Training Human Rights Violators

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  • by Anup Shah
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The [Salvadoran] death squads did exactly what they were supposed to do: they decapitated the trade unions and mass organizations that seemed in danger of setting off an urban insurrection at the beginning of the decade… [The army] learnt its tricks at American counterinsurgency schools in Panama and the United States. We learnt from you, a death squad member once told an American reporter, we learnt from you the methods, like blowtorches in the armpits, shots in the balls. And political prisoners often insist they were tortured by foreigners, some Argentine, others maybe American.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Spectator, May 10, 1986, Quoted by Noam Chomsky in Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization, (Ocean Press, 1999), p.18)

Much has been said about countries like, USA, Russia, UK etc selling arms and training human rights violators but this has never made much media coverage — only in the extreme cases such as the UK’s use of mercenaries1 which has come under fire due to recent events in Sierra Leone and training Indonesian military who have waged a brutal campaign in East Timor in the past.

On this page:

  1. School of the Americas
  2. Training Indonesian Military

School of the Americas

A very informative documentary2 (called School of the Americas: At War with Democracy?, by the Center for Defense Information, 1994) describes how a US military training school, the School of the Americas, has trained many of the worst human rights violators and dictators in various Latin American countries.

Countries receiving training include Haiti, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The school is a military training school originally in Panama, now in Georgia, USA, set up and run by USA.

At the School of the Americas (SOA), portraits of the most successful graduates are hung. Some of the worst dictators and human rights abusers in the developing world have passed through the school’s doors, including people like Roberto D’Aubisson from El Salvador and Manuel Noriega of Panama.

The main point of the documentary was how the Army maintain that the school was set up to preserve democracy.

This has remained a political3 issue in the United States for quite some time. Some have wanted to see a change of emphasis for the school, to a counter-narcotics role. However, others have wanted a complete closure4 of the school calling it a relic from the Cold War days.

A setback for the school occurred in July 1999, where the US House of Representatives unexpectedly voted to withdraw funding5 from the notorious School. While this did not result in the school being closed, it did show that pressure from human rights groups and others, could pay off.

And each year thousands of people go to the school to hold protests6. 1999 for example, saw record 12,000 protestors7 then regarded as the largest act of civil disobedience in the U.S. since the Vietnam War. It made a few news headlines, but not many.

However, in 1999 there was an announcement to make changes to the SOA, including its name, from School of the Americas to Center for Inter-American Security Cooperation. By a margin of 10 votes, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to close8 off the School. The catch was that it would be reopened with a new name. On January 17, 2001 the SOA was replaced and renamed9 with the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC)). Despite claims previously that the focus of the school might change, as the previous link from School of the Americas Watch reports, the changes were just cosmetic:

In a media interview last year [2000], Georgia Senator and SOA supporter, the late Paul Coverdell, characterized the DOD proposal as cosmetic changes that would ensure that the SOA could continue its mission and operation. Critics of the SOA concur. The new military training school is the continuation of the SOA under a new name.

Critique of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation10, School of the Americas Watch

With the terrorist attacks on the United States, September 11 2001, and the subsequent retaliation and rhetoric about harboring, training and supporting terrorists, a few commentators have noted the irony, such as George Monbiot in this article11, which appeared in the British paper, The Guardian.

More information on the School of the Americas can be found at the following web sites:

  • The School of the Americas Watch12 web site. This has some interesting information including a comprehensive list of human rights violators who have been to the School and even some training manuals used by the school.
  • This alert13 from the Campaign for Labor Rights14, mentions how some of the training manuals advocate various interrogation techniques such as torture, blackmail, execution and arrest of relatives.

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Training Indonesian Military

As reported back in May 1998, the continued training15 of Indonesian military had drawn much criticism (see last half of report from the previous link). It has now emerged that as well as Washington training death squads16, sponsored by the Clinton Administration as late as 1998, the UK also spent about a million pounds training members of the Indonesian military. And given the crisis that erupted after the East Timor independence vote of August 30, 1999 and the military support of killings and gross human rights violations, this is very grave and raises questions about the ethics of nations such as the US and UK, as well as others that have provided similar training to nations involved in gross human rights violations.

For more detail about the crisis in East Timor, the US, UK and other support of the Indonesian regime, which itself backed and commanded the militia that killed hundreds of people in East Timor and a look at the media coverage in all this, go to this web site’s East Timor17 page.

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0 articles on “Training Human Rights Violators” and 2 related issues:

Arms Trade—a major cause of suffering

The arms trade is a major cause of human rights abuses. Some governments spend more on military expenditure than on social development, communications infrastructure and health combined. While every nation has the right and the need to ensure its security, in these changing times, arms requirements and procurement processes may need to change too.

Read “Arms Trade—a major cause of suffering” to learn more.


Read “Geopolitics” to learn more.

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  • by Anup Shah
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