Colombia: Military scandal over repression and lies

November 8, 2008

Twenty-seven members of the Colombian armed forces, including generals and other high-ranking officers, have been fired in connection to revelations that they had been involved with the abduction and murder of civilians.

Just days later, on November 4, Colombia's top military commander, General Mario Montoya, resigned over the scandal, according to a Reuters report that day.

The scandal has exposed the Colombian military's practice of creating "false positives", in which civilian victims are executed and then dressed up in military fatigues afterwards in order to claim they were members of guerrilla groups killed in combat.

The practice has become common place in cases of extrajudicial killings, which are widespread in Colombia. Killings of guerrillas by the military are taken as one of the key measures of success in the 44-year long civil war, in which the government has been seeking to militarily defeat left-wing insurgent forces such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

According to a report released by Colombia Coordination, which unites various NGOs that investigate human rights violations in Colombia, extrajudicial killings have increased 68% since June 2002 as compared to the preceding five years.

The report emphasised that a pattern of impunity and extrajudicial killings has developed, stemming from incentives for military officers, both in money and rank, for confirmed killings of guerrillas or paramilitaries.

The "false positives" have begun receiving more attention as a result of the victims increasingly coming from towns and cities, rather than from rural areas where the practice had previously been predominant.

Reuters reported that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, suggested that the International Criminal Court may intervene if these cases aren't investigated by the Colombian government following the completion of a week-long fact finding mission.

Amnesty International also released a report on October 28 calling for all military aid to the Colombian government to be ceased — including from the US, which has contributed US$ billion — until civilian casualties are reduced sharply.

The flow of military aid from the US is unlikely to dry up to Colombia, as the government of President Alvaro Uribe is one of its closest political allies in the region.

The trend of extrajudicial executions is also unlikely to slow, as Uribe continues to pursue his strategy of seeking to militarily crush the FARC — and characterising all peaceful left-wing political and social movements as fronts for the guerrillas, thereby justify repression against them.

Uribe and his government have persisted in their refusal to enter talks with the FARC to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. This is despite long standing offers from the insurgent group and the unilateral release of hostages by the FARC earlier this year.

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