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The Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) confirmed Tuesday in Bogota that a graveyard located in La Macarena, in Colombia’s south-east Meta department contains at least 446 unidentified bodies that were reported as guerrillas killed in combat with the armed forces.
The UNHCHR undertook an analysis of the La Macarena graveyard, following concerns from human rights organizations that the cemetery may have been used as a mass grave to house up to 2,000 bodies, among them alleged victims of extrajudicial killings.
While the international body did not find explicit indications of a mass grave, UNHCHR director Christian Salazar said that he was “extremely concerned about the large number of people buried in the cemetery, whose identities and causes of death have not been clarified” and who “were reported as killed in combat with the armed forces since 2002.”
Salazar stressed the need “to find out if the people buried in the cemetery were victims of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, or other human rights violations.”
The director said that while the UNHCHR had not found indications of either a mass grave or secret burials, he did not rule out the possibility that “new information could be received that would serve to define, enrich or adjust” the contents of the report.
“The office is concerned about the lack of effective controls and adequate records regarding reports of people killed in combat, which raises questions about the circumstances surrounding their deaths,” the report on the matter reads.
The report also remarked that with 114 instances, the Meta department has the second highest number of extrajudicial killings or “false positive” cases under investigation in Colombia. False positives refer to Colombian civilians killed by members of the Colombian armed forces and presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
According to the UN, the Colombian Prosecutor General’s office has been investigating 1,354 cases of alleged false positives since March 15 of this year. As a result the UNHCR stressed “the magnitude of a situation in which unidentified cadavers are buried in cemeteries at a national level.”
The UNHCR therefore urged the Prosecutor General to quickly identify the bodies and clarify if there had been any human rights violations.
Despite the former administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe claiming that “mouthpieces of terrorism” had made allegations regarding the Meta mass grave in order to discredit the country’s security forces, the new government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been more conciliatory.
In a press release Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera highlighted that the UNHCR had clearly stated it found no evidence of a mass grave or clandestine burials, but said that the defense ministry would provide all necessary support to the Prosecutor General’s office and the judiciary regarding corresponding investigations.