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Colombia government obstructing legal efforts against militias: HRW

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] Thursday condemned what it called obstruction and interference by the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] in the investigation and prosecution of far-right militias in the country. A new report [text, PDF; HRW press release] released by the rights group entitled "Breaking the Grip: Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia," criticized Uribe's actions with respect to the investigation into right-wing military groups and their relationships with political leaders and institutions [Washington Post report]. The report applauded efforts against the militias by judges and prosecutors, but said:

Unfortunately, the administration of President Álvaro Uribe is squandering much of the opportunity to truly dismantle paramilitaries’ mafias. While there has been progress in some areas, some of the administration’s actions are undermining the investigations that have the best chance of making a difference.

Of greatest concern, the Uribe administration has:

- Repeatedly launched public personal attacks on the Supreme Court and its members in what increasingly looks like a concerted campaign to smear and discredit the Court.

- Opposed and effectively blocked meaningful efforts to reform the Congress to eliminate paramilitary influence.

- Proposed constitutional reforms that would remove the “parapolitics” investigations from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

If the Uribe administration continues on this path, it is likely that the enormous efforts made by Colombia’s courts and prosecutors to hold paramilitaries’ accomplices accountable will ultimately fail to break their power. Unless it changes course, Colombia may remain a democracy in a formal sense, but violence, threats, and corruption will continue to be common tools for obtaining and exercizing power in the country.
The Miami Herald has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.

Uribe has frequently clashed with the Colombian courts, particularly in matters concerning the country's long feud with right-wing anti-government paramilitaries. Last April, a Colombian court temporarily blocked [JURIST report] the extradition of one militia leader to the US, although he was later extradited [DOJ press release] in early May. In May 2007, the Colombian high court ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of five congressmen for alleged ties to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) [CDI backgrounder], which is designated as a terrorist group by the US. All of the political representatives were supporters of Uribe. Uribe has said that any official ties to paramilitary forces will not be tolerated, indicating that members of government will be removed from their positions if it seems they have paramilitary affiliations. In March 2007, a Colombian judge ordered the release [JURIST report] of ex-intelligence chief Jorge Noguera [CIP backgrounder] because no formal charges had been made against him. Noguera, who was arrested earlier that month, is accused of murder and conspiracy for allegedly contracting with illegal paramilitary groups [JURIST reports]. In May, the Constitutional Court [official backgrounder] threw out a part of the controversial 2005 Justice and Peace Law [JURIST reports] approved by Uribe, which gave lesser punishments to paramilitary leaders who voluntarily disarm.

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