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UN Accuses Colombia of Gross Human Rights Violations

The top U.N. human rights official says she is seriously concerned by the havoc wreaked on the civilian population by Colombia's ongoing civil war. In a report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Louise Arbour cited a lengthy list of abuses committed by illegal armed groups, including torture, rape, and summary executions.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, says civilians are caught in the middle of decades-old conflict between illegally armed groups and are abused by both sides.

She criticizes rebel and paramilitary groups for having completely ignored her recommendations concerning respect for human rights.

"These groups continued to commit homicides of protected persons, and carried out indiscriminate attacks, hostage-taking, terrorist acts, forced displacements, recruitment of minors for military purposes, acts of sexual slavery and violence against women and girls, as well as used antipersonnel mines," she said.

The United Nations recently opened a third regional human rights office in Colombia. The U.N. staff provides advice and technical cooperation to state and civil society organizations. It promotes the principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Ms. Arbour says her office in Colombia continues to receive many reports of extra-judicial executions attributed to the security forces and to other public servants. It also receives reports of security officials tampering with evidence and witness testimonies.

"Several of these actions affected, in particular, human rights defenders, trade unionists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, women, journalists and social leaders,” she added. “Furthermore, impunity continues to be widespread and is still one of the biggest challenges for effective protection of human rights in the country."

In response to the High Commissioner's report, the Director of the Presidential Program of Human Rights of Colombia, Carlos Franco, says his government has not ignored the serious problems facing the country.

He says the government has implemented policies, which have improved the situation of the people. He agrees much is still to be done, but adds the government is trying to re-establish security and is keeping the door open to peace talks with the illegal armed groups.