutors were handling 6,661 active cases as of November 15.
The Inspector General’s Office investigates allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of the state security forces. The Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the Prosecutor General Office’s Human Rights Unit for additional criminal proceedings. As of September 15, the Inspector General’s Office opened 256 disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for human rights offenses.
Under the accusatorial criminal procedure code implemented in 2008, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and has the right to confront the evidence against him at trial, present his own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. No juries are involved. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is an investigating magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. The trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.
In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial without juries. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.
Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatorial systems. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners. Some members of human rights advocacy groups were held on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as harassment tactics by the government against human rights advocates. According to INPEC there were 2,440 detainees accused or convicted of rebellion or aiding and abetting the insurgency; 1,395 of them had been sentenced, and 1,042 were in pretrial detention either in prisons, under house arrest, or under surveillance with an electronic monitoring device pending sentencing. The rest were under provisional liberty pending judicial decisions. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens can sue a state agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights (IA Court). The court can order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.
Regional Human Rights Court Decisions
The country is subject to the jurisdiction of the IA Court. As of year’s end, the court had issued two binding decisions against the government, with which the government had not fully complied but generally acknowledged its duty to do so.
The Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of the state, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handled issues related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. The Victims’ Unit of the DPS has the governmental lead on attention to victims. The Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict. As of October the government provided restitution to 373 of the target total of 360,000 families by 2022.
Through October more than 40,000 victims had come forward to reclaim land. More than 9,800 claims fell within the government’s target areas for restitution and went into active review. As of the end of August, 2,538 claims moved forward to the judicial process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of the end of October, courts had handed down 614 decisions, while the Superior Judicial Council, the body in charge of the judicial portion of restitution, reported that courts had handed down 277 decisions. The Inspector General’s Office intervened to support land claimants in 191 cases from January through July.
According to the Ethnic Affairs Office of the Special Administrative Unit for the Management and Restitution of Stripped Land, the unit had received 883 applications for restitution from people self-identified as Afro-Colombian and 590 applications from those self-identified as indigenous.
For many small landowners, formal land titling remained a daunting process. Without full and documented legal title, farmers are more vulnerable to displacement. Government agencies and human rights groups estimated that illegal groups, including guerrillas, seized between 2.7 and 9.9 million acres of land from small landowners during the decades-long conflict. Former paramilitary groups and the FARC stole nearly 80 percent of the land, only a small fraction of which the government reclaimed after the demobilization of the AUC in 2006.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected the law, although there were some allegations of exceptions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization, although evidence obtained in such a manner could not be used in court.
Through October the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated two criminal investigations of state agents for illegal monitoring activities. The accused were both members of the national police. In addition through September the Inspector General’s Office had initiated three disciplinary investigations of public servants accused of illegal monitoring.
A CTI investigation continued into allegations that the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS) had engaged in illegal surveillance of high-court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and activists, opposition leaders, and the vice presidency. As of November 15, at least 11 cases related to illegal surveillance by the DAS had resulted in convictions, while 52 other cases continued.
The investigation of former DAS director Jorge Aurelio Noguera Cotes for conspiracy, abuse of power, illicit violation of communications, and illicit use of equipment for his participation in the DAS illegal surveillance case continued at year’s end. Noguera was already serving a prison sentence of 25 years for his former links with paramilitary groups.
An investigation by members of the accusations commission of the House of Representatives into former president Alvaro Uribe Velez for his involvement in the DAS illegal surveillance case was officially opened during the year but was suspended in May after the defense charged that the representatives serving as investigators should be recused.
The Supreme Court of Justice trial of Maria del Pilar Hurtado, former DAS director (2007-08), and Bernardo Moreno, private secretary to former president Uribe, for their involvement in the DAS illegal surveillance case continued as of October.
NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers or human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information. For example, Jimmy Alexander Moreno, a community leader in Floridablanca, Santander, reported that members of the investigative body of the army’s Fifth Brigade illegally followed, harassed, and videotaped him in June. The NGO Movement for Victims of the State reported the Fifth Brigade’s involvement, which police later confirmed.
The government continued to use voluntary civilian informants to identify terrorists, report terrorist activities, and gather information on criminal gangs. Some national and international human rights groups criticized this practice as subject to abuse and a threat to privacy and other civil liberties. The government maintained that the practice was in accordance with the “principle of solidarity” outlined in the constitution and that the payment to such informants was strictly regulated by the Comptroller General’s Office.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts
The country’s decades-long internal armed conflict involving government forces and two terrorist guerrilla groups (FARC and ELN) continued. The government continued formal peace negotiations with the FARC throughout the year, and in August it announced plans to open formal peace negotiations with the ELN. Multiple abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking.
Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize. As of the end of August, according to the Ministry of Defense, 917 members of guerrilla groups had demobilized, compared with approximately 840 during the same period in 2012, an 8 percent increase in demobilizations. The Organization of American States (OAS) verified all stages of demobilization and reintegration into society of former combatants from the guerrilla and former paramilitary groups.
The Ministry of Defense continued to implement an agreement with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor seven of the ministry’s 15 measures to improve adherence to human rights. The ministry conducted four human rights training sessions planned and executed by the military for 187 ministry personnel, and it trained 122 military justice and civilian personnel through Defense Institute of International Legal Studies training by year’s end. The ministry participated in a nationwide series of human rights forums organized by the Presidential Program on Human Rights.
The government also passed the Legal Framework for Peace, a constitutional reform to serve as a framework for transitional justice should peace talks be successful. The framework allows the judiciary to prioritize cases involving those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in a systematic manner and to provide suspended sentences or alternative sentences in exchange for demobilizing, acknowledging responsibility, clarifying the truth about crimes committed, providing reparations to victims, and releasing hostages and child soldiers. It also allows for waiving criminal prosecutions for all other cases and permits former combatants not convicted of crimes against humanity to serve as elected officials.
Some NGOs criticized the legislation, claiming that provisions for reduced or suspended sentences and stipulations that only those most responsible for the worst crimes must be prosecuted amounted to impunity. On August 28, the Constitutional Court rejected a challenge to the law by a human rights legal defense group. The court expressed, through two special communiques, the view that such a transitional justice system was a legitimate mechanism for achieving peace and that it was in accordance with the constitution. The court also stated that authorities would need to implement the framework in compliance with the country’s international obligations. The court included parameters for interpretation and development of future implementing legislation, including that those deemed “most responsible” could not have their sentences suspended completely.
Implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law (JPL) continued. The Justice and Peace Unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for the required investigation and prosecution of demobilized persons, and an interagency commission on justice and peace coordinates its implementation. Participants in the justice and peace process could receive reduced sentences if they complied with the terms of the JPL. Testimony from voluntary confessions also triggered investigations of politicians, military members, major agricultural producers, and government officials’ past ties to paramilitary forces. Some of the investigations resulted in prosecutions and convictions.
As of July, 4,151 former paramilitary and guerrilla defendants (postulados) had participated in confession hearings (versiones libres). During these sessions the postulados confessed to 42,309 crimes, and information was obtained that resulted in the exhumation of 5,301 victims. As of May, 1,126 postulados had been initially charged, and 680 of these had been formally charged in presentations before the courts by the Prosecutor General’s Office’s Justice and Peace Unit. Postulados who do not fully comply by confessing crimes, turning over illegally acquired assets, and ceasing their criminal activity are moved for expulsion from the JPL process by the Prosecutor General’s Justice and Peace Unit. As of July the Justice and Peace Unit prosecutors had filed for the expulsion of 88 postulados before the Justice and Peace courts.
Application of the JPL continued to face many challenges. Thousands of former paramilitary members remained in legal limbo due to resource and capacity constraints at the Prosecutor General’s Office. There was little land or money confiscated from former paramilitary leaders. Nonetheless, leading daily newspaper El Tiempo reported that in a landmark decision on October 30, the Court of Justice and Peace sentenced former AUC commander Ever Veloza Garcia, alias HH, to seven years in prison, making him the highest-ranked commander of a former paramilitary group to be convicted under the JPL to date.
As provided by a 2010 law and as approved during the year by the Constitutional Court, the government worked to establish a limited version of a truth commission. The Victims’ Law provides for the establishment and institutionalization of formal archives and a Center for Historical Memory for collecting oral testimony and material documentation concerning violations of international human rights norms and law and for directing construction of the National Museum of Memory in consultation with victims. The Center for Historical Memory issued a report July 23 that documented the killing of at least 220,000 Colombians in the context of the armed conflict since 1958.
Killings: Security forces were implicated in alleged unlawful killings. CINEP reported there were five such killings during the first six months of the year, compared with six in the same period in 2012.
According to the OHCHR and the Presidential Program for Human Rights, there continued to be fewer reports of military officials presenting civilians as killed in combat than in 2008 or 2009, when several hundred fatalities were reported. The Prosecutor General Office’s Human Rights Unit reported that it opened three new cases on homicides alleged to have been committed by a security force member during the year. The CCEEU reported seven cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, including “false positives,” and 25 additional deaths caused by excessive use of force, illegal use of force, or arbitrary use of force.
According to the CCEEU, on March 4, in the Paraiso village area of the Roberto Payan municipality in Narino Department, after combat between the armed forces and FARC guerrillas, members of the military arrested rural peasants Gumercindo Guerrero Preciado and John Freddy Garcia Bastidas and took them to military facilities for questioning. Their corpses were allegedly delivered two days later to their relatives with evident signs of torture and acid burns in their faces. Criminal military judge #89 opened a penal investigation. The army also opened a preliminary disciplinary investigation into members of Mobile Brigade 32.
According to the human rights advocacy NGO Minga, the legal cases involving five victims associated with the 2008 Soacha extrajudicial killings scandal were still in the initial investigation stage at the Prosecutor General’s Office at year’s end. The cases of three more victims were in evidence hearings, and the cases of three additional ones were in final allegations hearings. Defendants in the cases of three other victims received sentences during the year, and two of them were pending appeals. The criminal board of the Superior Tribunal of Cundinamarca declared the case related to the August 2 killing of Fair Leonardo Porrason a crime against humanity.
Guerrilla groups were also responsible for unlawful killings of government security forces and civilians. For example, on July 20, in Fortul, Arauca, a group of FARC rebels killed 15 army soldiers and wounded five as the soldiers were washing their clothes.
In many areas of the country, the FARC and ELN worked together to attack government forces or demobilized paramilitary members; in other areas they fought each other. Various courts convicted members of the FARC secretariat in absentia on charges that included aggravated homicide.
The FARC killed persons it suspected of collaborating with government authorities or rival drug-trafficking groups. For example, on April 28, in the Puerto Jordan area of Tame, Arauca, FARC rebels killed a three-year-old child and his father during an attack committed with an IED thrown into a house; 11 other persons, including two army soldiers, were wounded.
All guerrilla groups killed some kidnapping victims.
Abductions: According to NGO Fundacion Pais Libre, between January and June 123 persons were kidnapped; 55 percent of them were extortion kidnappings. Pais Libre also reported that authorities rescued 47 kidnapping victims, 42 were released by captors, 14 were presumed to remain in captivity, 10 were released due to pressure by authorities, six were able to escape, and no information was available about the number who died in captivity. FARC and ELN guerrillas continued to take hostages for ransom and for political reasons. The FARC also held prominent citizens and security force members to use as pawns in prisoner exchanges. The government reported that guerrillas kidnapped 40 persons (23 by the FARC and 17 by the ELN) from January 1 to September 19, compared with 15 from January to July 2012.
The FARC and ELN released some kidnapping victims. For example, on August 27, ELN guerrillas released Canadian engineer Gernot Wober, an employee of a multi-national mining company, whom they had kidnapped and held since January 18.
Several victims’ groups continued to demand that the FARC reveal the whereabouts of hundreds of police officials, soldiers, and civilians still considered missing. The Ministry of Defense reported that through September, it had registered 27 civilians and one member of the police who were presumed to still be in FARC captivity.
Courts convicted some FARC members for kidnappings. Through October the unit to combat kidnapping and extortion at the Prosecutor General’s Office reported 13 convictions during the year for kidnappings committed by the FARC, while the Human Rights Unit reported 61 such convictions in the same period. For example, on March 21, the second specialized criminal judge of Antioquia sentenced Luis Norbey Caicedo Correa (alias Esneider or Manchas), head of the FARC mobile column Jacobo Arenas, to 51 years’ imprisonment for the 2007 kidnappings of Juan David Arango Velez and Sergio Jaramillo Arriola.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The Presidential Program of Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines declared in a preliminary report that IEDs, deployed primarily by the FARC and ELN, caused 31 deaths and 254 injuries as of August. IEDs killed or injured at least 38 children or adolescents during the year. Several human rights NGOs stated that the FARC charged civilian families for the replacement cost of the land mines and IEDs when innocent family members accidentally set them off. The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines declared that the FARC continued to be the largest individual user of land mines and IEDs and that the ELN also continued to use land mines and IEDs. Government humanitarian demining brigades cleared more than 2.1 million square feet and destroyed 114 land mines, IEDs, and unexploded munitions by year’s end. The government also concluded the accreditation process for a civilian organization to engage in demining activities. The certification process continued for two other civilian organizations at year’s end.
There were numerous reports that FARC and ELN guerrillas mistreated civilians and prisoners, as well as injured and sick persons.
Child Soldiers: The recruitment and use of children by illegal armed groups was widespread. The FARC and ELN groups routinely engaged in forced recruitment of persons under 18 years of age and voluntary recruitment of persons under 15.
The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) stated that it was impossible to know how many children were serving as soldiers for the FARC but reported that more than 5,000 children had demobilized from illegal armed groups between 1999 and September 2012. The FARC reportedly used children to fight, recruit other children to act as spies, gather intelligence, serve as sex slaves, and provide logistical support.
During the year the ICBF initiated a new educational outreach program that included a component on prevention of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups. The program, with a budget of more than COP 32 billion ($16.5 million), established teen and preteen clubs and other avenues for educational outreach in 32 departments and 811 municipalities.
During the year the government expanded the scope of the Interagency Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children by Illegal Armed Groups to include sexual violence against children perpetrated by nonstate armed groups.
The penalty for leaders of armed groups who use child soldiers is life imprisonment.
International organizations continued to identify recruitment of indigenous youth by illegal armed groups as a serious concern. The FARC continued to issue warnings to indigenous communities outlining a policy to conduct child recruitment and warning recipients not to challenge it.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: Guerrilla groups and organized criminal groups prevented or limited the delivery of food and medicines to towns and regions in contested drug-trafficking corridors, straining local economies and increasing forced displacement.
Guerrillas routinely used civilians to shield combatant forces and forcibly displaced peasants to clear key drug and weapons transit routes in strategic zones. Guerrillas also imposed de facto blockades of communities in regions where they had significant influence. For example, international organizations reported many incidents in which illegal armed groups forcibly recruited indigenous persons or forced them to collaborate, restricted their freedom of movement, and blockaded their communities. During the year the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues received reports of rape, forced recruitment, use of minors as informants, and other abuses in the context of conflict.
Organized criminal gangs and FARC and ELN guerrillas forcibly entered private homes, monitored private communications, and engaged in forced displacement and conscription. Organized criminal groups also continued to displace civilians residing along key drug and weapon transit corridors (see section 2.d.).
International organizations reported that systemic sexual violence against women and girls by some armed actors persisted (see section 6, Women). Human rights NGOs Sisma Mujer, Amnesty International (AI), and others reported that sexual violence remained one of the main tools used by armed actors to force displacement. There were numerous credible reports of compulsory abortions. The standing orders of the FARC, which had large numbers of female combatants, prohibited pregnancies among its troops.
There were reports that the FARC, the ELN, and other armed actors engaged in the extraction of and cross-border trade in conflict minerals, which contributed to abuses by providing funding for weapons and by prompting rebels to forcibly displace residents in order to clear mining areas.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:Share
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, served to inhibit freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
Violence and Harassment: According to the NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), there were 122 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, compared with 158 in 2012, although FLIP noted many incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas. FLIP reported 52 threats, some of them aimed at more than one journalist at the same time. FLIP reported 11 journalists were detained, 34 were physically attacked, and four were victims of harassment or intimidation due to their reporting.
The Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 102 active cases of crimes against journalists and at year’s end had achieved one conviction.
According to FLIP, during the first nine months of the year, three journalists were killed, but in only one of the three cases could FLIP verify that the journalist had been killed because of his work.
On September 11, in Puerto Berrio, Antioquia, two gunmen shot and killed journalist and lawyer Edison Alberto Molina, who hosted a program on a local radio station, Legal Advice. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of October the investigation was in the preliminary stages. FLIP asserted that Molina was killed because of his investigative reporting on corruption cases involving the local mayor’s office.
On May 1, unidentified assailants attacked Ricardo Calderon, one of the country’s most prominent journalists and chief investigator at Semana magazine, the country’s leading weekly news publication, while he was traveling in his car on the road between Bogota and Ibague. The assailants allegedly shot his vehicle five times before Calderon escaped and went to a police station for help. Calderon had published several investigative pieces that had nationwide impact, including investigations into allegations of illegal wiretapping by the DAS and special treatment of prisoners at the military prison on Tolemaida Military Base. President Santos condemned the attack and ordered the director of the National Police to lead the investigation. The Human Rights Unit at the Prosecutor General’s Office initiated an investigation as well, which was in preliminary stages as of October.
As of September FLIP reported that authorities brought six persons to trial in two prominent cases, the killings of journalist Rafael Enrique Prins and Jose Orlando Sierra Hernandez. On December 24, a specialized judge in Pereira released the alleged intellectual author of the Sierra killing. FLIP issued a press release alleging the judge released the suspect even after a witness in the case confirmed the suspect had paid for the killing.
The Ministry of Interior allotted nearly 5 percent of its annual budget (approximately COP 11 billion or $7 million) to the protection of threatened journalists. Through July at least 93 journalists were added to the protection program.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the government did not censor journalists, according to FLIP many journalists avoided discussing or pursuing certain matters due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being attacked. FLIP added that although nonstate violence was the main reason for self‑censorship, a high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.
Libel Laws/National Security: Laws against slander or libel are included in the criminal code, but there is no specific legislation for slander against public officials. The government did not specifically use prosecution under these laws to keep the media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, business people, and others, however, sued journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP noted that while there were no new cases during the year of journalists being imprisoned for slander or libel, as of September, 18 cases of journalists being sued for slander or libel remained pending.
Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported that local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.
The trials of three alleged former members of paramilitary groups--Mario Jaime Mejia (alias El Panadero), Jesus Emiro Pereira (alias Huevoepisca), and Alejandro Cardenas (alias JJ)--who were charged with the 2000 aggravated kidnapping, torture, and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya continued at year’s end. Bedoya requested in 2012 that her case be transferred to the prosecutor general’s special unit for crimes against personal freedom for prioritized processing, but this had not occurred by year’s end. Bedoya’s case also continued in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
There were no government restrictions on access to the internet or credible reports that the government monitored e-mail or internet chat rooms without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union indicated 49 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2012.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. There was evidence, however, that guerrillas maintained a presence on many university campuses to generate political support for their respective causes and undermine support for their enemies through both violent and nonviolent means. According to a military intelligence report published in El Tiempo newspaper, despite their ideological differences, the FARC and ELN formed an alliance at the University of Antioquia to recruit students.
Organized criminal gangs and FARC and ELN guerrillas killed, threatened, and displaced educators and their families for political and financial reasons, often because teachers represented the only government presence in the remote areas where the killings occurred.
According to the Colombian Federation of Educators and the Prosecutor General’s Office, 11 educators were killed through October, compared with 14 through October 2012. Threats and harassment caused many educators and students to adopt lower profiles and avoid discussing controversial topics.
On March 11, unidentified armed men killed Mario Manuel Ruiz Tovar, a teacher in Las Victorias Rural Educational Center located in the area of el Cedro, in Nechi, Antioquia. According to witnesses the armed men forcibly removed Ruiz Tovar from the school. Residents later found his body on the road leading into town. As of October the Prosecutor General’s Office investigation was in its preliminary stage.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions (see section 1.g.). There were reports that riot police used excessive force to break up demonstrations.
According to press reports, on August 26, in Fusagasuga, Cundinamarca, during the national protests related to the agrarian strike, police officers in the antiriot squad (ESMAD) allegedly killed Juan Camilo Acosta, a 19-year-old student, by shooting him with a tear gas rifle. The Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation, which was in its initial stages as of October.
Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that espoused or carried out acts of violence, such as the FARC, ELN, and paramilitary groups, was illegal.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. While the government generally respected these rights, there were exceptions. Military operations and occupation of certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement in conflict areas.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions of movement within the country. Organized criminal gangs and FARC and ELN guerrillas continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural highways. According to Pais Libre, during the first six months of the year, illegal checkpoints increased from 48 to 58, compared with the same period in 2012. The checkpoints particularly affected the departments of Cauca, Norte de Santander, Arauca, Antioquia, Narino, and Putumayo. This figure did not include the illegal roadblocks that took place during the October agrarian strikes in which protesters blocked almost every major roadway connecting major cities. International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted.
Exile: The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it. Many persons went into self-imposed exile because of threats from organized criminal gangs and FARC and ELN guerrillas.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
The armed conflict, especially in remote areas, was the major cause of internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society identified various factors driving displacement, including threats and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls; competition and armed confrontation between and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control; confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized criminal gangs; and forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment. Some NGOs asserted that counternarcotics efforts, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement.
The government’s budget for implementation of the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law was COP 54.9 trillion ($28.3 billion) over 10 years, a 50 percent increase over the original estimate.
As of October 1, the Victims’ Unit, a government entity responsible for assisting and providing reparations under the Victims’ Law, listed 504,158 IDPs in the Single Victims Registry. Of those, 55,151 were due to displacements that occurred during the year. Victims’ Unit statistics showed that new displacements occurred primarily in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted, especially where guerrilla groups and organized criminal gangs were present.
Through September the government had registered an accumulated total of 5,087,092 persons displaced since 1985 (including those displaced in years before the registration system was established). A 2008 court order requires the government to include displacements from all previous years in the national registry. The government’s national registry included registered IDPs whose applications for recognition had been accepted under defined criteria.
During the year the Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by the Victims’ Law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims as a result of a large backlog of claims built up during several months. International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow institutional response to displacement. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.
The FARC, ELN, and organized criminal gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. Guerrilla agents sometimes forced local leaders and community members to demonstrate against government efforts to eradicate illicit crops and sometimes forced communities to displace as a form of coerced protest against eradication. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.
The Victims’ Unit cited threats, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intraurban displacement.
Through September the government registered 4,048 IDPs (including those displaced from years prior to 2013) who identified themselves as indigenous and 59,365 who identified themselves as Afro-Colombian. Indigenous persons constituted 1 percent and Afro-Colombians 12 percent of new IDPs registered by the government. The ICRC and the UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia estimated the number of displaced indigenous persons to be much higher than indicated by government reports, since many indigenous persons did not have adequate access to registration locations due to geographic remoteness, language barriers, or unfamiliarity with the national registration system.
The local NGO Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs repeatedly expressed concern that large--scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.
The government, international humanitarian assistance organizations, and civil society groups observed that internal displacement and refugee flows continued. The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) reported 26,162 persons displaced in mass displacement events (displacement of 50 or more persons) through September and indicated that the departments with the highest numbers of IDPs from mass displacements in the year were Cauca (6,695), Narino (4,572), Antioquia (2,722), Choco (2,423), and Valle del Cauca (1,633). CODHES also reported that five land-rights leaders were killed through September.
The regional office of the prosecutor general in Tumaco continued the investigation into the 2012 killing of Miller Angulo, an Afro-Colombian activist who was a leader of AFRODES and a leader of a community land-claim process, in Tumaco, Narino Department. At least 20 other AFRODES leaders who reported similar threats received some protective measures during the year, although some reported they were not satisfied with the types of measures authorities provided.
The Victims’ Unit, ICBF, Ministry of Social Protection, and other governmental ministries and agencies provided assistance to registered IDPs. During the year the Victims’ Unit budgeted approximately COP 439 billion ($226 million) for direct IDP assistance.
International organizations and NGOs maintained that the quality of programs providing emergency assistance, housing, and income generation needed strengthening. Emergency response capacity at the local level was still weak, and IDPs continued to experience prolonged periods of vulnerability while waiting for assistance.
A specialized unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office, established through an agreement with the government’s former social agency, Accion Social (which was replaced by the DPS), the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the CNP investigated and prosecuted cases of forced displacement and disappearances. Through October the unit received nine new cases for investigation.
Several international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including the International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, ICRC, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.
The Victims’ Unit and other government agencies improved their response to mass displacement events throughout the year and were assisted by international organizations such as the ICRC. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high‑displacement areas often delayed by several weeks or months assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, declaration forms, and training. Intense fighting and insecurity in conflict zones, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, and Narino, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from accessing newly displaced populations.
Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country, municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacement and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, and employment.
Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders due to the internal armed conflict. The UNHCR stated in its 2012 Global Trendsreport that Colombia was the country of origin for 394,100 refugees and persons in a refugee‑like situation, the majority in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. The World Food Program in Ecuador estimated between 1,000 and 1,200 Colombians fled to Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and the Colombian government continued a program to assist Colombian refugees in Ecuador who returned to Colombia. Support offered during the year included income generation programs and assistance with registering for government of Colombia assistance programs.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the government, it approved 201 of the 960 applications for refugee status received since 2006. Between January and September, the government received 70 applications for refugee status, of which it approved two and rejected 29; the others were pending. According to the government, 201 recognized refugees resided in the country. The government also reported an increase in the smuggling of migrants from outside the region, primarily from Asia and East Africa, en route to the United States and Canada. While the government regularly provided access to the asylum process for such persons who requested international protection, nearly all abandoned their applications and continued on the migration route before a refugee status determination was completed.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentShare
The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right through periodic and generally free and fair elections based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2011 the government held elections for local positions including governors, departmental representatives, mayors, and municipal councilors. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), an independent election‑monitoring NGO, reported that between February 2011 and election day, of the approximately 102,000 candidates for local office, 41 were killed, 23 were attacked, seven were kidnapped, and 88 were threatened, for a total of 159 incidents of “political violence,” compared with 149 during the previous local elections in 2007.
According to the NGO New Rainbow Foundation, electoral fraud remained a serious concern. The NGO reported that parties paid voters to register and vote in municipalities in which they were not resident. The foundation claimed all parties’ rosters included candidates with questionable financial ties. The MOE estimated 600,000 individuals registered to vote in precincts where they were not legally resident. The government introduced a new finance tool to ensure transparency of campaign funds, disqualified candidates with pending criminal investigations, and canceled the national identification cards of voters who could not demonstrate residence or employment in the municipality where they were registered to vote.
On May 13, authorities revealed details of a plan to kill two former New Rainbow Foundation employees, Ariel Avila and Leon Valencia, as well as journalists Gonzalo Guillen and Claudia Lopez, who coauthored the NGO’s report. After the National Protection Unit (NPU) informed the individuals of intelligence reports concerning a plot to kill them, Avila and Leon left the country temporarily. Guillen fled the country October 17. On October 12, the government arrested the former governor of La Guajira, Francisco Gomez, and charged him with links to former paramilitary groups and involvement in various killings.
The Prosecutor General’s Office continued to investigate the postelection killing of Eladio Yascual Imbaquin, the MOE regional coordinator in Putumayo.
In 2010 Juan Manuel Santos won a four-year term as president in elections that the OAS electoral observation mission considered generally free and fair. The OAS mission noted that the 2010 elections involved the lowest levels of violence in 30 years.
Political Parties: Organized criminal gangs and the FARC threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). According to the National Federation of Municipal Councils, six municipal council members were killed through June, compared with five from January through September in 2012.
Some local officials resigned because of threats from the FARC. As of October the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, had provided protection to 237 mayors, seven governors, and 3,058 other persons, including members of departmental congresses, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers known as “personeros,” and other officials related to national human rights policies. Decree 1225 of 2012 stipulated that the CNP’s protection program and the NPU would assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.
Participation of Women and Minorities: The law requires that women fill at least 30 percent of appointed government posts and that the government report to congress each year the percentage of women in high-level government positions. There were 18 women in the 102-member Senate and 22 women in the 165‑member House of Representatives. There were 12 women in the 29‑member cabinet and five on the 23-member Supreme Court of Justice.
In the 2011 municipal elections, with the enactment of the Law of Quotas, which mandated that candidate lists have at least 30 percent women, 108 female mayors were elected, corresponding to 10 percent of the country’s mayors; 1,875 councilwomen were elected, corresponding to 17 percent of municipal council members.
Two indigenous senators and two indigenous members of the House of Representatives occupied seats reserved for indigenous persons. There were no indigenous persons in the cabinet or on any of the high courts, although there was an indigenous person assigned to the post of presidential advisor on indigenous affairs.
Afro-Colombians served in congress. There were seven self-identified Afro‑Colombian members of the House of Representatives--five elected and two in seats reserved for Afro-Colombians. Although there were no seats reserved for Afro-Colombians in the Senate, there were two Afro-Colombian senators. There was one Afro-Colombian cabinet minister and one Afro-Colombian named as the high presidential advisor for women’s equality.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in GovernmentShare
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Drug-trafficking revenues exacerbated corruption.
Corruption: Semana magazine reported a city council member in Buenaventura, Stalin Ortiz, was killed in March, possibly because of his efforts to uncover corruption at the Luis Ablanque de la Plata Hospital and affiliated health-care network, including improper hiring of the mayor’s brothers and alleged money laundering by criminal organizations to move drugs and weapons.
At year’s end Samuel Moreno Rojas, a former mayor of Bogota charged in June 2011 with failing to fulfill his public duty and contracting irregularities, remained in detention as his trial continued. On September 23, the 34th criminal judge of the Bogota circuit denied Moreno’s renewed request for dismissal of the case.
On January 20, the Inspector General’s Office issued a disciplinary ruling against former senator Ivan Moreno Rojas, who was accused of contracting irregularities, barring him from public office for a period of 20 years.
A special investigative unit of the Supreme Court of Justice, which examined members of congress and senior government officials, reported that during the year it opened investigations involving two former senators and members of congress, resulting in no acquittals, five convictions, no cases closed for lack of evidence, and no cases closed for having exceeded the statute of limitations. As of September the unit had not opened any new investigations involving current or former governors, but it achieved the conviction of one former governor for a case opened in a prior year. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigated inspectors, comptrollers, and other high officials. As of year’s end the prosecutor general was working on 2,941 cases related to corruption, most of which were under investigation or in preliminary stages of prosecution, but 36 had gone to trial by year’s end.
The primary government body to design and enforce policies against corruption is the Presidential Program for Modernization, Efficiency, Transparency, and Combating Corruption, led by the anticorruption czar. The primary government institution that investigates and prosecutes corruption is the Prosecutor General’s Office, but congress plays an investigative role in cases where high government officials are involved.
Whistleblower Protection: The law provides protection to public and private employees who make internal disclosures or lawful public disclosures of evidence of illegality. No information was available whether authorities effectively implemented the law to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.
Financial Disclosure: By law public officials must file annual financial disclosure forms with the tax authority. This information is not public. The law states that persons who intend to hold public office or work as contractors for the state for more than three months shall submit a statement of assets and income as well as information on their private economic activity. Public officials must submit an annual update of this information before the last day of February, but they are not required to file periodically when changes occur in their holdings during the year or when they enter or leave office. The law does not address assets and income of spouses and dependent children. The Administrative Department of Public Service is in charge of preparing the required forms, and the human resources chief in each entity is responsible for verifying the information submitted. Congress maintained a website on which members of congress could voluntarily post their financial information.
Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and the government generally provided this access. While there are no prohibitive fees to access government information, there were reports that some low-level officials insisted on bribes to expedite access to information. The law outlines procedures for accessing information and identifies a narrow list of exceptions, including cases related to national security, international affairs, criminal proceedings, and the privacy of public officials and private individuals. The law requires public entities to provide information proactively and in a reasonably short timeframe, and it allows them to use diverse communication strategies and channels. The law includes sanctions for noncompliance and appeal mechanisms for disclosure denials. The Public Ministry, made up of the Inspector General’s Office, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, and municipal offices for the defense of human rights (personarias), is in charge of ensuring effective compliance with this law.
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