Colombia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Ratings Change, Trend Arrow: 

Colombia’s civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3, and it received an upward trend arrow, due to the historic reduction in violence resulting from the peace process between the government and left-wing FARC guerrillas.


Colombia is one of the longest-standing democracies in Latin America, and its foundational institutions serve an effective role in checking executive power. However, a low-intensity internal conflict has afflicted the country since the 1960s and greatly affected both political rights and civil liberties. A peace process between the government and Colombia’s main left-wing guerilla group, launched in 2012, led to the ratification of a peace accord in 2016 and has contributed to a significant decline in violence.

Key Developments: 
  • The government and left-wing guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached a deal on a peace accord in August. Although it was narrowly rejected in an October referendum, renegotiations yielded a revised accord in November, which the legislature ratified without an additional plebiscite.
  • In March, the government agreed to initiate formal negotiations with another left-wing guerrilla group, the Army of National Liberation (ELN).
  • In February, the chief of Colombia’s National Police resigned amid a deepening scandal involving a prostitution ring within police ranks; in response to this and other revelations of malfeasance, his successor initiated an extensive purge of the force as part of a crackdown on corruption.
  • A wave of lethal attacks against human rights defenders and other social activists occurred during the year—including dozens in the months after the signing of the first peace accord.
Executive Summary: 

The peace process between the government and the FARC dominated the political environment in 2016. Although domestic opposition created a tense negotiating environment, the two sides announced in August that they had reached a final accord, including an agreement on ceasefire and disarmament as well as provisions for UN monitoring. The agreement was formally signed in September and put to a referendum in October. While most polling suggested an advantage for the “yes” vote, the accord was rejected by roughly 53,000 votes—a margin of less than 0.5 percent—amid a 37 percent turnout.

In the aftermath of the plebiscite, the two sides relaunched talks amid a fragile calm. Following six weeks of discussions, as well as a series of large pro-peace demonstrations throughout the country, the government and the FARC produced a new accord in November. The deal contained some changes requested by opponents of the initial document, including revisions to the transitional justice system and stricter terms regarding the confinement of guerrillas convicted of war crimes under the system. Colombia’s Congress subsequently ratified the agreement, and demobilization officially commenced on December 1. Later that month, the Constitutional Court confirmed Congress’s ability to fast-track many laws required for implementing the accord; absent such a mechanism, legislative delays could diminish confidence in the government’s ability to uphold its responsibilities.

Although UN monitors and other observers expressed concern about delays in the movement of guerrillas into demobilization and disarmament zones, implementation appeared stable at year’s end. Both supporters and skeptics of the accord expressed concern that some members of the FARC would migrate to the ELN or paramilitary successor groups, and members of several FARC fronts were reported to have broken with guerrilla leadership and rejected the accords during the year. ELN activity has indeed increased in recent years, but the group agreed in March to hold formal peace talks with the government.

The peace process contributed to a significant decline in the level of violence. The homicide rate dropped to its lowest point in 40 years, and the FARC maintained a ceasefire through the year, resulting in the lowest number of conflict-related victims in over five decades. However, significant rule of law challenges—including a compromised judiciary, corrupt military, and climate of impunity—persisted. Human rights defenders and other social activists were again the targets of violent attack during the year. According to the We Are Defenders coalition, 77 activists had been killed as of mid-December.

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