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Colombia President Outlaws Genocide

July 11, 2000

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In a hard-fought victory for human rights activists, President Andres Pastrana on Monday signed a law that officially outlaws genocide and forced disappearances.

The law put the crimes on the books, sets sentences as high as 45 years and creates a commission to investigate the fate of an estimated 3,000 missing people.

Pastrana said that by signing the law he had once vetoed, he was paying homage to the ``the spirit of so many who suffered and the families who have searched desperately for their loved ones.″

Family members of the disappeared _ mostly leftists thought to have been abducted and killed by security forces during the South American country’s 36-year guerrilla war _ cheered the law.

Gloria Herney, president of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared called it ``a very important step.″ However, she said laws are often promulgated in Colombia and then not enforced.

Pastrana, who pledged progress on human rights in lobbying for a $1.3 billion U.S. anti-narcotics aid package approved last month, shocked family advocates when he vetoed the law in December.

Pastrana cited objections by his military that the legislation could expose soldiers to genocide charges for killing guerrillas in combat.

The revised law cleared Colombia’s congress in May and was applauded, despite some reservations, by local human rights groups and U.N. rights monitors.

Herney has sought justice in the case of her husband, a landscape painter who was abducted and tortured to death in 1989 after being jailed for guerrilla membership. Nobody has ever been tried for the killing.

Designed to eliminate opponents without leaving a trace, disappearances were employed by some rightist regimes in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.

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