Today's certification releases approximately $27 million in military aid. It marks the fifth time in three years that the State Department has certified Colombia despite compelling evidence of non-compliance with six conditions contained in Public Law 108-7, which regulates foreign aid for fiscal year 2003. Colombia receives the third largest amount of U.S. military aid, after Israel and Egypt.
The most important condition requires Colombia's armed forces to sever links with paramilitary groups. Yet the Colombian military continues to work with paramilitaries that are included on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
"At a time when the United States has unprecedented influence over Colombian affairs, this is a missed opportunity to gain real advances," said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. failure is especially striking now, since the bulk of the aid-over $300 million-is not subject to human rights conditions. In other words, certification can no longer be explained away as necessary to serve other policy goals, such as the fight against illegal narcotics."
Vivanco noted that the negative effect of the certification is compounded by the U.S. decision on July 1 to suspend $5 million in military aid to Colombia for its refusal to exempt American citizens from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
"The Bush administration has consistently argued that it couldn't hold up aid to the Colombian military over its collusion with human rights abusers. Now, it turns out that they're perfectly willing to suspend aid, but only when countries like Colombia resist granting immunity for possible crimes against humanity. This sends a perverse signal about American priorities," Vivanco said.
Human Rights Watch delivered a document to the State Department on continuing ties between military units and paramilitary groups. In the department of Chocó, for example, residents of the community of Jiguamandó report that soldiers from the Seventeenth Brigade continue to patrol with paramilitary units. Although the Magdalena River north of the city of Barrancabermeja is heavily militarized, international and national aid workers are routinely stopped, searched and questioned by paramilitaries operating within minutes of military checkpoints administered by the Fifth Brigade.
In its document, Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the armed forces were arresting more low-level paramilitaries than in years past. "However, in vast regions of the country, the military-paramilitary alliance remains as strong as ever," Vivanco said.
In addition to human rights conditions, Public Law 108-7 allows the State Department to use funds to train and equip Colombian military units to fight terrorism if it can certify that the Colombian Armed Forces are conducting vigorous operations to restore government authority and respect for human rights in areas under the effective control of paramilitary and guerrilla organizations. According to Human Rights Watch, Colombia has failed to meet this additional condition.
In its 11-page response to the State Department decision, Human Rights Watch cited specific cases of non-compliance on each of the six statutory conditions.