of Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director, Human Rights Watch Americas
Division, before the Western Hemipshere Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, February 25, 2000
of José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director
Americas Division, Human
Given before the United States
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
419 Dirksen Senate Office
February 25, 2000
Chairman Helms, Senator Biden,
Members of the Committee:
It is a pleasure to be with
you today. Thank you for inviting me to convey to the Committee our concerns
about the human rights implications of U.S. security assistance to Colombia.
I know the Committee is most interested in having time for an exchange,
so my opening remarks will be brief. I also have submitted, for your record,
a copy of our most recent report on Colombia, entitled "The Ties
That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links."
I would like to thank the
Committee, on both sides of the aisle, for taking the time to examine
in detail the proposed aid package to Colombia. Today, the United States
has a unique opportunity to reach out to Colombia and support a democracy
in peril. Many Colombians have risked their lives to defend their nation
from many threats. Some who have chosen public service have even lost
their lives to political and criminal violence.
Certainly, the United States
has an interest in helping Colombia's elected leaders regain control of
the regions now contested by armed groups on the right and the left. Illegal
drug trafficking fills the pockets of all sides in this war, and contributes
significantly to the level and scope of violence.
But Colombia's predicament
is too complicated for simple solutions. Any aid proposed for Colombia
should reflect not only its intricate history, but also the many agents
of violence at work there, among them paramilitaries, guerrillas, and
Unfortunately, there is another
major source of violence in Colombia, one that should deeply concern this
Committee. That is the State itself, through its security forces. Human
Rights Watch, the State Department, the United Nations, and other independent
groups have long reported on the abusive behavior of Colombia's military
and police. Colombia's security forces have been linked to serious violations,
among them massacres, extrajudicial execution, torture, forced disappearance,
and death threats.
I would like to first discuss
the human rights situation of Colombia's National Police. The police continue
to be implicated in violations. There have been cases where officers capture
and execute suspected guerrillas. In areas where paramilitaries are present,
police have been implicated in joint army-paramilitary actions and have
sometimes supplied information to them to assemble death lists. For instance,
government investigators concluded in 1998 that police in La Ceja, Antioquia,
organized and deployed paramilitaries considered responsible for at least
thirty killings in 1996 and 1997.
Police have also stood by
while paramilitaries select and kill their victims. Over a four-day period
in October 1997, for instance, the Anti-Narcotics Police based in Miraflores,
Guaviare failed to apprehend or even question the paramilitaries who killed
at least four people. Police frequently and publicly describe whole populations
as guerrillas or sympathetic to them and withdraw police protection, in
part as punishment for their perceived allegiance. This is especially
apparent after guerrilla attacks on towns.
It is important to note, however,
that these activities do not, for the most part, go unnoticed or unpunished.
According to our research, Gen. Rosso José Serrano and the National
Police have taken human rights concerns seriously and do not tolerate
abusive officers in the ranks. To date, 11,400 officers implicated in
human rights abuses, criminal activity, and other crimes have been discharged
from the force and put at the disposition of Colombian courts for trial
and punishment. Using Decree 573, passed in 1995, General Serrano can
summarily fire officers accused of abuses if there is convincing evidence
Unfortunately, the same cannot
be said for Colombia's military. Military leaders have yet to take the
firm, committed action necessary to clean up their forces and ensure that
human rights abusers do not act with tacit or open state approval. Human
Rights Watch has detailed, recent, and compelling evidence of continuing
close ties between the Colombian Army and paramilitary groups responsible
for gross human rights violations, which we have submitted to this Committee.
Far from moving decisively
to sever ties to paramilitaries, Human Rights Watch's evidence strongly
suggests that Colombia's military high command has yet to take the necessary
steps to accomplish this goal. Human Rights Watch's information implicates
Colombian Army brigades operating in the country's three largest cities,
including the capital, Bogotá.
If Colombia's leaders cannot
or will not halt these units' support for paramilitary groups, the government's
resolve to end human rights abuse in units that receive U.S. security
assistance must be seriously questioned.
Together, evidence collected
so far by Human Rights Watch links half of Colombia's eighteen brigade-level
army units to paramilitary activity. These units operate in all of Colombia's
five divisions. In other words, military support for paramilitary activity
remains national in scope and includes areas where units receiving or
scheduled to receive U.S. military aid operate.
That is why it is crucial
for this Congress to place tough conditions on all security assistance
to Colombia. These conditions should require explicit actions by the Colombian
Government to sever links, at all levels, between the Colombian military
and paramilitary groups. Abuses directly attributed to members of the
Colombian military have decreased in recent years, but over the same period
the number and scale of abuses attributed to paramilitary groups operating
with the military's acquiescence or open support have skyrocketed.
The following are the actions
that Human Rights Watch believes the U.S. should require the Colombian
government to take before receiving aid:
devising and implementing
a comprehensive and public plan to investigate, pursue, capture, and bring
to justice paramilitary leaders, one that provides sufficient resources
and guarantees the necessary political support to accomplish these goals;
providing a significant increase of funding for the Attorney General's
Human Rights Unit, including increased support for the Witness Protection
program, travel, communications equipment, increased security, and improved
establishing the ability at the regional and local level to respond to
threats of massacres and targeted violence, including the creation of
a rapid reaction force to investigate threats and killings, and to take
steps to pursue and apprehend alleged perpetrators in order to bring them
Research done by Human Rights Watch shows clearly that intelligence-sharing
remains the most pervasive and common method of collaboration between
the Colombian military and paramilitary groups, with grave consequences
for human rights. Intelligence is by definition a central function of
any army, and is clearly so in the case of the Colombian military. Addressing
the problems such information-sharing poses defies a unit-by-unit approach.
- bserving the aim of the Leahy Amendment, the United States should
apply human rights conditions to all intelligence-sharing, to ensure
that information is neither shared with human rights abusers nor with
those who will pass it to paramilitary groups that violate human rights;
- for the purposes of compliance with the Leahy Amendment, the United
States should make it clear that aiding and abetting any paramilitary
group would result in a unit being disqualified for receipt of further
U.S. aid or training until effective measures are taken to investigate
and punish violations;
any increase in security assistance should mean a proportionate increase
in civilian staff assigned to the U.S. Embassy and State Department
to oversee compliance with human rights conditions. Staff should be
required to meet frequently with not only military and government
sources of information, but also independent human rights groups,
the church, and aid organizations. The goal must be to gather as much
information as possible about reported human rights violations;
- a report on monitoring activities in countries where the Leahy Amendment
applies should be a regular part of the State Department's annual
report on human rights and should be available for independent review.
- The "effective measures" set out in the Leahy Amendment
should be interpreted to include, among other measures, 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 ruling to date.
- as a condition of U.S. security assistance, the Government of Colombia
should first require the military to respect 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 by paramilitary groups.
In this way, President Pastrana can ensure that such cases are sent
to civilian courts, best equipped to investigate them impartially
and guarantee due process.
- We have additional recommendations that we include in the report
submitted to the Committee today.
I would like to conclude by
noting that I believe that the United States has a positive message to
send Colombia. By supporting President Pastrana in his efforts to fortify
democracy while at the same time combatting the illegal groups that cause
so much terror and suffering, the United States sends a powerful message
that the rule of law applies to all whether they wear a uniform or dress
in civilian clothes.
Thank you and I would be pleased
to try to answer any questions.
As of April 1, 2000, this
document was also available online at http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/colombia/jmvtest2.htm