Human Rights Not Part of Clinton’s Legacy

President Clinton ignored the human rights certification process demanded by Congress and authorized the release of the remaining aid money to Colombia last week. The administration justified this action by claiming the remaining aid is “emergency funds” and therefore not subject to the certification process. One can only speculate that the Colombian Government’s failure to meet the human rights conditions called for by the U.S. Congress was the reason Clinton decided to sidestep the certification process. Besides, a waiver of the human rights conditions by Clinton, especially in light of the 154 civilians massacred by paramilitaries over the past two weeks, would have resulted in negative publicity that might have marred his farewell love fest with the American people.

When Congress passed the Colombia aid package last year, all the money — emergency and regular funds — were lumped together, so for the administration to claim that this portion of the aid constitutes the emergency funds is ludicrous. Clinton’s use of the emergency funds ‘technicality’ to avoid tying this portion of the aid to the Colombian Government’s human rights performance clearly illustrates the outgoing president’s lack of concern for human rights in Colombia.

The certification process requires that the Colombian Government meet certain human rights conditions in order to receive the aid. However, the lawmakers included a loophole that allowed for the disbursement of the aid with a presidential waiver of the certification process if the president deemed it to be in the interests of U.S. national security. Clinton issued such a waiver last August and allowed delivery of the initial portion of the aid when Colombia had only met one of the five human rights conditions.

But rather than admitting for the second time in five months that he is authorizing aid to a military with a dismal human rights record, Clinton decided to disregard the law and ignore the certification process this time around. Instead, he sent a human rights report to Congress stating that significant progress has been made. In contrast, human rights organizations claim that the situation in Colombia has deteriorated since Clinton issued the waiver last August.

One of the human rights conditions included in the aid package required that the Colombian government rein-in the outlawed paramilitaries who are responsible for 75 percent of the human rights violations in Colombia. The dramatic increase in massacres by these right-wing death squads over the past couple of weeks clearly illustrates how nothing has been done to fulfill this Congressional requirement.

On January 17, some 100 paramilitaries entered the village of Chengue in northern Colombia and hacked 24 men to death with machetes. They then burned 30 houses and kidnapped nine villagers. Human rights organizations claim the Colombian Army aids many of the paramilitaries – either actively or by turning a blind eye to death squad activities — and that is why Congress inserted the human rights certification requirement into the aid package.

It is not the first time Congress has used the strategy of tying human rights certification to an aid bill. In the 1980s, Congress approved aid to the Salvadoran military pending human rights certification by then-President Ronald Reagan. But like Clinton, Reagan initially approved the aid despite the Salvadoran Army’s appalling human rights record and thereafter, also like Clinton, proceeded to ignore the certification process entirely.

But President Clinton is not the only one responsible for this latest human rights debacle; Congress is also to blame. By giving the president the authorization to waive the human rights conditions, Congress rendered the conditions meaningless. Many members of Congress knew exactly what they were doing when they passed the bill: appeasing human rights groups while allowing the free flow of aid to the Colombian military.

By issuing a national security waiver five months ago and then completely ignoring the certification process last week, Clinton has made it clear that human rights in Colombia come a distant second to U.S. political and economic interests. That human rights are only a concern when they coincide with U.S. interests should be an integral part of the Clinton legacy. But sadly, the outgoing president’s latest betrayal of human rights will undoubtedly get lost in the midst of his farewell love fest with the American people.

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