President Uribe’s shady friend Human rights certification? Not yet
Jul 132005

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.

Álvaro 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 rep’s question made clear that he was talking about guerrillas and paramilitaries. Why, then, did Uribe insist on advising Amnesty International to “undergo an intellectual exercise” of imagining the same standards applying to guerrillas? Either Uribe wasn’t listening to the question, or he was determined to use this opportunity to imply, once again, that Amnesty International harbors a fondness for Colombia’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 “cease-fire.”

3. Uribe is technically right that “there are no amnesties or pardons” in the new “Justice and Peace” law for crimes against humanity. Earlier in his speech, though, he admitted that “there are [maximum] sentences of between 5 to 8 years for those crimes. Yes, they are reduced: this is a cost of peace processes.” 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 – and it is possible for them to serve these terms at “rural estates” 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 (“you believe wrongly that the Colombian Army is a ‘murderous’ force”; “when the High Commissioner visits me, she says ‘you’re doing well, it’s just that we’ve given you high standards’”), without referring specifically to any of the recommendations. He handed that off to Foreign Minister Carolina Barco, who assured him that most unmet recommendations “have to do with process, with procedures, or have budgetary requirements that have to be taken into account.”

This is inaccurate. “Special and urgent measures to defend indigenous communities at risk of extinction,” “full observance of the humanitarian principles of limitation, distinction, proportionality and protection of the civilian population,” or “confronting the problem of impunity … advancing in the examination of selected cases” are not “process” recommendations. But they are far from satisfied [PDF format].

The Colombian daily El Tiempo called this exchange an example of “hand-to-hand combat between President Uribe and Amnesty International.” 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 rep’s questions and clarifications: 140 words
  • President Uribe’s responses: 1,114 words
  • Foreign Minister Barco’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.)

4 Responses to “Just answer the question”

  1. Alvaro Says:

    I cannot agree at all with your point 3, Mr. Isacson…Its rather apparent upon inspection of the Justice and Peace that no credits for good behavior et al. will allow the sentences to be lower than 5 years, because thats a strict limitation inherent in the law, unless the Constitutional Court or some other High Colombian Court specifically choses to interpret something else.

    To presume that such credits would be applicable, despite the fact that the Justice and Peace law clearly states that they are not, before there is any reason to think that the contrary would happen, is quite questionable of yourself and of your fellows at the NYT and HRW, for example.

    And btw, if youre going to speak of word count standards, Id like to see if you make a similar analysis of the space (or complete lack thereof) that is assigned to Uribe and the Colombian government itself in other forums, media, etc. which you will find just as slanted, if not more so, just in the opposite direction.

  2. Adam Isacson Says:

    You are correct – the “good behavior” reduction appears to have disappeared from the last version of the bill. I apologize for that.

    However, it only changes my argument by about six months. The demobilizing paramilitaries can still count toward their sentences up to 18 months of the time they spent negotiating in Ralito, where they are certainly not suffering in conditions of austerity. So they are still looking at sentences of as little as 3 1/2 years, probably on “rural estates” or perhaps five-star jails like the one that briefly housed Pablo Escobar.

  3. Sierra Says:

    At present,my daughter is a prisoner in a Colombian prison,as is her fiancee.They made a bad judgement and were set up.I am dealing with what is going on over there,The conditions are horrendous.Why should Colombian terrorists get reduced sentences or none at all,while Americans in jail there are doing hard time?There is no prisoner exchange program,no birth control available and poor health care.Human Rights were violated.Prison conditions are awful.When they are finally released,the conditions there will be exposed in the American media,I assure you.Who will hear the cries of Americans detained?Some have no one to support them and cannot have basic needs met.Corruption is rampant.Uribe must adress these issues and present a plan.

  4. Adam Isacson Says:

    A final word on the “time off for good behavior” issue, based on a discussion yesterday with the new attorney-general, Mario Iguarán, who was visiting Washington.

    Apparently past jurisprudence in Colombia dictates that all prisoners have a right to sentence reductions of up to one third for good behavior. While Iguarán believes that the “J and P” law prohibits that, as Alvaro indicates, it will ultimately be up to Colombia’s Constitutional Court to decide whether the sentences will be even less than 3 1/2 to 6 1/2 years.

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