Urgent! Military Officials Commit Grave Human Rights Violations in Colombia!

On Wednesday, Colombia's President Uribe dismissed 25 military officers for human rights abuses, which includes the killings of dozens of youth who were reported as killed in combat and dressed up as guerillas.  John Lindsay-Poland of the human rights organization, Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) has written the excellent report below showing that the U.S. gave direct military training - some of which took place at the U.S. Army School of the Americas - and assistance to almost all of the officers implicated.

This news is especially worrisome because at the end of July, the U.S State Department certified that the Colombian military has been meeting the basic benchmarks set forth by Congress on respecting human rights and breaking ties to paramilitaries.  While progress has indeed been made in a few high-profile human rights cases, and some important arrests have been made, the sad truth is that the Colombian military continues to commit human rights abuses with near total impunity CRLN remains seriously concerned as the Bush administration and free trade advocates still seek to push through a vote on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) this year in the case the Congress calls a "lame duck" session after the elections.

Update on Indigenous Protesters in Cauca & Striking Sugarcane WorkersThanks to your support, Colombian President Uribe agreed to meet with indigenous leaders on Sunday, October 26, but then said security reasons kept him joining nearly 40,000 people who waited for him for over three hours. The indigenous are negotiating with the President for another meeting and are marching back to Cauca.  Meanwhile, four leaders of the sugarcane workers' movement have been arrested. The workers are concerned that this is only the beginning of a wave of arrests of workers and their leadership.  For more information and to take immediate action, click here: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5436/t/2467/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=736.

Finally, many of you recently received CRLN's mailing and announcement of the visit of human rights defender & Catholic priest, Father Rafael Gallego, to Chicago. Father Rafael has worked peacefully in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia to build economic and social alternatives to the conflict and for this work has received serious death threats from the Black Eagles paramilitary group. However, on Friday, the U.S. consulate in Bogotá denied Father Rafael's visa application, alleging they did so for security reasons.  CRLN will work with Colombia Support Network and Catholic leaders in Colombia and the U.S. to challenge and reverse decision.

CRLN will continue to keep you in formed on what YOU can do to advocate for human rights, peace and justice in Colombia!


Army officers fired for killings received US training and assistance

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced the dismissal Wednesday http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2008/octubre/29/01292008.html of 25 military officers, including three generals and 11 colonels and lieutenant colonels, for human rights abuses. The abuses include involvement in the killings of dozens of youths who were recruited in Bogotá slums and shortly after were reported as killed in combat by the army, hundreds of miles away.

The dismissal is a positive action, which we applaud. Officers responsible for killing civilians must face consequences, or the killing will continue.

Human rights organizations have documented more than 500 reported extrajudicial killings by the army since the beginning of last year. This week, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on worsening conditions in Colombia, including massive displacement of internal refugees, increased extrajudicial killings, and attacks on human rights defenders. But it was the report that poor Bogota youths whose families said they had disappeared, had been recruited by the army or others, then reported as dead in combat, that detonated the issue. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted that the army still harbors "holdouts who are demanding bodies for results."

The dismissal of officers also demonstrates extensive US complicity with the abuses. The United States gave military training directly or assisted the units of nearly all of the officers implicated in the killings. At least eleven of the officers, including Brigadier Generals Paulino Coronado Gamez and José Cortes Franco, were trained at the US Army School of the Americas, and Cortes even served as an instructor at the school in 1994. Most of the officers commanded units that had been ‘vetted' by US officials for human rights abuses and approved to receive assistance in 2008, or received training for some officers, in spite of extensive reports that their units had carried out murders of civilians.

Yet the dismissal, which focuses on officers operating in a northeastern region of Colombia where the disappeared youths were found, addresses only a small number of the army units responsible for civilian killings. In the oil-rich Casanare and Arauca departments, the US-trained 16th and 18th Brigades have reportedly committed dozens of killings, as has the US-supported 9th Brigade in the coffee-growing department of Huila. In southwestern Valle and Cauca, the Third Brigade's Codazzi Batallion receives US support and reportedly committed at least nine killings of civilians last year, and may be implicated in firing on peaceful indigenous protesters this month. In southern Meta and Guaviare departments, the United States supports multiple mobile brigades in areas where the army has committed a large number of civilian killings.

In addition, most of the army's current leadership - including 17 of 24 brigade commanders - were trained by the United States at the School of the Americas, on top of US training provided to Colombian officers at dozens of other military schools and in Colombia. Washington is involved in the army's human rights problem through and through, and journalists, activists, and Congressional staff ought to be asking why.

-  John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation