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Last Updated:6/25/00
Speech by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), June 22, 2000
Mr. 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.

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