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THE HUMAN FACE: Murders by Colombian Military Increase

September 17th, 2008

30 year-old Martha Giraldo’s heart pounded as she stood at the gate of her father’s humble farm outside of Cali, Colombia. “A friend called saying soldiers had surrounded the house...we were desperate to know what happened to my father.”

Martha had to push past the soldiers to discover her father’s body, riddled with bullet holes and signs of torture. “This was the worst humiliation; to find my father tortured and assassinated,” sobbed Martha. When the Colombian soldiers finally owned up to killing her father, they told Martha and her family to watch their step or they would be next.

The Colombian army claimed that Martha’s father was a member of the guerrillas who they killed during fighting, an allegation that has not stood up in court.

Billions in U.S. Military Aid and Abuses on the Rise

Despite the objections raised by WFP and others to billions in military aid to Colombia, Congress has brushed aside human rights concerns, trusting that training by U.S. Special Forces would transform the Colombian military—the hemisphere’s worst human rights abuser—into a professional fighting force with a spotless human rights record.

Witness for Peace—with years of experience documenting the torture and killing carried out by U.S.-trained armies in Latin America—has worked tirelessly to expose the true costs of military aid and training in Colombia. And today, with $4.9 billion in security assistance, eight years of U.S. military training in the rearview mirror and a new Administration settling into the White House, it is time for a reality check in Washington.

While the $100,000 a month lobby machine working in Washington for the Colombian government has assured Congress that violence in Colombia has declined, there is a dirty secret hidden behind the public relations makeover: an alarming increase in human rights abuses committed by the U.S.-backed Colombian military.

Martha’s horrific experience of discovering her father killed at the hands of the military is not unique in Colombia today. A coalition of Colombian human rights groups recently reported that between 2002 and 2007, at least 1,122 civilians were murdered by the Colombian Armed Forces, a staggering 68 percent increase over the previous five year period. The report further indicates that the rate of killing is still on the rise. Between January 2007 and June 2008, 535 such murders were reported.

Only thanks to international pressure did President Uribe finally fire 27 Army officers—including three generals—in October 2008, attempting to turn the page on the widespread human rights abuses by his Armed Forces. Yet these officers only represent two divisions of the Colombian military—a fraction of those implicated in such killings.
Furthermore, it appears that none of these officers are being prosecuted fortheir crimes, a common occurrence in Colombia where impunity—especially in human rights cases—is pervasive. In fact, Colombian human rights groups report that there are no legal proceedings in 78 percent of the cases of murders allegedly committed by the Colombian military.

“Systematic” Killings Should Halt U.S. Aid to Abusive Military

The dramatic increase in human rights violations at the hands of the U.S.-backed Colombian military—what the United Nations has dubbed a “systematic practice” of extrajudicial executions—sets in plain light that U.S. military aid to Colombia is funding the killing of civilians. The Colombian military’s human rights record has worsened while receiving billions in U.S. military aid, with thousands of victims in recent years. “The money being sent by the U.S. means that these types of killings happen more frequently,” indicated Martha.

President Obama and the new Congress must take a fresh look at this failed policy and end military aid to Colombia immediately. Prior to 2000, Congress had blacklisted the Colombian military due to its appalling human rights record. Given the recent rise in abuses—after a brief dip—Congress and President Obama must once again stand up for human rights by immediately ending military aid to Colombia.

The tears Martha and untold others have shed for their loved ones allegedly killed at the hands of the Colombian military speak volumes about the need for immediate change. Martha and other victims in Colombia have looked to Witness for Peace to end U.S. support for the abusive Colombian military.

Since 2000,WFP has worked with our membership to call on Congress to end military aid to Colombia with some recent success. In 2007 and 2008, Congress cut over $100 million in military aid for Colombia. In 2009, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by a new Administration and a new Congress, Witness for Peace will continue to ensure voices like Martha’s reach Washington and beyond in order to stop U.S. funding to the abusive Colombian military.

Click here to view an exclusive video featuring Martha Giraldo, produced by the WFP Colombia team.