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Oh, No, Not Again. State Department Certifies Colombia

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Just as the Bush Administration did countless times before, the Obama Administration certified on September 8th that Colombia meets the human rights conditions in law. The conditions, which refer to gross violations of human rights by Colombia’s security forces and collaboration between those forces and paramilitary or other illegal armed groups, are attached to thirty percent of Colombia’s military aid.

The State Department took this decision despite the overwhelming evidence that the Colombian army had killed over 1500 civilians, one by one, detaining them, killing them, and dressing their bodies up in guerrilla uniforms so as to count them as enemy dead

It did so despite overwhelming evidence that Colombia’s presidential intelligence agency, the DAS, illegally spied upon and continues to spy on the very forces that make up a flourishing democracy: Supreme Court judges, journalists, prosecutors, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and leaders of the opposition.

As part of my job at the Latin America Working Group, I have joined with other human rights groups in the United States and Colombia in presenting, every few months since the U.S. aid package to Colombia was launched in 2000, mountains of information with cases and patterns of violence for the State Department’s consultations on the human rights conditions in law. After many dispiriting years placing cases involving appalling and systematic violations in front of the Bush Administration, I had hoped for a different response.

The State Department’s announcement that they were doing the wrong thing included some of the right words: 
        
         “The United States remains concerned by both extrajudicial killings and the allegations against the DAS, and will continue to push for improvements in Colombia’s human rights situation, and to underscore the importance we place on this issue. We are committed to taking a number of steps that will encourage continued improvements in the Armed Forces’ respect for human rights; enhance the investigation and prosecution capabilities of the Prosecutor General’s Office; foster constructive dialogue between the Colombian government and civil society groups; and show support for independent and swift investigations into the DAS scandal. Throughout this process, we will continue – both in Washington and through the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá – to engage with and benefit from the individual expertise of Colombian and international human rights groups, as well as civil society, with regard to Colombia’s human rights performance. We appreciate the commitment of these groups to the continued improvement of the human rights situation in Colombia and applaud their often dangerous work.”

Colombian human rights groups issued a statement expressing that they were disappointed about the decision, but at the same time were encouraged by the tone of the statement and hope that the U.S. embassy will only increase its support for HR defenders in the future.

Now, to the Congress: You must keep military aid frozen and not give Colombia one more free pass.

And to the State Department: You say you will “push for improvements in Colombia’s human rights situation.” We will hold you to your words.