Colombia: documents reveal US complicity in atrocities

A report released July 29 by the interfaith peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) details how US aid to the Colombian military has been supporting army units whose members have killed hundreds of civilians. Drawing on extensive data from the offices of Colombia's Prosecutor General (Fiscalía), Inspector General (Procuraduría) and armed forces, as well as the US State Department and 20 human rights organizations, the report shows that billions of dollars provided under the rubric of Plan Colombia have abrogated US human rights law and contributed to the killing of thousands of civilians by the Colombian army.

"The US has provided more than $6 billion in support to Colombia since 2000," said John Lindsay-Poland, FOR's research and advocacy director. "This money is used to fund military units that have been proven to murder innocent civilians. That is outrageous and needs to stop."

US law prohibits support to any foreign military unit for which there is credible evidence of gross human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings. The report's analysis strongly suggests that implementation of the so-called Leahy Law—named for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)—in Colombia requires suspension of US assistance to nearly all army fixed brigades.

Susana Pimiento Chamorro, FOR’s action director, said, "The State Department must be held accountable to human rights laws, and Colombia is an example of where this mandate has failed." State Department officials have said that the Leahy Law is implemented better in Colombia than almost anywhere else in the world.

The study, entitled "Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, US Accountability, and Global Implications," also has implications for other areas of US foreign policy. In Pakistan, the United States has spent more than $12 billion in military assistance—including for training and equipping units operating in tribal areas, where human rights groups have credibly reported hundreds of extrajudicial killings. Some aid to the Pakistani military has been legislated through coalition funds not considered "assistance," thereby circumventing Leahy Law.

FOR and Amnesty International issued a joint report in 2008, "Assisting Unites that Commit Extrajudicial Killings: A Call to Investigate US Military Policy in Colombia." Such international attention led to a steep decline in the number of civilians killed by the Colombian army in 2009, but the report notes that this doesn't affect the legal requirement to suspend assistance under the Leahy Law, since the law requires "effective measures" to bring those responsible to justice before new or continued US assistance is lawful. Furthermore, the decrease in killings attributed to the armed forces has been accompanied by a steep climb in the number of reported killings by pa