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Last Updated:2/27/01
Excerpts from State Department briefing, February 26, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman

February 26, 2001

ON-THE-RECORD BRIEFING
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR
DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR
MICHAEL E. PARMLY ON THE
2000 COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES

February 26, 2001

Washington, D.C.

...

QUESTION: Is there any good news coming out of Colombia?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Actually, there is good news coming out of Colombia, but the stories that you all write show how far they have to go. The commitment of President Pastrana to a pacification of his country is encouraging, and anyone who knows the history of that country knows how long of a road President Pastrana and others who support him are going to have to follow.

...

Q: What are the most troubling findings on the part of Colombia in the Colombian Report, and what about the links between the paramilitaries and the army?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Colombia is one of the most difficult Reports because of the closeness of the country to us, because of our close interest, not just in the State Department, in the White House, on the Hill. It's one of the ones that we pay the closest attention to.

President Pastrana, we feel, has a solid commitment to human rights and has made serious efforts to get on top of the human rights abuses that take place in his country. There you have to -- and there I could list a number of specific steps that he has started to take, that his government has started to take. But then I would break Colombia down into three categories: you've got the guerrillas, you've got the paramilitaries, and you've got the government. So the government is making efforts. They at least have the commitment on top. Anyone who knows the history of Colombia knows that with the best intentions of President Pastrana there are traditions there that will take years, if not decades, to overcome, regrettably.

Unfortunately, the guerrillas and the paras are drawing on those traditions, regrettably. And they perform in different ways, but they both contribute to the really very sad -- and for some of us who know Colombia, know Colombia well -- very sad things that happen in those countries. And I use the word "sad" not just euphemistically. I mean, I could come up with a whole list of other adjectives to describe the situation in Colombia. We have to hope that the government, the Pastrana government, the government that will succeed the Pastrana government, can get on top of those phenomena.

Q: Two days ago, the FARC exploded gas cylinders in a small town in Colombia. Do you have something to say about that, because they had promised not to do so?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Not about that specifically. But if someone promises not to do something like that, given the record of what they've done in the past, given the record of what the paramilitaries have done in the past, it's only by establishing a record of action, not by promises or words, that one shows a commitment to human rights. And one doesn't see it either from the paramilitaries or from the guerillas.

Q: To follow up on Colombia, given the fact that you think it is going to take a while to improve human rights conditions there, is it realistic for the US Government to link human rights improvements to future aid packages, do you think?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Those of us who are in human rights and government -- I know sometimes that seems like an oxymoron -- the human rights and government game, we are always looking at the right angle, the right approach, the right tactic, to influence the human rights situation and improve the human rights situation.

There is a civil society in Colombia. One of the things that is most troubling about Colombia is the attacks on human rights defenders. There are valiant, courageous human rights defenders in Colombia who are striving in their own societies, in their own countries, to improve the situation there. Anyone who knows Colombia well knows that there is a thriving civil society, even in the current circumstances. There is a thriving civil society, in very difficult circumstances, unfortunately.

It wouldn't take them very long -- and given the fact that there are responsible government leaders who want to connect with them, who do connect with them, it wouldn't take long if you had a commitment by the guerillas and the paramilitaries. I think we have to be realistic, but when we talk to the Colombian Government, we emphasize the urgent need to respect human rights norms. And the legislation that was passed that establishes a number of conditions, goes in that direction.

We welcome any steps the Colombian Government can make in that direction. I am simply being, I think, realistic.

Q: Well, to follow up on that, but that legislation, I believe, is expired at this point, and that there is some talk that there might be some more aid that would be -- I mean, do you think it would be useful to continue that approach, to condition, in terms of future aid, improvements in human rights?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I'm not going to tell the Congress how to do its job.

Q: Sure.

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: We are the Executive Branch. We execute.

Q: To follow up, I wanted to ask, when you talk about the guerillas and the paramilitaries taking advantage of traditions in Colombia, I'm wondering what traditions you are talking about.

And secondly, just to be clear, were you saying that it could take years or decades for human rights violations to improve in Colombia?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: No. As I just said in answer to the previous question, I would hope that it happens tomorrow. The traditions that I know in Colombia, the traditions that those of us who have had contact with Colombia know, go more to the civil society traditions, go more to the strength of the Colombian people, go more to the strength of the Colombian institutions. All that you need to get on top of human rights abuses in Colombia is there. It's already there. Whether that will actually come to fruition, however, depends on the Colombian people.

Q: But how are the guerillas, the paramilitaries taking advantage of that? I don't understand.

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Well, maybe "taking advantage of" isn't the right way to describe it. They have their own philosophies; they are pursuing their own philosophies. I find that regrettable, and I don't find them very Colombian philosophies.

As of February 27, 2000, this document was also available online at http://usinfo.state.gov/admin/011/lef102.htm

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