- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

The Colombian military has come under formidable attack. Not long after President Bill Clinton asked Congress to give Colombia $1.6 billion in military and development aid, prestigious human rights organizations released reports claiming the military was allied with terrorist paramilitary groups that have committed atrocious human rights violations.

As the human rights groups likely anticipated, this criticism is damaging the prospects of the aid package in Congress. Many experts and lawmakers don't question the validity of these reports made by groups that are presumed to be impartial. Testimony from credible sources made available to this newspaper puts these human rights reports in a more questionable light, however.

In a Sept. 1999 letter, Alfonso Cordoba told Jamie Bernal, the individual responsible for investigating public and military officials, that he was approached with a most alarming proposition. While he was attending one of the anniversaries of the Communist Party, Ana Teresa Bernal, the coordinator of Redepaz, one of Colombia's most prominent human rights groups, Hernando Hernandez, president of the Worker's Union, and Jaime Caycedo, secretary of the Communist Party, offered Mr. Cordoba a bribe in exchange for testimony that would link Colombian Generals Fernando Millan and Rito Alejo del Rio to paramilitary groups. "Since I didn't even know [the generals], I therefore decided to report those who had offered me the money to give false testimony," Mr. Cordoba said in his letter.

Mr. Cordoba then went on to give a worrisome account of Colombia's judicial practices. "With great surprise, in the month of August, the house in which I was living … was practically broken into by two agents of the attorney general," he said. Dr. Marcela Rolban of the human rights unit of the attorney general's office "told me I had to go to the headquarters of the attorney general and retract my report against human rights leaders and that I had to say that the Army had paid me for that version or else I would be incarcerated for giving a false declaration."

On Aug. 5, 1999, Mr. Cordoba went to the district attorney's office. "Although they told me to change my story, that the district attorney's office would protect me, I reaffirmed the before mentioned and asked that I not be harassed," he said.

Other individuals involved with the Communist Party and social groups relate very similar experiences. For example, Angela Contreras in an October 1998 letter to the attorney general said she met Mrs. Bernal and Mr. Hernandez while setting up for the 17th Congress of the Communist Party which took place from Oct. 9 through Oct. 11. Mrs. Contreras said she was offered 1.5 million pesos, and asylum in Europe if necessary, to go to the United Nations and accuse the same generals for harassing union leaders and creating paramilitary groups. Mrs. Bernal and Mr. Hernandez apparently felt comfortable approaching these individuals with these compromising bribe offers since they were active in leftist political affairs and were likely anti-military and pro-insurgent. Apparently, however, they miscalculated. These individuals felt it important to reveal this corruption.

It can't be presumed that because Mrs. Bernal allegedly offered bribes that other human rights groups operate in a similar fashion. Many human rights group offer the world invaluable and honest service. These letters indicate, however, that reports from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) shouldn't be deemed accurate without corroborating evidence. NGOs should assume a burden of proof.

The Colombian people are stuck in a cruel cycle of violence. The United States should aid Colombia's efforts to break free of its crisis and be discriminating about which reports it heeds.

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