Illegal killings by army widespread and systematic, says UN

The widespread and systematic killing of innocent civilians by
Colombian security forces must be investigated by the government or
else the international courts could intervene, the United Nations said
Saturday.

The government fired 27 army officers Wednesday after a probe
implicated them in the deaths of a group of young men who disappeared
from their homes and were later shot, piled into mass graves and
counted as combat deaths.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay called for
more investigations into what rights groups say is a growing trend of
soldiers artificially improving their statistics by shooting civilians
and passing their bodies off as combatants killed in Colombia’s
44-year-old guerrilla war.

Hundreds of such cases are pending as family members of the victims decry the killings.

“An offence becomes a crime against humanity when it is widespread
and systematic against a civilian population. We are observing and
keeping track of the number of extrajudicial killings, which do appear
to be systematic and widespread, in my view,” Pillay said.

“It is only when a country is unable or unwilling to investigate
these serious crimes that the International Criminal Court would have
the power to intervene,” she told reporters at the end of a one-week
fact-finding trip.

Pillay, a South African, joined the U.N. in July after serving as a judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

London-based rights group Amnesty International says the United
States and other countries should halt military aid to Colombia until
its army stops the abuses.

Washington has given billions of dollars in aid to the government of
President Alvaro Uribe, whose father was killed in a 1983 kidnap
attempt by leftist rebels.

Known for his messianic style, the combative Uribe is the only
Colombian president in memory to have taken a hands-on approach to
security, ordering the army to push the guerrillas out of the cities
and off the highways they once controlled.

The results have attracted record foreign investment and kept
Uribe’s popularity above 70 percent despite a series of scandals,
including one in which scores of Congress members, mostly from his
coalition, are accused of using right-wing death squads to intimidate
voters. (Reuters)

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