Human Rights: A Casualty of Colombia's Drug War ; US Aid in War on Drugs Draws Fire from Critics Who Say Human Rights Are Being Overlooked

By LaFranchi, Howard | The Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Human Rights: A Casualty of Colombia's Drug War ; US Aid in War on Drugs Draws Fire from Critics Who Say Human Rights Are Being Overlooked


LaFranchi, Howard, The Christian Science Monitor


All Dora Isabel Camacho Serpa wanted was the "quiet miracle of a normal life."

Instead, the midwife and neighborhood leader was pulled from her family's modest home in the northern coastal town of Cienaga by paramilitary gunmen Monday, police officials say. Her husband and children found her in a nearby ditch, shot in the back of the head. Nine other residents of her poor neighborhood suffered the same fate in this country afflicted with staggering abuse of human rights.

Visiting this Caribbean city Wednesday, President Clinton told Colombians in a televised address that a substantial increase in US assistance - which will make this South American country the third- largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt - had been approved in a spirit of solidarity. The $1.3 billion in new aid to help fight a drug war and bolster a "democracy under attack" is a lifeline, he said, to Colombians demanding peace, justice, and "the quiet miracle of a normal life."

But what he did not say was most telling: To make Colombia eligible for aid, Clinton overrode, "for national security reasons," six human rights conditions that the Senate had attached to the aid bill. The conditions were included by the Senate to bolster flagging support among members wary of Colombia's human rights record. But in an election year, when no one wants to appear soft on drugs, little congressional protest was heard when Clinton bypassed the State Department's determination that Colombia's human rights record could not be "certified."

"The official discourse is fully compatible with international human rights concerns," says Jos Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch in Washington. "But the gap between that language and reality is huge."

At least seven civilians died in leftist guerrilla attacks on various towns during the few hours Clinton was in Colombia. Last year, more than 2,500 abductions made Colombia the world's kidnapping capital. …

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