Groundbreaking Changes in U.S. Aid to Colombia and Guatemala

(New York, NY January 7, 2010) Human Rights First today praised passage of legislation that, for the first time, links U.S. aid to Colombia and Guatemala to the protection of human rights activists in those countries. The 2010 Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, approved by Congress late last year, contains two groundbreaking provisions that have long been the focus of Human Rights First recommendations. The  bill creates a new condition on U.S. aid to Colombia that requires the Colombian government to protect the rights of human rights defenders. With regard to Guatemala, the law earmarks $2 million for the Guatemalan police and Interior Ministry to fund specific protection programs for human rights defenders. “We congratulate lawmakers for seizing this opportunity to make a real difference on the ground in Colombia and Guatemala. This legislation will literally save lives,” said Human Rights First’s Andrew Hudson. Hudson notes that having a condition on U.S. aid to Colombia related to defenders will require the State Department to certify that the Colombian government is respecting the rights of defenders and provided another layer of protection for these often targeted activists. To complement this new requirement, Human Rights First is urging the State Department to redouble its diplomatic efforts to encourage the Colombian government to comply with this new condition. In particular, the Colombian Attorney General must take firm steps to end the use of trumped-up charges and arbitrary detention to stigmatize and silence activists. In Guatemala, the bill provides a total of $2 million for the Interior Ministry’s Institute for Attacks against Human Rights Defenders, officers within the Criminal Investigation Division of the Police who are assigned to work with the Institute, as well as the Department for the Protection of Personalities of the Police and its Unit of Risk Analysis. This funding will enable Guatemala to establish a state-of-the-art and live saving protection program for human rights defenders at risk, such as bullet-proof cars and bodyguards. Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to work closely with Guatemalan human rights defenders and trusted allies within the Guatemalan government to ensure that the funding is implemented effectively. Human Rights First has long advocated for these changes to U.S. aid, including in congressional testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in 2009. Further information: Information about human rights defenders in Guatemala Information about human rights defenders in Colombia

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Published on January 7, 2010

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