Release and Letter from Thirty-Three U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations,
July 31, 2000
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July
CONTACT: Carlos Salinas, Amnesty
International USA, 202 544-0200; Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working
Colombian Military Not Fit
to Receive U.S. Aid
Washington, DC A group of
human rights and nongovernmental organizations urged President Clinton
not to certify Colombia to receive US security assistance because of its
failure to comply with the human rights provisions which are included
in an emergency aid package to combat drugs in the South American nation.
The groups also asked Clinton not to waive the certification requirement,
another option open to him. If the Administration certifies that the Colombian
military meets these conditions or waives the certification requirement,
it "will send a clear message to the Colombian government and security
forces, at the outset of this major escalation of U.S. military involvement,
that the United States' commitment to human rights does not go beyond
empty rhetoric," the group stated in an open letter to Clinton.
"Everyone agrees that
the human rights situation in Colombia is dire. To ignore human rights
by issuing a premature certification or invoking the waiver is to agree
to the continuing slaughter of civilians, " said Carlos M. Salinas,
Acting Director for Government Relations of Amnesty International USA.
"I don't see how the
Administration can certify Colombia has met these conditions and keep
a straight face," said Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working
Group, a coalition of 65 religious, policy and human rights organizations.
Colombia does not meet the
human rights conditions for a number of reasons, the groups say. The Colombian
government has failed to dismiss officers with a proven record of human
rights abuses and support for paramilitary groups. Nor has the Colombian
government suspended many officers implicated in such crimes while referring
their cases to civilian authorities for investigation and trial. A few
high-profile officers have been dismissed, but many others implicated
in gross violations of human rights remain on duty and have even been
rewarded with promotions.
The Colombian government has
also failed to issue clear orders to the military to stop challenging
the jurisdiction of civilian authorities over the investigation and prosecution
of human rights cases directly involving the military or where the military
facilitated attacks by paramilitary groups, including attacks on human
rights defenders and massacres of civilian non-combatants. The Colombian
Constitutional Court has ruled that such human rights cases must be tried
in civilian courts, but the government continues to allow the military
to try such human rights cases in military tribunals, which rarely convict
The government has not ordered
the military to take effective action against paramilitary leaders nor
has the military protected the civilian population from paramilitary attacks.
Hundreds of arrest warrants remain shelved while pleas from civilians
for protection from imminent paramilitary attacks go unheeded.
There exist continued credible
allegations of army-paramilitary links throughout the country. A well-documented
example is the massacre which took place in the village of El Salado in
Bolivar province in February of this year. The military ignored pleas
from villagers to protect them from the paramilitaries and even blocked
roads leading into the village so that humanitarian groups responding
to the pleas for help could not get through to the village.
"We have grave doubts
about the wisdom of this massive infusion of military assistance to Colombia.
It will be an unqualified disaster, however, if the human rights conditions
prove meaningless at the very outset," the groups warned Clinton.
"We hope that by your leadership you show that human rights is a
priority for your administration."
Signers to the letter included
Amnesty International USA, the Washington Office on Latin America, the
Center for International Policy, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center
for Human Rights, the U.S. Committee for Refugees, and a range of church
offices and grassroots organizations.
For more information on U.S.
assistance to Colombia, see www.ciponline.org/colombia/aid or contact
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, 202-232-3317.
July 31, 2000
President Clinton The White
House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, DC
Dear President Clinton,
The undersigned organizations
ask, in the strongest possible terms, that the State Department not certify
Colombia to receive security assistance based on failure to comply with
the human rights provisions of sec. 3201 of the Colombia supplemental
aid package included in PL 106-246.
We also ask, in equally strong
terms, that you do not issue a waiver. We trust you share our view that
disregarding human rights can never be in the national security interest
of the United States. A certification or a waiver that ignores this critical
human rights situation will send a clear message to the Colombian government
and security forces, at the outset of this major increase in U.S. military
involvement, that the United States' commitment to human rights does not
go beyond empty rhetoric. Instead, the U.S. government should engage the
Colombian government in a comprehensive dialogue on human rights and work
with the Colombian government to implement concrete measures to stop violations,
punish those responsible, and instill respect for human rights.
At this moment the government
of Colombia is in clear violation of the conditions set out in sec. 3201.
As the State Department's own report for 1999 emphasizes, the Colombian
government's human rights record "remained poor" and "the
armed forces and the police committed numerous, serious violations of
human rights throughout the year." The El Salado massacre, covered
recently on the front page of the New York Times, is only one example
of the many incidents this year in which Colombian security forces aided
and abetted paramilitary forces or failed to act to protect the civilian
population from atrocities.
The Colombian government has
not met the conditions in sec. 3201 for the following reasons:
1. The Colombian government
has not dismissed officers with a proven record of human rights abuses
and support for paramilitary groups and it has not suspended from duty
officers implicated in such crimes and referred their cases to civilian
authorities for investigation and trial. The Colombian government has
dismissed a few high-profile officers, but they do not face any serious
prosecution for their actions. Many others remain on duty and have even
been rewarded with promotions despite serious allegations against them,
such as General Rodrigo Quiñones and General Carlos Ospina Ovalle.
2. The Colombian government
has not enforced its own law requiring that military officers implicated
in serious human rights violations or the aiding or abetting of paramilitary
groups be prosecuted in civilian courts. Major cases remain paralyzed
or before military tribunals, which have established a notorious record
of impunity. Such cases include, but are not limited to, investigations
into attacks on human rights defenders, the El Salado (Feb. 2000), Barrancabermeja
(May 1998), San José de Apartadó (March 1997), La Gabarra
(May 1999), Mapiripán (July 1997), Santo Domingo (December 1998),
El Tigre (January 1999), and El Aro (October 1997) massacres, and open
and on-going support for paramilitary groups by key army brigades, including
the third and fourth.
3. The Colombian government
has not taken effective action against paramilitary leaders or protected
the civilian population from paramilitary attacks. Hundreds of arrest
warrants for paramilitary leaders remain shelved while pleas from the
civilian population about imminent attacks by paramilitary forces go unheeded.
Indeed, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights in Bogota, the Colombian government's actions against paramilitary
forces are largely limited to "making public declarations or designing
policies that are never implemented." Moreover, according to the
UN office, "signs of the lack of willingness to combat the paramilitary
groups effectively include the fact that the location of many of their
assembly and training sites is public knowledge of the part of the population
and the authorities" and yet the security forces do not act on this
4. The Colombian government
has not issued clear orders to the military to stop challenging the jurisdiction
of human rights cases and allow them to proceed in civilian courts, not
military tribunals. The Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that human
rights cases should go to civilian courts but the military continues to
challenge jurisdiction. President Pastrana not only has the authority,
but also the constitutional duty, to ensure that the laws of Colombia
are obeyed, particularly by the armed forces.
5. There are continued, credible
and abundant allegations of army-paramilitary collusion throughout the
country, with recent cases in including the ongoing allegations involving
the Third and Fourth Brigades and paramilitary attacks in La Unión
(July 8, 2000), Tibú (April 6, 2000), San José de Apartadó
(February 19, 2000) and El Salado.
For a meaningful certification
process, we urge the State Department to consult not only US-based human
rights organizations, but also Colombian human rights and other civil
society organizations. Human rights advocates who risk their lives on
a daily basis are the best judges of Colombia's human rights situation.
Many of the undersigned organizations
have grave doubts about the wisdom of this massive infusion of military
assistance to Colombia. We have raised serious questions about its efficacy
as counternarcotics policy, its potential for drawing the United States
into a quagmire, its impact on the humanitarian crisis of the displaced,
its undercutting of the peace process and its negative impact on human
rights. It will be an unqualified disaster, however, if the human rights
conditions prove meaningless at the very outset.
Is human rights indeed a "minor"
objective, as stated by an official with the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy on July 22, in reference to Colombia? We do not believe
that it is, and by your leadership we hope you show that human rights
is indeed a priority for your administration.
Carlos M. Salinas
Acting Director, Government Relations
Amnesty International USA
Program Director, Latin America
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
Center for International Policy
Washington Office on Latin America
Director, Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Federation of American Scientists
Lyn Beth Neylon
President, Board of Directors
Human Rights Access (HRX)
Hiram A. Ruiz
Senior Policy Analyst
US Committee for Refugees
Director, Drug Policy Project
Institute for Policy Studies
Church of the Brethren Washington Office
Edward (Ned) W. Stowe
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Lutheran World Relief
Kathy Thornton, RSM
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
David A. Vargas
Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean
United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Assistant General Secretary
General Board of Church & Society
United Methodist Church
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Campaign for Labor Rights
Disarm Education Fund
East Timor Action Network
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the
50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice
Alice Zachmann, SSND
Guatemala Human Rights Condition
Mexico Solidarity Network
Alice Wolters / Mark Saucier
Peru Peace Network
Quest for Peace/Quixote Center
Rights Action (formerly Guatemala Partners)
Peter J. Davies
US/LEAP (US Labor Education in the Americas Project)
Voices on the Border
Washington Kurdish Institute
Witness for Peace
Cc: Secretary of State Madeleine