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Human Rights the Priority for Clinton Trip to Colombia, 8/28/00
Rights groups assail U.S. aid to Colombia, Violations alleged in fighting rebels 8/29/00
August 28 2000
(Washington, August 28, 2000) - Three leading human rights groups called on President Bill Clinton to make protecting human rights the priority when he meets with leaders in Colombia on August 30. On the eve of the president's first-ever visit to that Latin American country, the groups said that he must make it clear and public that progress on human rights remains critical to winning continued U.S. support.
This is especially important since Clinton effectively erased human rights conditions when he signed a national security interest waiver on August 22, allowing aid to be sent without human rights conditions included in legislation.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a 34-page document demonstrating how Colombia failed to meet a single human rights condition contained in a $1.3 billion aid package. The groups disputed the single certification issued by the State Department, characterizing it as complying "only partially" with U.S. law.
In their document, the groups provide detailed benchmarks to measure future compliance. The State Department is already discussing the FY '01 human rights certification needed to continue sending aid to Colombia.
The document contains specific cases that should be used to measure progress on the protection of human rights. Among them are pending investigations of 12 active-duty and retired members of Colombia's military credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations or to have aided and abetted atrocities committed by paramilitary groups. In addition, the document lists eight well-known paramilitary leaders and dozens of specific human rights violations perpetrated against individuals, organizations, and communities.
The groups noted that the human rights certification required for next year's allotment of aid is far from certain. Already, several U.S. senators and representatives who supported human rights conditions have criticized President Clinton for signing the waiver.
These benchmarks were provided to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last week during a consultation mandated by U.S. law. Along with other human rights groups, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and WOLA were unanimous in their recommendation that Secretary Albright not certify Colombia.
The entire document is accessible in the certification.html file.
Rights groups assail U.S. aid to Colombia
Violations alleged in fighting rebels
Miami Herald, 29 August 2000
By Juan O. Tamayo
BOGOTÁ -- On the eve of a visit by President Clinton, three top human rights groups Monday issued a scathingly detailed report charging that Colombia does not deserve a $1.3 billion U.S. aid package.
Clinton released the money last week, acknowledging that the government of President Andre Pastrana had not met five of the six human rights conditions slapped on the package by Congress, but signing a waiver in the U.S. "national interests."
The report prepared by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America represents one of the most comprehensive criticisms of U.S. policy in that Andean country. It contains a scorching litany of allegations that the government has done little to halt gross abuses by security forces fighting an estimated 20,000 rebels.
"We deplore this decision," the report said of Clinton's waiver, citing scores of cases in which military personnel went unpunished despite credible evidence against them.
While the U.S. aid package requires the military to promptly suspend personnel "credibly" accused of gross abuses, the report said "dozens . . . not only remain on active duty but are in command of troops or carrying out intelligence work, and are regularly promoted."
Some officers have even been allowed to remain on active duty after civilian prosecutors filed serious human rights charges against them, the 30-page report noted.
Military commanders, required by the U.S. package to crack down on violators, instead often seek to shield them from civilian courts and send them before military tribunals that "have a virtually unbroken record of covering up crimes, failing to gather or consider evidence and acquitting implicated officers in the face of overwhelming evidence," the report said.
The document was surprisingly tough on Pastrana, a young moderate credited with helping to persuade the U.S. Congress to approve the aid for Colombia's battle against drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas. Congress put strings on the package because of the Colombian armed forces' reputation for massive abuses such as murder, disappearances, torture and assisting paramilitary units accused of the worst massacres.
Clinton is scheduled to visit the port of Cartagena for six hours Wednesday to show his support for Pastrana's counter-narcotics and democracy-building Plan Colombia, and figuratively hand over the check, but the human rights report could cast a pall on the visit.
The report claims that while the armed forces are required by the U.S. aid to cooperate with civilian authorities investigating human rights violations, even government prosecutors regularly receive threats when handling cases of military abuses.
It noted that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Netor Ramiez had complained in December about the "subversives who have infiltrated the prosecutor's, attorney general's and Human Rights Ombudsman's offices."
A Defense Ministry website made similar allegations earlier this year against the American diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Bogot5 in charge of monitoring human rights abuses, the report noted.
Perhaps most damaging to Pastrana, the report complained that he had not even met the one requirement that Clinton certified he had: ordering the armed forces to stop pushing for military trials for suspected human rights violators and leave their cases up to civilian courts.
Clinton reported last week that Pastrana met that condition with an Aug. 17 presidential directive that military personnel accused of "genocide, torture and forced disappearances" be tried in civilian courts.
That left out murder and other violations such as cooperating with the paramilitaries, the report noted, adding: "Partial compliance . . . is not adequate. Full means complete-not partial, not mostly-but total."
Pastrana in fact unsuccessfully objected to a section of a bill approved by the Colombian Congress earlier this year that strengthened civilian justice control over some military cases, the report added.
And while Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramiez recently boasted that the military had transferred 533 cases of alleged human rights abuses from military to civilian courts, the report said it found only 103 since 1997.
Many involved common crimes, it added, and "only 39 related in some way to crimes that could be construed as human rights violations, like murder. Most of these cases involved low-ranking sergeants and lieutenants."
Few transfers "In other words," the report added, "fewer than 10 cases per year are transferred from military to civilian jurisdiction, and these rarely involve senior officials who may have ordered or orchestrated gross violations."
U.S. aid to the Colombian military was cut off from 1996 to 1998 because of its dark human rights record.
That record has improved in the past year, but critics say that is only because officers are allowing the growing paramilitary units to carry out the "dirty" part of the war on leftist rebels.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald