Damning report documents continuation of ‘false-positives’

News from Colombia | on: Friday, 24 May 2013

In spite of a changed discourse towards human rights in Colombia, little has changed. Whilst the Colombian government, with support from the UK, the US and governments across the European Union, has worked tirelessly to build up a false image of Colombia as a country with a drastically improved human rights record, the reality is that Colombia continues to have one of the highest levels of human rights abuses in the world.

A new report released today by the respected Colombian human rights observatory, CINEP, details the severe human rights crisis in Colombia focusing particularly on the continuing cases of ‘false positives’ and the continued existence of state linked paramilitary structures across the country. The ‘false positive’ scandal erupted in 2008 when the Colombian government accepted publicly that the Army was killing civilians, normally from the poorest regions and neighbourhoods, and dressing them up as guerrillas fighters in order to boost figures. The UN reported in February that there had been more than 5,000 victims. Few members of the Army have been charged and many Army officials implicated in the scandal are still in uniform. Juan Manuel Santos, the current president of Colombia, was Defence Minister when this practice was most systematic. Now as President, Santos has denied that any civilians are being killed in this way – earlier this year he claimed that no ‘false positives’ were reported in 2012. His claims directly contradict the repeated findings of human rights organisations and this latest report from CINEP which asserts that in 2012 the Army and the Police killed twelve innocent civilians and then presented them as guerrillas killed in combat. The report concludes that the continuation of the practice is a direct result of the government’s determination to falsely exaggerate its military dominance over the guerrillas. Far from disappearing, during 2012 the number of ‘false positives’ is at its highest level for several years.

In addition to the twelve murders, the report also reveals how the practice of ‘judicial false positives’ continues. In Colombia there are thousands of political prisoners: social activists who are accused of involvement with the guerrillas and are sent to jail either without being charged or under trials that disregard international standards on due process. These activists are targeted in order to silence them, directly prevent them from opposing government policy, and to deligitimise their democractic protest by accusing them of being guerrillas. CINEP recorded 39 people were falsely charged of guerrilla involvement during 2012. The direct relationship between democratic protests and ensuing illegal prosecution was most clearly demonstrated in August when 23 peasant farmers from northwest Colombia were detained after taking part in protests against a planned hydroelectric plant. Such detentions have continued into 2013 with the detention in May of eight members of the peasant farmer organisation ASTRACATOL.

The report also highlights the continued existence of right-wing paramilitaries across the country. In terms of both human rights violations and breaches of International Humanitarian Law the paramilitaries, operating with direct and indirect support from Colombian state forces, were once again the principal authors. As with ‘false-positives’, the Colombian government has made efforts to deny the existence of these paramilitary groups; they instead refer to them as criminal gangs in an effort to deny their entrenched relationship with Colombian state institutions.

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