Latin America and the Caribbean

November 1994


Street children and other youths in Colombia face an extraordinary level of danger from both uniformed members of the security forces and police-tolerated private vigilantes, according to "Generation Under Fire: Children and Violence in Colombia," released today by Human Rights Watch. A significant portion of the murders of Colombian children are carried out by agents of the state; police have reportedly taken part in hundreds of killings of children since 1980, including the so- called "social cleansing" murders of street children. Still other murders of children are committed by private groups whose members are not held accountable for the killings.

While the killings of street children cannot be called a policy of the Colombian government, Human Rights Watch charges that at the local level, police agents are involved in a wide range of abuses against minors including torture, beatings, and killings, as well as providing weapons to "social cleansing" vigilantes and to street gangs that promote violence among competing groups of street children.

The climate of violence in Colombia is not restricted to attacks against children, nor does the killing always have a political motive. But it is clear that the same government forces that are pledged to maintain order in Colombia tolerate the killings of children, failing to investigate many murders and failing to intervene when the law is broken. This failure to protect the lives of Colombian citizens, and especially those of the very young, is a grave breach of international human rights law.

Of the 2,190 murders of children in 1993, only twelve cases have resulted in trials. Police officers continue to be implicated in the murders of children, and investigations rarely result in more than dismissal for implicated officers. Government promises to restrain the police have yet to produce results.

In a case documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, three teenage boys were forced into cars by heavily-armed men in Bogota' in October 1993. One of them, "Andre's," fifteen, worked in a downtown mall. According to his friends, Andre's was forced from the mall by armed men wearing police uniforms. His body was later found on the highway to Choachi', in a well-known body-dumping ground.

In February 1994, a "trooper" stopped at Bogot 's Plazoleta de la Macarena long enough for passengers to fire on five boys sleeping under a pile of rags next to the church. Three were killed. The youngest, known as "Asprilla" after a Colombian soccer star, was ten years old. All were enrolled in a program aimed at rescuing children from the street. That same night, Javier Castan~o, a seventeen-year-old street child, was killed nearby with a shot through the mouth. Human Rights Watch finds that no one has been charged for these killings.

Human Rights Watch offers a very detailed set of recommendations to protect the rights of children to the Colombian government, armed insurgents, and the international community. Among the most important recommendations are:

"Generation Under Fire" is based largely on a fact-finding mission carried out in Bogot and Medell!n in June 1994. Human Rights Watch/Americas interviewed children who had been abused in police custody, human rights activists, lawyers, and others who work with children.

Human Rights Watch was established in 1978 to monitor and promote internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and the signatories of the Helsinki accords. The executive director is Kenneth Roth. Robert L. Bernstein is chair of the board of directors.

Human Rights Watch/Americas was established in 1981 to monitor human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. Jos Miguel Vivanco is executive director. Peter Bell is chair of the advisory committee and Stephen Kass and Marina Pinto Kaufman are vice-chairs.

The Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project was established in 1994 to monitor and promote the human rights of children around the world. Lois Whitman is director and Michelle Baird is counsel.

Copies of the 61-page report in English are available from the Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10017 for $8.40 (domestic) and $12.00 (international). "Generation Under Fire" will also be published in Spanish. Please contact Human Rights Watch for further information..

For further information:
Robin Kirk, (57-1) 286-5877
Michelle Baird, (57-1) 286-5877
Susan Osnos, (212) 972-8400x216

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