New bodies found as Human Rights Watch criticises extrajudicial killings legislation
The watchdog group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the government of President Santos for pushing legislation it claims would make it harder to prosecute members of the police and military for extra-judicial killings.
In its annual report released earlier this month, HRW stated that Santos’ government “continues to promote several bills that would undercut accountability for unlawful killings of civilians by the military, including so-called false positives.”
False positives have been a blight on Colombia’s military since the scandal broke in 2008, when the bodies of 22 men from Soacha in the south of Bogota were found dead hundreds of miles away after being lured with the promise of work.
The practice involved the killing of civilians by soldiers who then dressed their bodies up in FARC uniforms and claimed them as combat kills.
During Alvaro Uribe’s government, army troops were rewarded for combat kills with vacation time and cash bonuses, a practice believed to have led to an uptick in false positives. Some 4,000 innocent people are thought to have been killed this way.
According to HRW: “The proposed legislation creates a serious risk that such cases will be transferred from the civilian to the military justice system, which lacks independence and has a very poor record investigating human rights violations.”
Last week, Colombia’s Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon scoffed at the HRW report, calling it “slander.”
“I will not allow slander against our people,” Pinzon said. “It is not okay to defame and lie to seek to undermine a transparent management committed to the rule of law.”
The Minister also stated that “the reforms that have been presented to the Congress have been written by experts in law and human rights. They are not whims or political passions.”
In a related development, on February 7, a mass grave of suspected ‘false positive’ victims was discovered in the southwestern Colombian department of Nariño.
Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre told local media that the remains of 13 people had been identified in the site, and added that there could be up to 62 people buried there.
The bodies are currently being disinterred. According to local media reports, the Attorney General’s Office believes them to be the remains of people disappeared by paramilitaries from 2000-20005, in Nariño and other regions of Colombia.
By Mark Kennedy