US soldiers and military contractors sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007, according to a recently released historic document on the country’s conflict. The suspects have allegedly not been prosecuted due to immunity clauses in bilateral agreements.
The 800-page independent historic report was commissioned by the Colombian government and rebel group FARC to establish the causes and violence aggravators of the 50-year-long conflict they are negotiating to end.
The document is to help negotiators determine who is responsible for the more than 7 million victims of the armed conflict between leftist rebels and the state while they are negotiating peace.
|“There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials.”
Renan Vega – Historic Commission for the Conflict and its Victims
One of the scholars that helped redact the historians’ report, Renan Vega of the Pedagogic University in Bogota, focused part of this historic document on the American military that has actively supported the Colombian state in its fight against drug trafficking and leftist rebel groups like the FARC and ELN.
According to Vega, “there exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials.”
In his report, the historian cited a 2004 case in the central Colombian town of Melgar where 53 underage girls were allegedly sexually abused by nearby stationed military contractors “who moreover filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material.”
According to Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, the victims of the sexual abuse practices were forced to flee the region after their families received death threats.
Other Americans stationed at the Tolemaida Air Base allegedly committed similar crimes, but possibly also never saw a day in court due to an immunity arrangement for American soldiers and military contractors agreed by Washington and Bogota.
|“Yes, we took her and we raped her. So what?”
Alleged words of US Sergeant Michael J. Coen to the mother of a 12-year-old rape victim.
One case that has called most attention in Colombian media was that of a 12-year-old who in 2007 was raped by a US Army sergeant and a former US military officer who was working in Melgar as a military contractor.
Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and subsequently raped inside the military base by US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz.
However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.
The case has caused major indignation among Colombians for years.
Nevertheless, the rape victim, her little sister and mother were forced to flee Melgar and eventually moved to the city of Medellin as forces loyal to the suspects were threatening the family, the mother told Colombian television.
In 2009, the US embassy in Bogota told Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald that the US government did not rule out the possibility to reopen the apparently closed case against Coen and Ruiz.
However, according to El Tiempo, no US court has since indicted both suspects for their alleged crime in the six years since.
According to news website El Turbion, the case of the 12-year-old girl is not the only one.
“In 2006 there were 23 reported cases of sexual abuse committed by active American soldiers and another 14 in 2007,” the website said. Colombia Reports was unable to confirm this claim with other online sources.
However, if this claim is confirmed, there would be more than 90 cases of sexual violence against women and children committed by American soldiers between 2004 and 2007 alone.
According to the governmental National Victims Unit, 7,234 Colombian women have been registered as victims of sex crimes within the context of the conflict in the decades that it has lasted.
While the FARC and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos are negotiating who is responsible for the 7.2 million registered victims of the country’s half-a-century armed conflict, US President Barack Obama sent Special Envoy Bernie Aronson to Colombia to assist in the process.
Aronson has so far met with Santos and, reportedly, with negotiation team members of the FARC and the government, and will be the intermediary between Bogota and Washington.
The special envoy will possibly have to deal with the role of the US military and its members in the alleged victimization of Colombians.
His most difficult task will be balancing the US government’s duty of “protecting American interests” — as he was reminded by Tea Party Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) — and trying to “stand by Colombians’ side in this journey,” as Aronson said himself.
- Contribucion al entendimiento del conflicto armado en Colombia (Historic Commission for the Conflict and its Victims)
- Entonces, quien responde? (Semana)
- Siete años de vergonzosa impunidad en caso de niña violada en Melgar (El Tiempo)
- Impunidad para soldados del Plan Colombia? (El Turbion)