Colombia is experiencing one of the worst human rights crises in the world. The current conflict in Colombia is rooted in a long history of extreme inequality and political exclusion, though it has intensified dramatically in recent years due in part to the infusion of drug related profits that many of the armed actors currently receive.
The three principal illegal armed groups–the guerrilla FARC and ELN, and the paramilitary AUC–are responsible for an average of six thousand non-combatant deaths each year. Colombia has the second 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 one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, an aid package which, from the Church’s point of view, has been excessively tilted toward funding the Colombian Armed Forces anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency strategies.
Colombia has become one the most dangerous places for human rights workers, journalists, union leaders and Church workers. In the last decade 57 Catholic representatives including bishops, priests, nuns and seminarians, and even higher numbers of Protestant pastors, have been killed.
President Alvaro Uribe was elected in 2002 on a platform which promised increased security through a more aggressive attempt on the part of the Colombian Government and military to confront illegal armed actors. The Uribe Administration has subsequently instituted a strategy of “Democratic Security” which includes, among other measures, the arming of peasants, the creation of a million person informer network, and growing detentions of thousands of people, break-ins and harassment of civil society organizations by the military and police, placing basic human rights and civil liberties under increasing attack.
In the original Plan Colombia (2000), the U.S. committed $1.3 billion over three years, most of it (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 and relying on widespread fumigation as the principal means for eradicating coca and poppy production.
The U.S. Government has spent close to $3 billion on Colombia since 2000 with a continuing emphasis on military aid-which now reaches beyond the anti-narcotic mandate to also provide funding to counter-insurgency efforts. The U.S. aid to Colombia recently approved for FY2004 includes $554 million in additional military aid and $150 million for alternative development and social programs, with similar levels included in President Bush’s budget request for 2005.
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 supportfor 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. This is an overarching concern, but there are specific areas of current concern:
- Insist that security measures not undermine the democracy they seek to protect. The Uribe administration, in its efforts to strengthen security, has introduced measures that reduce democratic rights and constitutional guarantees. These expanded powers have already been used to carry out thousands of arbitrary detentions and to search the offices of Church and nongovernmental organizations engaged in legitimate civic activity. The U.S. government should insist that measures to increase security not undermine basic democratic rights and guarantees.
- Strengthen rather than diminish Human Rights conditions in U.S. legislation. In the past the State Department had to certify that Colombia’s armed forces are suspending members credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights violations or to have aided and abetted paramilitaries. Very little progress has been made since the initiation of U.S. aid to investigate, prosecute and sanction high-level military officials who face credible allegations of collusion with and tolerance of paramilitary forces. As of 2004, the certification covers only 25% of the aid and covers only armed forces members who face such allegations according to Colombia’s Minister of Defense or Procuraduría General. Allegations of internationally recognized human rights organizations no longer meet the “credible” standard unless corroborated by these Colombian Government bodies.
- Support multi-lateral efforts to bolster negotiated peace processes. The Colombian Bishops’ Conference has repeatedly emphasized the importance of continuing on the path to a negotiated peace processes as the only viable long-term strategy for resolving the current conflict. A very small proportion of U.S. aid is dedicated specifically to peace building initiatives and the U.S. has not shown demonstrable support for U.N. and multi-national efforts to support national peace processes.
- Increase development and humanitarian Aid to Colombia. U.S. Assistance to the internally displaced should be increased and programming impact well documented. The U.S. funded Early Warning System (intended to protect communities from displacement) should be strengthened and monitored to ensure that it functions as a protection mechanism for the most vulnerable communities. The USG should additionally promote the implementation of the recommendations made to the Colombian Government by the United Nation’s Special Representative for Internally Displaced Persons.
- Phase out aerial fumigation, and increase alternative development. 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 Ecuador. Many farmers who were fumigated and not provided aid of any kind–either emergency food aid or crop substitution programs–moved to neighboring provinces to grow illicit crops once more. Manual eradication accompanied by alternative development is a more humane and effective response.
Resources: Updates(2/02)(2/01);Statements(11/02)(3/02)(2/02)(3/00); Letters(3/02)(7/99)(1/99) http://usccb.org/sdwp/international/latinamerica/colombia.shtml, 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, or Kathy Brown, Catholic Relief Services, (410) 951-7232, email@example.com.