The US Congress should maintain a hold on military assistance to Colombia until alleged links between paramilitary groups and state officials are thoroughly investigated, Amnesty International USA, the Center for International Policy, Human Rights Watch, the US Office on Colombia and the Washington Office on Latin America said in a joint statement today.
Just 12 days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified that the Colombian government and armed forces are making progress on human rights, the US Congress on April 16 put a hold on the remaining fiscal year 2006 funding to the Colombian Armed Forces. Congress has apparently placed the remaining funding of $55.2 million on hold out of concern about alleged links between the head of the Colombian Army and the paramilitary group known as United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
In late March, the Los Angeles Times reported on a leaked CIA report that documented extensive collaboration between Colombian Army Chief Gen. Mario Montoya and paramilitaries led by one of the country’s foremost drug traffickers. One condition of certification is substantial progress by the Colombian government toward severing links with the paramilitaries.
On March 21, human rights organizations presented US officials with clear evidence of continued human rights violations by the armed forces. These organizations recommended that Rice not certify Colombia, and they were particularly concerned about reports that extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian military have increased substantially over the last two years, a fact that the State Department's certification barely mentions.
“The United States established conditions for the release of military assistance to Colombia precisely because of ties between Colombian military units and paramilitary groups implicated in massive atrocities,” said the joint statement.
“For Secretary Rice to certify Colombia’s compliance at this time shows that the US is not prepared to uphold the law as intended,” the statement said. “This sends a dangerous message that the US is willing to turn a blind eye to paramilitary activity and human rights abuses in Colombia.”
“Congress should not lift the hold until alleged AUC links with Gen. Montoya and any Colombian policymakers are investigated, and in cases where links are confirmed, charges are brought against those involved.”