Amnesty Report Cites U.S. Role in Colombia's Political Violence
Wirpsa, Leslie, National Catholic Reporter
BOGOTA, Colombia -- The London-based human rights monitor, Amnesty International, has launched a yearlong campaign to denounce human rights atrocities and political violence in Colombia with the release of a report that criticizes the United States for its role in promoting the violence.
During a March 15 news conference in Bogota, Amnesty International representatives described the human rights situation in Colombia as "certainly one of the worst in the hemisphere and possibly one of worst in the world." They urged candidates for Colombia's presidential elections coming up in May to make the crisis of human rights a pivotal issue in their campaigns.
The 1099-page report, Colombia: Political Violence -- Myth and Reality, aims to dispel the "myth" that drug trafficking is the principal cause of political violence in Colombia, according to Amnesty representatives. It describes El Salvador-style human rights abuses committed primarily within the context of counterinsurgency campaigns carried out by state agents.
"Statistics compiled by independent bodies and by the government itself clearly show that by far the greatest number of political killings are the work of the Colombian armed forces and the paramilitary groups they have created," the report states.
The document also reveals the sophisticated way in which both the civilian and military authorities have covered up the crisis of human rights in Colombia, allowing the security forces to "literally get away with murder on a daily basis."
Colombia Defense Minister Rafael Pardo criticized the report as biased, claiming it does not denounce abuses committed by left-wing guerrilla forces. Amnesty representatives said Pardo must not have had time to read the report before commenting on it. An entire section, they pointed out, describes the guerrillas' violations of international humanitarian law. And the report exhorts the rebels to stop the kidnapping, the executions, the planting of land mines and the intimidation and unnecessary exposure to violence of civilians living in zones where they operate.
Quoting data from the Colombia Section of the Andean Commission of Jurists, the report points out that over the past five years in Colombia, "a daily average of 10 people have been killed in politically motivated violence."
Between 1986 and 1993, the report states, political violence -- a combination of extrajudicial executions by security forces, deaths in combat and the "social cleansing" murders of people considered "undesirable" -- has claimed the lives of 20,000 Colombians. At least 1,500 people "disappeared" between 1978 and 1992, and scores of Colombians are brutally tortured by security forces each year, the report says.
As Colombia's homicide rate climbed to 28,237 in 1992, politically motivated killings have represented an increasingly larger element of this tragedy. In the 1970s, when guerrilla violence was on the rise, political killings represented only 1 percent of all homicides: In 1992, they represented more than 16 percent.
Amnesty points out that, contrary to international public opinion, drug traffickers "were responsible for less than 2 percent of noncombat, politically motivated killings and disappearances: some 20 percent were attributed to guerrilla organizations; and over 70 percent were believed to have been carried out by the security forces or paramilitary groups."
The Amnesty report and similar accounts compiled by organizations like Human Rights Watch/Americas, conjures images of El Salvador or Guatemala in the early 1980s.
Successive Colombia governments, the Amnesty report says, have been able to hide their atrocious human rights records. In part, the complexity of violence in Colombia "has been used by ... governments to confuse public opinion about the true nature and the scale of political violence." In this sense, civilian authorities attribute "the great majority of human rights violations and particularly political killings, to forces that the government claims it cannot control. …