Letter of US Congressman Sam Farr
and 19 other Representatives to
U.S. State Department over
Colombian Human Rights Abuses

On January 30, 1998, Sam Farr and 19 other members of the House of Representatives issued a letter addressed to Secretary of State Albright (and the new U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kamman), expressing their concern over the worsening human rights situation in Colombia, urging the continued hold-up of aid to the Colombian army, and placing the issue of human rights as a priority in U.S. dealings with Colombia.

If your House representative was one who did sign on, please contact them and thank them, and ask their continued support. If your representative did not sign on, please send them a copy of the letter, and tell them of your concern for Colombia human rights and desire that they sign onto future letters. Ask for a response and send a copy of it to CSN (PO Box 1505, Madison, WI 53701).

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
January 30, 1998

Ms. Madeleine K. Albright
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street
Washington, D.C. 20520

The Honorable Curt W. Kamman
American Embassy
APO AA 34038
[Bogota, Colombia]

Dear Secretary Albright :

We are writing to express our concern with the worsening human rights situation in Colombia and urge you to take steps to address this matter.

News reports and first-hand accounts indicate that violence in Colombia is escalating, particularly in the country's northern most regions and the southern coca growing regions. Many different groups and individuals have been implicated in the violence, but an increasing number of human rights abuses are being instigated by paramilitary groups --armed civilians who torture, evict, kidnap and murder Colombian civilians.

Although paramilitary groups are officially independient from the Colombian military, there is widespread evidence that the military tacitly supports their activities and prevents investigation of human rights abuses instigated by these groups. Local commanders such as General Rito Alejo del Rio, Commander of the VXII Brigade, are among those cited for permitting or supporting human rights abuses by paramilitary groups in Uraba, a largely Afro-Colombian region. Just last July, military officers allegedly assisted members of a paramilitary group to travel through a military-run airport. The group arrived at the hamlet of Mapiripan in the South-Eastern Plains of Colombia, where they murdered numerous townspeople at the local slaughter house.

There is also evidence of links between paramilitaries and local drug lords, who rely on paramilitary groups to undertake violent activities on their behalf. The Peasant Self-Defense Group of Cordoba and Uraba, a paramilitary group lead by Carlos Castano, is considered one of the most powerful paramilitary groups in Colombia. Reports indicate that last yeqar Castano's group killed hundreds, if not more than a thousand, peasants it accused of helping rebels. The conflict between the paramilitary and rebels to control the Uraba corridor is driven by greed for money and power--the corridor is a major transit route for drugs and arms and Castano is considered to be a "known drug trafficker".

The recent approval of equipment to help Colombia's security forces fight guerrillas involved in drug trafficking in the south is of great concern. It is disconcerting to read comments by Colombian General Jose Manuel Bonett that the aid could be used against guerrillas in the zone whether or not they are involved in drugs, "It's the same organization, and everyone in it is responsible." The temptation to use these materiel for counterinsurgency on the part of the Colombians will be great. While human rights abuses are reportedly on the rise in northern Colombia, U.S. intentions to combat drug trafficking could easily result in a rise in human rights abuses in the target zone as well.

As concerned Members of Congress, we urge you to place the issue of human rights and the problem of paramilitary groups in the forefront of your priority list in your dealings with Colombia. We understand that aid to the Colombian army is currently on hold because of human rights concerns and urge you to continue to withhold funding. We feel there is ample evidence that human rights concerns by the Colombian army are escalating and show little hope of decreasing. By the State Department's own account, more than 3,500 people were killed by Colombian paramilitary, guerrillas and the military in 1996, and preliminary reports indicate the death toll increased in 1997. Due to the upcoming elections, we can only expect that more peasants will be slaughtered in 1998.

Clearly, human rights abuses must be given paramount consideration during the upcoming deliberations on whether to provide security assistance to Colombia. Therefore, we ask that you report to us by the end of March on what else is being done to discourage the violation of human rights by the Colombian security forces.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your reply.


Sam Farr, M.C. (D-17-CA)
John Porter, M.C. (R-10-IL)
Ron Dellums, M.C. (D-9-CA)
David Bonior, M.C. (D-10-MI)
Martin Meehan, M.C. (D-5-MA)
March Kaptur, M.C. (D-9-OH)
Scott Klug, M.C. (R-2-WI)
James McGovern, M.C. (D-3-MA)
Elizabeth Furse, M.C. (D-1-OR)
James Oberstar, M.C. (D-8-MN)
Peter DeFazio, M.C. (D-4-OR)
Maurice Hinchy, M.C. (D-26-NY)
Gerald Kleczka, M.C. (D-4-WI)
John Conyers, M.C. (D-14-MI)
Pete Stark, M.C. (D-13-CA)
Robert Wexler, M.C. (D-19-FL)
Lucille Roybal-Allard, M.C. (D-33-CA)
Lane Evans, M.C. (D-17-IL)
David Price, M.C. (D-4-NC)
Sherrod Brown, M.C. (D-13-OH)

Sam Farr had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, and was contacted by the Colombia Support Network in 1997. Efforts by CSN were instrumental in getting the letter sent with the 19 other members signing one.
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