In 1997 the UK investigative documentary series ran an episode called COLOMBIA: BP’s Secret Soldiers
The film first sets the scene:
To many, Colombia means drugs and corruption, but the cocaine trade masks a far more sinister conflict – a political dirty war against critics of the state.The Colombian Government rules through a state of emergency, which their feared security forces uses as an excuse to kill and torture those who speak out.
Human rights groups estimate that 25,000 people have been killed for political reasons in the last decade – another 3,000 have been kidnapped and never seen again.
In this environment BP both funded the Colombian military to protect them, and hired their own mercenaries who gave training to the Colombian security forces. This is BP headquarters in Casanare with its guard of Colombian security forces:
The film continues:
BP is not behind the escalating paramilitary violence in Casanare, but its relationship with the army which pulls the paramilitary strings is very problematic. Daniel Bland, Human Rights Researcher:
“In all the testimony we’ve received, any kind of organised protest against BP in any way, the leaders of
those protests are singled out for persecution for harassment and for death threats.”
BP was also accused of passing information about campaigners to the army – the army that uses paramilitary partners to carry out extra-judicial murders. This is a BP facility in Colombia:
Carlos Arregui and Gabriel Ascencio are among six who have been murdered since the group started campaigning over damage to their road.[…]
The deaths sparked alarm in Bogota and led to a Government investigation in 1995. In the course of investigating the murders, government lawyers were told that BP was collaborating with army intelligence. A senior intelligence officer, Colonel Luis Garces, said photos of protestors had been provided by BP that were “very valuable” for his intelligence work.
BP denied they passed intelligence to the army. Another article refers to the Colombian government’s own investigation into the affair, eventually closed due to ‘lack of evidence':
They did, however, find in the 16th Brigade’s files 18 irregular payments by BP totalling $312,000 between May 1996 and August last year. BP said in the report that this was for ‘extras’, including ‘intelligence work’.
The negative publicity about BP’s involvement with the Colombian military and paramilitaries became so bad that John Browne ostentatiously announced that BP would now have more of a human rights policy. His changes seemed to be primarily aimed at improving BP’s image, and no responsibility for the deaths in Colombia was ever admitted.
Today BP continues to fund the Colombian army, whose respect for human rights has not noticeably improved, despite the ‘human rights clauses’ BP now put in their contracts with the military and the human rights training they have funded. Here is a picture from BP’s own PR showing human rights training:
So the funding to the military is supposedly only for protecting BP installations from guerillas. Unfortunately the military still don’t seem aware that this is the only job they are doing for the company: BP Workers face Colombian Army in Their Fight for Minimum Social, Environmental and Labour Agreements It seems that John Browne’s human rights policy doesn’t stop BP from deploying the military against civilians, including their own workers.