UK ends bilateral military aid to Colombia
Britain has quietly ended nearly a decade of military aid to Colombia's armed forces after accusations of gross violations of human rights, including the murder of civilians who were shot and reported as guerrillas killed in combat.
The Colombian government was "extremely surprised" by the decision to cut off the bilateral cooperation programmes, the deputy defence minister, Sergio Jaramillo, told the Guardian.
The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, announced the move in a written statement to the House of Commons last month, stating that the government "shares the concern … that there are officers and soldiers of the Colombian armed forces who have been involved in, or allowed, abuses".
"Our bilateral human rights projects with the Colombian ministry of defence will cease," the statement said.
The projects included a landmine clearance programme that had been under way since 2000 and a human rights training project that began in 2006. Together, funding for the programmes totalled £190,000 a year.
While the financial value is relatively small, the termination of British military aid has symbolic significance for Colombia. Jaramillo called the decision a "severe blow" to the armed forces from a "great ally".
"No other European country has worked as closely with the army as the United Kingdom," he said.
Colombia's military had long been accused of colluding with illegal rightwing paramilitary groups. Investigators are looking into 1,296 cases since 2002 of reported executions of civilians by army soldiers who dressed the victims in rebel uniforms and planted weapons on them to present them as legitimate guerrilla casualties.
The UN high commissioner for human rights described the practice as "widespread and systematic". Many of the cases came to light after a public outcry over the fate of 11 men missing from a poor suburb of Bogotá who were then reported as combat deaths thousands of miles away, days after their disappearance. Twenty-seven officers, including three generals were discharged over those killings.
A Foreign Office spokesman said none of the aid had gone directly to any of the units involved in the killing of civilians, adding it would be "extremely unfortunate" if they had, since the UK training programme had been aimed at raising awareness of human rights.
Jaramillo said that precisely because of the situation, "it makes no sense whatsoever to cut support for human rights at this critical time."
In November, the US, Colombia's largest military aid donor at about $500m (£340m) a year, suspended the eligibility for funding to several army units that were believed to be involved in the extrajudicial executions, known as "false positives".
While welcoming the UK's decision as "a step in the right direction", the London-based group Justice for Colombia said that the "more offensive" elements of British military aid, labelled counter--narcotics assistance, was not affected.
The Foreign Office spokesman acknowledged it would continue to work with "some members of the armed forces" on anti-drug programmes. The UK does not reveal the financial value of that assistance due to "security concerns", he said.
The UK will also continue to fund landmine clearance projects through the UN office in Colombia, as well as more than £1m for civilian human rights projects, £900,000 to support UN drugs projects, and £250,000 to fight what has been described as rampant impunity from prosecution enjoyed by some Colombians.
In the statement to the Commons, Miliband said: "The challenge for the Colombian government is to ensure the strategic human rights principles we have helped to promote are embedded and consistently practised by all members of their armed services."
[Source: By Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá, The Guardian, London, 29Apr09]
DDHH en Colombia
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