Colombian generals facilitated civilian killings to fake guerrilla losses – HRW

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New evidence suggests many Colombian officers were involved in hundreds or even thousands of civilian killings between 2002 and 2008, reporting them as combat fatalities to boost body counts in war with armed groups, according to Human Rights Watch.

The 95-page report entitled “On Their Watch: Evidence of Senior Army Officers’ Responsibility for False Positive Killings in Colombia” published by the human right watchdog on Wednesday said that prosecutors are investigating at least 3,000 of these cases.

“False positive killings amount to one of the worst episodes of mass atrocity in the Western Hemisphere in recent years, and there is mounting evidence that many senior army officers bear responsibility,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive Americas director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), according to the group’s press release.

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The watchdog said its report is based on a variety of sources including recordings and transcriptions of testimonies, to prosecutors from military personnel, other prosecutor’s office data, criminal case files, interviews with witnesses, victims’ families, and their lawyers, implicated in the so-called ‘false positives’.

According to the group the soldiers reported that their superiors, including generals and colonels, knew of, ordered or facilitated the crimes.

“Yet the army officials in charge at the time of the killings have escaped justice and even ascended to the top of the military command, including the current heads of the army and armed forces,” he added.

Prosecutors have identified more than 180 battalions and other tactical units that might have committed the extrajudicial killings between 2002 and 2008 and reported them as guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC).

“Prosecutors confront serious obstacles to advancing their cases, ranging from reprisals against key witnesses to a lack of cooperation by military authorities,” Vivanco said. “And many – possibly hundreds – of false positive cases remain in the military justice system, which for all practical purposes guarantees impunity.”

HRW urged the government in Bogota to “order” the military to cooperate with the probe and “assign” enough prosecutors to handle the cases. The NGO also wants the government to ensure the protection of witnesses and their relatives.

The New York-based organization said that any future peace deals between the government and the rebels should “ensure that any transitional justice measures” do not hinder accountability for “false positives.”

“The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is monitoring false positive proceedings in Colombia and could open an investigation if it determines that national authorities are unwilling or unable genuinely to investigate and prosecute them,” HRW warned.

After more than 50 years of armed struggle, three years ago Bogota introduced the Legal Framework for Peace, an amendment to the constitution that laid the foundation for punishment for war crimes, reparations for victims and potential peace with the FARC.

The FARC first took up arms in 1964 as a Marxist force struggling fighting against inequality, but later turned to kidnapping and drug-trafficking to finance itself. The insurgent group has been in talks with the government for the last 30 months, seeking to end hostilities that have cost nearly a quarter of a million lives, according to estimates. The negotiations continue despite the sporadic attacks by guerrillas.