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US says Colombian military meets human rights standards, frees aid

Spread by the Colombian Embassy in Canada:

US says Colombian military meets human rights standards, frees aid 

MATTHEW LEE, AFP, 05/02/02


The United States has certified the 
Colombian military was complying with human rights requirements and released 
more than 60 million dollars in assistance for the country's armed forces, 
the State Department said Wednesday. However, spokesman Richard Boucher 
said the United States remained deeply concerned about the human rights 
climate in Colombia and would continue to press the government to do more 
in the area. Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday determined the Colombian 
military was cooperating with civilian authorities in prosecuting soldiers 
who commit human rights abuses and moving to end collusion with right-wing 
paramilitaries, Boucher said. "Secretary Powell determined and certified 
to the appropriate congressional committees that the Colombia armed forces 
are meeting the statutory criteria related to human rights and ties to paramilitary 
groups," he told reporters. "The secretary's determination was based on 
a thorough and careful evaluation of the conditions in that section and 
the relevant actions and policies of the Colombian military," Boucher said. 

He stressed that the review process was not intended to be an overview of 
the human rights situation in the entire country and elaborated on the continuing 
US concern. "Despite some real progress on these specific areas, both we 
and the government of Colombia recognize the protection of human rights 
in Colombia needs improvement," Boucher said. "A secure, prosperous and 
democratic Colombia cannot be achieved if human rights abuses and impunity 
for human rights abusers is allowed," he said. However, human rights groups 
slammed the US decision, stating that Colombia had failed to make the improvements 
recommended by US officials. "The State Department's decision was made 
despite abundant evidence demonstrating that little progress had been made
in improving Colombia's dire human rights record," said Amnesty International, 
Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America in a statement. 

"Despite the suspension of some low-ranking officers, the Colombian armed 
forces have refused to act on notorious cases such as that of General Rodrigo 
Quinones," the three said. Conceding that "some progress" may have been 
made in military cooperation with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities, 
the groups criticized Colombia's Attorney General's office for firing human 
rights prosecutors, and accused it of obstructing investigations of high-ranking 
armed forces members. Under US law, the release of 60 percent of the 104 
million dollars allocated for assistance to the Colombian military could 
not be made until the State Department certified that Colombia's military 
was meeting requirements. The remaining 40 percent cannot be released until 
a second certification, due by June 1 at the earliest, is completed. A 
number of US-funded drug-eradication programs conducted by the Colombian 
military in the south of the country were suspended while the certification 
process was underway, a senior State Department official said. The official 
said the second certification was to ensure that efforts to punish human 
rights violators and clamp down on collusion with the paramilitaries were 
"ongoing and progressive." The military has so far met three specific requirements, 
according to Wednesday's decision, suspending soldiers who commit abuses 
or have links to the paramilitaries, and transferring cases to civilian 
authorities as well as cooperating with prosecutions. It has also severed 
command-level ties between officers and the paramilitaries, according to 
Washington. The official gave details backing up the certification, which 
lawmakers had demanded due to grave concerns about the conduct of the Colombian 
military — faced with threats from two major left-wing insurgencies and 
the right-wing paramilitaries. Colombia has been embroiled in civil war 
for nearly four decades, at a cost of more than 200,000 lives and President 
George W. Bush has decided to expand existing US anti-drug programs in the 
country to include elements of counter-insurgency training.

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