Colombia is experiencing one of the worst human rights crises in the world, clearly the worst in the Americas. It is a country where there has been more violence against bishops, priests and religious than anywhere else today. Last year saw the brutal assassination of Archbishop Isaνas Duarte of Cali, the abduction of Bishop Jorge Jimιnez of Zipaquirα, the President of CELAM, and the killing of at least six other priests. Since 1989, over 40 priests and religious have been killed.
It is a country where the three principal armed groupsthe guerrilla FARC and ELN, and the para-military AUCare responsible for an average of four thousand non-combatant deaths each year. After Angola and Sudan, Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world. It is the country where 80% of the cocaine in the U.S. comes from, as well as most of the heroin on the U.S. East Coast. It is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, an aid package which, from the Church's point of view, has been excessively tilted toward funding the Army's anti-narcotics efforts and is now, post 9/11, being seen more and more in terms of a counter-terrorism and a counter-insurgency strategy.
Three years of on-again, off-again peace talks came to an end a year ago when the FARC hijacked a commercial plane and kidnapped a senior senator. The demilitarized zone which the FARC had used mainly for further military recruitment and training was shut down. Last August, Alvaro Uribe was inaugurated as president, promising to pursue the war more vigorously than his predecessor. With the arming of peasants, the creation of a million person informer network, and the growing break-ins of civil society organizations by the military and police, basic human rights are under increasing attack.
In the original Plan Colombia, U.S. committed $1.3 billion over three years, 80% dedicated to military support for counter-narcotics activities. The remaining funds were to go towards alternative development, judicial reform, and aid to the internally displaced. The centerpiece of the U.S. aid was an anti-narcotics program to create and train new battalions, providing helicopters and intelligence aid, focused largely on the southern coca-growing region of the country.
Last year, Congress approved $625 million for the broader Andean Regional Initiative which more extensively funds anti-narcotics activities in neighboring countries and increases the percentage of funds for humanitarian aid. However, U.S. funding in the region, particularly for Colombia, continues mainly to provide military aid, and relies on fumigation as the principal means for eradicating coca and poppy production. The current request, now part of the Omnibus bill, calls for almost $500 million in mostly military aid for Colombia.
The legislation includes important human rights and fumigation-related conditions on the aid, requiring the Administration to certify that the Colombian military is taking effective steps to sever ties with the paramilitary organizations that are considered responsible for the majority of the human rights violations. The Administration is also required to demonstrate that fumigation does not pose undue risk to human health and the environment, is conducted in compliance with U.S. and Colombian laws, and provides compensation to local farmers for any loss of legal crops or health problems due to fumigation. Further, alternative development plans were to be enacted where fumigation has occurred. Unfortunately, these conditions have thus far been significantly undermined by the way they have been implemented.
Since the Spring of 2000, the USCCB has stressed that U.S. aid should (1) strike an essential balance between assistance to the armed forces and aid that more directly addresses the root causes of the conflict and assists the victims; (2) condition all aid on human rights criteria; (3) provide major support for programs that advance the peace process, including (4) alternative crop development, (5) judicial reform, and (6) humanitarian aid to the displaced. (See Statement on Colombia, 3/16/00.)
In meetings with Members of Congress, please stress the following:
- U.S. aid to Colombia must include basic standards for the protection of human rights. All the armed actors are guilty of major human rights violations and the links between the military and the paramilitary are well-known and acknowledged by both the U.S. and Colombian Governments. It is essential that established human rights standards be applied and closely monitored on current and future aid as intended in the legislation.
- Peace talks, leading to a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the internal conflict, must be resumed. The Colombian Bishops' Conference has repeatedly emphasized the importance of continuing on the path to a negotiated peace process.
- More of the U.S. aid should be directed toward addressing the root causes of the conflict and meeting the needs of the victims through humanitarian and development aid, not the present disproportionate emphasis on military funding. Even funds targeted for alternative development, judicial reform and other areas have largely not been delivered. It is essential that the non-military aid arrive in a timely manner and alternative development strategies be developed and funded in communities where coca eradication is occurring.
- End aerial fumigation, which damages health andenvironment. The Colombian Bishops have stated their clear opposition to fumigation. There are ongoing reports of legal food crops and livestock destroyed (threatening food security), water source contamination and increases in health problems, both in Colombia and nearby Ecuador. The long-term impact in terms of coca eradication is also in question as production moves to new areas. Although the stated goal is to halt fumigation; the new legislation requires greater health and environmental scrutiny and compensation for local communities. These provisions are important advances but also contain a number of loopholes and will need to be closely monitored and rigorously applied.
CRS In Solidarity with Colombia link http://www.catholicrelief.org/where/Colombia/index.cfm
For further information: Tom Quigley 202-541-3184 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org