Despite some progress in recent years, impunity rates for so-called “false positive” extrajudicial killings remain high, according to statistics obtained by Colombia Reports from Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office.
Seven years after the scandal originally broke, only 27.6% of those members of the public security forces believed to have participated in the false positives practice — in which civilians were murdered and disguised as guerrillas slain in combat — have been investigated, while only 15% have been charged with a crime, according to the latest figures, which cut off in January 2014.
The Prosecutor General’s Office informed Colombia Reports that there have been at least 4,212 victims of “false positives” and that at least 4,774 members of the public security forces are believed to have been responsible.
Having successfully prosecuted just 742 incidents of these incidents — the majority of which occurred between 2000 and 2010 — the Prosecutor General’s Office claims to be looking into 2,403 open cases.
FACT SHEET: False Positives
Impunity at the top
Of the 722 Army personnel convicted of false positives charges, 90% fall below the rank of lieutenant, and none rises above the rank of colonel. Of the five generals whose units produced the highest incidence rates of false positives, three were named commander general of the Armed Forces.
The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights has previously stated, “High-ranking officials linked to these human rights crimes remain in active service and continue to be promoted.”
The extrajudicial killings known as false positives was a common occurrence during former President Alvaro Uribe‘s administrations when members of the armed forces would murder civilians and present the dead as guerrillas killed in combat. False positives peaked during the years 2006 to 2008.
A recent economic study correlating the practice to the distribution of US military aid reported that there are at least 1,612 cases of alleged false positives that have not been confirmed by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The most recent allegations of false positives happened in the middle of the 2014 presidential campaign on May 17 in the southern state of Putumayo. Four men were killed and presented as guerrillas killed in combat, but family and labor unions assert the men were not guerrillas, but innocent community leaders.
A Troubled Judicial System
Colombia seems to be moving backwards with regards to the judicial handling of false positive cases.
The Prosecutor General Office has outlined how close to 89% of troops convicted were done so under Law 600 from 2000 while only 11% were convicted under Law 906 from 2004.
Director Fabio Lopez from the Cartagena University stated in an opinion piece in El Universal newspaper that, “The judicial practice in this country takes as long as people want it to take, and with Law 906 from 2004, it takes even longer than Law 600 from 2000.”
“The worst part is that victims are helpless against the lack of urgency in the country’s system that permits, when a criminal is not caught in the act, that the criminal makes full use of deception, extortion, abuse of confidence, etc. because there is no mechanism to capture him before an agent of the Judicial Police is ordered by the Prosecutor General’s office, who is also not obligated to exercise a speedy investigation.”
Colombia’s Congress is also currently debating a controversial military justice reform law that will expand the jurisdiction of Colombia’s military to conduct it’s own investigations and trails on cases involving members of the armed forces.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has decried the military justice reform, with HRW Latin America Director Jose Vivanco calling the measure a “recipe for impunity.”
Recent events would appear to confirm that perpetrators of false positives continue to serve in the military. Earlier this year, it was revealed that one of three colonels convicted on false positives charges ran an embezzlement ring from prison, using stolen defense contract funding to pay for the continued silence of low-ranking soldiers imprisoned in relation to false positives.