Press Room: Press Releases

CIP Statement on the Cutoff of Aid to Colombia's 12th and 24th Brigades

Adam Isacson

09-29-00

The Center for International Policy has been quite critical of U.S. policy toward Colombia over the past year. It is a pleasure to highlight an action that deserves praise.

The Center congratulates the State Department for its recently revealed decision to freeze security assistance for the Colombian Army's twelfth and twenty-fourth brigades due to human rights concerns. Though the exact cases that triggered the aid freeze have not been officially announced (exemplifying the lack of transparency with which this process is managed), we are encouraged by this indication that the Leahy Law is being rigorously implemented.

The Leahy Law, named for its original sponsor, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), prohibits assistance to any foreign military unit whose members (1) are credibly accused of committing gross human rights violations and (2) are not being effectively investigated or prosecuted. The administration has enforced the Leahy Law with some stringency in Colombia, "clearing" only a handful of Colombian Army units for aid due to concerns about abuses, paramilitary collaboration and impunity.

Yet the human rights community has been concerned that, with a new aid package and a steep increase in U.S.-Colombian military cooperation, the interpretation and enforcement of human rights standards would loosen. The administration's August waiver of the aid package's human rights conditions added greatly to these concerns.

While the waiver sent a very negative message about the priority given to human rights, the cutoff to these two units is an important step back in a positive direction. These units are not at all peripheral to the planned U.S.-supported "push into southern Colombia." Both brigades are part of the multi-service "Joint Task Force South" that is to coordinate operations in guerrilla-controlled southern Colombia coca-growing regions. The 12th Brigade is based at Florencia in the southern department of Caquetá, just a few miles from the Larandia military base, where U.S. instructors are currently training two newly created Colombian Army counternarcotics battalions. The new battalions, along with a third that has already completed training, are to operate from a base in Tres Esquinas, between Caquetá and Putumayo departments, about 100 miles northeast of the 24th Brigade's headquarters at Santana, Putumayo.

It must be noted, though, that while these units are not peripheral, nor are they central to the anti-drug effort. Most new assistance is to go not to the 12th and 24th, but to the counternarcotics battalions currently being created. While the aid freeze affects the small amount of material support that they are receiving, training with these units may continue as long as the offending individuals are not present. Intelligence-sharing is not cut off, and these units may continue to use weapons that Colombia buys from the United States. The effect of the cutoff, then, is largely symbolic.

The Center for International Policy is nonetheless pleased to have learned that the Leahy Law, a crucially important tool, is being implemented even amid a military aid buildup. We hope that ht administration will continue to use the legal tools at its disposal to guarantee real improvements in the human rights performance of our Colombian military grantees.

The next opportunity will be in December, when the State Department will again decide whether to waive or enforce the human rights conditions in the "Plan Colombia" aid package law. We strongly urge the State Department to continue giving human rights the priority they deserve by abandoning the waiver option and encouraging the Colombian security forces to comply with the aid package's very reasonable conditions.