Monday, September 20, 2010

State Department certifies Colombia

Last week, the Department of State certified that Colombia is meeting the human rights conditions required by law in order to release 30 percent of military aid in the foreign budget.

Here is an excerpt of the press release announcing the certification:

Though there continues to be a need for improvement, the Colombian government has taken positive steps to improve respect for human rights in the country. Firm direction by the government that extrajudicial killings will not be tolerated has led to a rapid reversal in this disturbing trend. The Santos Administration has taken significant steps to demonstrate that it takes human rights seriously, which includes establishing a roundtable on labor, meeting with NGOs and civil society groups and committing to increasing engagement with these groups, and reaching out to Colombia’s courts to repair relations with the judicial system.

The 242-page Memorandum of Justification, released by the State Department, details the reasons behind the State Department's decision to certify, and can be downloaded here as PDF.

The State Department's decision has been criticized by human rights organizations, and the Latin America Working Group, U.S. Office on Colombia, Center for International Policy, and Washington Office on Latin America issued a press release (PDF) last week arguing that this decision was made "despite abundant evidence that human rights violations by security forces remain unpunished." They write:

The Colombian government has dramatically failed to meet its obligations to protect human rights defenders. During this certification period, threats against human rights defenders, Afro- Colombian and community groups increased exponentially, while no investigation into these threats has yielded results. The Attorney General is investigating the widespread illegal surveillance by Colombia's intelligence agency, the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), against members of Colombia's Supreme Court, journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders. But these investigations have not concluded, and Colombia's legislature failed to enact legislation to disband and replace the DAS.

The four organizations are calling on the U.S. Congress to "use its authority to freeze the assistance attached to the conditions until greater human rights progress is achieved."