Action Alert: Call Congress to Support Human Rights in Colombia! Print
Please take a moment to call Congress today and ask your Representative to sign on to a "Dear Colleague" letter being circulated by Reps. McGovern and Farr. The letter urges Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to cut US military aid to Colombia ? the number one client of the School of the Americas/ WHINSEC -- unless the human rights violations of the Colombian military are addressed.

Your call is part of a mobilization by human rights organizations from around the United States ? you will be adding your voice to hundreds to calling in to Capitol Hill by February 22.

Call Congress today: 202-224-3121 or 1-888-355-3588


One year ago, a brigade of the Colombian military commanded by an SOA graduate massacred eight civilians ? including three young children ? in the peace community of San Jos? de Apartad?. Read more about the massacre. Two more community leaders were killed by the Colombian military in November 2005 and last month; more than 160 have been murdered since 1997, when the Community declared itself neutral. This Congressional sign-on letter specifically calls for cutting military aid to Colombia unless the military officers responsible for killings in the Peace Community are replaced -- and the military changes its complete disregard for human rights norms.

Initiated by Representatives Sam Farr and Jim McGovern, this "Dear Colleague" letter implores Secretary Rice to refrain from certifying that the Colombian army is complying with the human rights conditions set by Congress and, therefore, withhold a portion of the $670 million mostly-military package to Colombia.

U.S. Aid to Colombia is annually predicated on the Secretary of State certifying that specific human rights conditions are being satisfied. More than $70 million in military aid was suspended last year in response to the February 2005 massacre.

Please call your Representative this week and ask to speak to the foreign policy aide. Urge the Representative to sign on to the Farr/McGovern Dear Colleague letter to Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice on Colombia. The person you talk to may get a copy of the letter from Ann Vaughan in Sam Farr's office. (Please do not contact Ms. Vaughan yourself; call your Representative and ask him or her to do so.)

Make your call today! The letter closes on February 22, 2006.




Dear Colleague:

We respectfully request that you sign the attached letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to take important steps in promoting human rights in Colombia. Specifically, we are requesting that she withhold Colombia certification until the Colombia government meets the human rights conditions included in the conference report for the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act for FY2005 and FY2006.

Aid to Colombia should not be a blank check. By law, the Secretary of State must certify that the Colombian military is complying with specific human rights conditions in order for the government of Colombia to receive over $860 million in military and police assistance for FY05 and FY06 provided by the respective foreign operations appropriations bills. While only a maximum of 25% of this total can be held up by withholding certification -- certification is our only Congressional oversight tool for urging the Colombian government to comply with international human rights norms.

While the Colombian military has made strides in improving security in the country, we continue to receive reports of gross violations of human rights committed by members of the military as well as continued collaboration by security force members with illegal paramilitary groups. Particularly egregious is the conduct of the Colombian 17th Brigade which has been allegedly involved in numerous deaths of members of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartad? and violations against Afro-Colombian communities.

As one of the largest recipients of US foreign assistance, improving the security environment in Colombia is a key foreign policy goal for the United States. Respect for international human rights norms and strengthening the rule of law, including the recognition that civilians are non-combatants, are equally important for creating a sustainable peace in Colombia. Please join us in signing the attached letter to Secretary Rice and help promote a US foreign policy that is based firmly on human rights and the promotion of sustainable security.

Please contact Ann Vaughan in the Office of Rep Farr (5-2861) of Cindy Buhl in the Office of Rep McGovern (5-6101).
Sincerely,

s/ s/
Sam Farr James McGovern
Member of Congress Member of Congress




The Honorable Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice
Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary,

We are writing to ask you to refrain from certifying that the Colombia government meets the human rights conditions included in PL108-447 and PL 109-102, the Foreign Operations Appropriations Acts for FY2005 and FY2006 until the Colombian Army's 17th Brigade improves its human rights practices. We also believe that certification requires more substantial progress in prosecuting a number of other outstanding cases involving allegations of gross human rights violations involving members of the Colombian army, including the killing of three trade union leaders in Arauca, the killing of a family in Cajamarca, and the Mapiripan massacre. In addition, since the inception of Plan Colombia Congress has approved and President Bush has signed into law a requirement that the Colombian government prosecute key cases of alleged human rights abuses by members of Colombia military:

The record of the 17th Brigade is especially deplorable with regard to the Peace Community of San Jos? de Apartad?, in northwestern Colombia. More than 160 members of the community have been killed by army-backed paramilitary groups, leftist guerrillas, and army soldiers since the community pledged not to support any of the armed groups operating in Colombia in 1997.

In February 2005, eight community residents, including three children, were brutally killed in a massacre that witnesses reported was carried out by the Colombian army. This massacre was one of several cases that led the State Department to delay its certification of the human rights conditions for several months in 2005 was because of this massacre. In direct violation of US law, at the time of certification in August 2005, the Colombian Attorney General's office had made no progress that we are aware of, in the investigation of this massacre. We believe that in the absence of any charges against those responsible, further violence against members of the Peace Community ensued.

We were deeply disturbed to learn of the killing of Arl?n Salas David on November 17, 2005 which occurred, according to eye witness accounts, after an army soldier fired a grenade as Salas and others were weeding a cornfield. Shortly after, according to community members and a local teacher, soldiers fired on the village itself, shooting at a school and wounding a second person, Hern?n G?ez. A delegation from the community and an international observer who took G?ez to the hospital were detained by a group of soldiers from the 17th Brigade who allegedly said they were going to kill them and destroy the community.

On January 12, 2006, according to a military spokesman quoted in the Colombian newspaper "El Colombiano", the Army killed Edilberto V?squez Cardona, a member of the Peace Community. While the Army does not contest that it killed V?squez Cardona, it asserts that he was a guerrilla, which community members insist is not the case.

The US Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an interfaith organization that has permanent human rights observers in San Jos? de Apartad?, has been harassed by Colombian Army soldiers operating in the area. In October 2005, a Colombian soldier in San Jos? was overheard threatening to 'cut off the head' of an FOR observer.

The Department of State's certification decision transmitted to Congress last August records more than 200 reports of violations by the 17th Brigade against members of the Peace Community. The 17th Brigade has also been implicated in collaboration with paramilitary groups and for human rights violations against Afro-Colombian communities.

We applaud the decision, noted in your certification letter of August 2005, that the US "will not consider providing assistance to the 17th Brigade until all significant human rights allegations involving the unit have been credibly addressed." Because the Brigade is a component of the Colombian Armed Forces' command structure, and has been implicated in the above referenced human rights violations, we implore you to abide by both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law by withholding human rights certification for Colombia until the following conditions are met:

(a) the Colombian Prosecutor's office follows all available leads and shows substantial progress in investigations into the most serious crimes against the Peace Community of San Jos? de Apartad? no matter who the perpetrators may be,

( b) in the specific case of the 17th Brigade, its leadership is suspended from duty until such a time that full and impartial criminal investigations establish those officers' innocence or guilt, and

(c) there is substantial reform of the 17th Brigade's operations, as reflected in its conduct in San Jos? de Apartad?, Afro-Colombian communities, and other communities within its jurisdiction.

We believe that withholding certification at this time will contribute to stimulating the political will in Colombia to address these issues that the Congress is monitoring. These steps are necessary in addition to progress on other well-known cases of credible allegations of human rights violations by members of the security forces.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

Sincerely,