Sunday, 3 May 2009

Colombia: Britain Cuts Military Aid

Last week, the British government announced sent a small memo to parliament saying that its military assistance programme to Colombia would end following repeated concerns about human rights abuses committed by the Colombian military (see this post and this article for a small selection of examples).

UK Ends Bilateral Military Aid to Colombia (Guardian)

Boz noted that
The projects included a landmine clearance programme that had been under way since 2000 and a human rights training project that began in 2006.
and commented
The UK is cutting assistance to programs that would save civilian lives and prevent future human rights abuses. The government says that none of this money was going to units accused in the scandals, but they're cutting it anyway.

If the UK wants to make a statement about human rights, they should target their cuts more carefully towards the training and equipping of the units actually involved in the scandals and continue the funding of military programs that actually help fulfill human rights objectives. Otherwise, this is just a budget cut wrapped up in some pretty language.

These seemed like legitimate concerns, so I tried to find out more. I turned to Justice for Colombia's report [pdf] on UK Military Aid to Colombia, written before the end of the aid, and note the following:
The UK plays a role in the conflict by providing assistance to the Colombian military. Very little detail about this assistance has been made public, though the UK is reportedly the second largest donor of military aid to Colombia after the US. (p.4)

- Why the secrecy when it's UK taxpayers' money being used?
Troublingly, there are no conditions of any sort attached to UK military assistance to Colombia.
This gives the regime no incentive to improve their behaviour as they know that irrespective of their performance, the UK aid will keep flowing. (p.6)

HMG [Her Majesty's Government] says that some of the assistance provided to the Colombian military is for human rights training. However, HMG has refused to reveal what proportion of UK assistance is for this type of training nor to which units/personnel of the Colombian Army it is provided.
This human rights training does not appear to be working as abuses perpetrated by soldiers, including cases of torture and extra-judicial executions of civilians not only continue, but are increasing.... Indeed, the only Colombian Army unit that HMG has confirmed receives UK assistance in this area has, in recent years, been implicated in grave violations... The fact that HMG refuses to disclose exactly who receives the human rights training also makes any independent monitoring of its impact or effectiveness impossible. (p.7)

So much for the human rights training. There appears to be no clear evidence on what it is, how much it is, or how successful it is, and financial aid does go to units implicated in atrocities.
And as for the de-mining,
HMG states that approximately 8% of their military assistance to Colombia is focussed on humanitarian de-mining work. There is concern that UK assistance in this area is not aimed at clearing mines from areas where civilians are at risk (humanitarian de-mining) but rather for offensive operations (i.e. rapid clearance of mines during pursuits).
Evidence for this is provided by the ‘Colombian Campaign Against Mines’ which lists several countries, but not the UK, as assisting with humanitarian de-mining; and the ‘International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ (ICBL) which lists countries such as Canada, the USA, Germany, Italy, Spain, Norway and Switzerland as assisting with humanitarian de-mining, but makes no mention of any UK assistance.(p.8)
So, if the £190,000 per annum sum is correct, the de-mining programme is the equivalent of a paltry £15,200 per year - and in any case, civilians may not benefit from it. I am unconvinced that the funding would save lives or prevent abuses - and very possibly, quite the opposite.

On balance then, I support the stance of the British government, since the money - while not a particularly large amount - would have been taken as tacit support for Uribe's policies. Besides that, there is a lack of transparency in revealing what the money was actually used for. Ideally, however, I back Boz's call for better targeted funding rather than none at all - but it seems to me that the existing funding programme was wholly inadequate and should be replaced rather than upheld.

My analysis here seeks to go somewhat beyond the Guardian article, but it still isn't ideal since I haven't found too much information outside Justice for Colombia. If readers have improved sources, they are very welcome to add links in the comments section or email me and, if appropriate, I'll update the post.

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