MADRE Statement on Negotiations

New York, February 25, 2002- On February 21, 2002, Colombia’s 38-year conflict exploded into full-fledged war when President Pastrana unilaterally broke off peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, is extremely concerned about the escalation of violence and the threat of grave human rights abuses against women and families.

With strong backing from the Bush Administration, the Colombian military has bombed the 16,000- square-mile Demilitarized Zone in southern Colombia, which is home to more than 100,000 people. Until last week, the Zone, where neither the army nor paramilitaries were allowed to operate, was the most peaceful part of Colombia. Since the launch of the military offensive, several civilians have already been killed. As the army enters the Zone, so too, will the right-wing paramilitaries. Human rights workers warn of a bloodbath as paramilitaries seek retribution against communities that have cooperated with the FARC, which has ruled the Zone since 1998.

Those who will be hardest hit by the government’s offensive are the most marginalized Colombians – poor, indigenous and Afro-Colombian women and their families. Already, more than 25% of Colombians have been displaced by fighting between the FARC and the Colombian government (the latter aided by paramilitaries that are responsible for 75% of the country’s human rights violations, including 3,500 killings each year). All warring parties stand accused of grave human rights abuses, including assassinations, torture and kidnapping of civilians. Crimes against women include forced servitude, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced sterilization and forced pregnancy. Human rights violations such as these are sure to proliferate in the total absence of negotiations.

The current bombings are being conducted with US-made Blackhawk helicopters and other weapons supplied through Plan Colombia, the $1.3 billion US aid package that makes Colombia the third-largest recipient of US military aid worldwide. President Pastrana’s decision to derail the peace process has coincided with a new willingness from the Bush Administration to expand Plan Colombia from anti-narcotics operations to direct support for his counter-insurgency war against the FARC. Under the guise of the “war on terrorism,” Bush has requested an additional $500 million in military aid for Colombia. The budget has more to do with protecting US oil interests than fighting terrorism. Its allocations include $98 million to secure military access to the 480-mile oil pipeline in northeast Colombia, belonging to the US-based Occidental Petroleum. The FARC succeeded in shutting down the pipeline for most of 2001.

MADRE strongly condemns the Bush Administration’s escalation of US involvement in Colombia’s war. Providing one side with massive amounts of weapons and funding will only fuel the violence and strengthen the most reactionary forces in Colombia, who favor ending the conflict through military force rather than negotiations.

MADRE believes that peace negotiations offer the only viable solution to Colombia’s conflict. MADRE therefore urges all parties to return to the negotiating table in search of a political settlement. We remind the Colombian government of United Nations Resolution 1325, to which it is a signatory, urging that women be represented on the team of peace negotiators.

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