Madrid, July 11. Here comes the setup. Near the end of a question-and-answer period after a long speech, President Uribe clearly wants to confront somebody from Amnesty International and make headlines back home.
Ãlvaro Uribe: They had told me there would be a question from Amnesty International.
Moderator: No, I summarized them in two or three questions [presented earlier].
Uribe: That was it? I thought that Amnesty International was going to be tougher. I would give a spokesman from Amnesty the right to ask again, because I felt that the questions were very soft.
The Spanish Amnesty rep asks two low-key, non-confrontational questions.
Amnesty International representative: Thank you, Mr. President. And yes, the summary was a bit over-summarized. There were two questions, one about the Justice and Peace law which you have answered; we do not agree, we believe that the law encourages impunity. And the second, which the moderator was unable to ask, was whether you are going to comply with the UN human rights recommendations, and the human rights action plan in your country.
Uribe: I want to ask you a question: I responded that there is no impunity in our law. Tell me the reasons why you consider that there is impunity.
AI rep: Well, in the first place since the cease-fire was declared, at least 2,200 people have been documented as killed by paramilitaries. That is the first question. The second, I want to say that war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture are imprescriptible, and thus cannot be amnestied, whether committed by guerrillas or paramilitaries.
Uribe: Regarding the second part, I ask that you correct your information. In the law there are no terms of exception for crimes against humanity, they are still imprescriptible. Second, there are no amnesties or pardons for crimes against humanity. And I call on you and all members of the institution of Amnesty International, to undertake the intellectual exercise and prepare yourselves to respond to the other sector, to the guerrillas, the ELN and the FARC, who demand total amnesty, total pardon, regardless of the seriousness of their crimes.
Three points about this response, which the Amnesty rep wasn’t given a chance to follow up:
1. The Amnesty repâ€™s question made clear that he was talking about guerrillas and paramilitaries. Why, then, did Uribe insist on advising Amnesty International to â€œundergo an intellectual exerciseâ€ of imagining the same standards applying to guerrillas? Either Uribe wasnâ€™t listening to the question, or he was determined to use this opportunity to imply, once again, that Amnesty International harbors a fondness for Colombiaâ€™s guerrillas.
2.Uribe never answered the charge, documented [PDF format] by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, that the paramilitaries have killed over 2,200 people since they declared a â€œcease-fire.â€
3. Uribe is technically right that â€œthere are no amnesties or pardonsâ€ in the new â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ law for crimes against humanity. Earlier in his speech, though, he admitted that â€œthere are [maximum] sentences of between 5 to 8 years for those crimes. Yes, they are reduced: this is a cost of peace processes.â€ Uribe conveniently neglects to mention that, with credits for good behavior and time spent negotiating, paramilitary perpetrators of crimes against humanity could end up spending less than three years in confinement â€“ and it is possible for them to serve these terms at â€œrural estatesâ€ instead of regular jails. This seems like a rather big point to leave out.
The President went on to respond at length to the question about the UN recommendations, going off on numerous tangents (â€œyou believe wrongly that the Colombian Army is a â€˜murderousâ€™ forceâ€; â€œwhen the High Commissioner visits me, she says â€˜youâ€™re doing well, itâ€™s just that weâ€™ve given you high standardsâ€™â€), without referring specifically to any of the recommendations. He handed that off to Foreign Minister Carolina Barco, who assured him that most unmet recommendations â€œhave to do with process, with procedures, or have budgetary requirements that have to be taken into account.â€
This is inaccurate. â€œSpecial and urgent measures to defend indigenous communities at risk of extinction,â€ â€œfull observance of the humanitarian principles of limitation, distinction, proportionality and protection of the civilian population,â€ or â€œconfronting the problem of impunity â€¦ advancing in the examination of selected casesâ€ are not â€œprocessâ€ recommendations. But they are far from satisfied [PDF format].
The Colombian daily El Tiempo called this exchange an example of â€œhand-to-hand combat between President Uribe and Amnesty International.â€ The playing field was far from level, however. From the time the Amnesty rep began speaking to the next time the moderator intervened, this was the word count:
- Amnesty repâ€™s questions and clarifications: 140 words
- President Uribeâ€™s responses: 1,114 words
- Foreign Minister Barcoâ€™s responses: 302 words
(This is the hundredth posting to the PC&B blog since we began it in October. We’re pleased with the traffic it has received and we’ve found it to be a useful way to get ideas out in rapid, “rough draft” form. We look forward to our next 100 posts.)