Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Uribe

Latin America and the Caribbean

At 1:00 p.m. today, President Bush will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, along with two former prime ministers: Tony Blair of the UK and John Howard of Australia. Many NGOs, including the Center for International Policy, Latin America Working Group, and the Washington Office on Latin America, have taken the opportunity to criticize Bush's decision to grant this award to President Uribe, describing it as "a disturbing example of the Bush administration's disregard for serious human rights concerns out of zeal to show unconditional support to governments that it views as strategic allies." Yesterday, the Latin America Working Group created the LAWG Heroes of the Year award to "honor the many brave Colombian human rights activists who've worked tirelessly to end the Colombian army's killings of civilians." On the blog "Plan Colombia and Beyond," Adam Isacson adds to the concern, writing that "as Álvaro Uribe is honored Tuesday, though, we just wish that a U.S. government would someday offer similar recognition to Colombia's thousands of other heroes . . . who dream of living in a democracy under a strong rule of law." The joint statement by seven U.S. organizations is below and can be found on the Human Rights Watch website. For Immediate Release US: Award to Uribe Sends Wrong Message Colombia’s Rights Violations Should Bar Its Leader From Award (Washington, DC, January 12, 2009) – US President George W. Bush’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia is a disturbing example of the Bush administration’s disregard for serious human rights concerns out of zeal to show unconditional support to governments that it views as strategic allies, seven leading nongovernmental organizations said today. The organizations include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America. Bush is giving the award to Uribe at a ceremony in the White House on Tuesday, January 13, 2009. “The Bush administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Colombia’s serious human rights violations,” said the organizations. “Its selection of Uribe to receive this award only further tarnishes the Bush administration’s own reputation on human rights issues in the region.” The groups pointed out that President Uribe has repeatedly taken steps and carried out policies that are damaging to human rights in Colombia. Under President Uribe’s watch, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Colombian Army. And while Uribe’s government has strongly confronted the abusive left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Uribe has failed to take a similarly clear stance against equally abusive drug-running paramilitary groups, who have massacred, raped, and forcibly displaced thousands of Colombians in recent decades. Fundamental flaws in a paramilitary demobilization process under Uribe have permitted many of the groups to continue to engage in abuses under new names. The president’s verbal attacks on his country’s human rights defenders have been frequent and disturbing. And Uribe has often opposed efforts to break paramilitaries’ influence in the political system, including by making unfounded accusations against the Supreme Court justices who are investigating more than 70 members of the Colombian Congress for links to paramilitaries.