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Last Updated:3/31/00
Speech by Rep. William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), March 29, 2000
Mr. GILMAN. Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of our time to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Delahunt), a member of our Committee on International Relations who has visited Colombia on a number of occasions.

Mr. DELAHUNT. Mr. Chairman, this is an amendment that does have teeth. Historically, it is no secret. The military in Colombia has had an abysmal human rights record. It has been appalling. Until recently, the majority of human rights abuses, better than 50 percent were perpetrated against the civilian population by the Colombian military. But it would be unfair, and it would not reflect the current reality in Colombia if we did not acknowledge the significant progress that has been made under the leadership of President Pastrana and the new head of the Colombian armed forces, General Topeos.

According to our own State Department records, from 1994 to 1998, the percentage of human rights abuses directly attributable to the military declined from better than 50 percent down to 3 percent. President Pastrana and General Topeos correctly point out the recent dismissal of seven generals, two of whom are under indictment, and the referral of three colonels to the civilian courts for prosecution for human rights violations as evidence that things are changing. This is nothing less than astounding, given the historical record.

But let us be clear. I am not suggesting in any way that we or the Colombian government should be satisfied. There is still a long road ahead of us, particularly in light of recent human rights reports from well-respected human rights organizations asserting continuing links between the Colombian military and the paramilitaries. We have to go further, much further.

Mr. Chairman, I agree with the Latin American director of Human Rights Watch, who urged that new conditions be placed on all security assistance to Colombia, and I submit that this amendment does exactly that. The amendment goes much further than the current Leahy amendment. It would apply not only to the two counternarcotics battalions that are envisioned in the bill, but it would apply to the entire military structure, the culture, if you will.

Mr. Chairman, passage of this amendment, I submit, has the potential to effect a fundamental change in the Colombian military that will ensure once and for all its compatibility with democratic principles and respect for human rights. I have no doubt also that it will advance the peace process that recently has produced positive results. Because we are truly serious about substantial and permanent reduction of the flow of cocaine into the United States from Colombia, it is absolutely essential that this peace process be advanced.


Historically, it is no secret that the military in Colombia has had an abysmal human rights record. It has truly been appalling. Until recently the majority of human rights abuses--better that 50 percent committed against the civilian population of Colombia--according to the Department of State annual human rights reports--were directly attributable to the military. Not to the paramilitary. But to the Colombian military itself.

But it would be unfair. And it would not reflect the current reality in Colombia, if we did not acknowledge significant progress under the leadership of President Pastrana and the new head to the Colombian Armed Forces, General Fernando Topeos. According to DOS--from 1994 to 1998 the percentage of human rights abuses directly attributable to the military declined from more than 50 percent to less than 3 percent. President Pastrana and General Topeos can correctly point to the dismissal of 7 generals--2 of whom are under indictment and the recent referral of 3 colonels to the civilian courts for prosecution for human rights violations as evidence that much has changed. This is nothing less than astounding given the historical record. But let's be clear. I am not suggesting in any way that we or the Colombian Government should be satisfied. There is still a long, long road ahead of us.

Particularly in light of recent human rights reports, from well respected human rights organizations, asserting continuing links between the Colombian military and the paramilitaries. We have to go further--much further.

The respected co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus, Representative Lantos, in a Dear Colleague letter he has circulated in support of the aid package points out that all assistance provided to Colombia will go to fully vetted forces pursuant to the so-called Leahy amendment. Which means that every single soldier assigned to these two Counter-Narcotics Battalions envisioned will be reviewed and scrutinized to determine their commitment to human rights. I agree with Mr. Lantos that it is important that Leahy applies. However, if it stood alone, I believe it would be insufficient. And would not support the Aid package.

I agree with the Latin American Director of Human Rights Watch--who according to a story in the February 24 edition of the Washington Post urged that strict new conditions be placed on all security assistance to Colombia.

I submit that this amendment accomplishes just that. This amendment goes much further than the current Leahy Amendment. It would not apply only to the two Counter Narcotics Battalions envisioned in the bill. It impacts the entire structure--the culture if you will--of the military as an institution in Colombia.

There are two key provisions:

It transfers from military tribunals to civilian courts, the prosecution of human rights violations by military personnel. This represents a major breakthrough for those concerned with human rights abuses in Colombia.

Furthermore, it confers upon the head of the armed forces the authority to summarily dismiss military personnel who commit gross violations of human rights. It is important to note, Since the early 1990's, the head of the CNP has had this authority. And from a force of some 100,000--14,000 members of the department were discharged pursuant to this authority. Since that action the CNP has had a solid record on human rights. Previously they had shared the poor record of the Colombian military.

Passage of this amendment, I submit, has the potential to effect a fundamental change in the Colombian military that will ensure it's compatibility with democratic principles and respect for human rights. I have no doubt it will also advance the peace process that has recently produced positive developments. Because if we are truly serious about substantial and permanent reduction of the flow of cocaine from Colombia into the United States--the stability that will come from social and economic justice that peace would achieve is absolutely essential.

As of March 30, 2000, this document was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:H29MR0-173:

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