US Congress moves to condition aid to Colombian police on human rights

Moves are underway in the US Congress to address the shocking recent wave of Colombian police violence towards protests over economic inequality and state brutality. It comes after a congressional subcommittee voted to condition funding of Colombia’s security forces on tackling state human rights abuses and holding perpetrators to account.

While the Congress approved US$461m in aid to Colombia, the Subcommittee on Appropriations for Foreign Operations ruled that around US$65m stipulated for the country’s security forces be dependent on various conditions being met. These include holding human rights violations to account; taking steps to end attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and activists; implementing protective measures for indigenous and African-Colombian communities which face the brunt of state repression; and prosecuting state agents involved in extrajudicial killings and sexual violence.

The Subcommittee’s ruling does not guarantee a shift in US aid to Colombia as the proposals still require Senate approval. The move to condition aid to Colombia was backed by US congress member Jim McGovern, who has condemned the high levels of police violence that have killed at least 48 civilians since protests began on 28 April. ‘I and many of my colleagues have already called for the suspension of US direct assistance to Colombia’s National Police until we see judicial accountability for police brutality,’ he said.

‘We have encouraged the Biden Administration to send a strong signal to the Colombian Government that we are very concerned about what is happening. I suggested that we suspend security assistance to Colombia, and now I want to make sure that none of our money goes to the National Police if it is being used as we have seen in the videos, where police are provoking innocent and peaceful protesters,’ said McGovern.

Whether the moves will bring about improved protection for human rights in Colombia remains to be seen. Under the terms of the conditions, Colombian police will now be held to the same standards as already exist for the military. However, despite these formal conditions in place, the Colombian army continues to be implicated in multiple human rights violations, including killings of civilians, illegal surveillance of civil society and repression of peaceful protest.