Wikileaks: Human Rights and Colombia

Posted on December 9, 2010

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Though the State Department often uses the excuse of human rights violations to cover its foreign policy objectives–the continued blockade of Cuba, for example–a Wikileaks cable released today shows just how  comfortable the US is with human rights violators, so long as they are client states. Check out this interaction between our ambassador in Colombia and General Oscar Gonzalez from 2009–it has the tone of an after school special, where a star quarterback and the coach have a heart to heart about occasional marijuana use:

On May 8, Ambassador Brownfield met with Colombian Army Commander General Oscar Gonzalez. The Ambassador voiced concern over extrajudicial killings and reiterated our interest in working with the Army to eliminate human rights abuses. Gonzalez said the Army is committed to strengthening respect for human rights. The Army’s Human Rights Directorate is focused on receiving human rights complaints and directing them to the appropriate offices, tracking and verifying human rights cases, managing human rights training for officers and rank-and-file soldiers, and facilitating cooperation with the Fiscalia in investigations. Gonzalez…

Gonzalez acknowledged that the Soacha killings last September did “incalculable damage” to the Army’s image…

..The Ambassador underscored our interest in promoting more effective rules of engagement and in strengthening the Army Inspector General’s investigative capacity. Both measures would help eliminate human rights abuses. Gonzalez agreed these steps would be useful in improving the Army’s human rights record, and said he would welcome other suggestions in this regard. Gonzalez actively participated in a May 11 meeting chaired by Vice Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo and Armed Forces Commander General Freddy Padilla to discuss new rules of engagement and develop an effective training program.

In 2008, it was revealed that military officers had executed and tortured dozens of young men from Soacha, near Bogota. The military personnel responsible were dismissed, but were not prosecuted. So, how does this story end? After the tough-love speech, and the pat on the shoulder, did the wayward Colombian military stop goofing off after school, killing., torturing and burying young men in mass graves?

Not even close. Just one month ago.

Colombia’s army has suspended seven officers and soldiers for failing to control their troops in connection with the brutal murders last month of three impoverished children near Colombia’s northeast border with Venezuela.

The killings have stirred outrage among human rights groups in Colombia. Medical examiners determined that one of the children, Yenni Torres, 14, was raped before she was killed. Her body and those of her brothers, Jimmy, 9, and Jefferson, 6, were found on Oct. 14 in a shallow grave near the town of Tame in rural Arauca, a war-torn border region.

One of the suspended officers, Second Lt. Raúl Muñoz, has acknowledged raping Yenni Torres before she was killed, Gen. Alejandro Navas, commander of the army, said Wednesday on Caracol Radio. General Navas said Lieutenant Muñoz had also confessed to having raped a 13-year-old girl in a separate episode near Tame on Oct. 2.

Why does the Colombian government keep killing civilians?:

A report released by U.S. NGO the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) finds an “alarming link” between Colombian military units that received U.S. funding and cases of extrajudicial killings or “false positives” — in which civilians were murdered and presented as guerrillas killed in combat — committed by those units.

John Lindsay-Poland, the FOR’s research and advocacy director, told Colombia Reports that the NGO undertook the two year research project on Colombia as a case to study, in order to evaluate the effects that U.S. military aid has on human rights.

To compile the report, the FOR drew on data from the Colombian Prosecutor General’s office, the Colombian Inspector General’s office and 20 human rights organizations, in order to study 3,000 cases of false positives committed by members of the Colombian armed forces since 2002. These cases were then cross-referenced with lists of more than 500 Colombian military units who received assistance from the U.S.

“What we found was that when there were increases in U.S. military aid [to Colombian military units], in those areas [where the units patrolled] there was an increase in killings. And more importantly, when U.S. aid decreased… the killings did too. This was not universal, there were some units where it was the reverse, but on average this was the case,” Lindsay-Poland said.

The FOR director added that in false positive cases in which the responsible military unit had not been identified, witness testimony suggests that “the brigade jurisdiction where a reported violation occurred is a reliable indicator of what unit committed it…

But what explanation is there for the link between U.S. funding and false positive cases?

“Some people have suggested, and I’m listening but don’t always know how to evaluate it, that units that got aid may have been under greater pressure to produce results… they may have also had a sense of legitimacy – if we’re being backed by the U.S. then we’re ok,” Lindsay-Poland said.

“My own analysis is that firstly, the measurement of victory was through body counts and secondly that the leadership in Colombia from [President Alvaro] Uribe and down, did not distinguish well between combatants and civilians,” he continued.

But this is nothing new. In 1997:

Pentagon officials, under pressure to investigate alleged links between elite U.S. military trainers and Colombian forces implicated in a 1997 civilian massacre, have confirmed that they trained soldiers commanded by the officer accused of masterminding the attack.

With a $1.6 billion counternarcotics aid package for Colombia making its way through the U.S. Congress, there is increased scrutiny over whether U.S. military assistance has been or could be turned against Colombian civilians in that country’s decades-long civil war.

This, of course, is against US law:

Provided further, That funds may not be paid to the HIPC Trust Fund for the benefit of any country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that the government of such country is engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights  or in military or civil conflict that undermines its ability to develop and implement measures to alleviate poverty and to devote adequate human and financial resources to that end:

Which means that for at least 13 years, since that law was passed in 1997, the US has been violating it, while giving Colombia 1.6 billion dollars in aid annually. As this cable shows, the US has the credible evidence, they know the names of the perpetrators, and they know that it’s a pattern that has gone on for decades. Why is it allowed to continue, despite clear moral and legal barriers? Because the body count validates the money the US is pouring into that country. Since the US knows that its happening, it must be a pretty open relationship. Keep killing them, so we have an excuse to keep giving you this money. Its that sick.

Is Wikileaks hurting America? If by hurting America, you mean shining the light on our inhuman predation on the developing world, then, yes, thank god.

On May 8, Ambassador Brownfield met with Colombian Army Commander General Oscar Gonzalez. The Ambassador voiced
concern over extrajudicial killings and reiterated our interest in working with the Army to eliminate human rights abuses. Gonzalez said the Army is committed to strengthening respect for human rights. The Army's Human Rights Directorate is focused on receiving human rights complaints and directing them to the appropriate offices, tracking and
verifying human rights cases, managing human rights training for officers and rank-and-file soldiers, and facilitating cooperation with the Fiscalia in investigations. Gonzalez said the Directorate is not involved in the legal defense of military personnel accused of human rights violations, leaving this task to a non-governmental organization funded
by voluntary contributions from military officers and headed by a retired officer. The Ambassador agreed that the legal defense of military personnel is an important issue, but said it should not be handled by the Directorate.
On May 8, Ambassador Brownfield met with Colombian Army Commander General Oscar Gonzalez. The Ambassador voiced

concern over extrajudicial killings and reiterated our interest in working with the Army to eliminate human rights abuses. Gonzalez said the Army is committed to strengthening respect for human rights. The Army's Human Rights Directorate is focused on receiving human rights complaints and directing them to the appropriate offices, tracking and

verifying human rights cases, managing human rights training for officers and rank-and-file soldiers, and facilitating cooperation with the Fiscalia in investigations. Gonzalez said the Directorate is not involved in the legal defense of military personnel accused of human rights violations, leaving this task to a non-governmental organization funded

by voluntary contributions from military officers and headed by a retired officer. The Ambassador agreed that the legal defense of military personnel is an important issue, but said it should not be handled by the Directorate.
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