Paramilitary Self Defence Groups/Death Squads (semi-official) (Colombia)

Country: Colombia
Details of Formation: Semi-official paramilitaries first appeared with the Colombian presidential decree 3398 of 1965, which allowed the formation of private security forces. The decree was later succeeded by Law 48 of 1968 which, allowed the Colombian executive to establish civil patrols by decree. Although few patrols were formally created by the president, Law 48 was used as legal foundation for military support for all paramilitaries. (Wikipedia). The military created many civilian “self-defence” squads in the 1980s (Amnesty International).
Details of Termination: After reports of civilian deaths caused by paramilitaries appeared in the late 1980s, the government promised to reduce paramilitary violence. In 1989, it issued Decree 1194 which outlawed paramilitary groups and established criminal penalties for those involved in or with the groups (Wikipedia). The paramilitaries did not disappear but continued to assist the security forces (Amnesty International). As informal PGM, the successor group is coded separately as “Paramilitary Self Defense Groups/Death Squads (informal)”.
Purpose: Upon foundation, the paramilitaries’ main stated purpose was to protect property and government officials against guerilla violence. The main real purpose soon evolved into fighting the guerilla (Wikipedia). The paramilitaries, which the military created in the 1980s, had the purpose of assisting the military in counterinsurgency operations (Amnesty International). The subordinate purpose was to intimidating left-wing sympathizers, including political opposition and civilians.
Organisation: The paramilitaries were closely associated with the Colombian military. They were able to travel in Army vehicles, pass freely through Army roadblocks and park in police and military installations, where they were handing over prisoners. The paramilitaries themselves stated that they take orders from the military. Some paramilitaries were also linked to the Medellin drug cartel.
Weapons and Training: Law 48 of 1968 allowed the Defense Ministry to supply civil patrols with military-grade weaponry (Wikipedia). A news source reports that the Bombona Battalion and other military units trained vigilante groups; another news source says that the Medellin cartel trained the groups.
Size: The military created many paramilitary groups in the 1980s (Amnesty International). This might point to an increase in PGM size, but we have no information on absolute numbers.
Reason for Membership: --
Treatment of Civilians: Paramilitaries were responsible for many civilian deaths (Wikipedia). They killed and disappeared perceived opponents with impunity (Amnesty International). This included members of the Communist-backed Union Patriotica (UP), journalists, artists, academics, priests, trade unionists as well as community leaders. A news source of 1984 considered that Colombia’s peace may be threatened by this hostile behavior of the paramilitaries. The government never entered into combat with the paramilitaries, despite knowing their names and operations; a civilian court found that military personnel were linked to the squads and related massacres, but no one has been detained. Civilian courts established that political killings carried out by the paramilitaries were planned and organised by army officers.
Other Information: There were around 137 paramilitary groups, including for example the Black Hand, Love for the Homeland and Death to Revolutionaries. The army modeled the paramilitary squads on the Death to Kidnappers.
References: Amnesty International. 1994. “Possible disappearance/Fear for Safety. Francisco Eriberto Galvan Lopez, aged 46.” AI Index: AMR 23/41/94. 12 May.
Wikipedia. “Right-wing paramilitarism in Colombia”. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Right-wing_paramilitarism_in_Colombia&oldid=747128716