(Washington, DC, January 12, 2009) – US President George W. Bush’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia is a disturbing example of the Bush administration’s disregard for serious human rights concerns out of zeal to show unconditional support to governments that it views as strategic allies, seven leading nongovernmental organizations said today.
The organizations include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America.
Bush is giving the award to Uribe at a ceremony in the White House on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.
“The Bush administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Colombia’s serious human rights violations,” said the organizations. “Its selection of Uribe to receive this award only further tarnishes the Bush administration’s own reputation on human rights issues in the region.”
The groups pointed out that President Uribe has repeatedly taken steps and carried out policies that are damaging to human rights in Colombia.
Under President Uribe’s watch, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Colombian Army. And while Uribe’s government has strongly confronted the abusive left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Uribe has failed to take a similarly clear stance against equally abusive drug-running paramilitary groups, who have massacred, raped, and forcibly displaced thousands of Colombians in recent decades. Fundamental flaws in a paramilitary demobilization process under Uribe have permitted many of the groups to continue to engage in abuses under new names. The president's verbal attacks on his country’s human rights defenders have been frequent and disturbing. And Uribe has often opposed efforts to break paramilitaries’ influence in the political system, including by making unfounded accusations against the Supreme Court justices who are investigating more than 70 members of the Colombian Congress for links to paramilitaries.