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Rep. Schakowsky Sponsors Letter on Human Rights to Secretary Powell

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Secretary of State Colin Powell
The US State Department
2201 C Street
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary of State Powell,

We are writing to express our concern over the State Department’s decision to certify Colombia’s compliance with section 567 of the FY2002 foreign operations appropriations bill. We are not convinced that the evidence supports the contention that the Colombian military is suspending personnel credibly alleged to have committed serious human rights violations, cooperating with civilian judicial authorities, and taking effective measures to sever links with paramilitary groups. As you consider your decision on the second round of military aid, which we understand may be made in September, please take the following comments into consideration. The Congress included conditions in the FY2002 foreign operations legislation to ensure that the Colombian Armed Forces, which receive the bulk of the funds destined to Colombia through the Andean Regional Initiative, are respecting human rights.

We appreciate the State Department’s efforts to make clear to the Colombian government the importance of improving the human rights situation and meeting the specific requirements of section 567. We are dismayed, however, by the lack of response from the Colombian government. In particular, we are unconvinced that the short list of primarily lower-level soldiers and officers who have been suspended for human rights violations from January 2001 to April 2002 constitutes progress, given the substantial evidence against a number of high-level officers who remain on active duty despite credible evidence that they have tolerated, aided or abetted paramilitary forces. In addition, there is disturbing evidence that the Colombian attorney general lacks the political will to investigate and prosecute army officers implicated in grave violations.

The State Department’s report on the certification decision cited the appointment of General Rodrigo Quiñones to a military attaché position as evidence of progress. But, despite an outstanding decision by the Procuradería concluding that General Quiñones had planned and ordered the murders of at least 57 trade unions, human rights, and community leaders in the Barrancabermeja area in 1991-92, this officer remains on active duty. In 2000, troops under his command were implicated in helping paramilitaries to carry out the El Salado massacre. A year later, those same troops, with Quiñones as commander, allegedly allowed heavily armed paramilitaries to travel past them to Chengue, where paramilitaries committed a massacre. A Navy sergeant under Quiñones’ command was subsequently charged with supplying weapons to paramilitaries and helping coordinate the attack in Chengue. Quiñones was charged with ignoring detailed information received in advance about paramilitary movements near Chengue. The failure to investigate, prosecute, and punish high-level officers like Quiñones, General Gabriel Diaz, and others who are strongly implicated in aiding and abetting paramilitary forces has a profound impact on the attitudes of other members of Colombia’s military.

Events surrounding the Chengue massacre case also demonstrate the Colombian military’s continued resistance to cooperate fully with civilian justice officials. Prosecutor Yolanda Paternina Negrete, who led the Chengue investigation, told her superiors that officers in Colombia’s Marine Infantry failed repeatedly to provide her with the support necessary to search a ranch where witnesses claimed the paramilitaries responsible for the massacre were located. On May 27, 2001, two investigators working on the case were detained by known paramilitaries and are now presumed dead. On August 29, 2001, Prosecutor Paternina herself was killed by unidentified gunmen in Sincelejo, Sucre. The office in Colombia of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called these killings “a systematic campaign of retaliation and intimidation” by those seeking “total impunity for the most serious crimes committed in the country.”

We are also disturbed by the characterization of army actions in Barrancabermeja as an example of progress in breaking army-paramilitary ties. Despite the high concentration of security forces in Barrancabermeja, the city remains under virtual paramilitary control. Paramilitaries move freely through the city, issue rules of conduct, and exert control over the civilian population, who live in an atmosphere of terror.

We would like to see further evidence of what happens after paramilitary troops are captured. We understand that the numbers of paramilitary captures reported by the Colombian Ministry of Defense has increased. It is important to analyze whether those captured are prosecuted and punished, or released; as well as whether some high-ranking officials are among those captured and prosecuted.

We believe that the Colombian government’s failure to act effectively to sever army-paramilitary ties, despite pressure from the U.S. State Department and the requirements of section 567, bodes ill for the future of U.S.-Colombian military cooperation and for the protection of human rights in Colombia. Moreover, we have been assured that U.S. assistance and training would promote the professionalism of the Colombian military and improve the human rights record of the Colombian military. To date, we believe there has been little progress. Again, we urge you to take our concerns into account when determining whether to approve additional military aid for Colombia this year.

Sincerely,

Jan Schakowsky
Sherrod Brown
Barbara Lee
James McGovern
Lane Evans
Joe Wilson
George Miller
Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Marcy Kaptur
Stephen Lynch
Maurice Hinchey
Lloyd Doggett
William O. Lipinski
James Leach
Rosa DeLauro
Zoe Lofgren
Bobby Rush
Tom Lantos
Lynn Woolsey
Maxine Waters
Tom Sawyer
Jose Serrano
William Coyne
Bernard Sanders
Ciro Rodriguez
Sam Farr
Donald Payne
James Oberstar
Rod Blagojevich
Michael Doyle
Nita Lowey
John Conyers
Cynthia McKinney
Jerry Kleczka
Dennis Kucinich
Elijah Cummings
Patsy Mink
Robert Borski
Tammy Baldwin
David Wu
William Lacy Clay
Ed Markey
Howard Berman
Nick Rahall

Danny Davis