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Colombian government officials have consistently claimed that paramilitaries operate outside the law. In October, President Samper rejected a resolution approved by the European Parliament calling on his government to improve the country's dismal human rights record. "It is not true," he said, "that the Colombian security forces have developed an emergency strategy, characterized by aid to paramilitary groups, extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances." 337

Some military commanders assert that paramilitaries do not exist, and reports to the contrary are disinformation spread by human rights groups working as guerrilla proxies. If they acknowledge them at all, military officers claim paramilitaries are simply people exercising their constitutional right to defend themselves. For their part, U.S. embassy and military personnel in Colombia claim that there is little information on paramilitaries and that they have no knowledge of where, how, when, or with whom they operate.

As this report shows, these claims are false. It is time to clear the smokescreen of official denial and identify this lethal partnership for what it is: a sophisticated mechanism, in part supported by years of advice, training, weaponry, and official silence by the United States, that allows the Colombian military to fight a dirty war and Colombian officialdom to deny it. The price: thousands of dead, disappeared, maimed, and terrorized Colombians.

We have divided our recommendations into three sections, addressed to the Colombian government, including the military, the United States, including its Congress, and the European Union.

To the Colombian Government:

Immediate steps must be taken to demonstrate the Colombian government's willingness to end the military-paramilitary partnership and to dismantle and disarm the paramilitary groups. To begin, President Samper should exercise his power to immediately suspend military commanders with a long-standing record of support for and direct collaboration with paramilitaries, pending a full, impartial, and public investigation by a special team led by the attorney general. The Defense Ministry should fully cooperate with this investigation by making these officers available for questioning. If merit is found to the accusations against them, these officers should be remanded to civilian courts for prosecution.

Measures to stop the military-paramilitary partnership should be adopted immediately. These should include a strict accounting of weapons, equipment (including radios), and supplies to certify that it is not being diverted to paramilitaries; clear and public directives prohibiting the recruitment, support, or collaboration with paramilitaries; a prohibition of using paramilitaries or individuals with a history of paramilitary activity as intelligence agents or informants; and quick, effective, and public punishment when military personnel violate these rules. Military-issue weapons which have been transferred to paramilitary groups should be confiscated.

We urge the president to invite the attorney general to chair a joint government - non-governmental commission to investigate specific army units implicated in a pattern of political murder through their partnership with paramilitaries, including the Panther Task Force No. 27, Special Plan No. 7, the Bomboná, Bárbula, Rafael Reyes, Nariño, Voltígeros, Palacé, José Hilario López, Ricuarte, and Luciano D'Elhuyar Battalions, the Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Fourteenth Brigades, the First and Second Mobile Brigades, and the Fourth Division. A crucial element of this investigation should be an inquiry into the use of extralegal tactics, and a determination on whether or not they have ceased.

We urge President Samper to present to Congress a bill to reform the military penal code that would end the practice of treating all criminal acts by soldiers as "acts of service." We also urge President Samper to include in the bill language that would end the "due obedience" defense, which allows subordinates to defend themselves by claiming they were only following orders. We believe that the evidence amply proves that the military is incapable of policing itself and that human rights cases involving military officers should be heard in civilian courts.

We urge President Samper to present to congress and fully support legislation that would make the act of forcible disappearance, defined as an unacknowledged arrest by the security forces, a crime punishable by law.

The executive should clearly and forcefully resist military-backed attempts in Colombia's Congress to reform the constitution to end civilian oversight of the armed forces, in particular a bill that would end the work of the Procuraduría Delegates for the Armed Forces and Human Rights and block the investigations led by the attorney general. Although we criticize the Procuraduría's work in this report, we believe that at the very least it provides an opening for civilian investigations of reports of human rights violations that must be defended and strengthened.

We urge President Samper to convoke a joint government-NGO commission to investigate the office of the Procuraduría Delegate for the Armed Forces, which has a poor record of investigating human rights abuses by the military. A professional of proven independence should be appointed to head a reorganized office, fully independent and with strong and public support of the executive.

We believe the government can protect judges and fortify the courts without recurring to the curbs on due process that are part of the public order system. The public order system should be reformed to empower justices to aggressively pursue drug traffickers, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and military officers who commit human rights crimes, while safeguarding those individuals' right to a fair trial.

The government should increase funding to the attorney general's witness protection program, to allow prosecutors not only to protect those who testify against suspected drug traffickers and guerrillas, but also securityforce members and paramilitaries accused of human rights violations.

We call on the army and specifically Gen. Harold Bedoya to refrain from bringing slander charges against human rights groups that publish information linking the security forces to human rights abuses and a partnership with paramilitaries. Human rights organizations have a responsibility to report on alleged violations and press for government investigations, but cannot replace government prosecutors, whose job is to develop sufficient evidence to convict. In the Colombian context, the strategy of bringing slander charges appears designed to punish groups for speaking out and terrorize them into blunting or suppressing future publications. The military only loses credibility when it launches unfounded charges against human rights monitors.

We urge President Samper to invoke a special commission within the cabinet and including the presidential human rights counselor and a representative from the office of the High Commissioner on Peace to review all military manuals currently in use and propose revisions that promote a respect for human rights and the protection of the civilian population. These manuals should also be reviewed to ensure that they explicitly and clearly bar human rights violations and collaboration with paramilitaries.

We urge President Samper to fully fund and support the effort launched by the Interior Ministry to identify and arrest known paramilitary leaders and bring them to justice. The capture of these individuals must be seen as fundamental to halting political violence in Colombia.

For the U.S Government:

As we have in the past, we call on the U.S. government to immediately suspend all military aid, arms sales, training, arms deliveries and covert assistance to Colombia because this assistance has supplied units implicated in gross human rights violations. Based on the evidence collected in this report as well as other material in the hands of U.S. and Colombian authorities, the United States is obligated to suspend all funds provided under the international narcotics control legislation currently in effect.

In particular, the U.S. should suspend the pending delivery of $169 million in Black Hawk helicopters, M60 machine guns, and ammunition sold to Colombia as well as the $40 million in helicopters, communications gear, and equipment that President Clinton announced in September would be provided to Colombia free of charge under the special drawdown authority of Section 506 (a) of the Foreign Assistance Act.

We urge the U.S. government to immediately suspend the visas of Colombian officers implicated in human rights abuses, including those stemming from the military-paramilitary partnership, pending the results of an impartial and public investigation by the Colombian attorney general.

The United States should undertake an immediate, thorough investigation gh into where U.S. military aid has gone in Colombia, to which units, and to what purpose. The investigation should be independent and the results made public.

U.S. military aid to Colombia should not be resumed until the longstanding practices of gross and persistent violations of human rights by the Colombian armed forces and their paramilitary partners have ceased. At a minimum, the resumption of aid should be conditioned on the achievement of the following:

a. The Colombian government must implement the measures recommended above to eliminate and prevent any form of support, cooperation, or collaboration between the military and paramilitary forces.

b. The Colombian government must demonstrate the effectiveness of its legal mechanisms for investigating and disciplining, including through criminal sanctions imposed by the civilian courts, members of the military responsible for human rights abuses. To do this, the Colombian government must conduct full and public investigations and effective prosecutions on key cases, including the Trujillo massacre, the Barrancabermeja navy intelligence network, threats and attacks against human rights monitors in Meta, the Puerto Patiño and Segovia massacres, and military paramilitary activity in the Chucurí region.

c. The Colombian government must make public the findings of a full review of the armed forces' progress in stopping human rights abuses, a part of which must include the record of criminal investigations, trials and appropriate punishment of officers found responsible for human rights violations. This review must pay special attention to the following units implicated in this report in a serious and continuing pattern of human rights abuses: Panther Task Force No. 27, Special Plan No. 7, the Bomboná, Bárbula, Rafael Reyes, Nariño, Voltígeros, Palacé, José Hilario López, Ricuarte, and Luciano D'Elhuyar Battalions, the Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Fourteenth Brigades, the First and Second Mobile Brigades, and the Fourth Division.

d. The Colombian government must demonstrate 1) that directives to observe international human rights standards have been issued to security force personnel and are enforced, 2) that records for security force personnel register training in human rights and compliance with humanitarian law; and 3) the internal mechanisms for investigating and disciplining members of the military and police responsible for human rights abuses must be clear and transparent so that their effectiveness can be a matter of public record.

e. The United States government should adopt safeguards to ensure that any future aid, for whatever declared purpose, is not channeled to forces responsible for patterns of gross human rights abuse or otherwise contributes to the violation of human rights.

f. These safeguards must include effective screening and monitoring procedures to ensure that U.S. assistance, including training and arms, goes only to those forces proven to have records free of human rights violations and shown to operate in accord with procedures by which such violations are subject to criminal investigation and prosecution by civilian judicial authorities. End-use monitoring of aid should include tracking the human rights record of the units and personnel assisted. Advisory assistance, weapons and other aid should not go to security force units or officers against whom there is credible evidence of serious human rights abuses until the alleged abuses have been fully investigated, and those responsible for past abuse have been punished.

g. All U.S. personnel overseas, including personnel with the U.S. military, Drug Enforcement Administration, and CIA, should be directed to report to appropriate Colombian and U.S. authorities any human rights abuses by Colombian security forces about which they have information, regardless of the identity of the victim or perpetrator.

Recognizing that this report raises many questions about United States military and CIA support for the reorganization of Colombia's military intelligence service and subsequent assistance to the Colombian armed forces, Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. to conduct an immediate, comprehensive investigation of security assistance since 1990 to Colombia. This should include an investigation of the U.S. military and CIA role in advising Colombia's intelligence services; the extent to which U.S. officials had knowledge of or failed to pursue information on possible human rights violations by Colombian military and intelligence personnel and their paramilitary partners, or were directly complicit in criminal action in the course of advisory missions; or contributed to impunity by shielding military-paramilitary links from public scrutiny. This investigation should examine the human rights record of the uniformed Colombian forces assisted by the United States and of those paramilitary forces acting under their authority within or in association with Colombia's military intelligence networks, as well as the record of U.S. personnel working with them. A report of this investigation should be made public.

Information obtained by the U.S. in the course of counternarcotics intelligence gathering or other activities that indicates the possibility of human rights abuses should be turned over to the appropriate national public authorities. When the U.S. and Colombian attorneys general renegotiate their agreement to share information on suspected drug traffickers, we strongly urge that these institutions also discuss the sharing of information gathered by the United States in the course of its counternarcotics operations, but which pertain to human rights violations and the military-paramilitary partnership.

The Clinton Administration should seek legislation authorizing the incorporation of a human rights assessment in its annual drug "certification" report to Congress. That assessment would review the human rights implications of each country's anti-drug programs and laws.

Human Rights Watch does not oppose non-military aid to Colombia, and urges the U.S. government to include in its Administration of Justice program funds that would allow the attorney general's office to strengthen the Human Rights Unit and expand the witness protection program to include witnesses who testify against security force members and paramilitaries accused of human rights violations.

To the European Union:

We urge the member states of the European Union to immediately suspend all military aid to Colombia, including training, services, and arms deliveries pending results in the measures and investigations detailed in our recommendations to the Colombian government, including the suspension of military officers implicated in crimes, the adoption of measures to end the military-paramilitary partnership, and investigations of specific units implicated in crimes.

To the United Nations:

Human Rights Watch strongly supports the U.N. plan to set up a permanent office in Colombia under the auspices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and urges this office to make full and public reports on the human rights situation in Colombia.


337 Karl Penhaul, "Colombia Stokes Oil Giant's Rights Abuse Dispute," Reuter, October 31, 1996.

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