by Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno, University of Notre Dame, March 26,
by Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno
University of Notre Dame
March 26, 2001
It is indeed an honor to be asked here today to speak at this conference,
organized by the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies and
the Colombian Commission of Jurists. In bringing together Colombian and
U.S. academics, activists and government officials to discuss the problems
of our democracy, you are making a huge contribution to my country. We
need a lot more self-reflection, we need to understand ourselves better,
to know where we want to go and how to get there. So I must thank you,
not just for the opportunity to speak here today, but on behalf of all
Colombians, for the chance to debate and think about ourselves.
As far as I understand,
this conference is organized on the assumption that the problems of democracy,
human rights protection and accountability, as well as conflict resolution
are closely interrelated in Colombia, although they are usually treated
separately. And to tell you the truth, I couldn't agree more. The fact
is I spend 90% of my time as Ambassador of Colombia trying to convince
people of that very fact, that Colombia's problems are very complex, and
interrelated. And that they cannot be treated separately.
But I also believe
that if we hope to make a serious attempt at rebuilding democracy, restoring
the rule of law and protecting human rights in Colombia, the end result
boils down to one single objective: strengthening the government institutions
Why? Simply because
we are mainly two nations in one. We have 95% of our population living
in the Andean Mountain Range and the Northern Coast, an area the size
of California. We have 70% of our population living in only 10 cities,
all of them located in this area. And beyond the bad press coverage, this
Colombia is quite sophisticated and modern. Actually, Bogota today has
a lower crime rate than Washington DC.
But at the same time,
we have another Colombia, about the size of Texas, the Amazon basin and
part of the northeastern plains, which are living in the 19th century.
A place where government presence is weak and violence reigns, where paramilitaries
and guerrillas flourish while financed by the illegal drug trade. Where
there is no access to justice, where there are no schools, no roads, and
there is practically no legal economy. Where the drug trade accounts for
an incredible devastation of the rainforests, which hold 10% of the worlds
biodiversity. And of course, the human rights situation is very serious.
So as I said before,
the only possible treatment we can apply to this problem is to strengthen
government presence. I would suppose everyone here agrees with that in
principle. The problem is that government presence includes not just social
services and infrastructure as well as a stronger justice system, but
also stronger and better law enforcement. And that has to be done through
the Police, the Military and all State Security Forces.
And that finally
leads us to the discussion about the Colombian Armed Forces' human rights
record. And the prevailing argument is that - because the Armed Forces
in the past had a difficult human rights record - then any form of institutional
strengthening in favor of the Armed Forces is a bad idea.
Before I tackle that
argument, I must say that no other Colombian administration in the country's
history has been so open to debating our human rights problems. No other
administration has accepted the difficulties, and publicly assumed its
responsibility in helping to solve them the way President Pastrana's government
has. And most importantly, no other administration has done so much in
favor of changing the situation.
I want to remind
you of just a few examples:
Our Armed Forces are more thoroughly trained in terms of Human Rights
than any other country in Latin America. In the last 5 years, 97.000 members
of the Armed Forces have received such training. We have established 181
human rights offices in the Armed Forces, that is actually more than the
whole U.S Army. President Pastrana signed 11 executive decrees, which
reformed and professionalized the armed forces, including provisions for
disciplinary removal of Armed Forces members involved in human rights
abuses or support for illegal actors including paramilitaries. And for
the first time, he signed - and used - discretionary authority to remove
personnel at any stage in their career.
He also prohibited
minors from serving in the Armed Forces, and reformed the Military Justice
System and the Military Penal Code so that only civilian courts can handle
cases of forced disappearance, torture, genocide, and forced displacement.
President Pastrana also issued a directive to the heads of the Armed Forces
and Police that requires them to relinquish to the civilian judiciary
the investigation, prosecution and trial of human rights violations and
other crimes not directly related to acts of service. And reformed the
Penal Code, so that the International Humanitarian Law, as well as crimes
such as forced displacement, genocide and torture are included in our
Penal System and tried as criminal offenses for the first time in our
In the last 2 years,
this government destined $5 million dollars to protect human rights defenders,
with basic measures such as armed guards, bulletproof vehicles, bulletproof
vests and armed protection for more that 113 different sites where these
organizations operate throughout the country. The program includes labor
leaders, journalists, the heads of indigenous groups as well as witnesses
in human rights cases. All these groups have been targeted by violence
in Colombia, and their plight is extremely serious, and unacceptable.
We understand that the Colombian State must do everything it can to put
an end to this.
The government is
also creating a human rights early warning system, which will mobilize
- when there is credible evidence - government forces and members of civil
society in order to prevent forced disappearances, massacres, forced displacement
and other human rights violations.
Of course, this doesn't
mean that we don't recognize the very complex human rights situation in
Colombia. We know we have serious problems, and we accept the fact that
we still have a lot to do. But the argument that claims that because of
these problems - the institutional strengthening of the Armed Forces is
a bad idea - is fundamentally flawed. Quite the contrary, we need better,
more professional and accountable Armed Forces. And to do it, we need
help from the international community, because many of Colombia's problems
are caused and funded by drug consumption in the developed world.
And this is precisely
where international human rights observers are grossly misinterpreting
Colombia's human rights situation. Because they tend to compare it to
present-day situations in countries like China, Cuba, Iran, or North Korea.
Or past experiences in Latin America such as Chile, Argentina or Guatemala.
But they miss one very important point: all those human rights violations
were the product of dictatorships, governments that forcefully suppressed
civil liberties in order to hold-on to power. And Colombia is clearly
not such a case.
There lies the fundamental
difference. Colombia's case is unique because unlike all other cases,
it is a democracy which is being cornered and threatened by illegal armed
groups, guerrillas and paramilitaries, the real gross human rights violators.
And their primary source of funding does not originate in Colombia, it
originates in drug consumer nations like the United States, in its streets
and schools, wherever there is demand for cocaine and heroin. In other
words, a dictatorship does not cause Colombia's human rights problems.
Colombia's problems stem from sheer lawlessness that is being funded by
drug consumers around the globe.
One would think only
civilians hold these ideas, but in fact such views are strongly supported
by the military. The Colombia's Military Commander, General Fernando Tapias,
has publicly stated that the biggest menace against the country's stability
is the growth of these armed groups - particularly the paramilitaries
- who are financed by the drug traffickers. And he is not alone in this
opinion. The Armed Forces have embraced this process of change by realizing
that the only way to effectively wage war against lawlessness is through
technological advances and troop training. And in turn, these goals will
remain unobtainable unless they become a modern and professional fighting
force that respects and upholds human rights and severs all ties with
In fact, over the
last year and a half, the Colombian Armed Forces have made notable, indeed
dramatic improvements. Complaints against state security forces have decreased
by about 80 percent from 1996 to the year 2000. Today, only 3 percent
of all reported human rights violations in the country are attributed
to the armed forces. And in the fight against paramilitary organizations,
the Colombian military has also obtained significant results. Since August
1998, when President Pastrana came to power, 153 paramilitaries have been
killed in action by the Colombian Armed Forces. Between 1998 and 1999,
32 members of the Armed Forces were separated from service for presumed
human rights violations, while during that same period, the military justice
system ordered the discharge of 65 police officers for presumed human
rights violations. And just a few weeks ago and for the first time in
Colombian history, the Military Justice System condemned and imprisoned
an army general, Jaime Humberto Uscategui, in connection with the 1997
paramilitary massacre at Mapiripan, Meta.
Of course this doesn't
mean that there's not a lot more yet to be done, or that we don't welcome
international debate on Colombia's human rights situation. Actually we
have embraced the human rights debate, because we understand that it has
brought world attention to our many problems, and that in itself is a
crucial contribution. And we hope it will continue to raise awareness
around the human rights situation in the country, both in Colombia and
But I would like
to make a bold proposition here today. Because if what we really want
is to solve our human rights problem, complaining alone will not get the
job done. In truth, the task in front of us is how to change the whole
country's attitude toward democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
And as I just said, criticism alone will not make it happen. What I am
proposing is for us to find new and creative ways to work together - NGOs
and government - to get real results on the ground. To help us raise private
funds for projects that will attack the core of the problem by increasing
productivity, building infrastructure, protecting the environment, strengthening
the justice system and promoting Colombia's peace process.
A final negotiated
peace agreement is President Pastrana's priority, and we all know it is
crucial for the country's future. A lot of the changes that Colombia needs
depend upon its success. And there are many ways in which you can help
us in this effort. We need your help, in convincing all armed groups that
there is no future to this conflict, that human rights violations will
not be tolerated, and that compliance with International Humanitarian
Law is urgent.
is also very concerned with Colombian public opinion, and how it has become
polarized between those who support a peaceful agreement, and those who
favor a military solution. You can also contribute, by always reminding
Colombians that human rights violations are equally unacceptable, regardless
of the political inclinations of those who commit them.
But above all, I
am asking you to stop comparing Colombia's human rights situation with
those of present and past dictatorships. Because as I have already explained,
this erroneous interpretation of things in the end is simply targeting
those who are defending democracy. And by doing so it is strengthening
the illegal armed groups, who in turn are responsible for the country's
very serious human situation. And who represent the closest thing to a
dictatorship in Colombia, to a point where some have denounced that paramilitary
groups in some areas are actually deciding who can and cannot run for
public office. And not just for local government posts, but even candidates
running for Congress.
In this regard, the
international NGOs cannot expect one government alone to solve all the
problems that have accumulated in 20 years of history. Even the United
States, with all it's prosperity and sophistication still has problems
in many areas, including human rights. But we are willing to work together
with all of you in favor of building a new and better Colombia. What we
need from you, is the same thing we are asking both the Colombian people,
and our military: a change of attitude.
But we also need
your support in promoting our legal industries, in strengthening our legal
economy. And the best way to do that is to support free-trade initiatives.
Because in the long run, alternative development for 100,000 coca farmers
in Putumayo and Caqueta can only be sustained if they can sell exotic
Amazon fruits abroad, instead of coca. And without markets for our legal
products, long term alternative development will remain just a promise.
Nothing can do more to improve the situation in Colombia than promoting
economic growth and job creation.
Here, the United
States can make a substantial contribution. Trade and investment offer
long-term benefits to everyone. And we are extremely happy with President
Bush's support for an expanded Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), as
well as the presentation of an Andean Trade Preference Extension - Expansion
Act by senators Graham, Dodd, Biden, DeWine and Hagel two weeks ago. By
extending and enlarging ATPA we can increase the 140.000 direct jobs it
has created in Colombia over the past 10 years. Trade between our countries
has reached $10 billion this last year. And it has benefited both our
economies. Trade with Colombia is responsible for thousands of jobs here
in the United States.
But we don't want
to stop there. We want to work toward a broader hemispheric free trade
agreement by the year 2003. It is no secret that economic prosperity has
a positive impact on political stability. With one hand we must deal with
the problems that confront us -with violence, drug trafficking and the
armed conflict. But with the other hand we must offer hope and opportunity
to our citizens.
I hope I have given
you enough reasons to support us in this struggle. Finally, I wish you
all good luck in your discussions. Thank you very much for the opportunity
to be here today.