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Colombia: Political Dynamics
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Dynamics


The 1991 constitution specifically identifies two control entities with administrative and budgetary autonomy—the Comptroller General’s Office and the Public Ministry. They are state institutions that do not belong to any of the three branches of government, and both have offices at the national, departmental, and municipal levels.

The Comptroller General’s Office (Contraloría General de la República) exercises fiscal control over state expenditures based on criteria of efficiency, economy, equity, and environmental cost. The comptroller is elected by the plenary of the Congress for a four-year, nonrenewable period from a list presented by the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State. Fiscal control is selective in that, although all state institutions are subject to scrutiny, only a certain number are chosen for examination in a given period. The budget of the comptroller general of the republic and departmental and municipal comptrollers is monitored by the auditor general of the republic, who is elected for a two-year term by the Council of State from a list of candidates proposed by the Supreme Court.

The Public Ministry, a noncabinet-level ministry, promotes respect for human rights, defends the public interest, oversees compliance with the law and legal sentences, and investigates disciplinary misconduct by public officials and employees in general, including members of the state security forces. The inspector general of the nation (procurador general de la nación) directs the Public Ministry and has the primary function of overseeing the correct conduct of state employees. The Senate elects the inspector general for a nonrenewable term of four years.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) operates under the direction of the Inspector General’s Office within the Public Ministry, and its primary function is to oversee the promotion, exercise, and defense of human rights throughout the national territory. The House of Representatives elects the human rights ombudsman for a four-year, nonrenewable period from a list presented by the president of the republic.

Given acute problems of public order and systematic violation of human rights in the country, the human rights ombudsman has been involved in particularly sensitive aspects of Colombian political life since the creation of this position in 1991. The ombudsman has issued a number of reports, including denunciations of violations of the human rights of ethnic minorities, forced displacement and humanitarian crises in Colombia, the public health effects of the aerial fumigation of illicit drug crops, and public health conditions in the jails.

District and municipal ombudsmen (personerías), supervised by the ombudsman of Bogotá, are responsible for defending fundamental rights and other community interests, such as environmental matters and public services at the local level. The public role exercised by the ombudsmen is very important, given that they are in direct contact with local populations that are affected by the internal armed conflict. Personerías cooperate with the human rights ombudsman in promoting respect for human rights, implementing human rights policies, intervening with local authorities when the fundamental rights of the citizens in their respective districts are being violated, and reporting human rights abuses. Their function appears to complement the local system of conflict resolution provided by the justices of the peace.

Last Updated: January 2010

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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