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Cablegate: A New Human Rights Agenda for Colombia

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3592/01 3161823
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121822Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0822
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA

UNCLAS BOGOTA 003592

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL ELAB KJUS CO
SUBJECT: A NEW HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA FOR COLOMBIA

REF: BOGOTA 3027

Summary

-------

1. (SBU) Embassy Bogota is engaged in a strategy to raise the USG
profile on human rights in Colombia (ref). It is just as important
to define the substantive areas where we hope to see progress in
the coming year. In Post's opinion, key elements of our agenda
with the GOC should be to:

-- make progress against impunity, i.e., the investigation and
prosecution for paramilitary crimes, extrajudicial executions,
forced disappearances and violence against unionists, human rights
defenders, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous;

-- urge the Colombian military to implement its existing human
rights regime; and

-- counter the GOC's tendency to stigmatize human rights defenders
as guerrilla sympathizers, which subjects them to abuse, threats
and violence.

We see the Department's new engagement with the U.S. Congress on
Colombia as an opportunity to improve and modernize the human
rights certification process and seek to make congressional funding
more flexible. End summary.

IMPUNITY: REDUCING THE BACKLOG OF CASES

----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) We are concerned about ongoing human rights abuses such as
extrajudicial executions (EJEs) and threats and violence against
unionists, human rights defenders, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous.
However, gross human rights abuse categories are on a downward
trend from the peak years of 1999-2004. There remains a need to
resolve thousands of existing cases and bring the perpetrators of
those crimes to justice. Clearly, this is not a task that the GOC
can complete in the short-run; but we should define a realistic
expectation of what constitutes judicial progress. NGOs
consistently point out that an important element to ending impunity
is the prosecution of the intellectual authors of such crimes
rather than just the perpetrators. While this may be possible in
some cases, it is not in others, as there may be no evidence or
insufficient evidence for proof in a criminal case.

3. (SBU) The Justice and Peace Law (JPL) process for paramilitary
and guerilla demobilization continues to be a difficult process
that seeks to balance the broader concept of a search for
historical truth with the more narrow focus of judicial
proceedings. In the short term, the USG should continue to press
for resolution of the JPL process, a more effective reparation
process for victims of paramilitary and guerrilla violence, and a
determination by Colombia on whether it wants a "truth commission"
or a judicial process. The USG will also press the Prosecutor
General's Office to significantly increase the DNA identification
of victims' remains and return of the remains to their families.

More Resources for Administration of Justice

--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The Colombian Prosecutor General's Office faces an
overwhelming case load - not only having to address human rights
crimes and the justice and peace process, but the significant case
load involving narcotics and related offenses, terrorism and
violent and organized crime. While the GOC added about 250
prosecutors in 2008-2009, the Prosecutor General's Office and
Colombian National Police each need 200-300 more investigators.
The Embassy will press the GOC for this increase in personnel and
for this long term commitment. DOJ and U.S. law enforcement

agencies have developed programs to provide the requisite intensive
training and assistance. Critical issues also exist with respect
to increasing criminal investigators and more permanent assignment
to units involved in human rights investigations. In addition, the
Colombian judiciary must become more efficient in presiding over
human rights proceedings.

IMPLEMENTING MILITARY HUMAN RIGHTS REFORMS

------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Most international experts agree that the Colombian
military has developed an adequate legal and regulatory framework
for the protection of human rights and international humanitarian
law. However, the implementation and institutionalization of those
policies within field units remains a challenge. Colombian
military has deployed operational lawyers to give legal advice to
commanders. We can help by continuing the MILGRP project with the
Ministry of Defense to develop rules of engagement and rules for
use of force by troops. We can also strengthen the Military
Justice System by improving the Military's handling of civilian
deaths and in cooperating with the Prosecutor General's Office in
these death investigations. The Embassy will continue to press for
the completion of an MOU between the MOD and the Prosecutor
General's Office on how civilian death cases should be handled. In
addition, we have helped improve the effectiveness of the Inspector
General of the Armed Forces, which has responsibility for
administrative investigations and disciplinary actions.

6. (SBU) In addition, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights (UNHCHR), with the assistance of USAID, plans to
establish a monitoring project to advise the Colombian military on
progress in implementing its human rights policies. A
complementary effort is the Ambassador's engagement of Minister of
Defense (MOD) Silva to renew the informal consultative mechanism
with MOD Silva, UNHCHR, and ambassadors from key donor countries.

COUNTERING STIGMATIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (SBU) The polarized nature of the Colombian conflict has created
a difficult environment for civil society. Human rights defenders
and trade union leaders are often accused by the GOC of creating an
environment that supports terrorist organizations. The GOC's
attitude has led to the illegal surveillance of NGOs by the DAS and
military intelligence. While a small portion of NGOs are allied
with or manipulated by some illegal armed groups, we do not see it
as a widespread occurrence, nor does it outweigh the U.S.
commitment to promote a robust civil society in Colombia. We are
already taking a more public posture through increased outreach to
NGOs, including publicized NGO meetings with the Ambassador and
quarterly consultations. We will also relook at derogatory
information on human rights defenders in our own lookout systems,
working with Washington agencies to remove hits based on spurious
information. Together with the Ministry of Social Protection,
USAID has developed a public outreach campaign to confront the
stigmatization of union members that could serve as a model for a
public outreach strategy for human rights defenders.

8. (SBU) One specific area in which the GOC can demonstrate its
commitment to civil society is a transparent investigation into the
illegal or inappropriate surveillance of NGOs, political
opposition, labor groups, and Supreme Court by the Administrative
Department of Security (DAS). The Embassy has pressed the GOC for
a full accounting of the crimes committed in the scandals. We will
consider assisting the GOC as it closes DAS and stands up a leaner,
more professional intelligence service. We can also support the
UNHCHR's project to help DAS purge politically motivated
intelligence in its files.

Seeking Flexibility on Certification

------------------------------------

9. (SBU) The human rights certification process attached to
financial assistance has had a marginally positive impact by
routinely putting human rights issues on the front burner of the
relationship. We support the Department's intention to engage
Congress and NGOs on revamping our approach to Colombia, especially
with regard to human rights. We believe the GOC will appreciate
clear signals from us and play a constructive role in such a
process. We see an opportunity to revise the certification process
and loosen the Congressional earmarks on funding. Specifically, we
propose to update the certification process by: a) modernizing the
criteria for Colombia's current reality; b) disconnecting the
policy decision of whether to certify from the frantic
end-of-fiscal-year deadline; and c) giving policymakers new options
for addressing shortfalls in human rights performance other than a
dramatic action in current legislation of a 30%-cut in military
funding.

10. (SBU) We understand from the senior policy review session held
on October 8 that the Department intends to pursue an agreement
with the U.S. Congress, the GOC, and NGOs on the USG approach to
Colombia with regard to human rights. We suggest this initiative
seek to make congressional certification more flexible to become a
more credible carrot-and-stick approach that will encourage better
GOC performance on human rights - while still maintaining the
remedial measures implicit in the certification process as proposed
in para 9. This change will better enable us to continue
re-orienting Plan Colombia programs to the Colombia Strategic
Development Initiative (CSDI), a whole-of-government approach to
countering illegal drugs and illegal armed groups. One of our
objectives is to use CSDI to expand rule of law programs (community
policing, improved criminal investigation, human rights ombudsmen,
increased numbers of prosecutors and judges, and court proceedings)
in specific consolidation zones where state presence is weak.
Increased flexibility for funding dedicated to human rights, law
enforcement, eradication, and rule of law would greatly facilitate
this effort.
BROWNFIELD

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