RIC Query - Colombia (4 March 2004)


Colombia

Response to Information Request Number: COL04001.ZNK
Date: March 04, 2004
Subject: Colombia: Information on Business Security Fronts under President Uribe
From: CIS Resource Information Center
Keywords: Colombia / Civilians / Security forces / Police / Surveillance

Query:

What is the purpose and function of business/civilian security fronts recently established by the Colombian Government in Bogotá and other cities? Is there any reason to believe that these fronts contribute to human rights abuses?

Response:

According to the Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe, the purpose of business and other forms of security fronts is to provide information about suspected guerrilla and/or criminal activity to the Colombian military and police. As Uribe said in his presidential campaign: "We will all support the security forces, basically with information. We will begin with a million citizens. Without paramilitarism. With local security fronts in neighborhoods and the business sector. Networks of information-gatherers [vigilantes] on roads and in the countryside" (CIP 17 Jun 2002).

Since Uribe took office in August 2002, thousands of new security fronts have been set up in the country, in addition to the thousands established during the two previous administrations for anti-crime and anti-drug purposes, as part of the Uribe government's effort to establish a million-strong network of civilian informers (EL ESPECTADOR 13 Oct 2002 & 10 Dec 2002, RADIO CARACOL 15 May 2002).

The business security fronts have been established not only for general surveillance, but specifically to provide police with information about employees. As the Uribe government said in one statement, business security fronts have been formed by the National Police so that "businessmen will be able to verify the judicial antecedents of their employees to avoid infiltrations of the illegal armed groups" (Colombia Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2002).

Since these programs were announced, Colombian and international human rights groups have been concerned that they would drag the civilian population further into the conflict, strengthen paramilitarism and be used by participants to carry out personal vendettas. There have been concerns about the government's ability to ensure that informants were not drawn from paramilitary groups, and concerns that the programs would lead to serious rights violations, as did similar initiatives in the 1980s, and in 1995-97 in Antioquia department when Uribe was governor there (AI 2003, CIP 17 Jun 2002).

While the potential for abuses by business and civilian security fronts certainly exists, a survey of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports do not indicate serious violations connected to security fronts during the first year of the Uribe government.

However, the Colombian rights group Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos (CODHES), has expressed concerned that informer networks have led to mass arrests of people by Colombian security forces in some departments, including highly conflictive Arauca along the border with Venezuela (CODHES 28 Oct 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.

References:

Amnesty International (AI). AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT 2003. "Colombia," http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/col-summary-eng.

Center for International Policy (CIP). "Why Álvaro Uribe Worries Us" (17 Jun 2002), http://www.ciponline.org/colombia/020617uribe.htm.

Colombia Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Colombia, A Positive Country" (2002), http://www.travel-net.com/~embcolot/posi-e02.htm.

Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos (CODHES). Romero, Marco. "Detenciones Masivas: Garantias Minimas?" (28 Oct 2003).

EL ESPECTADOR (Colombia)."Colombia: Campaign Launched to Support Soldiers, Encourage Rebels to Surrender" (10 Dec 02), BBC Monitoring.

EL ESPECTADOR (Colombia). "Rebel, Paramilitary Groups Reportedly Attempting to Surround Colombian Capital" (13 Oct 02), BBC Monitoring.

RADIO CARACOL. "Colombian Authorities Capture 21,407 Drug Traffickers in under Two Years" (15 May 02), BBC Monitoring.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION