Decades of civil war in Colombia created the breeding ground for rampant human rights violations, including mass killings, kidnapping, and torture. In 2010, PHR was invited by a Colombian NGO to assist in investigating human rights abuses by the Colombian government. Two years earlier, 11 men from Soacha, an area outside Bogotá, had been victims of extrajudicial killings. Colombian authorities had identified the men as guerrillas or members of other illegal armed groups and claimed that they were killed in gunfights with the Colombian military. PHR’s International Forensic Program (IFP) Director Stefan Schmitt and two of the program’s expert consultants, Dr. Robert C. Bux and Attorney Nery Osorio, traveled to Bogota, Colombia as part of their ongoing project with local partner organization EQUITAS. They conducted autopsies, reviewed forensic reports by Colombian authorities, and submitted reports generated from these investigations to the courts as evidence. PHR’s investigation revealed that the men were in fact kidnapped by Colombian military forces and executed.
Despite an historic peace treaty, which was ratified in November 2016, much work remains for Colombia to ensure that grave human rights violations do not occur again. PHR continues its work there by providing forensic training programs to improve Colombia’s capacity to investigate violations and bring to trial cases of human rights abuses.