by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), June 22, 2000
KENNEDY. Mr. President, I would like to speak about one of the most important
parts of the proposed aid package for Colombia, the human rights conditions.
Narcotics traffickers, rebel
forces, and paramilitary groups present a clear threat to democracy and
economic development in Colombia. The bill before us provides $934 million
to help the Colombian Government meet this threat. About 75 percent of
this aid is for military equipment, training, and logistical support.
The Colombian Government says it needs this military assistance--especially
the helicopters--to enable its armed forces to retake the southern part
of the country from the narcotraffickers and the rebel forces who protect
and profit from their activities.
Like my colleagues, I am interested
in ensuring that this aid does not contribute to human rights abuses.
While allegations of human rights violations by military personnel have
decreased in the past several years, the State Department's 1999 Country
Report on Human Rights Practices concluded that the Colombian Government's
human rights record `remained poor' and that `armed forces and the police
committed numerous, serious violations of human rights throughout the
year.' The Colombian Armed Forces are consistently and credibly linked
to illegal paramilitary groups, which are now responsible for the majority
of serious human rights abuses in Colombia, including an estimated 153
massacres in 1999 which claimed 889 lives. These paramilitary groups have
stepped up their own illegal narcotics operations, which, according to
the Drug Enforcement Administration, include drug trafficking abroad.
When I met with President
Pastrana last December, he emphasized his commitment to improving the
human rights performance of the Colombian Armed Forces, which have a long
history of human rights violations. The bill before us makes this commitment
the basis for new military assistance to Colombia. The bill requires the
Secretary of State to certify that the Colombian Government has met or
is meeting four conditions before new military aid can be provided.
The first condition requires
the Secretary of State to certify that the President of Colombia has directed
in writing that Colombian Armed Forces personnel who are credibly alleged
to have committed gross violations of human rights will be brought to
justice in Colombia's civilian courts, in accordance with the 1997 ruling
of Colombia's Constitutional Court.
Currently, the military justice
system does not aggressively or consistently pursue cases against high-ranking
military personnel accused of human rights abuses. The 1999 State Department
Human Rights Report states that `authorities rarely brought officers of
the security forces and the police charged with human rights offenses
to justice, and impunity remains a problem.' It concludes that the `workings
of the military judiciary lack transparency and accountability, contributing
to a generalized lack of confidence in the system's ability to bring human
rights abusers to justice.'
To rectify this problem, in
August 1997, Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled that `crimes against
humanity' could never be considered acts of military service and that
military personnel alleged to have committed such crimes must be prosecuted
in civilian courts. However, the military has consistently challenged
civilian court jurisdiction. The military has retained jurisdiction by
threatening government investigators and by arguing that alleged violations
of human rights, such as collusion with paramilitary groups, are simply
acts of omission. Acts of omission are considered acts of military service,
as if they were simple dereliction of duty. Most importantly, the military
continues to retain jurisdiction in human rights by relying on the support
of a pro-military block within the Superior Judicial Council, the body
responsible for determining the jurisdiction of individual cases.
The U.S. Government has said
that these practices undercut the intent of the Constitutional Court ruling.
According to the 1999 State Department Human Rights Report, the Superior
Judicial Council `regularly employed an extremely broad definition of
acts of service, thus ensuring that uniformed defendants of any rank,
particularly the most senior, were tried in military tribunals.' In the
8 years the Superior Judicial Council has existed, it has never sent a
case of a general accused of a human rights violation to a civilian court.
As a result of these practices,
the military has retained jurisdiction even in cases of the most egregious
atrocities. For example, dozens of civilians were killed, and thousands
were forced to flee for their lives, in the town of Mapiripan in July
1997. The Superior Judicial Council ruled that the case involved an act
of omission by General Jaime Uscategui. Therefore, as an act of military
service, it belonged before a military court. The General was eventually
forced to resign, but he has yet to be prosecuted for his crimes.
The Colombian Armed Forces
have claimed that they are abiding by the Constitutional Court ruling
and accepting civilian court jurisdiction in human rights cases. However,
a careful analysis of the military's own statistics demonstrates the opposite.
In a recent publication on human rights, Colombia's Defense Ministry asserts
that, pursuant to the 1997 Constitutional Court ruling, the
Colombian Armed Forces had
turned over 576 cases of possible human rights violations to civilian
courts for investigation and possible prosecution. For 3 months my office
has tried to obtain a breakdown of this number in order to determine the
nature of the crimes committed, the number of these cases that were actually
prosecuted, and the rank of the personnel involved. To date, the Colombian
Defense Ministry has only documented 103 of the 576 cases. Of these 103
cases, only 39 actually involved human rights violations by members of
the Armed Forces. The highest ranking officials were two lieutenant colonels.
The remaining 64 cases involved abuses by members of the Colombian National
Police or common crimes. In other words, the Colombian Defense Ministry
grossly misrepresented its record. In fact, the Colombian Armed Forces
have transferred only 39 cases of human rights violations, committed by
low level officials, to civilian courts in the past 2 years--not the 576
cases that the Colombian Defense Ministry claimed.
Colombian lawyers have analyzed
this matter. The highly respected Colombian Commission of Jurists concluded
that the requirement in the amendment that the President issue a written
directive requiring the military to accept civilian jurisdiction in human
rights cases is consistent with President Pastrana's role as Commander-in-Chief
of the Armed Forces. In fact, the Commission recently filed a petition
with President Pastrana requesting that, as Commander-in-Chief, he order
the military to cease disputing jurisdiction in cases involving credible
allegations of human rights abuse. This requirement does not compromise
the integrity of Colombia's separation of powers or the independence of
the executive and judiciary. To the contrary, it would uphold the judiciary's
power by obligating the military to abide by civilian rule and the law.
The second condition contained
in this bill requires the Secretary of State to certify that the Commander
General of the Armed Forces is promptly suspending from duty any Armed
Forces personnel who are credibly alleged to have committed gross violations
of human rights or to have aided or abetted paramilitary groups.
Currently, there is no automatic
process for suspending a member of the Colombian Armed Forces alleged
to have violated human rights. The case of Colombian Senator Manuel Cepeda
is illustrative. Senator Cepeda was murdered in 1994. The investigation
carried out by the Attorney General's Office revealed that the murder
had been carried out by the military in collusion with paramilitary groups.
Nevertheless, the accused officers remained on active duty for five years,
from 1994 until 1999, when they were finally suspended as a result of
vigorous protests by the human rights community.
In contrast, General Serrano,
who just recently resigned as head of the National Police, had the authority
to suspend police suspected of corruption, human rights abuses, or other
misconduct. To his credit, General Serrano discharged over 11,000 officers
since taking command in 1994.
This condition supports the
recent actions of the Colombian Congress. On March 15, the Colombian Congress
passed a law to restructure the Armed Forces, including granting the Armed
Forces Commander the authority to suspend Armed Forces personnel suspected
of misconduct. President Pastrana was given 6 months, until September,
to issue the necessary implementing decrees. If he does not, the law becomes
null and void.
The third condition contained
in the bill requires the Secretary of State to certify that the Colombian
Armed Forces and its Commander General are fully complying with the provisions
regarding prosecution and suspension of Armed Forces personnel credibly
alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights. The Colombian
Armed Forces must also cooperate fully with civilian authorities in investigating,
prosecuting, and punishing in the civilian courts Colombian Armed Forces
personnel who are credibly alleged to have committed such crimes.
As I discussed earlier, the
Colombian Armed Forces have consistently resisted the 1997 Constitutional
Court's ruling that transfers jurisdiction for human rights cases from
military to civilian courts. They have failed to ensure that Armed Forces
personnel who are credibly alleged to have committed human rights abuses
are investigated, prosecuted, and punished in the civilian courts. They
have resisted suspending military personnel who are alleged to be involved
in human rights violations or to have collaborated with paramilitary groups.
And they have grossly misrepresented their record, claiming that 576 human
rights cases involving Armed Forces personnel were transferred to civilian
courts when, in fact, only 39 cases of human rights violations were transferred--and
those cases involved low level officials.
The fourth condition contained
in the bill requires the Secretary of State to certify that the Government
of Colombia is vigorously prosecuting in the civilian courts the leaders
and members of paramilitary groups and Colombian Armed Forces personnel
who are aiding or abetting these groups.
According to the 1999 State
Department Human Rights Report, paramilitary groups accounted for about
78 percent of human rights abuses in 1999. In a rare televised interview,
notorious paramilitary leader Carlos CastanÿAE6o recently admitted
that cocaine and heroin fund an entire unit of 3,200 paramilitary
fighters. Overall, he said
that 70 percent of his war chest is culled from drug trafficking.
Despite President Pastrana's
commitment to eliminate ties between the Colombian Armed Forces and paramilitary
groups, the State Department, the United Nations, and human rights groups
have documented continuing links. The 1999 State Department Human Rights
Report stated that the Armed Forces and National Police sometimes `tacitly
tolerated' or `aided and abetted' the activities of paramilitary groups.
According to the report, `in some instances, individual members of the
security forces actively collaborated with members of paramilitary groups
by passing them through roadblocks, sharing intelligence, and providing
them with ammunition. Paramilitary forces find a ready support base within
the military and police.' The report also concluded that `security forces
regularly failed to confront paramilitary groups.' The fact that Carlos
Castano appeared on Colombian television in March, but remains invisible
to Colombian law enforcement agencies, demonstrates the impunity with
which he is able to operate in Colombia.
Human Rights Watch has documented
links between military and paramilitary groups. These links are not only
in isolated, rural areas but in Colombia's principal cities. According
to evidence collected by Human Rights Watch, half of Colombia's 18 brigade-level
units are linked to paramilitary activity.
The Colombian military has
resisted investigating these links. Instead of investigating a credible
allegation of military collaboration with paramilitary groups in a civilian
massacre that occurred in the town of San Jose de Apartado on February
19, 2000, the Commander of the 17th Brigade filed suit against the non-governmental
organization that made these allegations, charging that it had `impugned'
the honor of the military. If the Colombian Government is serious about
severing the links between military and paramilitary groups, it must demonstrate,
at all levels of government and the military, that these allegations will
be investigated promptly and punished seriously. These links must be severed
if the Colombian Government, with United States assistance, is to mount
a successful counternarcotics campaign and stop the violence committed
by illegal paramilitary groups. If these links are not severed, our Government
will be complicit in the abuses.
I recently met with Colombian
Senator Piedad Cordoba, the chairman of the Colombian Senate's Human Rights
Committee. She personally witnessed this military-paramilitary cooperation
during her May 1999 kidnapping by paramilitary leader Carlos Castano.
Senator Cordoba told me that the kidnappers' car passed through eight
military roadblocks without being stopped or searched. She said
that the helicopter that took
her to the jungle camp where she was held landed at an airstrip just a
few miles from a military base. She told me that Castano boasted when
he showed her transcripts of her private telephone conversations, transcripts
that he could have only obtained from military intelligence sources.
The strong human rights conditions
contained in this bill will ensure that the Colombian Government takes
concrete steps to prosecute and punish military personnel alleged to have
committed human rights abuses or to have collaborated with paramilitary
groups. I commend Senators McConnell and Leahy for including this language
in the bill. The conditions will also encourage the Colombian Government
to arrest and prosecute at least some paramilitary leaders and members.
During the conference on this
bill, I urge the Senate conferees to insist on retaining these strong
and well-considered conditions. The conditions contained in the House
version of the bill, while certainly well-intentioned, are both weak and
inconsistent with Colombia's Constitution. For example, the requirement
to create a Judge Advocate General Corps within the Armed Forces to investigate
human rights abuses is contrary to the 1997 ruling of Colombia's Constitutional
Court that requires the investigation and prosecution of these abuses
in the civilian justice system. The House provision regarding a Presidential
waiver of the human rights conditions in case of `extraordinary circumstances'
seriously degrades the importance of human rights as a fundamental principle
of U.S. foreign policy--a principle shared on a bipartisan basis over
many years. The protection of human rights should not be a `waivable'
foreign policy objective. It should be enforced with the same vigor as
our anti-drug goals. I ask unanimous consent that a copy of a May 11 letter
from Human Rights Watch on the House provisions be included in the Record
at the end of my remarks. This letter reflects the strong opposition of
the human rights community to these House provisions.
Two years ago, the Robert
F. Kennedy Memorial presented its annual Human Rights Award to four Colombians
who are leaders of grassroots efforts to defend human rights in Colombia.
These Human Rights Laureates--Jaime Prieto Mendez, Mario Humberto Calixto,
Gloria Ines Florez Schneider, and Berenice Celeyta Alayon--represented
groups that fight for human rights, the rights of displaced persons, and
the rights of political prisoners. These courageous individuals, and thousands
of others like them throughout Colombia, risk their lives every day. They
need and deserve our support. The conditions included in this bill are
for them. The conditions are also for us. They will guard against America's
complicity in human rights violations in Colombia.
As of June 25, 2000, this document
was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S22JN0-125: