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Letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), December 22, 1999


December 22, 1999

The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

It has been reported that the Administration may submit a supplemental request to provide as much as $600 million in counter narcotics assistance to Colombia, primarily assistance to the Colombian Armed Forces.

We are deeply concerned about the threat to Colombia's democracy and economic development from narcotics traffickers, rebel forces, and paramilitary groups. However, it is clear that our current policy, which has already involved hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the Colombian security forces, has not reduced coca cultivation in Colombia, the flow of cocaine or heroin to the U.S. from Colombia, to the profits of drug traffickers. Rather than increase funding for a strategy that has, not proven effective and presumes even larger amounts of military assistance for the foreseeable future, we believe the U.S. and other friends of Colombia must provide stronger support for diplomatic efforts to strengthen the peace process and thereby create the conditions necessary for a more effective counter-narcotics strategy, which should include alternative development programs.

We are also concerned about providing substantial assistance to the Colombian Armed Forces, which have a long history of human rights violations, including support (or paramilitary groups, Our concern is compounded by the lack of accountability in the Colombian military for human rights violations committed by its personnel. Even when Government prosecutors have abundant evidence showing that high-ranking military personnel have committed serious violations, these officers are rarely prosecuted fully or punished. Recent measures by Colombia's leaders to reform the Military Penal Code and criminalize torture, genocide, and forced disappearance are important steps forward, but are not yet final and do not adequately address other crimes against humanity, such as extrajudicial killings, or the continuing lack of accountability of military tribunals.

Because of the need for accountability, if the United States does provide assistance it should be conditioned on the rigorous application of the August 1997 ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court, which requires that crimes against humanity allegedly committed by military personnel be investigated and tried in civilian courts. Neither the military nor the Superior Judicial Council charged with resolving jurisdictional disputes have abided by this Constitutional Court ruling and have continued to refer human rights cases to military tribunals. Therefore, we believe that as a condition of U.S. assistance to the Colombian Armed Forces, the Government of Colombia should take the necessary measures to require the military to support civilian jurisdiction in cases involving credible allegations of human rights abuse by military personnel, including cases where officers are accused of conspiring to commit or facilitate murders and massacres. In this way, President Pastrana can ensure that all cases involving human rights abuses by military personnel are sent to civilian courts, which are best equipped to investigate them impartially and guarantee due process.

To assess the extent of accountability by military personnel for human rights violations, the Administration should also provide periodic reports to Congress on the number of Colombian military and police personnel who are investigated, prosecuted, and convicted of human rights violations in both the civilian and military justice systems, as well as the sentences they receive, and the number suspended from active duty pending the outcome of such proceedings.

We also believe that U.S. assistance should be conditioned on actions by the Colombian Government to ensure that all links, at all levels, between the Colombian security forces and paramilitary groups are severed. U.S. assistance should not be provided to those who aid or abet the activities of paramilitary groups, which are responsible for human rights violations as well as illegal narcotics trafficking. The capture of paramilitary leaders would be an important measure of the Colombian government's commitment to this goal.

To assess the extent to which the links between the military and paramilitary groups have been severed, we would appreciate the Administration providing us with periodic reports on the enforcement by the Colombian National Police and Armed Forces of outstanding arrest warrants against paramilitary leaders and members, the suspension from active duty of military personnel credibly alleged to have aided or abetted the activities of the paramilitaries, and the prosecution in the civilian justice system of military personnel for human rights violations, including murder and conspiracy to commit murder, committed in the course of their support for paramilitary groups.

These conditions would help promote a credible and open system of accountability for members of the security forces who violate human rights and support paramilitary groups. However, M accountability for human rights violations requires a civilian court system that functions effectively. Our assistance therefore should include, finds to strengthen Colombia's civilian justice system, including reform of the rules governing disciplinary proceedings carried out by the Colombian Government's Office of the Procuraduria against members of the military and police. These reforms should include the elimination of the statute of limitations on crimes against humanity and the establishment of a policy to immediately dismiss and prosecute in civilian courts any officers found responsible for such crimes.

Our assistance should also be used to protect human rights defenders, and to monitor the use of U.S. assistance and enable U.S. Embassy personnel to investigate reports of human rights violations in accordance with the purposes of the Leahy Laws (Section, 564, P.L. 106-113; Section 8098, P.L. 106-79).

Thank you for your consideration of these important issues. We look forward to working with you to achieve the goals we share.


Patrick Leahy
Edward M. Kennedy

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