On a Tuesday morning in March 2008, Eduardo Garzon failed to indicate 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 house in an alleged confrontation with the army.
Official reviews that claimed Garzon was a harmful insurgent with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the end unravelled one of many worst human rights abuses in Colombian historical past referred to as the “false positives” scandal, through which army officers executed and falsely represented younger civilian males as enemy combatants.
Greater than a decade later, a transitional peace court docket concluded that Garzon and greater than 6,400 different civilians had been extrajudicially killed by the Colombian military between 2002 and 2008. The figures exceeded the quantity beforehand reported by the federal government by nearly threefold.
“We’ve all the time mentioned there are extra victims than they are saying there are, however nobody listened to us,” mentioned Ana Paez, Garzon’s mom and vp of the organisation Mom of False Optimistic Victims in Soacha and Bogota.
“They are saying there are greater than 6,400 victims, however we believe there are extra.”
The Particular 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. Whereas reviews of extrajudicial killings return many years, the JEP has discovered that these instances peaked between 2002 and 2008, throughout the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe.
The findings contradicted a 2018 report launched by the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace that discovered a complete of two,248 instances of extrajudicial killing dedicated between 1988 and 2014.
‘Proving us proper’
Human rights teams have argued for years that the observe of army 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 case, however we’re additionally involved that the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace has hid greater 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 not less than 5,763 instances between 2002 to 2010 to the JEP final 12 months. A 2018 report, compiled with official sources and impartial analysis, estimated that greater than 10,000 civilians had been murdered throughout this identical interval.
“The JEP is proving us proper,” mentioned Omar Rojas Bolanos, co-author of the 2018 examine.
“In the event that they proceed to analyze, the nation will likely be shocked [at what they find out].”
The Lawyer Basic’s Workplace mentioned they had been reviewing their newest figures from 2018.
“The figures reported are from the earlier administration of Nestor Humberto Martinez, not the present administration,” mentioned Paola Tomas, a spokesperson for the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace. “We’re checking the numbers and determining what’s occurring.”
The Ministry of Defence questioned the supply of those new figures, to which the JEP responded that it had compiled info from the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace, the Inspector Basic’s Workplace, the Nationwide Heart for Historic Reminiscence and the CCEEU.
The surge in “false constructive” instances in 2002 coincided with an incentives programme created by the Uribe administration that incentivised fight kills with holidays, promotions and army coaching overseas. Inflated physique counts, produced by these extrajudicial executions, helped Uribe help claims that the army marketing campaign towards the FARC would quickly be gained and justified billion-dollar US support packages.
“The figures present that this couldn’t have been the work of simply low and mid-ranking troopers,” mentioned Yepes. “The JEP reveals that 78 p.c of instances happened below the administration of Alvaro Uribe. Which means they both ordered the crimes perpetrated or that they knew that they had been taking place.”
Calling for accountability
Human rights teams have referred to as on Uribe to look 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 acquired a Nobel Peace Prize for facilitating the 2016 peace deal.
In a Twitter publish final week, Uribe disputed the court docket findings and alleged the court docket meant to wreck his repute. He additionally defended himself towards accusations that blamed his heavy-handed safety insurance policies for the surge in killings throughout his presidency.
“No army individual can say they’ve ever acquired a foul instance or improper insinuations from me,” the publish 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.
A part of the JEP’s duties is investigating how excessive throughout the army ranks and within the authorities data or accountability for these crimes went. The JEP is authorised to grant army members below investigation by the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace advantages, together with conditional freedom and lighter sentences, for contributing to the reality.
But, human rights organisations are involved that there could also be a “pact of silence” amongst army members to hide who ordered the execution of civilians. In early February, the Nationwide Motion for State Crime Victims criticised attorneys who’re instructing army members to keep away from mentioning military commanders.
The best-ranking official to look earlier than the transitional court docket, retired Basic Mario Montoya, testified final 12 months that insubordinate troopers had been answerable for the crimes. He denied any involvement or data of the executions that occurred throughout his tenure as military commander from 2006 to 2008.
Some victims’ attorneys, like German Romero, consider the JEP’s “bottom-up” method to its investigation, specializing in middle-ranking army officers earlier than the high-ranking officers, is flawed as a result of it follows the identical technique taken by the federal government.
“The JEP is repeating what the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace has already achieved and listening to those that have already been accused or convicted,” mentioned Romero.
Whereas the Lawyer Basic’s Workplace has convicted tons of of rank-and-file troopers, it has but to accuse a normal of involvement within the “false positives” killings.
“The JEP has a 10-year mandate, of which three years have already handed,” mentioned Yepes. “At this fee, we expect it’s troublesome that they’ll attain the utmost accountable within the army management.”