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Last Updated:6/29/01
Press Release from Rep. William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts), June 28, 2001
For 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 for years.

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:

Granting authority 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."

- 30 -
Copies of Congressman Delahunt's May letter are available from his office upon request.

As of June 29, 2001, this document was also available online at http://www.house.gov/delahunt/andes.htm

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