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RIC Query - Colombia (July 21, 2003)

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Response to Information Request Number:COL03003.ZMI
Date:July 21, 2003
Subject:Colombia: Information Regarding Political Violence and Voting Practices in Colombia
From:CIS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Colombia / Civil society / Elections / Freedom of political opinion / Political violence / Death threats / Intimidation / Political candidates / Political office / Political parties / Right to vote / Terrorism / Voting




Please provide background information on political violence in Colombia. Are candidates for local political office at risk? Are there often multiple candidates that run for a particular local office? Do Colombians have to return to their hometown to vote?



Politics in Colombia is a very dangerous business for all involved, whether they are elected officials, campaign workers, or merely voters. From President Uribe to local mayors, nearly all politicians and public officials suffer from violence or the threat of violence. For over a year, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have had a standing threat to kill any and all municipal authorities who refused to resign.

A recent article in the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR reports: "According to Gilberto Toro, head of the Colombian Federation of Municipalities, 560 of Colombia's 1,098 mayors were threatened by the FARC beginning last April. Since June 2002, 13 mayors and 70 town councilmen have been assassinated nationwide. In the southern state of Caquetá, all 13 mayors conduct business from the provincial capital of Florencia because it's too dangerous to go home (Van Dongen 1 Jul 2003)."

The following quotations from the U.S. Department of State's COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES - 2002 indicate the extent of political violence and intimidation in Colombia at the local level:

"Political, unlawful, and some extrajudicial killings remained an extremely serious problem. The Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDDH), a prominent local human rights NGO (see Section 4), estimated that of the 28,230 homicides reported by the National Police, 4,416 were politically motivated. The DAS [Administrative Department of Security] estimated that there were approximately 4,025 politically motivated homicides, the vast majority committed by nonstate actors. However, some members of the security forces continued to commit unlawful killings. The CPDDH reported that the security forces committed 59 political killings during the year, or 1.34 percent of the total. The Jesuit founded Center for Investigation and Popular Research (CINEP) reported that security forces were responsible for 92 intentional homicides of protected persons in the first 6 months of 2001.

"¿ Paramilitaries committed numerous political and unlawful killings, primarily in areas they disputed with guerrillas and generally in the absence of a strong government presence. The MOD [Ministry of Defense] reported that paramilitary forces were responsible for the deaths of 397 civilians as of November 30. The Human Rights Ombudsman's Office reported that it had received reports of 329 unlawful killings by paramilitaries as of October 31. According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), a well-known local NGO, paramilitaries were responsible for the deaths of at least 930 civilians in the first 6 months of the year. Paramilitaries targeted journalists, human rights activists, labor leaders, community activists, indigenous leaders, local politicians, and others they suspected of sympathizing with guerrillas.

"¿ Paramilitaries harassed, threatened, and killed individuals because of their membership in leftist political organizations, and also threatened and killed family members of known guerrillas¿. Guerrillas continued a policy of killing, attacking, and threatening off-duty police and military personnel, their relatives, and citizens who cooperated with them.

"¿ In retaliation for Uribe's first round election victory, on June 5 the FARC killed Luis Carlos Caro, the mayor of Solita, a town in Caquetá department that voted overwhelmingly for Uribe. In an attempt to destabilize the country prior to Uribe's inauguration, the FARC extended its threats to all local elected officials throughout the country, resulting in the submission of resignations by 399 mayors nationwide. Another 300 mayors were obligated to carry out their responsibilities by telephone and messenger from relatively secure department capitals. Many city council members and municipal workers also resigned, halting the provision of public services in many municipalities. In total, the FARC killed 9 mayors and 70 city councilmen during the year" (USDOS 31 Mar 2003).


Despite the risk of taking part in politics, Colombian elections attract a surprisingly high number of candidates. While the RIC was unable to locate specific figures for local elections, at the national level there is intense competition for seats in the legislature. In the parliamentary elections on March 10, 2002, 905 candidates competed for 166 seats in the House of Representatives and 326 for 102 in the Senate (ICG 17 Apr 2002). There are barriers to running for office besides the threat of violence, however. "Candidates must declare their party affiliation and indicate for which voting-district they are running. Candidates for the House of Representatives and departmental and municipal government without party affiliation are required to present a list of up to 50,000 signatures in order to register. They also have to deposit varying amounts of money, depending on the post" (ICG). This institutionalizes the dominance the Conservative and Liberal parties have held over Colombian politics for well over a century.


Colombians can vote in their hometown even if they move elsewhere, according to a counsellor at the Embassy of Colombia in Washington, DC. In order to change where they vote, Colombians must register their ID (Cédula de Ciudadanía) to their new place of residence, but they need not do so. While the counsellor at the Colombian Embassy was unaware of any statistics available on the precise percentage that opt to change where they are registered to vote, his personal impression was that "most [Colombians] prefer to vote in their place of residence [rather than their hometown]" (Embassy 3 Jul 2003).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


International Crisis Group (ICG). "The 10 March 2002 Parliamentary Elections in Colombia" (17 Apr 2002) - [Accessed 22 Jul 2003].

Embassy of Colombia, Counsellor Officer. Email correspondence with the Resource Information Center (3 Jul 2003).

US Department of State. COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2001. "Colombia" (31 Mar 2002) - [Accessed 22 Jul 2003].

Van Dongen, Rachel. CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR. "For Colombia's Mayors, It's a Year of Living Dangerously" (1 Jul 2003) - [Accessed 22 Jul 2003].

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