The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on executions advised Colombia’s government Monday to exhume the bodies of suspected victims of extrajudicial killings committed by the military to determine their identities.
In a report presented to the UN’s Human Rights Council, Christof Heyns urged Colombia to investigate the military killings, specifically referring to La Macarena graveyard in the southeastern department of Meta, a mass grave that allegedly contains the bodies of over 2,000 people, including suspected victims of extrajudicial murders.
He called for greater accountability for those responsible and greater protection for potential victims and witnesses of extrajudicial murders and their families. He added that reports indicate “more than 3,000 people may have been victims of summary executions directly attributable to the armed forces.”
Heyns said that while Colombia had taken “certain measures to prevent extrajudicial executions,” there continued “to be reported cases of extrajudicial killings and criminal and disciplinary investigations that have not advanced.”
The UN representative expressed his concern over “retaliation and pressure” directed towards military judges trying to investigate the suspected killings. He also claimed that the Military Ombudsman, the body responsible for defending the army’s accused, had willfully hampered investigations. On the other hand, Heyns praised the fact that several cases were transferred to civilian courts but warned of “continuing attempts by military courts to assert jurisdiction.”
According to a March report by the UN’s High Commisioner of Human Rights, extrajudicial executions remain common practice in Colombia. The trend whereby military forces execute civilians and report them as guerrillas killed in combat in order to boost kill counts has become known as the “false positives” phenomenon.
Heyns echoed the report’s concern over military courts trying cases involving extrajudicial killings. It stated that “In several cases, there were inconsistencies about what happened in the accounts of military authorities and a tendency by some officials to discredit and stigmatize victims and obstruct justice.”
The International Criminal Court announced plans June 13 to look into the “false positive” killings in Colombia. There have been close to 1500 investigations into “false positive” executions committed by the military since the scandal broke in 2008, after it was uncovered that 11 men had been kidnapped and murdered by soldiers in the central Colombian city of Soacha.