As he sent the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress this morning, President Bush painted a picture of the Colombian government’s human-rights efforts that sounded nothing sort of miraculous.
In discussions about the Colombia free trade agreement, some members of Congress have raised concerns about the conditions in Colombia. President Uribe has addressed these issues. He’s addressed violence by demobilizing tens of thousands of paramilitary figures and fighters. He’s addressed attacks on trade unionists by stepping up funding for prosecutions, establishing an independent prosecutors unit, and creating a special program that protects labor activists. He’s made clear that the economic benefits the agreement brings to Colombia would strengthen the fight against drugs and terror, by creating a more hopeful alternative for the people of Colombia.
If this isn’t enough to earn America’s support, what is? President Uribe has done everything asked of him.
This is a terribly partial portrayal, ignoring some huge concerns in order to portray Colombia’s rather ugly human-rights situation in the best possible light. While Colombia has taken some initial steps on crucial human rights issues, what remains to be done is huge, and the political will to do it is uncertain.
The Latin America Working Group Education Fund reminds us of this with a newly released, well-researched, balanced memo about Colombia’s human rights situation. Entitled “So Far to Go: Human Rights in Colombia” (PDF), the 17-page document adds a badly needed dose of perspective. No recent document produced by any group provides a similar synthesis of the very serious issues that Colombia is confronting, or failing to confront.
“So Far to Go” is a necessary accompaniment to the partial version of events one reads in the U.S. and Colombian governments’ celebratory statements. Below is an overview from LAWGEF Executive Director Lisa Haugaard.
A new report [PDF] by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund shows that on a variety of indicators, human rights problems in Colombia persist and in some cases are intensifying.Â â€œSo Far to Go: Human Rights in Colombia,â€ citing reliable nongovernmental, U.S. State Department, UN and OAS sources, reveals that extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian armed forces appear to be on the increase, guerrilla violence continues, and paramilitaries, far from being completely disarmed, continue to threaten, intimidate and kill the civilian population, including human rights defenders and trade unionists.Â The report shows, for example, that:
- Colombiaâ€™s major human rights groups documented 955 extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by the Colombian armed forces between July 2002 and June 2007, compared with 577 over the previous five-year period, a 65 percent increase. The Colombian Commission of Jurists documents 13 cases in the first month of 2008. These cases, which are deliberate rather than cases of civilians caught in the crossfire, typically involve groups of soldiers detaining a civilian, who is seen by witnesses, and who later turns up dead, dressed in guerrilla clothing and claimed by the army as killed in combat.
- From the start of the ceasefire agreement between the Colombian government and paramilitary forces in December 2002 until June 30, 2007, the Colombian Commission of Jurists documents at least 3,530 killings and disappearances by the paramilitaries (outside of combat). The guerrillas (FARC and ELN), who are not â€œdemobilized,â€ and who have not signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, were responsible for 1,805 killings and disappearances of civilians during nearly the same time period (July 2002 through June 2007). Paramilitaries in a period of ceasefire and demobilization killed and disappeared nearly twice the number of civilians as the guerrillas who were still in active combat.
- According to the governmentâ€™s National Commission for Reparations and Reconciliation, paramilitary groups have killed at least 15 victims participating in the process and over 200 have received death threats. (â€œNueva rebelion de los ex â€˜parasâ€™ profundiza rezagos en reparacion,â€ El Tiempo, 25 de julio de 2007)
- â€œAlthough kidnapping, both for ransom and for political reasons, continued to diminish, it remained a serious problem. According to the Presidential Program for Human Rights, there were 289 kidnappings during the first eight months of the year, compared with 476 in the same period in 2006. The governmentâ€™s National Fund for the Defense of Personal Liberty (Fondolibertad) reported 393 kidnappings for extortion during the first nine months of the year.â€ (State Department 2007 human rights report) The majority of kidnappings were carried out by common criminals and guerrilla groups.Â Kidnap victims continued to be held for years in deplorable conditions. The release of a handful of high-profile kidnap victims provided one of the few rays of hope recently for kidnap victimsâ€™ families.
- CODHES, the primary nongovernmental group tracking displacement, estimated that 305,966 people were displaced in 2007, a 27 percent increase from 2006.