In Bogotá, a group of relatives from the Ciudad Bolivar neighborhood, one of the most depressing sectors of Colombia’s capital, hope that Justice and the National Government can explain how 19 young people who were reported missing in February, in September were found dead more than 700 kilometers from there; in a wooded spot in the municipality of Ocaña, Norte de Santander.
For its part, in Toluviejo, Sucre, one of the most poor municipalities on Colombia’s northern coast, the communityawaits any news on the whereabouts of more than 50 young people how went to work in farms in the region late last year and still haven’t returned.
About this last case, the Chief Prosecutor’s office reported that in April this year a mass grave was discovered in the department of Córdoba. In it were found the remains of at least 35 youth who appeared to be the ones who were still awaited in Toluviejo.
Curiously, both in the case of Ciudad Bolivar and in that of Toluviejo the only clue that the authorities have is the explanation given by the army which is that some of these young people enrolled in illegal armed groups and were killed by the security forces.
Aside the expressed concern by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who warned that he will get to the bottom of this and to find out the truth about these strange disappearances, the issue continues to raise serious questions about the acting and the respect for human rights of the Colombian security forces.
According to the International Mission to Observe Extrajudicial Executions and Impunity — composed of 13 independent professionals from Germany, Spain, United States, France and the United Kingdom — at least 955 cases of unpunished extrajudicial executions were charged to the army between july 2002 and july 2007 in addition to 235 cases of enforced disappearances.
Similarly, the Chief Prosecution’s office is disciplinarily investigating 655 cases of violations of human rights by members of the security forces and to date, has issued 11 disciplinary rulings.
According to the reports of these rulings, the denounced cases have the same pattern: They occur in regions that are the scene of heavy and intense operations against insurgent groups. Usuallythe victims were illegally detained in their homes before being driven to the execution site. They were presented as “guerrillas killed in combat with the Colombian Army” and, in most cases, appear to wear military clothing and carry some kind of weapon.
For the International Mission, the most worrying thing is that investigations of these allegations are conducted by the Military Penal Court, which does not guarantee impartiality in the development of the investigative process and today many of these cases remain in the upmost impunity.
Author Ricardo Léon Cruz is a Colombian journalist