What are State Crimes?

The MOVICE is a movement in which organized groups of victims of State crime converge (learn more about our history). From our experience we consider that state crimes are mainly those perpetrated by State agents, or by non-State agents (such as paramilitary groups) acting in complicity with, or whose crimes are tolerated by, the State. These crimes are, amongst others, murder, extermination, slavery, enforced disappearance, forced displacement, expulsion, or persecution of the civilian population for social, political, economic, racial, religious or cultural reasons.

Since our founding and from the analysis of the crimes that have been documented since 1996 in the Colombia Nunca Más Crímenes de Lesa Humanidad (Colombia Crimes Against Humanity – Never Again) database, we consider that a majority of the crimes against social and popular movements in Colombia are the result of political and economic interests. In this context, this sociopolitical and State violence was not born as a result of the internal armed conflict, but is rather a root cause of the conflict.

State crime, to a large extent, is generated from the doctrine which was called “internal enemy” during the armed conflict, a term which initially designated guerrillas. This concept was expanded to include trade unionists, journalists, members of the opposition as well as other social groups denouncing human rights violations or demanding economic and social transformation, people with a different way of thinking, opposing the State’s policies through peaceful means.

The persecution and elimination of the “internal enemy” was performed through prosecution, stigmatization and extermination. These were not isolated actions, nor were they committed by a few “bad apples”, they were executed in the framework of massive, systematic, widespread policies, justified by the national security policy.

In conclusion, and to explain the above, we can say that state crimes differ from others because they are comprised of the following four characteristics:

  1. They are widespread acts that are committed against a large number of victims, either by being a large number of crimes or a single crime against many victims.
  2. They are systematic acts that are carried out according to a plan or preconceived policy, which allows such inhuman acts to be repeated.
  3. They are committed by the authorities of a State or by individuals acting with the support of these authorities who tolerate these crimes or act in complicity with the perpetrators.
  4. They are directed against the civilian population for social, political, economic, racial, religious or cultural reasons.

According to international law, the State must assume responsibility for the actions and omissions of its agents when they carried them out as government officials, including when they exceed the limits of their duties or violate the Law of their country. Internationally, the State has aggravated responsibility in respect to acts of violence, since it is in breach of its obligations, considering that its agents are guarantors of the constitutional order, and therefore of the rights of the citizens. This is the reason why justice must be more stringent with State-agents that commit violations of Human Rights.

When crimes are clearly the responsibility of the State, it must respond before the victims, their families, social organizations and the Colombian society as a whole. It is the State that must guarantee the right to truth, justice, integral reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.

Note: This is a preliminary version of what the notion State crime means. A more structured definition is being written.