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Colombia: Stop the massacres-Stop the military aid


* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

11 October 2001 AMR 23/110/2001 181/01

The two most recent massacres carried out in the past few days by paramilitaries in the northern department of Magdalena and south-western department of Valle del Cauca demonstrate ever more clearly why it is imperative to stop military aid from reaching the Colombian army and their paramilitary allies, Amnesty International said today.

"The only way to stop fuelling the human rights crisis in Colombia is to stop pouring military aid into the country," the organization added, at a time when the US Senate is about to debate military aid to Colombia.

"It is inexcusable to continue sending military aid while the Colombian government has not only failed to fully implement reiterated UN recommendations to confront the human rights crisis -- especially in relation to combating and dismantling paramilitary groups -- but has passed legislation which threatens to worsen the situation," Amnesty International said.

"Unconditioned military aid, over which there is little end-use control, sends a clear signal to the Colombian army that it is free to pursue its counter-insurgency strategy -- of which paramilitary groups and their "dirty war" tactics are an integral part -- thus permitting the continuation of the systematic and widespread violation of human rights," the organization said. "It also has sent a dangerous message to the Colombian government that its failure to fully implement UN recommendations to confront impunity, combat and dismantle paramilitary groups and guarantee the safety of human rights defenders is not an impediment to continued aid."

Amnesty International noted that these two massacres occurred shortly after the Colombian government ratified a National Defence and Security Law which severely restricts the capacity of the Office of the Procurator General to initiate disciplinary investigations and provides the armed forces, in some circumstances, with judicial police powers, which could facilitate the cover up of serious human rights violations.

The Law was passed at a time when several high-ranking officers were implicated in judicial and disciplinary investigations into cases of serious human rights violations and massacres committed by paramilitary forces operating in unison with the security forces.

"It is clear that the flow of US military aid is encouraging the Colombian government to bolster the mechanisms of impunity to protect the perpetrators of human rights violations," Amnesty International said.

Background On 10 October 2001, the bodies of 10 fishermen who had been shot dead were found near Santa Marta in the northern Magdalena Department. They were reportedly in a group of 20 fishermen attending a party in Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta who were abducted by army-backed paramilitaries belonging to the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC, United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia. The whereabouts of the remaining 10 are unknown.

The second massacre took place in the communities of La Habana and Alaska, in the municipality of Buga, south-western Valle del Cauca department. It is reported that army-backed AUC paramilitaries entered the two communities and forced several families out of their homes. They separated the men from the women and children, made them lie face-down on the ground and shot them dead. It is thought that at least 18 people were killed during the paramilitary incursions.

In the context of Colombia's long-running internal conflict between the security forces in alliance with paramilitary forces and armed opposition groups, both sides have shown flagrant disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law.

The security forces has pursued a counter-insurgency strategy characterized by the systematic and widespread violation of human rights. Civilians in conflict zones accused of being guerrilla sympathizers or collaborators have subsequently been the victim of extrajudicial executions, "disappearance" and other serious human rights violations at the hands of the security forces and their paramilitary allies.

Guerrilla forces, of which the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN, National Liberation Army, are the largest, have also been responsible for frequent and numerous deliberate or arbitrary killings and threats against those whom they consider to be collaborating with their enemies. They are also responsible for around 57% of the over 3,000 estimated cases of kidnapping and hostage-taking recorded in the country a year.

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