The U.S. State Department said Sept. 15 that Colombia was making progress in human rights and urged Congress to approve giving it more than $30 million in U.S. military aid for fiscal year 2011.
The assessment was included in the yearly certification report, required by the $6 billion Plan Colombia lawmakers approved in 2000, which was presented last week to Congress, the department said in a statement.
"Though there continues to be a need for improvement, the Colombian government has taken positive steps to improve respect for human rights in the country," it told Congress, asking it to authorize $30.3 million for the Colombian Armed Forces.
The money goes to help Colombia deal with rampant drug trafficking and guerrilla violence in its territory, but includes monitoring human rights abuses, especially by security forces.
Like a U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement, Plan Colombia is conditioned to human rights improvements in Colombia.
The department said the new administration of President Juan Manuel Santos - sworn in on Aug. 7 - "has taken significant steps to demonstrate that it takes human rights seriously," both at the social and judicial system levels.
Nevertheless, it added, "impunity remains a concern... (and) threats by criminal groups against human rights defenders and civil society in Colombia are also deeply troubling."
The State Department urged Colombia to pursue thorough investigations of all alleged human rights abuses and threats in the country.
"The United States government remains committed to continued engagement with the Colombian government to improve the human rights performance of the Colombian Armed Forces, and respect for human rights throughout the country," it added.
Santos welcomed the assessment, telling reporters in Bogota, it was "positive news and above all fair ... because it recognizes the effort we've been making."
The president said his government would continue making "a great effort on this matter."