from Amesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office
on Latin America, May 1, 2002
Rights Groups Criticize State Department's Certification of Colombia
(Washington DC, May 1, 2002) Human Rights Watch, the Washington Office on
Latin America (WOLA), and Amnesty International strongly object to the U.S.
State Department's decision to certify the Colombian government's compliance
with human rights conditions given the Colombian government's failure to
take even minimal steps to meet the conditions. By law, the State Department
must certify the Colombian government on three human rights conditions before
releasing the first tranche of military aid for fiscal year 2002, an estimated
$104 million dollars.
The three organizations
recognize that U.S. officials have taken the certification process seriously.
U.S. officials have met with human rights groups and appear to have pressured
the Colombian government for human rights progress over the last three
months. However, the Colombian government has not made progress toward
meeting the conditions, such as the suspension of high-ranking military
officers implicated in serious abuses or the arrest of known human rights
violators. In short, the Colombian government has rebuffed benchmarks
provided by the U.S. government to demonstrate meaningful human rights
The State Department's
decision was made despite abundant evidence demonstrating that little
progress has been made in improving Colombia's dire human rights record.
Despite the suspension
of some low-ranking officers, the Colombian Armed Forces have refused
to act on notorious cases such as that of General Rodrigo Quiñones.
Although it may appear
that some progress was made regarding military cooperation with civilian
prosecutors and judicial authorities, the information was provided by
the office of the Attorney General, which has over the past several months
fired human rights prosecutors and put obstacles in the way of investigating
high-ranking members of the Armed Forces. The Department of State has
also recognized the inadequacies of the Attorney General's office.
Contrary to the Department
of State's assertions that effective measures have been taken to break
links between the Colombian Armed Forces and illegal paramilitary groups,
the certification provides no evidence of arrests or actions against key
paramilitary leaders or high-ranking members of the Armed Forces credibly
alleged to have collaborated with paramilitary groups.
The human rights situation in Colombia continues to deteriorate, as all
illegal armed groups continue to target primarily civilians. In only the
first four months of 2002, numerous human rights defenders have been killed.
Others who face extreme danger include trade unionists, journalists, community
leaders and political candidates.
The groups also note
serious setbacks, among them the release late last year of the only top
paramilitary leader in custody in Colombia, Víctor Carranza. Dozens
of Colombia's special human rights prosecutors have been forced to request
special protective measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights or flee Colombia because of threats on their lives.
They were particularly
concerned that the case of General Quiñones was cited by the State
Department as an example of progress because he was transferred to a post
in a foreign embassy. Quiñones has been implicated in the Chengue
and El Salado massacres as well as the murder of fifty-seven trade unionists,
human rights workers, and community leaders.
Human Rights Watch
Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco points out: "The administration
is proposing millions in counter-terrorism aid to Colombia even as the
Colombian military refuses to break ties with a designated terrorist group."
WOLA Executive Director
Bill Spencer commented, "Many of the human rights cases under discussion
have languished without progress for the past few years and some for over
a decade. This fact speaks to the lack of progress on all three conditions.
The decision to certify Colombia on human rights misrepresents the facts
in order to keep the aid spigot open."
Alex Arriaga, Government
Relations Director for Amnesty International USA, issued the following
statement: "It is inexcusable for the United States to send military
aid when the Colombian government has failed to adequately meet the human
rights conditions placed upon U.S. aid. In 2001, there was a dramatic
increase in political violence and attacks on human rights defenders.
Meanwhile, impunity continues to reign for those who violate human rights,
whether they are the Colombian military, paramilitary groups, the FARC,
or the ELN. Without progress on meeting the benchmarks, U.S. aid will
only contribute to more human rights violations and diminish hopes for
As of May 3, 2002,
this document was also available online at http://hrw.org/press/2002/05/colombia0501.htm