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VI. The Role of the OAS Mission

In February of 2004 the Organization of American States (OAS) established a Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (“OAS Mission”).  The purpose of the OAS Mission is to “enable the OAS to provide technical support to the verification of the ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration initiatives” in Colombia.105 

In its authorizing resolution, the OAS Permanent Council emphasized “the importance of the principles of truth, justice, accountability, and reparation to victims in laying the foundations for lasting peace in Colombia.”106  It also specifically resolved “to ensure that the role of the OAS is fully consistent with the obligations of its member states with respect to the effective exercise of human rights and international humanitarian law, and to invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to provide advice to the Mission.”107 

In practice, however, the OAS Mission has played a highly questionable role, serving primarily as a rubber stamp for the actions taken by the Colombian government.  Throughout, the OAS Mission has been silent about the problems with the process, and as a result, has helped to give the process a veneer of international legitimacy.  

According to mission officials, the OAS Mission is not allowed to publicly give its opinion about the problems with the process because it has no reporting function.  In the words of one official, “I envy Fruhling [the head of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia] because he has a reporting function.”108  Also, mission officials claim that they are not responsible for determining whether the legal framework they are working with is consistent with international standards.  Instead, “that is what the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is for.”109

This explanation is puzzling because the OAS Mission has actually made a number of statements in favor of the government’s handling of demobilizations, even dismissing international concerns.110  And it continued to do so despite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ strong criticism of the process.111 

In recent days, the Inter-American Commission has publicly criticized the demobilization law approved by the Colombian Congress for its failure to include adequate mechanisms to protect victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.112  It remains unclear what action the Permanent Council will take with respect to the OAS Mission in light of the Inter-American Commission’s analysis.

But even putting aside the OAS Mission’s failure to publicly uphold these international standards on victims’ rights, there is no indication that the OAS Mission is playing a useful role in the verification of the demobilization process.  

In its reports to the OAS, the OAS Mission states that it verifies the lists of demobilized combatants, as well as the weapons that are turned over by paramilitaries going through the process.113  But neither the government nor the OAS Mission has independent information about who all the members of each group are, or what weapons they own.  So their “verification” appears limited to making a list of the weapons that the groups choose to turn over, and making sure that the persons who say they are going to demobilize are the same ones who in fact go through the ceremony.  Beyond that, representatives of the OAS Mission are present during the destruction of explosives, and frequently assist the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace in carrying out tasks (for example, transporting those who have signed up to demobilize to the place where the demobilization ceremony will take place). 

The OAS Mission has representatives stationed at the various reference centers for demobilized persons to verify the reintegration process.  It also supposedly does work with communities affected by violence, although in its own words, “the work of the Mission was basically to develop awareness activities regarding the mandate and the process of a return to civilian life and assisting the Office of the High Commissioner in promoting the transition to institutionalism.”114 

In all these tasks, the OAS Mission’s role is mainly to be present and accompany existing government institutions as they implement their own demobilization policies.  The OAS Mission does not behave like an independent observer, nor does it apply international standards to evaluate the government’s policies.  It simply accepts the policies and helps the government implement them.

The OAS Mission has not even played a useful and distinct role in the verification of the cease-fire declared by the paramilitary groups.  To the contrary, the OAS Mission has been practically invisible on this issue.  In interviews, officials from the OAS Mission acknowledged that the paramilitaries have not fully complied with the cease-fire and said that “from the first day, the OAS has made clear” that it is impossible to fully verify the cease-fire without a complete “concentration” or gathering of all paramilitary troops in a single region within Colombia.115  As a result, they view their mission as “trying to make them fulfill the cease-fire, with the understanding that it cannot be done without a concentration.”116 

The OAS Mission receives reports of cease-fire violations through various sources.  Those sources have included, in recent months, the Public Advocate’s office and a Colombian NGO called the Security and Democracy Foundation.  In addition, OAS Mission representatives are members, alongside government officials and the AUC itself, of a Verification Committee that is supposed to receive complaints of cease-fire violations.  

However, it is far from clear what the OAS Mission does with reports of cease-fire violations.  Mission officials claim that they verify those violations by opening an “investigation,”117 interviewing the people who filed the complaints and others who might have relevant information.  But in meetings with Human Rights Watch, Mission officials could not describe the criteria and procedures they used to determine what constituted a cease-fire violation.118 

Nor does the Mission, apparently, promptly verify all violations of which they receive reports.119  The Public Advocate’s office has been submitting reports to the Mission every month, but the Mission does not systematically follow up on the reports with the office.

According to the OAS Mission, the verification process “is intended not only to establish concrete cases of violations of the cessation of hostilities but also to discourage violations and thus improve on the commitment undertaken by the AUC.”120  But even when the OAS Mission does verify a violation, it does not publicly denounce it, or even report it to the OAS Permanent Council.121  Rather, all the OAS Mission does with its information about cease-fire violations is to try “to dissuade” the paramilitaries from committing violations through the Verification Committee.122 

OAS Mission officials claim that this dissuasion work has, in some cases, prevented mass displacement and other abuses.123  However, it is impossible to determine the extent to which the dissuasion is effective or is even occurring, given that the OAS Mission has not publicly spoken about this work.  Aside from a few instances it described superficially in its Third Report, the OAS Mission has not reported on this work to the Permanent Council.124 

[105] Organization of American States Permanent Council, Support to the Peace Process in Colombia, OEA/Ser. G CP/RES. 859 (1397/04), February 6, 2004, (retrieved July 17, 2005).

[106] Ibid.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Claudia Pérez de Vargas, OAS Mission, Bogotá, April 11, 2005.

[109] Ibid.  In the Mission’s fourth report to the OAS, it stated “MAPP/OAS assumes its mandate based on the premise that its work is consistent with the obligations of the OAS member states with respect to the full exercise of human rights, international humanitarian rights, and the advisory services that the IACHR should provide to the Mission in this area.”  Organization of American States, Fourth Quarterly Report on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia [hereinafter Fourth Quarterly Report], OEA/Ser. G., CP/doc. 3989/05, March 11, 2005, (retrieved June 9, 2005).

[110] For example, in November 2004, the head of the Mission stated that the process should be supported “with all its imperfections,” that he had “never seen a peace process that is so conditioned,” and that one should bear in mind that in other places whole armies had been demobilized to “defend the human rights of those who are alive.”  See “OAS asks the world for more help for massive demobilizations of paramilitaries,” El Tiempo, November 9, 2004, (retrieved November 10, 2004).  See also Margarita Martínez,OAS Reproaches U.S., EU over Colombia,” The Miami Herald, December 14, 2004, (retrieved December 14, 2005).

[111] In December 2004, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report that criticized the Colombian government’s demobilization bill and its handling of the process.  Organization of American States, Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the Demobilization Process in Colombia, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.120, Doc. 60, December 13, 2004, (retrieved June 30, 2005).  In June 2005, OAS Mission chief Sergio Caramagna defended the process from criticism, stating that it was the only demobilization process in Latin America that was being carried out without amnesties and that  “I would like to ask these critics which persons have been amnestied, forgiven, or been given the benefit of having the crimes committed forgotten.  There is not a single case, absolutely not a single case.”  “Chief of OAS Mission in Colombia defended process with the paramilitaries,” El Tiempo, June 24, 2005, (retrieved July 17, 2005).  He also stated that the demobilization process was “on a good path.”  See “Sergio Caramagna: The Peace Process with the AUC is on a good path,” Radio Caracol, June 10, 2005, (retrieved June 10, 2005). 

[112] See Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Press Release No. 26/05: IACHR Issues Statement Regarding the Adoption of the “Law of Justice and Peace” in Colombia, July 15, 2005, (retrieved July 17, 2005).

[113]Fourth Quarterly Report.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Claudia Pérez de Vargas, OAS Mission, Bogotá, April 11, 2005.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with Sergio Caramagna and Claudia Pérez de Vargas, Bogotá, November 18, 2004.

[119] In its latest report to the OAS the Mission noted that in that monitoring period, the Verification Committee had received 89 reports of cease-fire violations.  But over half of those cases (48) were still “in process of verification.”  Fourth Quarterly Report.

[120] Ibid.

[121] In its most recent report to the OAS Permanent Council, the OAS Mission listed the number of violations that were reported and verified, but it did not describe those violations in any way, or even state which paramilitary front was presumably involved.  Ibid

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Claudia Pérez de Vargas, OAS Mission, Bogotá, April 11, 2005.

[123] Ibid.

[124] In its third report to the OAS Permanent Council, the OAS Mission cited a few instances in which it claimed its intervention facilitated the release of a hostage, and one in which it lifted a threat.  Organization of American States, Third Quarterly Report of the Secretary General on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS) in Accordance with Resolution CP/RES 859 (1397/04), OEA/Ser.G, CP/doc. 3978/05, December 8, 2004, (retrieved July 22, 2005).  The latest report did not mention a single case like this.  See Fourth Quarterly Report.

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