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The European Union should postpone a donors conference planned for later this year until Colombia fulfills key human rights commitments, Human Rights Watch said today.

The broken commitments include a promise to refrain from backing legislation that would allow the military to carry out warrantless arrests and searches—a recipe for an increase in torture and forced disappearance. Also unfulfilled are commitments to break ties between illegal paramilitaries and units of Colombia’s security forces.

“Colombia is at a turning point, and the European Union’s position will be decisive,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. “President Uribe needs to hear that he will be held to his promises.”

The European Union has pledged over € 330 million ($410 million) in aid to Colombia in a package that ends in 2006. Unlike U.S. funding, which mainly goes to Colombia’s armed forces, nearly all of the European aid goes to civil society and to the United Nations office in Colombia. Europe is the largest donor to Colombia’s humanitarian, human rights and peace programs.

In July, the United States and eight donor countries met with the Colombian government in London. These donors promised the Uribe administration that they would increase their financial support in exchange for progress on human rights.

Another blow to the victims of human rights abuses is the proposal by Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace that paramilitary leaders be allowed to avoid jail time for a fee, essentially erasing their crimes. Such a deal would do nothing to discourage abuses, and in fact would send a message to guerrillas to keep killing, since eventually the government may grant them similar terms.

The European Union should also insist that the Colombian government take steps to break the paramilitary stranglehold on the Middle Magdalena valley, including the city of Barrancabermeja, where EU-funded human rights and aid groups face threats and attacks from paramilitary thugs. President Uribe can cashier security force officers who fail to take effective action against paramilitaries, a power he should be encouraged to use.

“Members of the European Parliament should meet and listen to President Uribe, but he should also hear them on the need to live up to Colombia’s human rights commitments,” Vivanco noted.

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