Item 9: Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamentals Freedoms in Any Part of the World

March 20 - April 28, 2000
Palais des Nations, GenevaWritten statement submitted by Franciscans International, Pax Christi International, International Catholic Peace Movement & Maryknoll  addressing violations of Human Rights by Latin American Military Personnel Trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (E/CN.4/2000/NGO/38).

Violations of Human Rights by Latin American Military Personnel Trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia

The United States' Army School of the Americas (SOA), located at Fort Benning, Georgia, is a military educational institution that has trained more than 57,000 officers, cadets, noncommissioned officers (NCO), and civilians from Latin America and the United States over the past 50 years. According to the U.S. Department of State, the training provided by the SOA is intended to be a long-term investment in a positive relationship with Latin America. Today's school is derived from several predecessor institutions, beginning with a 1946 Army school established primarily to provide technical instruction to U.S. personnel, with limited training for Latin Americans.

Courses at the SOA are taught by U.S. and Latin American military personnel and some civilian instructors. The Latin American instructors are nominated by their governments and are subject to U.S. approval.

Critics of the SOA, including citizens of the United States, members of the U.S. Congress, religious leaders around the world, labor leaders, and human rights organizations, claim that the repeated involvement of SOA graduates in the violation of human rights implicates the school, making it co-responsible for such violations throughout the hemisphere and that, therefore, the school should be closed.

The organizations presenting this statement to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, work in countries where graduates of the SOA have repeatedly violated basic human rights. We have witnessed the brutality and accompanied the survivors. We believe that the connections between the school and human rights violations are not incidental.

Despite a recent U.S. law that requires the vetting of applicants to the SOA for previous involvement in human rights violations and the addition of some human rights courses at the SOA, efforts at reform cannot erase the extremely negative impact of SOA training over the past thirty years and have not effectively prevented SOA graduates from violating human rights.

Of 33 courses in the SOA catalog, only five are related to human rights, democracy or

humanitarian issues, and less than 10% of the students took these courses in 1998. Furthermore, although the SOA has made much of its new Human Rights Train-the-Trainer course, no student attended the course in 1997 or 1998, and none was projected to do so in 1999. The majority of courses taught at the SOA are standard military fare, including Cadet Combined Arms Operations, Military Intelligence, and Psychological Operations. Recent figures show that over 3300 Latin American troops took basic combat training at the SOA, while in the same year, 25 took Counter Mine Operations and 28 took Democratic Sustainment. Despite its self-description as a school for democracy, the SOA remains primarily a military combat school.

Documented connections between the SOA and notorious, egregious and sustained human rights abuses, a number of them recent, include the following examples:

Colombia: Fifty percent (124 out of 247) of the military officials named as human rights violators in State Terror in Colombia (1992) were SOA graduates. Some of the architects of the paramilitary-military collaboration that is fueling much of the violence today were SOA graduates.

On October 27, 1997, SOA-trained soldiers murdered the president of the Colombian electrical workers' union. That same day, other SOA trainees abducted workers at Colombia's state-run oil company. Just a month later, on November 26 in Medellin, they assassinated the secretary of the Colombian construction union. (Amnesty International)

On May 13, 1998, the army's Fifth Division carried out an illegal raid on the offices of the human right organization, Justice and Peace. During the course of the raid, the security forces at least partially copied a database of over 40,000 human rights cases. Fellow officers have stated that SOA graduate Brigadier General Rito Alejo del Rio ordered the raid. This same officer had links to paramilitary groups that were allowed to operate freely in some areas that were under military control. (1998 U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights in Colombia)

In May 1998, the Colombian army formally disbanded the 20th Brigade (Military Intelligence) for its involvement in human rights abuses, including the targeted killings of civilians. The commander of the Brigade at the time was SOA graduate Paucelino Latorre Gamboa. SOA graduate Gen. Yanine Diaz "was accused of implementing a strategy to have paramilitary groups carry out counter guerrilla activities that the army was prohibited from doing. Despite the Government's attempts to bring him to justice in the civilian court system, the military prevailed, continuing the tradition of impunity for all but the lowest-ranking members of the security forces." (1998 U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights in Colombia)

Guatemala: The full report of the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) in Guatemala singled out the SOA for its counterinsurgency training that "had a significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed conflict…By identifying all opponents as adversaries, the National Security Doctrine [taught at the SOA] helped to broaden the definition of counterinsurgency and to spread techniques of persecution...within a growing atmosphere of State terror." (Historical Clarification Report, February 1999)

A separate 1998 human rights report released by the Guatemala Archdiocese Human Rights Office also linked the SOA to the civilian-targeted genocide campaign. Unlike the Historical Clarification Commission, which was limited by a Peace Accord agreement, the Archdiocese document, Guatemala: Never Again, named specific military officers responsible for atrocities. The 1998 document cited SOA graduates for some of the most notorious human rights violations, including the murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack, the cover-up of the murder of U.S. citizen Michael DeVine, and the torture and murder of Efrain Bamaca, husband of U.S. lawyer, Jennifer Harbury. The Archdiocese report also named SOA graduates as top leaders in the fearsome Guatemalan military intelligence agency (D-2 or G-2), which both reports cite for horrific abuses. (Guatemala, Nunca Mas, 1998)

Both reports concur that paramilitary groups were to blame for a large percentage of the 42,000 human rights violations. SOA graduate Benedicto Lucas Garcia masterminded the creation of these paramilitary Civil Patrols responsible for some of the most brutal violations of the war.

El Salvador: The United Nations Truth Commission Report, released in March 1993, cited over 60 Salvadoran officers for the worst atrocities during El Salvador's brutal civil war. Over two-thirds of the Salvadoran officers named were alumni of the SOA, including:

Two of the three officers or former officers cited for the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980;

Three of the five officers cited for the murder of the four U.S. churchwomen, including two of our Maryknoll Sisters, who were killed on December 2, 1980.

Ten of the twelve cited for the El Mozote massacre of December 1981, when nearly 1000 civilians, mostly women and children, were brutally killed;

Nineteen of the twenty-six cited for the massacre of the Jesuits and two women at the University of Central America in November 1989.

The circumstantial evidence of the School of the Americas' lack of concern for human rights is overwhelming and dramatically illustrated again by its choice of instructors and speakers, and of those whom the school chose to honor in its "Hall of Fame." A few examples follow:

Chile: Col. Pablo Belmar. 1987, Guest Instructor; 1968, Basic Arms Orientation Course. Directly implicated in the 1976 torture and murder of United Nations official Carmelo Soria, whose neck was broken after he was arrested and tortured by Chilean DINA personnel. Soria's car and body were dumped in a Santiago canal in order to make his death appear accidental. (Americas Watch Report, Unfinished Business, May 1994)

Colombia: Gen. (Ret.) Farouk Yanine Diaz. 1991, 1990, guest speaker at the SOA; 1969, Maintenance Orientation Course. Former commander in the Colombian Army, Yanine "was accused of establishing and expanding paramilitary death squads in the Middle Magdalena region, as well as ordering dozens of disappearances, multiple large-scale massacres, and the killing of judges and court personnel sent to investigate previous crimes." (State Dept. Human Rights Report for 1997) Yanine's SOA guest appearances occurred after his alleged involvement in crimes such as the 1988 Urabá massacre of 20 banana workers, the 1987 assassination of the mayor of Sabana de Torres, and the 1987 massacre of 19 businessmen.

Guatemala: LTC Mario Roberto Grajeda. 1990-92, Instructor. In 1997, URNG combatants who had demobilized after the signing of the peace accord began receiving death threats from the 22nd Military Zone of Guatemala. Various human rights groups reported this incident to the justice of the peace, holding Grajeda, who was commander of the zone, responsible.

Oral, Written or Summary: 
Meeting Year: 
2000
Meeting: 

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UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-sixth session
Meeting Name: 
UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-sixth session