WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has certified to Congress that the Colombian government and armed forces are meeting standards set by Congress for protecting human rights, freeing $31.6 million in aid for Colombia's security forces, the State Department said Tuesday
The certification drew sharp criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which contended that Colombia fell short of the congressional standards.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker noted that as a condition for U.S. assistance, Congress required that Colombia suspend military officers alleged to have violated rights or to have assisted paramilitary groups.
Reeker said that despite notable progress, the State Department recognizes that more needs to be done to improve the human rights performance of the armed forces.
The State Department provided little specific information to reinforce Powell's report that Colombia deserved certification.
A senior official cited the case of Gen. Gabriel Ramon Diaz, who was dismissed by President Alvaro Uribe without explanation June 6.
The official, asking not to be identified, also alluded to "several dozen people" with links to Colombia's security forces who have been suspended, dismissed or are facing trial.
William Schulz, director of Amnesty International USA, called the certification shameful.
"Last year, more than 4,000 civilians were killed for political reasons, at least 500 were 'disappeared' and more than 400,000 were displaced from their homes," Schulz said.
He said that while the armed forces are responsible for much of the violence, "one cannot ignore the involvement of paramilitary forces that often work in collusion with the Colombian military, and thereby become the unintended beneficiaries of our funds."