WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
22 May 2020 | Press Release

Rep. McGovern, Colombian Human Rights Leaders Call For Review of U.S. Military Aid to Colombia

Washington, D.C.—Leading human rights leaders in Colombia called for a significant process of internal reforms within the Colombian military and a re-examination of U.S. military aid to Colombia, in light of a recent military surveillance scandal in which at least 130 individuals were illegally monitored. Echoing these statements by human rights leaders, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress, reiterated that the U.S. government should suspend military assistance to Colombia and complete a thorough evaluation of the aid program.

As revealed in investigations by Colombian weekly news magazine Semana, Colombian military intelligence compiled dossiers and conducted illicit surveillance on the work, relationships, and social lives of human rights defenders, veteran Colombian journalists, international journalists including the New York Times, NPR, and Wall Street Journal correspondents, politicians, labor leaders, and possible military whistleblowers.

“We have to push for an intelligence and counterintelligence law that will at last end these attacks against democracy, against peace, against human rights, against social leaders who have been assassinated,” said Senator Iván Cepeda, during a May 19 event hosted by several human rights groups, including the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

In a May 20 interview on WOLA podcast Latin America Today, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) emphasized that U.S. military aid to Colombia should be suspended pending further review. In FY2020, U.S. military and police aid to Colombia totaled $330 million.

“In the face of this latest revelation, I have called for the United States to suspend military aid to Colombia, and to do a top to bottom, penny by penny evaluation of the military and intelligence aid,” Rep. Jim McGovern said, adding, “One of the problems in Colombia over the years is that in the face of much bad behavior, there hasn’t been a consequence. And if there’s not a consequence, there’s no incentive for the government or the security forces to change the way they operate.”

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Colombian human rights defenders reiterated McGovern’s calls for a review of U.S. military assistance.

“How [do] we create a positive role for the U.S. administration, and if not that, the U.S. Congress, so that the military aid loaned to Colombia actually leads to the consolidation of democracy, and not the strengthening of a tainted democracy that hosts a deep-rooted criminality?” said Danilo Rueda of the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace, the recipient of WOLA’s 2015 Human Rights Award, during WOLA’s May 19 event.

Colombian human rights leaders also called for the declassification and purging of all military intelligence archives illegally obtained about human rights defenders. Doing so is a much-needed move to show that the state is taking transparency concerns seriously. Significant concerns remain about how the information collected by military intelligence is used.

“This information should not remain in the army’s archives,” said Jomary Ortegón of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCA-JAR). “That is why we’re insisting on the declassification of these documents, as well as their purging.” 

“We have to insist on what we in the Colombian human rights defenders movement have been pushing for, for many years: that these intelligence reports be declassified…” said César Jerez, a land rights defender who was a target of the recent illicit surveillance, as well as past illegal wiretapping scandals. “…It’s about making these intelligence reports, the results of these surveillance efforts, public knowledge. We need this to be a gesture showing that reform is possible in this area.” 

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