Flotilla massacre probe to include war criminal

Outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will serve as vice-chair on a UN-sponsored investigation into the 31 May Gaza Freedom

At the beginning of August the Israeli government announced it would cooperate with one out of two international United Nations-sponsored investigation commissions into the May 31 Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon claimed the move was “unprecedented”.

The commission is composed of four people, one chosen by Turkey, one chosen by Israel and two chosen from a list provided by Israel. The latter two are former prime minister of New Zealand Geoffrey Palmer, who will be the chair, and outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who will serve as vice-chair.

Palmer, an expert in international law, is an uncontroversial choice, but the appointment of Uribe is as perplexing as it is shocking. It appears that "balance" in the commission involves balance between someone versed in international and human rights law and someone who is adamantly opposed to it.

This notion of balance fatally weakens this commission even before it has started, and tarnishes the process of international law.

Uribe was a controversial president whose regime has engaged in severe human rights abuses; illegal surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders by the intelligence service (DAS); international law violations (such as the bombing of Ecuadorian territory); corruption; crimes against humanity and excesses by the army in their US-sponsored counterinsurgency warfare.

In September 2009, Colombia was visited by Margaret Sekaggya, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders from the UN Human Rights Commission.

In her report, released in March, Sekaggya found that constant problems faced by human rights defenders in Colombia include “stigmatisation by public officials and non-State actors; their illegal surveillance by State intelligence services; their arbitrary arrest and detention, and their judicial harassment; and raids of nongovernmental organisations' premises and theft of information”.

Public officials in Colombia constantly accuse human rights defenders and members of the political and social opposition of aiding “terrorists” — that is, left-wing guerrillas.

Uribe has led these attacks, calling human rights defenders “rent-a-mobs at terrorism's service who cowardly wave the human rights flag”, “human rights traffickers”, “charlatans of human rights”, “bandits’ colleagues” and the “intellectual front of the FARC [the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]”. He has stated: "Every time terrorists and their supporters feel they will be defeated, they resort to denouncing human rights violations."

Uribe has referred in particularly harsh terms to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: “Amnesty International do not condemn international humanitarian law violations by the guerrillas and they give legitimacy to terrorism … they go around European bureaus like library rats, gossiping in low voices, undermining Colombian institutions.”

He said of the director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco: "Before Vivanco, a FARC defender [and] accomplice, came here to criticize our policy of democratic security, we were making serious efforts to put our country on its feet — I don't have anything to learn from Mr. Vivanco when it comes to human rights."

In Junem an international human rights mission investigated the biggest mass grave in the western hemisphere.

The grave in the Colombian town of La Macarena contained some 2000 execution victims who had been dumped there since 2004.

At the same time, Uribe travelled to that very locality, but not to pay his condolences to the victims' families, or guarantee that an investigation would determine what happened there. Instead, he went to visit the local military base — exactly the same people that, according to victims' reports, filled that mass grave with its grisly contents — to praise them for their work.

The June 25 El Espectador reported that he said on that occasion: "I want the country to know that now terrorists want to damn our partial victory by combining their means of struggle. Now the terrorists' spokespeople are talking of peace to have a break in order to recover, before we achieve our final victory.

“Terrorism combines means of struggle, so some of their spokespersons talk of peace; others come here to La Macarena to look for ways to discredit the Armed Forces and to implicate it in human rights violations. We will not fall into that trap, stay firm!”

Going beyond Uribe himself, any representative of the Colombian state must be suspect when it comes to investigating human rights violations. Official and "unofficial" state-sanctioned human rights abusers act with impunity in Colombia; 98% of such cases remain unprosecuted, Human Rights First reported in February 2009.

It also strains credibility to believe that Colombia, which is the biggest recipient of US military "aid" after Israel and Egypt, and agreed to host seven new US military bases on its territory last year, can be impartial in relation to Israel. The Israeli and Colombian governments share an ideological approach to their opponents. There is also large-scale military cooperation between the two rogue states.

Ynet reported on August 10, that in recent years, Israel has become Colombia's number one weapons supplier, with arms worth tens of millions of dollars, “including Kfir aircraft, drones, weapons and intelligence systems”. The April 30 Jerusalem Post quoted a senior Israeli defence official as saying: "Israel's methods of fighting terror have been duplicated in Colombia.”

Latin Americans often refer to Colombia as the "Israel of Latin America", and Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos expressed his pride at such a comparison, the June 25 El Espectador reported.

The Colombian government's bias in Israel's favour was made clear during an April 2010 visit of foreign minister Jaime Bermudez to Israel. The April 30 Jerusalem Post reported Bermudez's “desire to strengthen Colombia's military relationship with Israel” and of the "need to do more in terms of the fight against terrorism”.

Uribe undertakes his role of impartial investigator weighed down with awards from various Zionist organisations. These include the American Jewish Committee's "Light unto the Nations Award" and descending further into Orwellian doublespeak, the "Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism" from B'nai Brith.

The Colombian government and Uribe are entitled to their choice of friends, but this indicates there will be no objectivity whatsoever with regard to Uribe's role in the commission.

This is a maverick commission lacking credibility, which will serve only to show the influence of the United States and Israel on Ban Ki-moon's office. Such a commission will disappoint anyone expecting a neutral, impartial investigation that reveals the truth about the massacre of May 31.

[Jose Antonio Gutierrez and David Landy are activists based in Ireland, involved respectively with the Latin American Solidarity Centre and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]

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