Colombia: Not a "Tragedy", Not a "Mistake", Not an "Internal" Conflict

by Grahame Russell

In Colombia, thousands of civilians are being assassinated and massacred every year. Due to the armed conflict and State repression, two million civilians have been forcibly displaced from homes and communities; many are barely surviving in makeshift refugee camps in Colombia, and in Panama, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.

Human rights groups have long concluded that the military and para-militaries are responsible for the substantial majority of the violations of human rights and humanitarian law.  Armed rebel groups also commit serious violations on a regular basis.

These days, there are many conferences dealing with this "tragic" situation; many debates as to whether the United States is making a "mistake" by increasing its investment and involvement in Colombia's conflict, including a recent US$1.3 billion dollar military and economic package for the military and government. And this package is not a `one-time' investment; the Pentagon admits that it is upping the ante on what will be a multi-year commitment.

Not a "tragedy"


What is happening in Colombia is not "tragic", a word associated with accidents or calamities. Violations of human rights and humanitarian law are well planned in Colombia.  We know they are happening; we now know they will now increase.

Over-lapping factors contribute to all this: A historically unjust economic system that systematically violates the economic, political and social rights of well over twenty million of a population of forty million, who live in conditions of endemic poverty; widespread government and para-military repression against civilians; a decades-long internal war with various armed rebel groups.


Since the 1980s, these historical factors have been deeply intertwined with the brutal, multi-billion dollar drug industry.

US role not a "mistake"


The United States is increasing its involvement in this quagmire, and this is not a "mistake." Similar to many interventions in Latin America over the last century, what the US is doing in Colombia is well planned and very intentional.

The international community, and particularly close allies like Canada, are wrong not to bring strong pressure to bear, in all bilateral relations and multilateral forum, on the United States to stop contributing to the escalating human rights and humanitarian law violations in Colombia.

The international human rights movement -- from the United Nations and Organization of American States through to private international human rights groups -- is wrong not to investigate and denounce the policies and actions of the US government that are contributing directly and indirectly to human rights and humanitarian law violations in Colombia.

Likewise, the international human rights movement, international community and close US allies, are wrong not to investigate and denounce how private companies are contributing to and profiting from violations of human rights and humanitarian law.


The Connecticut-based Sikorsky company (Blackhawk military helicopter) and the Texas-based Bell Company (Huey military helicopter) spent millions of dollars lobbying in favor of the US$1.3 billion military and economic intervention package; both companies now stand to win hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts as a result.

Not an "internal" conflict

This is not an "internal" conflict. Yes, many of the major actors are in Colombia: the government and military; government-backed para-militaries; rebel groups; drug traffickers. These actors, whose policies and actions contribute to violations of human rights and humanitarian law, must be held accountable. Much courageous work is already been done to this end.

But, the US government and military, and private companies are not innocent by-standers. They are directly involved.  Their policies and actions are contributing to the spiraling violations. Not to bring full pressure to bear on the US government and companies is to allow them to continue to act - and profit -- with impunity, at the expense of the lives of Colombian people.

Feel free to copy, re-distribute and publish this article.  Grahame Russell is director of Rights Action (Guatemala Partners) that supports development and human rights organizations in Mexico and Central America.


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