Colombian military ‘false positives’ scandal: ‘No one listened to us’


On a Tuesday morning in March 2008, Eduardo Garzon failed to point out up for his job at a working-class restaurant that he co-managed in Bogota, Colombia. His whereabouts remained unknown for the following 5 months till his mom found Garzon had died 300 kilometres (186 miles) away from their home in an alleged confrontation with the navy.

Official experiences that claimed Garzon was a harmful insurgent with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) finally unravelled one of many worst human rights abuses in Colombian historical past often called the “false positives” scandal, by which navy officers executed and falsely represented younger civilian males as enemy combatants.

More than a decade later, a transitional peace court docket concluded that Garzon and greater than 6,400 different civilians have been extrajudicially killed by the Colombian military between 2002 and 2008. The figures exceeded the quantity beforehand reported by the federal government by almost threefold.

“We’ve always said there are more victims than they say there are, but no one listened to us,” mentioned Ana Paez, Garzon’s mom and vice chairman of the organisation Mother of False Positive Victims in Soacha and Bogota.

“They say there are more than 6,400 victims, but we believe there are more.”

IMG 4760Ana Paez, mom of Eduardo Garzon, urges retired basic Mario Montoya to inform the reality throughout his testimony earlier than the JEP [Christina Noriega/Al Jazeera]

The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), a court docket arrange by the 2016 peace deal, is attempting atrocities associated to greater than 50 years of armed battle in Colombia. While experiences of extrajudicial killings return a long time, the JEP has discovered that these circumstances peaked between 2002 and 2008, throughout the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe.

The findings contradicted a 2018 report launched by the Attorney General’s Office that discovered a complete of two,248 circumstances of extrajudicial killing dedicated between 1988 and 2014.

‘Proving us right’

Human rights teams have argued for years that the observe of navy members killing and falsely representing civilians as enemy combatants was extra extensively unfold than the Colombian authorities acknowledged.

“We’re glad that the JEP has recognised the magnitude of this situation, but we are also concerned that the Attorney General’s Office has concealed more than two-thirds of crimes and their perpetrators,” mentioned Alberto Yepes, a lawyer with the Colombia-United States-Europe Coordination (CCEEU), a coalition representing 281 rights teams.

The CCEEU reported no less than 5,763 circumstances between 2002 to 2010 to the JEP final yr. A 2018 report, compiled with official sources and unbiased analysis, estimated that greater than 10,000 civilians have been murdered throughout this similar interval.

“The JEP is proving us right,” mentioned Omar Rojas Bolanos, co-author of the 2018 research.

“If they continue to investigate, the country will be shocked [at what they find out].”

IMG 4721During Mario Montoya’s testimony to the JEP, activist protest outdoors holding indicators that say 5,673 civilians have been killed [Christina Noriega/Al Jazeera]

The Attorney General’s Office mentioned they have been reviewing their newest figures from 2018.

“The figures reported are from the previous administration of Nestor Humberto Martinez, not the current administration,” mentioned Paola Tomas, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office. “We’re checking the numbers and figuring out what’s going on.”

The Ministry of Defence questioned the supply of those new figures, to which the JEP responded that it had compiled info from the Attorney General’s Office, the Inspector General’s Office, the National Center for Historic Memory and the CCEEU.

The surge in “false positive” circumstances in 2002 coincided with an incentives programme created by the Uribe administration that incentivised fight kills with holidays, promotions and navy coaching overseas. Inflated physique counts, produced by these extrajudicial executions, helped Uribe help claims that the navy marketing campaign in opposition to the FARC would quickly be received and justified billion-dollar US help packages.

“The figures show that this couldn’t have been the work of just low and mid-ranking soldiers,” mentioned Yepes. “The JEP shows that 78 percent of cases took place under the administration of Alvaro Uribe. This means that they either ordered the crimes perpetrated or that they knew that they were happening.”

Calling for duty

Human rights teams have referred to as on Uribe to seem earlier than the JEP. Former President Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe’s minister of defence from 2006 to 2009, can be being urged to testify. Santos obtained a Nobel Peace Prize for facilitating the 2016 peace deal.

In a Twitter put up final week, Uribe disputed the court docket findings and alleged the court docket meant to wreck his popularity. He additionally defended himself in opposition to accusations that blamed his heavy-handed safety insurance policies for the surge in killings throughout his presidency.

“No military person can say they have ever received a bad example or improper insinuations from me,” the put up learn.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, accused Uribe of distorting the reality in his Twitter thread, and supplied proof that contradicted Uribe’s claims that he prioritised captures over fight kills throughout his presidency.

Part of the JEP’s duties is investigating how excessive throughout the navy ranks and within the authorities information or duty for these crimes went. The JEP is authorised to grant navy members beneath investigation by the Attorney General’s Office advantages, together with conditional freedom and lighter sentences, for contributing to the reality.

Yet, human rights organisations are involved that there could also be a “pact of silence” amongst navy members to hide who ordered the execution of civilians. In early February, the National Movement for State Crime Victims criticised legal professionals who’re instructing navy members to keep away from mentioning military commanders.

The highest-ranking official to seem earlier than the transitional court docket, retired General Mario Montoya, testified final yr that insubordinate troopers have been answerable for the crimes. He denied any involvement or information of the executions that occurred throughout his tenure as military commander from 2006 to 2008.

Some victims’ legal professionals, like German Romero, imagine the JEP’s “bottom-up” approach to its investigation, specializing in middle-ranking navy officers earlier than the high-ranking officers, is flawed as a result of it follows the identical technique taken by the federal government.

IMG 6286Women whose relations have been killed by the navy in “false positive” executions current a report back to the JEP [Christina Noriega/Al Jazeera]

“The JEP is repeating what the Attorney General’s Office has already done and listening to those who have already been accused or convicted,” mentioned Romero.

While the Attorney General’s Office has convicted lots of of rank-and-file troopers, it has but to accuse a basic of involvement within the “false positives” killings.

“The JEP has a 10-year mandate, of which three years have already passed,” mentioned Yepes. “At this rate, we think it’s difficult that they’ll reach the maximum responsible in the military leadership.”