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The “Sixth Division”: Military-paramilitary Ties and U.S. Policy in Colombia

Appendix 4. U.S. Human Rights Vetting

The U.S. begins its vetting procedure by soliciting from the Colombian Defense Ministry a list of Colombian security force members "certified" to be free of human rights problems. To prepare the list, the Defense Ministry checks to see if candidates have formal charges against them in Colombia's courts or filed by the Internal Affairs agency. This initial review ignores cases where "credible evidence," according to the language of the Leahy Provision, exists but has yet to result in formal charges, which can take years to be filed in the Colombian judicial system, which remains overburdened and underfunded.390

The final list is submitted to the U.S. Military Group (MilGroup), the office within the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá that includes Pentagon and Armed Force personnel responsible for administering military aid and training. The MilGroup does an initial review as does the Political Section, which checks names against information gathered from official sources in the Attorney General and Internal Affairs agency offices. Officials responsible for the vetting process told Human Rights Watch that they also review other sources on a periodic basis, including reports published by human rights and other nongovernmental organizations, press clips, and information gathered by the CIA.391

Typically, U.S. officials told Human Rights Watch, four to five names on the Defense Ministry's list come up as potential problems. In these cases, the Political Section includes this information in material submitted with the list to the State Department in Washington. There, an intra-agency committee reviews the list, compares it with other information they have gathered, and makes a final determination. A full vetting takes between forty-five and sixty days.392

Once a unit is vetted, its officers and soldiers are not fixed. Like all units in the Colombian military, vetted units regularly transfer personnel to other units and receive personnel. To keep track, the Colombian Defense Ministry submits biannual EUM reports including information on the new soldiers transferred into vetted units.393

In the past, the United States has had difficulties accurately monitoring the use of its security assistance. According to a General Accounting Office report published in August 2000, the Defense Department had failed to implement the requirement that its field personnel observe and report on foreign government use of U.S. defense articles and services, raising the possibility that these articles and services might have been misused. The report only addressed normal end-use monitoring, not human rights monitoring. However, it underscored that even normal monitoring is not perfect, and that without aggressive enforcement, it can fail to accurately record the use of U.S. aid.394

390. Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Kevin Higgins, U.S. Embassy, Military Group, Bogotá, January 10, 2001.

391. Human Rights Watch interview at U.S. Embassy, Bogotá, January 10, 2001.

392. Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Kevin Higgins, U.S. Embassy, Military Group, Bogotá, January 10, 2001.

393. Ibid.

394. "Foreign Military Sales: Changes needed to Correct Weaknesses in End-Use Monitoring Program," Government Accounting Office, GAO/NSIAD-00-208, August 2000.

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