[News] Colombian army killed thousands more civilians than reported, study claims
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Tue May 8 11:30:12 EDT 2018
Colombian army killed thousands more civilians than reported, study claims
Joe Parkin Daniels - May 8, 2018
Gloria Astrid Martínez last saw her son on the morning of 8 February
2008. After breakfast, Daniel, 21, left their home in Soacha, a
downtrodden suburb of Colombia’s capital, to start a new job working on
wealthy countryside estates.
“He told me he found a job that would pay so much I wouldn’t have to
work any more,” recalled Martínez. “It sounded too good to be true, but
he insisted, so he left.”
Eight months later, Daniel’s body was found clothed in jungle fatigues
in a mass grave near the Venezuelan border. Soldiers from the Colombian
army had lured Daniel with the promise of work to the city of Ocaña, 414
miles from Bogotá, where they murdered him and declared him a rebel
fighter in order to boost their statistics in the war against leftist
The inflated figures, dubbed “false positives”, were used to justify US
aid military packages while the officers who carried out the executions
were rewarded with promotions and time off.
When news of the killings first broke 2008, the scandal engulfed the
Colombian military: dozens of senior officers were fired, and many
rank-and-file soldiers went to prison
But a new study co-authored by a former police colonel alleges that the
practice was far more widespread than previously reported: according to
authors Omar Rojas Bolaños and Fabian Leonardo Benavides, approximately
10,000 civilians were executed by the army between 2002 and 2010 – more
than three times the number tallied by human rights groups.
In their book Extrajudicial Executions in Colombia
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/colombia>, 2002-2010 – Blind
Obedience in Fictitious Battlefields, the authors describe how
Colombia’s army systematically killed civilians to boost their body counts.
“We can call them ‘false positives’ or ‘extrajudicial executions’, but
really these were cold-blooded murders,” said Rojas, who previously
served 31 years as a police officer. “They were meticulously planned and
carried by all ranks.” Rojas said disabled boys were specifically
targeted because of their vulnerability as well as a handful of military
men who were suspected of whistleblowing.
“This isn’t just something that happened in the past: we are still
finding ‘false positive’ cases today,” Rojas said. “It’s not with the
same intensity as before, and now they call them ‘military errors’.”
Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia <https://www.theguardian.com/world/farc> (Farc), signed a peace
deal with the government in November 2016, formally ending 52 years of
civil war that left 220,000 dead and over seven million displaced,
mostly civilians. State-aligned paramilitaries and other leftwing groups
contributed to the bloodshed, with atrocities committed by all sides.
President Juan Manuel Santos – who was awarded the Nobel peace prize for
shepherding through the deal – served as defense minister from 2006
until 2009, at the the height of the “false positive” killings.
Activists say neither Santos nor his predecessor Álvaro Uribe have been
called to account over the scandal, though Uribe faces several separate
investigations over alleged war crimes. A key witness in one case was
murdered in Medellín last month.
Colombia’s government has often brushed off the scandal as the actions
of a few rogue individuals.
“‘False positives’ were not just a problem of a few bad apples,” said
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/americas> director at Human Rights
Watch. “These apparently widespread and systematic extrajudicial
killings were committed by troops attached to virtually all brigades in
every single army division across Colombia.”
The soldier who recruited Daniel is currently serving a 39-year
sentence, along with many other middle and low ranking officers. But not
a single general has been convicted.
For Martínez, who has received death threats over her fight for justice,
the impunity is galling.
“They say the pain of loss gets easier everyday but that’s a lie, it
gets worse,” she said, her voice cracking. “The state should protect its
people, not kill them.”
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