by Heather Ward, Lillian Coral, and Hela Mahgerefteh
For full report click here.
Massacres, displacements and kidnappings are frequent occurrence in Colombia. According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), between July 2002 and June 2003 over 730 persons died in politically motivated massacres1. This paper provides Patrick Senator Leahy (D-VT) with a recommendation for how to reduce the incidence of massacres in Colombia. Senator Leahy has taken a leading role in advocating for enhanced protection of human rights in Colombia. In 1996, Senator Leahy introduced a provision, later known as the “Leahy Law,” in the Foreign Appropriations Act (FOAA), which placed human rights conditions on the disbursal of U.S. military aid and assistance to Colombia. In 1999, he championed the creation of Country Specific Conditions (CSCs) for Colombia in the FOAA, which condition U.S. aid to Colombia on the nation’s ongoing efforts to systematically improve its human rights situation. The CSCs state that the Government of Colombia can not receive funds until it has demonstrated that it is working to suspend, investigate and prosecute members of the Armed Forces that have committed human rights abuses. The Armed Forces must also sever their links to, and dismantle, paramilitary units. In spite of these mechanisms, internal violence, massacres, and human rights abuses continues to characterize the Colombian landscape.
Despite the existence of the Leahy Law and the CSCs, massacres and internal violence continue to ravage the Colombian landscape. Our analysis of the Leahy Law and CSCs reveals that these two mechanisms were destined to fail. Our research identifies two primary reasons for the failure of human rights conditionalities: (1) compliance failures by the Government of Colombia and (2) enforcement failures by the U.S. Department of State.
The onus of complying with the Leahy Law and Country Specific Conditions in Colombia lies upon the Government of Colombia. However, the Colombian government has consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to comply with these conditions and address human rights abuses and massacre prevention. Further, investigative and prosecutorial breakdowns have prevented meaningful attempts to comply with the conditionalities. In addition, the conditions themselves have not provided the needed impetus for change. The Leahy Law and the CSCs neither place adequate pressure on the Colombian government, nor do they sufficiently encourage preventative action.
The U.S. Department of States is responsible for ensuring that the Leahy Law and CSC are properly enforced. However, the fact that the conditionalities often clash with the U.S.’ national security interests in Colombia gives the U.S. Department of State an incentive not to enforce the conditionalities to their fullest extent. The Bush Administration and the Republican majority in Congress, highly value Colombia as a strategic ally in the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror,” and have demonstrated an unwillingness to deny aid to Colombia’s Armed Forces.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for these problems. It could be implied that it is necessary to alter and strengthen the legislation. However, our research has indicated that as a result of the current political climate and the Republican majority in Congress, any attempt to do so at the time would give the opponents of human rights conditionalities an opportunity to further weaken the existing legislation. Given this environment, we believe that Senator Leahy’s best option for reducing the incidence of massacres in Colombia is to devote his personal resources to increased publicity of the Early Warning System.
The Early Warning System
The Early Warning System was established in 2001 to mitigate the impact of violence on the Colombian people. The system encourages preventative action on the part of the Colombian Government to prevent massacres and save lives. The Colombian Government currently directs limited attention to this system because it is not pressured to do so. We believe that increased U.S. focus on the Government of Colombia’s inadequate response to EWS alerts has the capacity to dramatically impact the human rights situation in Colombia. The EWS is a forward-looking preventative mechanism; as such it can save lives immediately. Increased attention on the EWS can also serve to demonstrate the magnitude of the human rights problem and the Colombian government’s inaction. Heightened visibility of EWS alerts and responses will make it impossible for the Colombian Government to conceal the fact that it is allowing massacres to occur unimpeded.
An Action Plan for Senator Leahy
We recommend that Senator Leahy use his personal power and resources to publicly pressure the Colombian government to respond to EWS alerts and prevent massacres from occurring. Senator Leahy (and his allies) can make it difficult for the Colombian government to ignore EWS alerts by taking the following steps:
In the long-term, Senator Leahy should try to:
In conclusion, we believe that increased publicity can serve as a mechanism to place pressure on the Colombian government to respond to EWS alerts and reduce the incidence of massacres in Colombia. According to our research, this recommendation will have minimal costs for Senator Leahy and yield high benefits.
1 “Colombia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003.” U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 25 February 2004.