U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office
A project of the Colombia Human Rights Committee

October 23, 1998

The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. President:

As you prepare to receive President Andres Pastrana of Colombia on October 28, we write to encourage you to use this opportunity to reorient U.S. policy toward Colombia, with a new focus on seeking a peaceful settlement to the internal armed conflict. We are encouraged by the Administration's recent interest in Colombia's peace process, illustrated by your invitation to President Pastrana.

This is a crucial moment of opportunity for peace in Colombia. President Pastrana has put a peaceful resolution to the internal conflict at the top of his priority list. Perhaps more significantly, there has been an unprecedented groundswell of popular support for peace in Colombia. One year ago, on October 26, an overwhelming majority of over 10 million people voted yes for the Mandate for Peace, one of many examples of the Colombian people's commitment to peace.

At this critical moment, the words and actions of the United States have serious implications for the success or failure of these pursuits of peace. We hope that during this uncertain period you will focus on long-standing US policy goals, advancement of human rights and democracy.

Current US policy that focuses resources on military aid at an ever increasing rate could have substantial costs for the future of Colombia and the United States. Not only does this aid exacerbate current tensions, it has tremendous implications for the future, by directly contradicting moves to establish a non-military solution to the conflict. Peaceful negotiations offer the best - and perhaps only - prospect for rebuilding state institutions, particularly law enforcement and the judicial system; regenerating the economy and offering small farmers alternatives to drug cultivation; and reincorporating guerillas and other irregular forces into society and providing them space to compete freely in the political arena.

The consequences of another stalled or failed peace process are disastrous - to Colombia and to our shared goals of ending illegal drug production and trafficking; development of stable democratic institutions; and advancing respect for human rights.

We urge you to ensure that U.S. policy provides the space necessary for Colombians to establish a process of negotiations leading to a lasting peace. A lasting peace in Colombia will only be possible if conditions of respect for human rights are met. We urge you to take the following steps that will support these conditions:

  1. Encourage respect for international humanitarian law by all actors in the conflict.

    For over four decades, this conflict has been carried out against civilians, often the most vulnerable. In the last decade violence has increased - over one million people have been internally displaced and violations of human rights and humanitarian law have been carried out by all sides. The Administration should encourage Pastrana to support agreements between all actors to abide by international humanitarian law before, during, and following negotiations.

  2. Support judicial reform in Colombia.

    The Colombian Constitutional Court's recent decision to try human rights cases in civilian, not military courts, must be implemented in addition to other reforms that end the impunity plaguing Colombia's criminal justice system. The administration should also endorse legislation to criminalize "forced disappearances." All actors in the conflict have employed disappearance as a tool of fear and repression. This can only be stopped if legislation is developed ensuring consequences for these practices.

  3. Advocate the dismantling of paramilitary groups.

    The administration should encourage the Colombian government to implement the historic October 4th agreement signed in Barrancabermeja that reaffirms police and military units' obligation to actively control paramilitary groups - the combative actors responsible for the majority of human rights abuses and displacements of communities.

  4. Ensure measures to protect and aid internally displaced persons.

    The Administration should encourage the Colombian government to take measures to ensure the safe return of displaced persons to their communities of origin and provide humanitarian assistance. In addition, the U.S. government should allocate assistance to internally displaced persons in two ways: bilateral assistance to existing Colombian government aid programs and assistance to humanitarian US-based NGOs working in collaboration with Colombian NGOs.

  5. Urge the Colombian government to ensure the safety of human rights defenders.

    Human rights defenders are working courageously in Colombia, but are often the target of assassinations and death threats. The Administration should support the Colombian Ad Hoc Committee of Human Rights Defenders and urge the Pastrana Administration to fully implement all appropriate protective measures.

  6. Enforce human rights conditions on U.S. foreign assistance as mandated by the Leahy provision.

    The Administration should ensure that U.S. tax dollars are not used to provide arms or training to units of the Colombian security forces that abuse the human rights of their citizens or collaborate with paramilitary organizations that do so.

The United States has a historic opportunity to play an important role in garnering international support for peace in Colombia, by supporting nations acting as friends to any potential peace negotiations and working to engage others such as the United Nations Security Council. Many actors in the international community are well positioned to make a critical contribution toward peace in Colombia - by offering lessons based on experience in other peace processes, bringing pressure to bear on all parties to the conflict to negotiate a settlement, assisting those negotiations as appropriate, and committing to support the implementation of an eventual peace agreement.

Colombia faces the worst human rights record and the most severe political crisis in the Western Hemisphere. A lasting peace - dependent on respect for international humanitarian law and development of democratic institutions - is the best path to achieving our goals of decreasing the production and trafficking of drugs and encouraging democracy and human rights in the Western Hemisphere.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of this matter.


James Matlack, Director
Washington Office

American Friends Service Committee
Robert White, President

Center for International Policy
Heather Nolen, Legislative Associate
Washington Office
Church of the Brethren

Ann Delorey, Legislative Director
Church Women United

Cristina Espinel and Barbara Gerlach, Co-Chairs
Colombia Human Rights Committee

Larry Birns, Executive Director
Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Debra Preusch, Executive Director
Interhemispheric Resource Center

Mark Brown, Associate Director
Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Ralston Deffenbaugh Jr., Executive Director
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Katherine Wolford, President
Lutheran World Relief

Jack Rendler, Executive Director
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

Father Seamus P. Finn, O.M.I., National Coordinator
Justice & Peace Office
Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate

Katie Irwin, National Organizer
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)

Pierre LaRamee, Executive Director
North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)

Alice Wolters & Mark Saucier, National Coordinators
Peru Peace Network

Eleanor Giddings Ivory, Director
Presbyterian Church/USA/Washington Office

Rev. Bill Callahan, Co-Director
Quixote Center/Quest for Peace

Carol Richardson, Director
School of the Americas, Washington Office

Charles McCullough, Staff Associate
Office for Church in Society
United Church of Christ

Alison Giffen, Director
U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office

Roger Winter, Executive Director
U.S. Committee for Refugees

George R. Vickers, Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America


Albert Gore
Vice President of the United States
The White House

Samuel R. Berger
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
National Security Council

James F. Dobbins
Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council
National Security Council

Ted Picone
Director for Inter-American Affairs
National Security Council

Eric Swartz,
Special Assistant to the Presidents & Senior Director for Multilateral & Humanitarian Affairs
National Security Council

Scott Busby
Director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs
National Security Council

Ambassador Peter Romero
Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
US Department of State

Phil Chicola
Director, Office of Andean Affairs
US Department of State

Colleen Hoey
Desk Officer, Colombian Affairs
US Department of State

Mark Schneider
Assistant Administrator, Latin American and Caribbean Bureau
Agency for International Development

David Shull
Assistant General Counsel, Human Rights Officer
Office of National Drug Control Policy

(Response to this letter may be directed to the Latin America Working Group, fax: 202-543-7647, address: 110 Maryland Ave, N.E., Washington D.C. 20002)