We have a real challenge with the Obama Administration. President Obama gets that we need to work together with the rest of the world. That’s great. But his administration hasn’t found its voice on human rights and backed up its words with action. They think that by mentioning more about human rights than the Bush Administration did, it is enough. So far, they haven’t been willing to actually change U.S. policy to support victims of violence in places like Mexico and Colombia, even though they must do so if they want to become part of the solution, not the problem.
We got a wake up call to this reality over the summer, when the State Department chose to declare that Mexico and Colombia were meeting the human rights requirements needed in order to receive more U.S. military aid, despite serious, ongoing human rights abuses committed by both countries’ security forces.
The Mexican army has been using torture and forced disappearances in the “war on drugs,” and human rights complaints have escalated, as was documented in an alarming Washington Post exposé. After we worked with our partners in the United States and Mexico to get news of these abuses out in Washington, Senator Patrick Leahy warned the State Department to take these brutal tactics seriously. But on a Friday afternoon in August, when no one was watching, the State Department released the funds anyway.
Then on Colombia, the State Department itself recognized major problems, condemning extrajudicial executions—the killing of innocent civilians by soldiers in order to inflate their body counts—and the government’s illegal wiretapping of human rights defenders, Supreme Court judges, trade unionists, and any political opposition. But it certified the human rights conditions anyway, despite the fact that saying “no” would only hold up 30 percent of Colombia’s military aid, and send a much-needed message.
What the administration doesn’t realize is that by giving its seal of approval our government is only sending the message: We don’t care about human rights.
So that’s why we’ve decided to launch a campaign called “Human Rights NOW” that will ensure that our government knows it’s not one or the other—working with other nations or standing up for human rights. We must do both—and soon. The United States does other nations no favors by saying human rights abuses and a failed justice system is “good enough.” Instead, we should encourage governments to protect the human rights of their citizens. And we should make the changes at home—such as expanding drug treatment and curbing the flow of arms across our borders—to deal with problems that intensify violence afflicting our neighbors.
In last couple months, we’ve already started sending this message with your help. Hundreds of you sent emails to your congressional representatives urging them to enforce the human rights requirements in the Merida Initiative towards Mexico. Then, an even greater number of you helped us to flood the State Department with faxes condemning them for doing the wrong thing on both Mexico and Colombia and demanding that they show us a real plan to support human rights in the year to come. Now we’re going to keep the momentum going with the Human Rights NOW campaign, in which we will:
- Work hand-in-hand with human rights activists and victims of violence in Colombia and Mexico and bring them to Washington to tell the Capitol and the White House what’s really happening on the ground;
- Pioneer an exciting new web outreach strategy that will add thousands of voices to our movement and get you the information you need to make change;
- Develop tools for grassroots activists like you to use when organizing in your communities; and
- Help congressional allies ask tough questions and refocus aid away from big-ticket military hardware, towards human rights and humanitarian aid that promotes sustainable, positive change.
And we’re wasting no time in getting started.
Join In Our First Action:
Right now, a letter written by key representatives is circulating throughout the halls of Congress with a clear message: let’s spend our taxpayer dollars on supporting victims of violence in Colombia, not funding military abuses. This letter, which will be sent to Secretary of State Clinton on December 7th, is our chance to get Congress behind the changes that we want to see and have our government start standing by our brothers and sisters in Colombia. But, this letter needs the support of many members of Congress to be effective. Click here to urge your representative to sign on today!
Get Ready for What’s Coming Up:
We’ll be ramping up our e-alerts from now on, keeping you updated on our latest steps in the campaign and calling on you to make your voice heard at key moments. If you’re not already on our e-alert list, click here to get in the loop. Or if you prefer to get your news via twitter, check out @HRColombia, @HRMexico, and @BorderJustice.