Release from Rep. William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), June 28, 2001
Immediate Release: Further Information:
June 28, 2001 Steve Schwadron (202) 225-3111
DELAHUNT EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER COLOMBIAN "WAR LAW"
Withholds Judgement on Aid Package Until Questions Answered
WASHINGTON, DC --
Congressman Bill Delahunt today announced that he would not support security
assistance for Colombia contained in a $900 million US aid package until
his concerns about a pending piece of Colombian legislation are addressed.
The Congressman made
his remarks during a hearing of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of
the International Relations Committee, on which Delahunt serves. The panel
was reviewing the Bush Administration's proposed "Andean Initiative,"
a plan to combat drug trafficking, strengthen democracy, and encourage
economic recovery in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Smaller amounts
in the package would also go to Venezuela, Brazil, and Panama, primarily
for drug interdiction. The Andean Initiative is a follow-up to last year's
debate over US support for Plan Colombia, which focused on strengthening
the counter-narcotics abilities of the Colombian military. Delahunt, a
former prosecutor, has been deeply involved in US-Colombian relations
Colombia has for
decades been wracked by a three-way conflict between several groups of
left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and the Colombian security
forces. Both leftist and rightist groups derive income from protecting
or even directly participating in drug trafficking. In addition, some
elements of the Colombian security forces collaborate with the right-wing
vigilantes, although the Colombian government and military leadership
have been taking active steps to break those ties and clean up the armed
forces, which has its own record of abuses.
The legislation in
question, known in Colombia as the "war law," was passed by
that country's Congress on June 20 and is now awaiting the signature of
President Andres Pastrana. It contains a number of provisions which, said
Delahunt, could undo improvements in the human rights situation that have
been made under President Pastrana and Armed Forces Chief Fernando Tapias.
Delahunt was so troubled about the bill that in May he and Representative
Sam Farr (D-CA) wrote key members of the Colombian Congress to express
their concern over the measure. While a final text of the bill is unavailable,
some provisions that appear to have remained in the bill include:
to the military to arrest citizens and hold them for an unspecified period
of time, until they can be turned over to judicial authorities;
Allowing the military to conduct investigations if civilian authorities
are not present;
Restricting civilian oversight of infractions committed by the military,
possibly expanding a loophole that has been used in the past to block
investigation of human rights abuses; and
Reducing the amount of time to decide on formal investigations of military
personnel from one year to two months.
These provisions could erode civil liberties and hamper civilian oversight
of the military, slowing ongoing efforts to professionalize the armed
forces and protect human rights, according to Delahunt. This would be
disastrous for Colombia, he said, because "unless the Colombian military
is clean, efficient, and professional, its troops will continue to commit
human rights abuses and collaborate with the drug-dealing paramilitaries.
In short, it will continue to be part of Colombia's problem, not part
of its solution."
"If all of the progress that has been made -- much of which the US
Congress has insisted on as a condition for providing aid -- will be reversed
by this piece of legislation," said Delahunt, "I cannot support
aid of any kind to Colombia's security forces."
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Copies of Congressman Delahunt's May letter are available from his office
As of June 29, 2001,
this document was also available online at http://www.house.gov/delahunt/andes.htm