How the US Enables Human Rights Abuses in Colombia

The indiscipline among American contractors in Colombia sets a disturbing example

Source: Al Jazeera

On Aug. 26, 2007, Olga Lucia Castillo’s two daughters went into the Zona Rosa in Melgar, Colombia, to buy food. Her younger daughter, 10 years old at the time, returned home alone. She told her mom that her older sister, age 12, disappeared with two men. The men, a U.S. Army sergeant and U.S. government contractor, allegedly took Castillo’s daughter to Colombia’s German Olano air force base, where they drugged and raped her.

“Sometimes,” Castillo told Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper, “it’s better to die than to run away. But I cannot die until I find justice for my daughter, for me.”

Castillo has fought for justice ever since but has been met with intimidation by Colombian security services and locals sympathetic to the government. She and her family ultimately left Melgar. Her daughter has attempted suicide three times since the assault.

Colombia’s prosecutor confirmed that the girl was sexually assaulted and issued arrest warrants for both men. But under the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement, both men enjoyed diplomatic immunity and were immediately repatriated to the United States.

Status of forces agreements (SOFA), like the one that effectively freed the two men, establish the rights of foreign militaries operating in host nations. For the U.S., that typically includes some form of immunity for crimes committed as part of a service member’s official duty, with jurisdiction falling under U.S. courts. In most countries soldiers may be prosecuted by the host nation for crimes committed against non-SOFA personnel outside official duty. In Colombia, however, U.S. soldiers enjoy full diplomatic immunity, meaning they cannot be prosecuted under Colombian law and may only be expelled from the country.