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Sixth Division: Military-Paramilitary Ties and U.S. Policy in Colombia

NCJ Number
Date Published
137 pages
This book documents the close relationship between army brigades and police and the paramilitary groups responsible for most human rights violations in Colombia.
The phrase “Sixth Division” is used in Colombia to refer to paramilitary groups. Colombia has five divisions in its army, but paramilitaries are so fully integrated into the army’s battle strategy, coordinated with its soldiers in the field, and linked to government units via intelligence, supplies, radios, weapons, cash, and common purpose that they effectively constitute a sixth division of the army. The President, his Vice President, Colombian government ministers, diplomats, and top generals alike publicly denounce paramilitary groups. Increasingly, paramilitary fighters are arrested. Colombian officials routinely describe paramilitaries as criminals. Nevertheless, compelling evidence has been documented that certain Colombian army brigades and police departments continue to promote, work with, support, profit from, and tolerate paramilitary groups, treating them as a force allied to and compatible with their own. For many Colombians, the existence of a “sixth division” translates into a daily terror that includes mayhem and murder. The Twenty-Fourth Brigade of the Colombian army actively coordinates operations with paramilitaries and some officers in charge of troops receive regular payment from paramilitaries for their cooperation. The Third Brigade has continued to promote, coordinate with, and assist paramilitaries in southwestern Colombia. The area under the jurisdiction of the Fifth Brigade was the scene of a recent and successful paramilitary offensive. Recommendations for the Colombian government include capturing leaders of paramilitaries and punishing those that take part, including the security force members. Also they should adopt urgent measures necessary to effectively protect indigenous, community, and ethnic leaders who have been threatened. The United States government should place country-specific human rights conditions on all security assistance to Colombia that must be met before aid is released.