March 11, 2008
U.S. Policy Should Heed State Department
Rights Report, Says WOLA
The State Department released today its annual human rights report, describing human rights conditions in Latin America and around the world. WOLA, which has monitored human rights in the region since 1974, urged U.S. policy makers to shape policy based on the conclusions of the report, which offers a critical view of the rights situation in some key U.S. allies.
"The reports are useful in identifying human rights problems," said Geoff Thale, Program Director at WOLA. “However, it is unfortunate that our own policy makers don't heed these reports more."
Thale cited some particularly glaring cases in countries in which WOLA has worked extensively to monitor rights. In Colombia, civilians continue to suffer appallingly high levels of rights abuses from government agents, paramilitaries that continue to operate despite a formal demobilization process, and two warring guerrilla groups. Particularly worrisome is the high rate of extrajudicial executions committed by Colombian armed forces throughout the country and the high rate of impunity on all human rights cases.
Labor rights violations, including killings of trade unionists and illegal firings, are rampant. Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons have been violently driven from their homes. Afro-Colombian communities and indigenous groups also suffer from high rates of killings, discrimination and harassment. Attacks and false legal proceedings against human rights defenders and peace activists continue.
The State Department report notes many of these violations. WOLA believes that until Colombia makes more substantive progress on addressing these problems, U.S. policy should focus on improving observance of human rights and the rule of law in Colombia, not on pushing a flawed trade agreement through Congress. The State Department’s report has shown the problem. Now policy makers need to take action.
“In our field visits to Colombia, we have not been able to corroborate the State Department’s claim of demonstrable improvement in the human rights and security situation,” said Gimena Sánchez, Senior Associate for Colombia. “No matter what the measure, Colombia’s human rights record continues to be extremely serious.”
In Mexico and Central America, the report describes the continuing allegations of human rights abuses by military units that have been deployed to fight crime and drug trafficking, as well as allegations of abuse by police and public security forces. These abuses have been well- documented by WOLA and other human rights groups.
Here again, the report opens an opportunity for the United States to match its policy to the human rights conditions it describes. The so-called Merida Initiative was announced by the Bush Administration last year to provide U.S. aid to help the Mexican and Central American governments curb drug-related violence and corruption. Yet the plan contains little to address the problem of human rights abuses by military and police forces.
The Merida Initiative proposes to provide training and equipment to those forces with little oversight or accountability, a fact that does not bode well for respect for human rights in the future in Mexico or Central America. Policy makers ought to pay attention to their own human rights reports and shape policy to respond to them.
“Along with the need to address human rights abuses committed by security forces, the Merida Initiative should focus on promoting much-needed police and judicial reforms,” said Adriana Beltrán, WOLA Associate for Guatemala and Organized Crime.
WOLA, (202) 797 2171