With respect to the Aug. 2 front-page article, "Rights Jobs in Colombia Full of Risk," I would like to respond to several inaccuracies.
Under the leadership of President Andres Pastrana, the Colombian government has done more over the past several months to protect human rights workers than at any other time in our history. At the same time, our promise to provide armed guards, bulletproof vests and other security features is being fulfilled. We are determined to protect those who risk their lives in the name of democracy and human decency.
The article also implicated the Colombia Armed Forces in human rights violations, but without offering any specifics; this is unjust. More than 30,000 military are receiving intensive training in the protection and observance of human rights, with the full support of more than 180 human rights offices throughout the country. In the past two years, the number of complaints filed against the armed forces has dropped by more than 85 percent, from roughly 2,000 in 1996 to 310 in 1998. In 1993 approximately half such violations were attributed to the armed forces; last year they accounted for only 4 percent. Moreover, the reform of the military penal code is moving ahead with cooperation from the armed forces.
Most of these unpardonable offenses also occur in remote areas where the rule of law is weakest. We are working to correct this, and a central tenet of the president's peace plan is to guarantee that the Colombian government remedy years of neglect through an ambitious development program. This will mean more than better roads, schools and health care; it will mean a stronger state presence and citizens who are better protected.
Colombians have lived through a generation of violence and insurgency. We are striving to build a better nation.
GUSTAVO BELL LEMUS
Republic of Colombia