Send a Letter
In July, a US aid package allocating $1.3 billion dollars in primarily military assistance to Colombia passed the US Senate and was signed into law by President Clinton. The $1.3 billion dollars was just a down-payment in what even the Pentagon admits will be a multi-year commitment, marking a new and dangerous involvement in Colombia's counterinsurgency war.
However, there was a catch. Within the legislation, Senators Leahy and Kennedy fought for tough human rights conditions that the Colombian Government had to meet before the aid could be released. Unfortunately, certain members of the House of Representatives also fought to include a loophole in the final bill. The loophole ensured that the President could release the money by waiving the human rights conditions on national security grounds.
This December or January, the President will decide whether or not to certify or waive human rights conditions on US military and counternarcotics aid to Colombia. This decision will determine if the Colombian military, the most abusive military in the hemisphere, will receive US aid for FY2001. It is imperative that you contact your members of Congress and the President and insist that US military assistance be stopped because Colombia does not meet human rights conditions.
Funding for FY2000 was released when President Clinton waived the human rights conditions for the first year of the package on August 22, 2000. Only the first of the four human rights conditions were met, and that one only partially. The waiver sends a clear message to Colombia that the US government's insistence on human rights is just talk. We must make sure that the human rights conditions are not waived for FY2001 funding as they were for FY2000.
Overwhelming evidence shows that the human rights conditions have not been met in four major areas.
The Colombian government has still not taken the necessary steps to ensure that human rights violators in the military are tried in civilian courts. Military judges continue to challenge civilian jurisdiction, trying human rights violators in military tribunals that rarely punish the offender. Defense Minister Luis Ramírez argued that 533 cases had already been transferred to civilian courts, yet under closer inspection, few of the transferred cases involved human rights and most were against low-ranking officers. The Colombian government claimed to have met the requirement when President Pastrana released an August 17 directive to enter the new Military Penal Code into law. Yet the code cites only three crimes as belonging before civilian courts rather than military tribunals. They are genocide, torture, and forced disappearance. This falls well short of the crimes considered "gross violations of human rights" by leaving out extra-judicial execution, rape and aiding and abetting atrocities carried out by paramilitary groups.
The Colombian military does not systematically dismiss personnel who have a proven record of human rights violations and support for paramilitary groups. Dozens of armed forces personnel who have been implicated in abuses not only remain on active duty today but are in command of troops or carrying out intelligence work, and are regularly promoted. On October 16, 2000, the military announced the dismissal of 388 personnel. However, the government did not assert that these solders were removed for human rights reasons. Moreover, the majority were low-level personnel; 299 were rank-and-file soldiers and 89 were officers. The highest-ranking officers let go were two lieutenant colonels, while Generals Carlos Ospina Ovalle and Brigadier General Jaime Ernesto Canal Albán, two notorious human rights offenders, were promoted (Canal Albán has since resigned over an unrelated dispute). General Ospina Ovalle, Commander of the 4th Division, is implicated in the October 1997 El Aro massacre in which a joint military-paramilitary force surrounded the village while the paramilitary executed four people. Brigadier General Canal Albán, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, is alleged to have set up a paramilitary group and provided them with weapons and intelligence.
Government investigators, community leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders attempting to document human rights cases continue to face harassment, threats and attacks from the armed forces and paramilitaries. For example, most of the prosecutors and investigators involved in documenting links between paramilitaries and the 4th Brigade between 1997 and 1999 have either left their positions, gone into exile, or been killed (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Washington Office on Latin America, "Colombia Human Rights Certification," August 2000). A presidential directive requires all public officials to cooperate fully with human rights organizations, but this directive contains no sanctions and has not been enforced.
The dramatic increase in paramilitary activity recently shows that the Colombian government has failed to take effective action to capture paramilitary forces and end military - paramilitary links. The Colombian government has taken to rhetoric rather than to action against the paramilitaries. The State Department's 60-day human rights report evaluates the efforts of new task forces and coordination centers set up to combat paramilitaries: "By September of this year, however, it was not clear if these entities were in fact operational or whether they had contributed to a more effective effort against paramilitaries, especially given the increase in paramilitary massacres nationwide." The majority of warrants for paramilitary leaders are not carried out. ACCU paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño, for example, with 22 outstanding arrest warrants against him, remains at large and available to major media for interviews. Well-known paramilitary bases are left untouched. In Puerto Asis, Putumayo, for example, a taxi driver was recently asked by a journalist to take him to the nearby paramilitary base, and drove him there without further directions, but the local military unit has yet to enforce the law and take action against the base.
For more details, see the joint document prepared by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Washington Office on Latin America describing why Colombia did not meet the first round of human rights certification. It is available at www.wola.org.
Urge your members of Congress to pressure the administration NOT to certify Colombia on human rights and NOT to issue a waiver.
Write a letter to the President telling him not to issue a waiver (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20500; telephone: 202-456-1414
Find out who your representative and senators are and how to contact them on the web: Locate your congressional representative at http://www.house.gov/writerep/. Locate your Senator at: http://www.senate.gov/
Call your Congressional representative and senators in three easy steps: A. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected with your member; B. once you are connected ask to speak with the foreign policy aide; C. tell them to oppose military aid (see talking points below). If the aide is not there, leave a voice-mail message expressing your opinion and try back later.
Write to your members of Congress:
The Honorable [insert Representative or Senator]
US House of Representatives / US Senate
Washington, DC 20515 / 20510
Dear Senator/Representative X,
I urge you to ask the President not to certify Colombia as meeting human rights conditions and not to waive the human rights conditions on FY2001 US aid to Colombia.
The Colombian armed forces are implicated in serious human rights violations and maintain strong links with paramilitary groups who are responsible for at least 78% of the human rights violations recorded in the six-month period starting in October 1999. The evidence proves overwhelmingly that Colombia has not met the congressionally mandated human rights conditions. High-level military officers responsible for human rights violations have not been systematically dismissed, and some have indeed been promoted. Few cases of military officers implicated in human rights violations have been tried in civilian courts. Brutal paramilitary attacks upon civilians have soared, while the Colombian government appears to do little to stop them.
I do not want to see my tax dollars going to violate human rights in Colombia. For this year, it is imperative to pressure the administration not waive the human rights conditions. For next year, the waiver option needs to be removed from the conditions.
Moreover, this whole policy needs to go back to the drawing board. Rather than clinging to an ineffective militarized drug control policy, we need to address the social and economic problems in Colombia and improve drug treatment and prevention programs at home. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Latin America Working Group
110 Maryland Avenue NE Box 15
Washington, DC 20002
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