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The Costa Rican government should turn former Colombian Senator Mario Uribe over to Colombia for prosecution for his alleged involvement with paramilitary death squads, Human Rights Watch said today. Uribe is a cousin of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and has been one of the president’s closest political allies for many years.

Colombian prosecutors on April 22, 2008 ordered Mario Uribe’s arrest for allegedly conspiring with drug-running paramilitary death squads that are responsible for some of the most horrific atrocities in Colombian history. Before the arrest warrant was carried out, Uribe sought refuge in the Costa Rican embassy in Colombia, and his lawyer has reported that he is preparing an application for asylum in that country.

“It’s utterly absurd for Mario Uribe, one of Colombia’s most powerful politicians, to claim he is somehow a victim who needs asylum,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “On the contrary, Colombia’s judicial authorities deserve international support in investigating paramilitaries’ infiltration of the political system.”

Uribe first came under investigation by the Colombian Supreme Court in September 2007 when he was a sitting senator. He is one of more than 50 congressmen from the president’s ruling coalition to come under investigation in the last two years for alleged links to paramilitaries, as part of what is known as the “parapolitics” scandal. These investigations have begun to break Colombia’s long history of impunity for paramilitaries and their accomplices in the political system.

Shortly after the Supreme Court initiated its investigation, Uribe resigned from his congressional seat, which resulted in the case being transferred to the Office of the Attorney General. It is the attorney general’s office that ordered his arrest on April 22, 2008, after finding that the evidence against him was strong enough to warrant his detention.

Human Rights Watch said this is not the first time a Latin American political figure has sought to evade justice by seeking asylum in another country. In 2000, Vladimiro Montesinos, the former Peruvian spy chief, sought asylum in Panama. Montesinos’s petition was eventually denied and today he is serving lengthy prison sentences for corruption and human rights abuses.

“Mario Uribe is still in Colombia,” said Vivanco. “Costa Rica shouldn’t let itself become a tool to further impunity in Colombia by allowing him to evade justice.”

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