WOLA: U.S. Policy Contradicts Analysis of Violations
Washington, D.C.—Today, the U.S. Department of State released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. As has been the case in recent years, these reports are generally accurate in portraying the state of human rights in Latin America, including the worrisome situations in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, and elsewhere. The larger question, though, is whether the State Department will base U.S. foreign policy on its own analysis.
“Every year, these reports document human rights abuses and every year U.S. policymakers ignore these findings,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA’s Program Director. “This is a repeated pattern. These annual reports express concern about assassinations and forced disappearances, the failure to investigate those responsible for human rights violations, and the weakness of democratic institutions. But U.S. policymakers act as if the reports never happened. The United States continues to funnel assistance to militaries with patterns of abuse, to train police forces that have long-standing problems with corruption and criminal infiltration, and to work closely with security forces that frequently ignore the rule of law.”
This year’s Colombia country report affirms that “[t]he most serious human rights problems were impunity and an inefficient judiciary, corruption, and societal discrimination.” Other problems addressed include extrajudicial killings by security forces, insubordinate military collaboration with members of illegal armed groups, forced disappearances, and grave security concerns. In response to this report, the U.S. government should strictly adhere to provisions in U.S. foreign aid law designed to prevent aid to abusive security units. The United States shouldn’t act as if it’s giving a “seal of approval” to the Colombian armed forces when the State Department’s own human rights report documents serious human rights concerns. For instance, Colombia has failed to investigate and try past abuses, including thousands of extrajudicial executions in the last ten years, and the military has been pressuring for legislation to weaken the civilian judicial system’s jurisdiction over human rights crimes. Colombia also has a long way to go in protecting the lives and land rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples.
This year’s Mexico country report speaks of “security forces reportedly engaged in unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and instances of physical abuse and torture.” It also points to confessions coerced through torture and the falsification of medical certificates to cover up this practice. The report further affirms that “widespread impunity for human rights abuses by officials remained a problem in both civilian and military jurisdictions.” U.S. funding for Mexican security forces, through the Merida Initiative, is linked to progress on human rights. This human rights report is honest in showing how little progress has been made in investigating almost all cases of human rights violations and the continued use of torture to obtain confessions. “Now the State Department needs to be consistent. It can’t say in the annual human rights report that abuses go unsanctioned and torture continues while acting, when it comes time to release funds, as if Mexico is adequately addressing the widespread human rights violations,” states WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico Maureen Meyer.
In the case of Honduras, the report raises serious concerns about the participation of the police and military in extrajudicial executions and human rights violations and the lack of progress in investigating and prosecuting abuses. Addressing these problems is going to require profound and thorough reforms in the police and military and prosecution of all individuals responsible for human rights violations. Without addressing pervasive impunity, U.S. training and assistance directed at specialized units will not improve the human rights behavior of the security forces. The recent failed anti-drug raid in which four Honduran civilians were killed was carried out by security forces that had been specially trained and vetted by the United States. U.S. security assistance to Honduras is linked to progress on human rights. As is the case in Colombia and Mexico, the State Department needs to be unswerving. Given the seriousness of the violations in the report, the U.S. should not be providing uncritical support and the “seal of approval” to the Honduran government and security forces. “Not for the first time, the State Department lists alarming human rights violations by the Honduran security forces, widespread corruption and impunity, and the inability of the Honduran government to take action. State must base its policies on these reports and act accordingly,” said WOLA Senior Associate for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán.
“The U.S. government should listen to its own reports and take measures to ensure that its foreign assistance is not strengthening corrupt security forces that engage in human rights violations,” said Thale.
WOLA Communications Assistant