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Keep Human Rights Front and Center

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The Bush Administration attempts a return to “business as usual” on U.S. Colombia policy this year. We can stop this!

At the end of February, Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Feingold (D-WI) sent a “dear colleague” letter to Secretary of State Rice expressing concern over the increase in civilian killings by the Colombian Army in recent years. Visit www.lawg.org to read the letter and to see if your senators signed it. Many thanks to everyone who called in and wrote emails to their senators—sending a strong human rights message to Secretary Rice would not have been possible without a collective effort!

In its final foreign aid request, the Bush Administration has sought to reverse the positive new direction in aid to Colombia by returning to the same failed approaches of the past. If the request became law, funding for the military would again make up nearly 80 percent of U.S. aid to Colombia, while support for institutions responsible for investigating human rights abuses would be cut. Visit www.cipcol.org to learn more. As long as members of Congress continue to hear from you, we are confident the administration can be beaten back.

While this “back to the future” approach is not likely to find much support in the Congress, this is no time for us to rest. In mid-March, President Bush called approval of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement “pivotal to America’s national security” and news reports are suggesting the administration may introduce the agreement in Congress at any moment. When this happens, we must be ready to tell our representatives to vote NO on the U.S.-Colombia FTA—and we’ll have to make sure they hear us loud and clear. Please check www.lawg.org for more information and suggestions for taking action once the FTA is sent to Congress.

Finally, we want to alert you to the threats our partners in Colombia have received in recent weeks. As many of you already know, following the early February marches against the FARC’s continued human rights abuses, particularly the terrible practice of kidnapping, the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes organized a March 6th protest to call attention to Colombia’s victims of paramilitary violence and to condemn acts of violence by all actors. In the days leading up to the protest, a close advisor to President Uribe went on national radio to suggest that the March 6th organizers rally was convened by FARC. Since these reckless comments were made, several of our partners have received email death threats.

We will continue to do all we can to denounce human rights abuses by all actors in Colombia. We are working with members of Congress and the State Department to ensure our Colombian partners who speak out and work for human rights are neither threatened nor harmed. To learn what you can do to help protect human rights defenders in Colombia, visit our website at www.lawg.org.