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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 107

US Military Assistance to Human Rights Violator Colombia Denounced by Amnesty International & Human Rights Watch

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 20 October ( Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch on Thursday called on members of Congress to question Colombian Defense Secretary Juan Manuel Santos during his two-day trip to Washington about the steep rise in reports of extrajudicial executions by the Colombian military.

The rights organizations urged Congress to maintain a hold on $55 million in military assistance until substantial progress is made in addressing key human rights concerns. Defense Secretary Santos is currently in Washington on a two-day visit.

Some of the extrajudicial executions are reportedly being committed by military units that have received US military aid and by units operating under the guidance of US military advisers, according to Amnesty International.

US Congress has the authority to put on hold military assistance to any country it believes is not adhering to the international standards of safeguarding human rights. Patrick Leahy the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee and chairman of the Senate sub committee on foreign assistance put a clause in the 2008 US budget appropriation that the US should withhold military assistance to Sri Lanka until it improves human rights conditions in the country.

"Colombia's Defense Secretary must explain to Congress why there has been a dramatic rise in reports of extrajudicial executions of civilians by the armed forces over the past several years, and why these killings continue to this day," AIUSA and HRW said. "By maintaining the hold on military aid, Congress will continue to send a clear signal that US money will not flow freely to the military until these reports are thoroughly investigated and appropriate remedial action is taken," the two rights organizations further noted.

Last March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certified the release of $55.2 million in military funds to Colombia after vouching for the country's progress in human rights in a 56-page "Memorandum of Justification." Only one paragraph in the document made reference to cases of extrajudicial executions.

Earlier that month, however, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour reported that the executions were not isolated events but rather were occurring "in various units over a large area of the country" and were becoming "increasingly common." The UN High Commissioner demanded "far-reaching measures." Congress then put a hold on the release of the funds.

The US State Department and the Congress generally monitor situation reports developed by Dr. Arbour’s UN human rights office.

An international mission of legal experts accompanied by Colombian organizations recently traveled to different parts of the country to examine the reports of extrajudicial executions and impunity for members of the security forces. A coalition of Colombian human rights groups had previously documented the serious human rights violations. AIUSA and HRW have also gathered information on such cases.

"This is an extremely delicate time in Colombia," the two organizations said. "Congress needs to send the clear message that, consistent with U.S. law, the release of the funds will depend on Colombia making substantial progress on human rights."

Reports of extrajudicial executions are thought to be in the hundreds annually. Various reports show a pattern of soldiers allegedly killing civilians and presenting them as guerrillas killed in combat. Investigations, when pursued, are often done under military jurisdiction, and more often than not, are inadequate.

AIUSA and HRW said the US government, which has advised Colombia on reforming its military justice system, must now tell the Colombian government that cases implicating the security forces in human rights violations must once and for all be excluded from military courts.

Rather than take the issue of extrajudicial executions seriously, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in a July speech claimed that "the guerrillas have another strategy: every time there is a casualty in the guerrillas, they immediately mobilize their chorus leaders in the country and abroad to say that it was an extrajudicial execution, " notes Amnesty and HRW.

Uribe has repeatedly made statements attempting to link human rights groups to Colombia's guerrilla groups, which for decades have been responsible for serious and repeated violations of international humanitarian law.

- Asian Tribune -

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