Being the victim of a crime in a foreign country can be a devastating and traumatic experience. While no one can undo the emotional trauma, physical injury, or financial loss you may have experienced, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota is ready to help. We are very concerned about violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Colombia. We will assist you in managing the practical consequences of being a crime victim and provide you with information about accessing the local criminal justice system, as well as other resources for crime victims abroad and the United States. This office can assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family or friends on your behalf and explain how funds can be transferred. We can also help you to better understand the criminal justice system in Colombia, which is very different from the system in the United States
The information included in this guide related to the legal requirements in Colombia is provided for general purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Colombian laws should be addressed to legal counsel licensed to practice law in Colombia. The investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities. Upon the request of the Colombian government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
A crime should be reported to the appropriate Colombian authorities as soon as possible. A police report, known as a denuncia, may be filed at the nearest Unidad de Reacción Inmediata (URI) of the Colombian judicial authorities. You may also file a report at a police station but it will not have the same validity for legal process and it is recommended that victims go to the URI to file a formal report. Also, it is best to file the report in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, if possible. Be sure to receive a copy of the report before departing.
For information on URI locations throughout Colombia, please click here. (PDF 137KB)
If you cannot get to one of the locations listed, ask a local police station for the location of an URI near you.
Often, the URI office will not have English-speaking staff; therefore, if the victim does not speak Spanish it is helpful to bring someone who speaks Spanish along.
The victim should file the report in person.
If you have difficulties filing your police report with an official, please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. You may need a police report to file for crime victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. If you do decide to file a report please send a copy to us, along with your address and phone number in the event we need to communicate with you. While we are not authorized to act as your legal representative, our office can help you track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.
A suspected kidnapping or hostage-taking should be reported to the Dirección Operativa para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal which is known as the Gaula. It should also be immediately reported to the US Embassy.
Dirección Operativa para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal
Ministerio de Defensa Nacional
Carrera 7 No. 32-16, Piso 7, Bogota
Countrywide Toll free number 018000-515333
Investigations are conducted by:
Fiscalia General de la Nación (Attorney General’s Office)
Dirección Operativa para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal (GAULA)
Carrera 7 No. 32-16, Piso 7 y 8
For further information you can go to: http://www.policia.gov.co/
Upon the request of the Colombian government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
A criminal investigation can be a long process, sometimes lasting many months, depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, many investigations never result in the arrest of a suspect. While the crime is being investigated a victim may be called upon to provide forensic evidence such as fingerprints, photographs, and other evidence. The Embassy encourages victims of crime to hire a private attorney to assist with the process. Information on attorneys is provided below. In general, a case will remain open for 12 months. If there is no progress or arrest during that time it will generally be closed.
If the authorities decide that a crime has been committed and there is credible suspicion that one particular person has committed that crime, they will proceed to file an arrest warrant with the district attorney’s office. The police must have this warrant to arrest a suspect. However, there is no need for an arrest warrant if suspects are arrested attempting to flee a crime scene.
Colombian authorities must notify in writing when a detention has been made. This process, in practice, may take several months.
Law requires the authorities in charge to inform suspects of the reasons for their arrest and to have them appear before a district attorney for a preliminary hearing within 36 hours of the detention. District attorneys should determine the legality of an arrest within 72 hours. According to local legislation for crimes committed after January 1st, 2008, charges must be pressed within 30 days of the arrest or the suspect must be released. Generally a trial must start within 90 days of the initial arrest. Habeas corpus is available to report an unlawful detention or imprisonment. People arrested for a crime or sued have the right to have access to a lawyer and those who have no means, have the right to have one appointed.
People accused of petty crimes have the right to pay a bond for their release, however, those accused of murder, rebellion or drug trafficking do not have the right to a bond.
Those who have gone through trial have the right to appeal the verdict but are not allowed to be present at the appeal hearing.
As a crime victim, you can hire a local lawyer for legal advice. Legal proceedings in Colombia differ from those in the United States. Even though we cannot recommend a lawyer, we can provide a list of local attorneys.
Victim Compensation in Colombia
The government of Colombia does not provide monetary compensation to foreign victims of crime. However, an American citizen residing in Colombia, who is a victim of violence by illegal armed groups, may apply for compensation.
The name of the office of Victims Program in Colombia is “Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social y Cooperación Internacional”.
Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social y Cooperación Internacional
Calle 7 No. 6-54
Tel. 5960800/01/02 – 5954410
Toll free number 01-800-095-1100
For information about victims’ compensation assistance in the United States, please click here.
Special Information for Cases of Sexual Assault and Rape
Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases, and can deteriorate as time passes. As such, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible, and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. You should take these steps even if you are unsure about whether to report the crime to police. If you decide to pursue a prosecution at a later time, these steps preserve evidence that will assist the prosecutor. A consular officer or after-hours duty officer from the U.S. Embassy may be able to accompany victims of sexual assault for the medical exam. You should get medical attention to determine if you have been injured in any way and to discuss treatment and prevention options for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The U.S. Embassy can provide you with a list of local doctors.
In Colombia the legal definition of rape and sexual assault does not vary from region to region. Rape and sexual assault are characterized as acts performed with the use of force, weapons and/or intimidation by the assailant. It is often committed in isolated places, or when the assailants take advantage of the absence of surveillance and security measures. This may be a premeditated crime or crime of opportunity. In many cases the assailant remains unknown. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 15 years of imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates sentences of six months to two years and denies probation or bail to offenders who disobey restraining orders.
Instituto de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses (Forensic Institute)
Calle 7 A No. 12-61
Tel. 4069977 – 4069944
Authorizes and performs forensic sexual assault exam in all cases of rape and sexual assault. The exam involves collection of blood samples, semen, or other substances, as well as a psychological and sociological evaluation. The victim may bring a family member or a witness to the exam, and a minor may be accompanied by a parent or guardian. There is no fee for the exam, because it is required as a part of legal process. If the victim refuses to take the exam, it may make a difference during the trial, as there will be no physical evidence for the legal process to consider. However, the medical exam is not necessary to file the charges. The victim can report the case to a Family Commissioner, Police or Unidad de Reacción Inmediata. Afterwards, the case is forwarded to Unidad Especializada en Delitos Contra La Libertad Sexual y la Dignidad Humana. The victim is interviewed by Colombian judicial officials, a psychologist and an investigator. The laws within the Colombian Criminal Code protect the identity of a victim of sexual assault, and the media must comply with the law.
The rape crisis hotlines: (operators speak Spanish only)
Instituto Colombiano de Bienstar Familiar (ICBF) – 018000918080 – 24 hours
ICBF provides psycho-social, medical, and legal support to victims of sexual violence.
Centro de Atención Integral a Víctimas de Delitos Sexuales
Diagonal 34 No. 5-18, Tel. 2880557, 2324011
Special Information for Cases of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a crime under the Colombian Penal Code. The National Constitution sets the guidelines for implementing prevention, solution and punishment of violence within the family. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, remains a serious problem in Colombia. Judicial authorities may remove an abuser from the household and require counseling. Prison time is possible if the abuser causes grave harm or the abuse is recurrent; however, provisions for fines are generally not applied. The law stipulates that the government must provide victims of domestic violence with immediate protection from physical or psychological abuse. The ICBF provides safe houses and counseling for victims, but its services are dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem. In addition to fulfilling traditional family counseling functions, the ICBF family ombudsmen handle domestic violence cases. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office conducts regional training workshops to promote the application of domestic violence statutes. If you need immediate assistance finding a place to stay the Embassy can also provide the names of hotels or a temporary shelter.
How can the victims obtain a restraining order?
Under Colombian law, every person, who is a victim of physical or psychological abuse, insult, offence or any other form of aggression within his/her family, can ask the family commissioner, the Civil Municipality or PROMISCUO Judge, for an immediate protective measure that helps to put an end to the violence or prevent its reoccurrence. The request for a protective measure can be made personally by the victim, any other person that acts on his/her behalf, or by the family commissioner when the victim cannot do it, in writing or verbally .
The request for protection measures has to state the following clearly:
- Name of requester and identity card number, if possible
- Name of the victim
- Name of the perpetrator and his/her address
- Report of the facts
- Request for necessary evidence
A commissary or judge upon receiving the petition will issue a restraining order within four hours.
“ASEDIO”- harassment or stalking in Colombia has a political connotation. It is not considered to be a violent crime.
Point of contact to report domestic violence: Local Police Stations
- Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar 018000918080, 24 hours a day
The criminal report can be filed
- at any URI
- the Prosecutor’s Office
- SAU or police officer and at the CAVIF located on Cra 13 # 18-38 First Floor in Bogota.
- 123 (equivalent of U.S. 911) in cases of security, fire, rescue, disasters, car accidents, public services emergencies (i.e. gas leaks, short circuits, etc), health emergencies, family violence
- Linea Purpura
Violence against women
Toll free number: 01-8000-112-137
Special Information for Child Abuse Cases
The government institution responsible for children’s protection in Colombia is the “Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF)”
Grupo de protección:
Avenida Carrera 68 # 64 C-75
Tel: 437 76 30
Cases of child abuse are investigated by the district attorney’s office.
The abuse of a minor should be reported by any citizen, whether a private citizen or a public servant, through any of these institutions: Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), the commissioner of the state, the attorney general’s office, police department or the district attorney’s office. A child victim of abuse can be transferred to a family member’s home, if the child has family in Colombia, if not, the ICBF will place the child in foster care. In case the child in question is a minor U.S. citizen, you should get in contact with the United States Embassy in Bogota.
Specialized centers for the care of sexual abuse victims called “CAIVAS”, in participation with the ICBF, the district attorney’s office, institute of forensic science and medicine, the attorney general’s office and the commissioner of the state and local entities such as the “Secretaria Distrital de Integración Social” in Bogota have the ability to assist minors who are victims of abuse.
The abused child is examined by the Institute of forensic science and medicine. In places where there is no representation of said institute, the medical exam is carried out in the closest hospital by qualified personnel who will protect the integrity of the victim and will recommend further medical procedures.
In Colombia, a minor who is victim of abuse will have an initial interview to begin legal proceedings. A psychologist and qualified personnel will accompany the child to all interviews in which a simple language will be used in an effort for the child to understand the process. Minors can be requested to testify as witnesses in a trial to an adult. A minor’s statement can only be recorded by an ICBF’s family representative in form of a questionnaire prepared by a district attorney or a judge. However, it is at the judge’s discretion to allow the statement to be done using audio or video and in those cases, the minor does not need to appear physically in court. If a minor has to testify, by law, he/she must be accompanied by a psychologist or an authority. In cases of victims younger than 18, technology will be used so the minor is not confronted with the aggressor. In any legal proceeding where a child or adolescent is involved, special attention will be given to his/her opinion, well-being, dignity, privacy and other right specified by the law.
Special Information for Homicide Cases
It is required to have a necropsy done in cases of violent deaths or those suspect of homicide, suicide or fatal accident. Necropsies are also performed in cases of natural death when the circumstances leading to death are not clear (sudden deaths). This process may take up to two to three hours in simple cases and longer when it is a complex case or if it is a case that needs the additional opinion of another physician (radiologist, forensic doctor, dentist, etc.). A family member can be present as the victim’s representative.
Requisites to handle a Will in homicide cases:
First, the authorities must verify if the person has left a will. If not, they will proceed with the next of kin.