[News] Colombian army killed thousands more civilians than reported, study claims

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Tue May 8 11:30:12 EDT 2018


https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/08/colombia-false-positives-scandal-casualties-higher-thought-study?CMP=share_btn_link 



  Colombian army killed thousands more civilians than reported, study claims

Joe Parkin Daniels - May 8, 2018
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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 
insurgents.

The inflated figures, dubbed “false positives”, were used to justify US 
aid military packages while the officers who carried out the executions 
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/24/colombian-army-killed-thousands-civilians-human-rights-watch> 
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 
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/28/colombia-arrest-army-general-henry-torres-false-positives>.

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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