(Humor) The wiretapped ambassador Friday links (Sunday edition)
Sep 112009

The State Department has just announced a new certification that Colombia’s armed forces are improving their human rights performance. The September 8 action is the first such certification since July 28, 2008.

The certification, required by law, frees up 30 percent of military (not police) aid in the foreign aid bill (not the defense bill), which is put on hold every year until the State Department certifies that Colombia is improving its human rights record according to several specific criteria.

(To view the 2009 text of the law requiring a State Department human rights certification to free up aid, go here and scroll to [or search for] the text “(b) Assistance for the Armed Forces” .)

The amount freed up today, according to State Department sources, is $32.1 million – 30 percent of military aid in the 2009 State Department and Foreign Operations bill. This certification does not affect aid on hold from previous years. (Last time we heard – in early June – the amount on hold from previous years was $72 million.) Edit as of 8:45 September 14: a journalist source tells me that $53 million of that $72 million was “unfrozen” since June. The total of previous-year aid currently on hold is $19 million.

We’ve been promised a copy of the lengthy document that the State Department sent to Congress justifying the decision to certify, but have not received it yet, so we’re relying on today’s State Department press release to understand the decision. The release acknowledges that Colombia’s security forces face “several disquieting challenges” where human rights are concerned, particularly extrajudicial executions and revelations of wiretaps and surveillance by the presidential intelligence service (DAS). However, the document points to several recent arrests, and convictions in the case of the 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre.

There has been an increased number of arrests of military personnel for human rights abuse cases – especially extrajudicial executions – during 2009 (a few examples are linked here). Yesterday’s arrest of former 3rd Brigade chief Gen. Francisco Pedraza for aiding and abetting paramilitaries who carried out the 2001 Alto Naya massacre was another positive step.

However, we will be looking closely at the State Department’s justification document for examples of actual verdicts and punishments for military officers involved in human rights abuse. With the exception of San José de Apartadó, we know of no significant recent cases that have come to a verdict and penalty. While a large majority of outstanding cases are now being tried in Colombia’s civilian justice system – a positive step – nearly all are moving slowly, or not at all, toward resolution.

The difficulty of reaching verdicts, regular new revelations about the “big three” scandals (parapolitics, extrajudicial executions and DAS), and President Uribe’s ad hominem verbal attacks on human rights defenders combine to call today’s certification decision into question.

6 Responses to “New human rights certification”

  1. Kyle Says:

    Weren’t there a bunch of lower-level convictions in the Soacha case?

  2. Tambopaxi Says:

    Agree, Adam.

    This year’s certification appears to be just another in a series of “go along, get along” pro forma reports that’s issued every year by the DOS. Each of the certifications is a nod to statutory requirements regarding human rights (or drugs, etc.) and not much more, and sadly, Congress itself accepts it as such. The whole process is basically elaborate Kabuki theater and not much more, in American politics.

    On the other hand, fundamentally, nothing has changed over the last 10 (or 15, or 20) years regarding the poisonous relationship between the military, the cops and the paras and the willingness of each of these groups to torture or kill people. The U.S. is willing to tolerate this because it’s in their national interest to do so. (I should say that I’d define “national interest” in the Colombian context to mean that the GOC is willing to do something, anything, to wage the drug war and the war against the FARC.)

    In the long run, is this kind of “realpolitik” healthy for either Colombia or the U.S.?

    I’d say no. To the extent that Colombia continues to ignore the root causes of its long running conflict (corruption in its political, military, and justice systems, tolerance of extra-legal violence, and the fact that the drug war itself isn’t working), this whole sad running sore of killings, counter-killings and socio-political malaise will go on for many years to come….

  3. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Puro teatro, y repugnante en todo sentido esas certificaciones. Estoy de acuerdo con Tambopaxi. Based on State Department reports and always accepted by the U.S. Congress, these certifications are pure theatre. We hear the worn litany, year after year. None of us down here take them seriously anymore. No somos idiotas. They would be comical if the whole process didn’t speak to deeper policy problems in Washington, and pose dangers to the region—a region that nobody in el gran Norte cares about or bothers to understand. A esas alturas, hay que hablar a calzón quitado en cuanto a derechos humanos: The United States’ professed concern for human rights in Colombia is de boca para fuera–from the mouth out. Nada más. Así es de simple. Obama is no different from all the others… We have a saying in Spanish: Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda…

  4. Colombia strengthens stage for intensified US-Corporate land grab in Latin America « COTO Report Says:

    [...] Yet, what many of the region’s presidents already know is that increased US militarization is unlikely to curb violence in Colombia because the biggest perpetrators of violence in the country are already allies of the US, largely through the multi-billion dollar Plan Colombia. [...]

  5. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Notes on the human rights certification Says:

    [...] State Department’s report to Congress justifying its September 8 decision to certify Colombia’s human rights record is here [...]

  6. Nell Says:

    Adam: :: The difficulty of reaching verdicts, regular new revelations about the “big three” scandals (parapolitics, extrajudicial executions and DAS), and President Uribe’s ad hominem verbal attacks on human rights defenders combine to call today’s certification decision into question. ::

    The willingness of EVERY administration ever to certify to human rights improvements to release military aid — just as in every other death squad “democracy” — ought rather to call into question the whole approach of responding to billion-dollar counterinsurgency war proposals like Plan Colombia with incremental b.s. “human rights certification” requirements instead of outright, forthright opposition.

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